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Speech - The Attorney General's response to asylum seekers

The Leader of the Australian Greens (Senator Di Natale) moved—That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator Di Natale today relating to the offshore processing of asylum seekers.

I rise to take note of an answer given to a question I asked of Senator Brandis, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. It relates to the great tragedy that is our offshore detention centre network, and the deaths that are occurring in those prison camps offshore.

Firstly, on behalf of the Australian Greens, let me express our condolences to the family of Omid, a young Iranian gentleman of the age of 23 found to be a genuine refugee, who was deprived of all hope, and deprived of any future for himself or for his family, who self-immolated. As a consequence of that, he died in a hospital in Brisbane. He represents everything that is wrong with our detention centre network. He was a young man and he committed no crime. He was a man who, under international convention, was found to be a genuine refugee. And yet the Australian government's response was to detain this man indefinitely, with no prospect of him being able to enjoy the freedom and liberties that he so desperately fought to find. Of course, the response from the Prime Minister was cruel. It was heartless: to suggest that the nation should not be 'misty-eyed' at the death of a young man who has died as a direct result of Australia's policies of offshore detention. It shows a man who has become so heartless in his role—so completely disconnected from what it means to offer a human response to a problem countries right around the world are facing.

We saw the response equally in relation to another gentleman by the name Hamid Khazaei who was on Nauru. He had a small cut to his leg which became infected and, as a result of a tragic set of delays in accessing medical care, he died of an entirely preventable condition. He should not be dead right now. He should be somebody who—if Australia had a different response to this problem—would be enjoying the possibility of an education, future employment, and making a contribution to the nation. And yet what is this Prime Minister's response? 'Let us not be misty-eyed; let us not shed a tear about the death of a young man in his prime'—completely heartless. Worse still, we are continuing to prosecute those healthcare professionals who speak out against such abuses. As a result of the bipartisan consensus in this place, we have a policy that says to health professionals who speak out against the inadequate medical care that is being provided in these places of such horror: 'if you speak out against that,' our government says, 'if you do that, we will prosecute you, and you will suffer potential imprisonment'—as a result of speaking out against an injustice.

Thankfully, the tide is turning. We have now seen Ferrovial—who have taken over the business formerly known as Transfield, who were operating the detention centre contracts in both Nauru and Manus Island—say that this is not part of their business model going forward. They have got no business in the detention centre network; they have got no business in cruelty. They are effectively saying: 'We want to have a social licence to operate, and we don’t believe that we can have a social licence if we contribute to this model of offshore detention.' If only Bendigo Bank would take the same approach, and if only many of those other companies—Wilson Security—would take the same approach. Well, there is a turning point. We are seeing some leadership, at least, within the corporate sector. And we are seeing Australians right around the country say: 'Enough is enough.'

The recent announcement by the PNG Supreme Court states emphatically that to imprison individuals that have committed no crime—to deprive them of their liberty—is illegal. For years, we have heard the Australian government talking about the actions of people seeking asylum as being illegal; well, this decision demonstrates that, in fact, it is the actions of the Australian government that are illegal. There is a better way. We need to close those camps. We need to invest that money in creating alternative pathways. And we have to recognise that we as a rich nation can and must do better.

Question agreed to.


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