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Temporary Protection Visas

Speeches in Parliament
Richard Di Natale 20 Sep 2019

In this place there has quite rightly been a focus on the stain that is this government's approach to the treatment of innocent people seeking asylum and the establishment of offshore prisons to act as a deterrent. What's not talked about as often but is just as brutal, is just as dehumanising, is the virtual prison we have created in this country for tens of thousands of innocent people seeking asylum.

Over the past few weeks we've seen the Australian community galvanise around one family, a Tamil family from the Central Queensland town of Biloela. The reason the community has finally rallied around this beautiful family is because we see them as people. This government has tried to deny innocent people their humanity. It calls them illegals, it calls them boat people, but what it doesn't do is acknowledge their humanity. The tens of thousands of people living in this country who have broken no law, who are here innocently, seeking our protection, are at breaking point. This government has introduced a practice that has taken away their most basic freedoms and liberties. We have created a virtual prison for these people.

A few weeks ago I visited a mosque and a community centre in Melbourne's northern suburbs and I met dozens of people who were living on temporary protection visas. Their stories shocked me to the core. These are people living in limbo with no access to basic services and no idea about what their future might hold. It's difficult to imagine what this is like. These are people who fled the country of their birth because of circumstances outside their control and now find themselves in a country that treats them as though they are common criminals. The desperation of these people was heartbreaking, and today I want to share some of their stories in this place.

Let me start with the story of Abdolreza and his daughter Zeinab. Abdolreza arrived in Australia by boat with his daughter in 2013 and sought asylum. They spent 5½ years on Nauru. His dream was to be reunited with his wife and his two other children, who left Iran only a short time before they did. They did it because they thought that leaving Iran separately was safer for both of them. They had been vocal about the Iranian government's occupation of their homeland, of Ahvaz, and this placed them in certain danger. Of course, the freedom to criticise a government is something we take for granted here in Australia.

When they were on Nauru, Abdolreza and his daughter established relationships with a number of people. Some of the people they became friends with took their own lives. On 1 February this year they were sent to Australia on a community detention order. That means they don't have work or study rights. Abdolreza and Zeinab live in Melbourne's western suburbs, but his wife, son and other daughter live in the northern suburbs. Abdolreza and Zeinab have a curfew placed on them. They are only allowed to leave their house between the hours of 8 am to 6 pm, so they spend their days travelling to the north by public transport to see their family. Abdolreza can only meet his wife between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm; their family can only be reunited during that time. Not surprisingly, Abdolreza and Zeinab both suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after being separated from their family for more than a decade. Just imagine travelling halfway around the world to be reunited with your family, only to be separated through community detention—so close yet miles away. That is what this government has condemned this family to.

Then there is the story of Zahra and Hoda. With their family, Zahra and Hoda, first cousins, fled a dangerous situation in the Middle East, arrived in Australia in 2013 and were sent to Christmas Island. They were both 13 years old at the time. They spent a month on Christmas Island. They were transferred to a detention centre in Darwin. Twenty-eight days later, the family were granted a bridging visa with no right to work. They rented a house together. All nine members of the family lived together. Hoda and Zahra completed their English studies in six months. They then enrolled in year 9. They worked through school. They completed year 12. They were bright kids and they did exceptionally well. Hoda got an offer to study biomedical science, and Zahra got an offer to study nursing. But when you're living in limbo, when you are on a temporary protection visa, you can't access HECS and you certainly can't afford the upfront cost of a university degree. So we've got two bright girls who completed their education, studied hard and want to contribute to this nation but have been turned away. We're crying out for nurses and doctors and other health professionals, and yet this government's cruel migration policies won't allow those girls to fulfil their dream and contribute to Australia. They've been on the same bridging visa for seven years. They can't visit their family back home. Their grandmother died recently; they couldn't return to attend the funeral. 

If you're born in this country and your parents are on a TPV, then you have no rights either. Let me tell the story of Roya and her family. Roya, an Iranian born refugee, sought asylum in Australia in June 2012. For the past seven years, she has been living in the community on a TPV. In 2017 she gave birth to a son, in the western suburbs of Melbourne—a healthy, happy boy at the time, but at the age of 15 months they noticed that something was wrong. They saw a paediatrician, and he was diagnosed with a form of cerebral palsy. Now, we know that that is a critical moment for a child. Physiotherapy and speech therapy at that moment in that child's life can make all the difference to their future life. So Roya, believing that a child born here in Australia would get access to services, applied for the NDIS. Her claim was rejected because Roya is on a TPV. Here we have a two-year-old child who has a chance of being able to walk and talk, and contribute to society, who is being denied basic health services by this government.

There is the story of the Alsadani family. The Alsadani family came to Australia in 2012 to seek asylum. They spent eight months on Nauru, were transferred to a camp in Darwin and then, while they were having dinner, were rounded up and told to get on a bus because they were going to be moved to Christmas Island. On Christmas Island they were taken to an empty detention centre, housing just them and six other families, and then, over the following weeks, more people were brought to that camp. The Alsadani family moved again, this time to Darwin. They had six months at the detention centre there, then they were sent to MITA, the detention centre in Melbourne. Karima fell pregnant with young Zainab. The family was then granted a community detention order, meaning they weren't allowed to work or study but had to wait until they were granted a bridging visa. The kids went to school. But of course the parents, under that visa, had no work rights—again suffering huge mental anguish. Hussein, another bright child, enrolled in high school, got good marks and got a scholarship to undertake a diploma in health studies at RMIT. The response? Centrelink cut their payments of $250 a fortnight because he was not eligible to undertake tertiary studies due to his immigration status. So he has quit studying and has been sitting idly ever since.

The Refugee Advice and Casework Service warns that some TPV and SHEV holders are now at breaking point, and I've seen that with my own eyes. These are innocent people. These are decent people who want to make a contribution to this country, yet here we have laws that treat these people as less than human. It's about time that we, as a community, came together and recognised their humanity.

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