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Monday, 7 September 2015
Page: 6107


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (16:42): I too rise to speak on this matter of public importance. It is a matter of grave importance not just here in Australia but across the globe. I am saddened by the Abbott government's failure to take real action to increase Australia's intake of Syrian refugees and I am disappointed by the Abbott government's failure to show any moral leadership on this issue.

This government is quick to offer up military support, but it is slow to do anything to address the growing humanitarian crisis that is the result of the escalating conflict. As Senator Macdonald said in his contribution, he was concerned about the Prime Minister's announcement that those refugee places would displace other refugees that are waiting to come in. All he has to do is go and ask the Prime Minister to make an additional intake, because it is this Abbott government that is making this decision.

The cost of this humanitarian crisis was given a face and a name last week when harrowing photographs of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi brought home the tragic reality of the crisis. Images of the lifeless body of little Aylan were splashed across papers and have brought worldwide attention to the plight of displaced Syrians. These are heartbreaking images. Even more heartbreaking is the knowledge that Aylan is just one of the many children who have died trying to escape the escalating conflict in Syria. Just as heartbreaking is the knowledge that children will continue to die unless real action is taken.

The cost of this humanitarian crisis was given a voice last week when asylum seekers forsaken in a Budapest train station chanted in unison. Their voices rose in unity with one message to the world: 'We are human! We are human!' They are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. They are neighbours. They are human. But our response cannot be measured in our tears for the people. Our response must be measured in the lives we save. Australia must play its part. We must ensure that we are part of the solution.

This is an emotive issue, and rightly so, because we are talking about people's lives. We are talking about children's lives, as we were reminded last week. Those opposite have repeatedly shrugged off calls for Australia to do more when it comes to accepting additional asylum seekers by claiming that we take more refugees than any other nation through the UNHCR on a per capita basis. We have heard that in the contributions here today by some of the government senators. On the face of it this statement may be true, but it is only by virtue of the fact that many nations do not work through the UNHCR resettlement program. According to the Refugee Council of Australia, Australia is not the world's most generous country when it comes to accepting refugees. In fact, according to the Refugee Council of Australia, Australia does not even rank in the top 20 countries.

We are a wealthy nation. We can afford to do more and we must do more. But any further support provided by Australia cannot come at the expense of asylum seekers from other countries. This is exactly what Mr Abbott's proposal would mean. If Australia increases the number of asylum seekers we welcome from Syria without increasing the cap on our humanitarian intake, it will simply mean that we are turning our backs on those seeking asylum from other countries. We cannot in good conscience do this. Simply allocating existing places to the Syrian refugee crisis is not taking real action. This is simply not good enough. This is why, earlier today, Labor called on Mr Abbott to convene an emergency meeting of state, community and religious representatives to work towards Australia making an offer of an additional 10,000 humanitarian places for refugees displaced by the conflict in the Middle East. This increase must be on top of our current intake of 13,750 places. This is a significant but completely reasonable increase. Labor is also calling on the government to immediately contribute an extra $100 million towards humanitarian relief efforts in response to the Syrian crisis. It is time that this government realised that our defence response cannot be our only response to the greatest humanitarian emergency of our era.

Labor is committed to ensuring that Australia plays our part in meeting humanitarian need across the globe. That is why Labor has committed to increasing the humanitarian refugee intake from 13,750 to 27,000 and has committed to providing more than $450 million over the next decade to the UNHCR. It is incumbent upon us to do more to help those seeking safety from war and persecution. We are a nation of great compassion, of great diversity and of great possibilities. It is time that we were also a nation of great leadership on the Syrian refugee crisis.