Refugee Week 2017

Private Members' Statement

Tamara Smith
Member for Ballina

21 June 2017

This week is Refugee Week and I am disappointed to say that we still have 900 male refugees in detention on Manus Island with no clear path to freedom.




The Australian government has agreed to pay $70 million in compensation to the almost 2,000 refugees and asylum seekers illegally held in offshore immigration detention on Manus Island but this does not ease the immediate concerns of the men who are on the island. They fear for their safety and worry about their future.

I want to mention the work of a group of concerned citizens in my electorate led by Sue Kelly which held an event at Lennox Head on the weekend where they gave the forgotten people on Manus Island and Nauru a voice. They read out the text messages and letters received from refugees and asylum seekers about their experiences in offshore Australian centres. The stories were not stories of hope, they were filled with despair and desperation.

Each person had initially been relieved at escaping their home countries, hoping for a new life free from persecution and violence, but instead finding more violence in the detention and processing centres.

And we saw the most disgusting, political game-playing around events that happened on Manus Island just a month ago. Those who tried to settle in Papua New Guinea have been met with threats and in some cases beatings. One of the refugees wrote that to survive in a new country, immigrants need a community from their own country that they can draw support from, or, be able to return to the country they came from if things don’t work out. Neither of these factors seems available to refugees and asylum seekers trying to settle in Papua New Guinea.

The Mayor of Ballina, David Wright, is working with Ballina Shire Councillors to try to get refugees to settle in the Ballina region and to try to reunite family members already there. Because settling in a new country is hard enough without any of your family to give you support. I commend him for this work.

I also want to mention the work of members of the Ballina Region for Refugees. It has been my great pleasure to contribute to their programs. They run a homestay program for people waiting for processing or who are in community detention. Most Australians do not believe that asylum seekers should be placed in detention, yet both of the major parties have variations on that unjust theme.

I also commend Sanctuary Northern Rivers, a community based organisation run by volunteers that assists off-shore refugees to come to Australia under the Government’s Humanitarian Settlement program.  Founded in late 2003, Sanctuary has assisted over 180 African refugees to settle in Lismore and Mullumbimby.  It provides advice and sponsorship when applying for a visa under the program, and support afterwards throughout the settlement process.

In previous generations Australia took in refugees from wars and treated them in a humane and decent way. Families were resettled in the community and went on to become valuable members of our society.

I was incredibly saddened, as I know so many people in our society were, at just learning what is going on for those young people who’ve been on Manus Island for so long. The suffering, the self harm, the suicide attempts, it’s hard to believe that that is something that’s not only happening on our watch but it’s something that we are paying a fortune to inflict. It’s something that I know many, on all sides of this house, find appalling.

I think this week, being National Refugee Week, it is very important to remember that the standard we are judged by is how we treat the most vulnerable, and I don’t see how anyone can face their peers and suggest that this is the way to treat those vulnerable people.

On behalf of Greens I call on all parties, particularly at the Federal level to look at our great history of resettling asylum seekers and refugees in a humane manner.

We are a country that takes more than their fair share of refugees but unfortunately it is the way we are treating our refugees that is seeing us judged and very poorly marked on our conduct around the world.

I hope that I will not be saying this in 12 months time and that we see a shift indeed at least for those men on Manus Island.