On Feb 9th 2023, I spoke in Parliament about the urgency of ending mandatory detention.
This week in parliament, the Labor government, with the support of the Liberals and Nationals, voted together to redesignate Nauru as an offshore processing country, a move which will see hundreds of millions if not billions of taxpayer dollars spent on contracts to continue the cruel exile of refugees seeking asylum in Australia. When moving the Nauru motion this week, the Minister for Home Affairs said that Labor's immigration policy was 'strong on borders without being weak on humanity'. There is absolutely no evidence of that when Labor continues to support a detention regime that doesn't contain a scrap of humanity.
Conditions in offshore detention facilities are appalling. Both parties are responsible for knowingly inflicting untold mental and physical harm on refugees held indefinitely in these deeply cruel conditions. Australia's regime has been repeatedly found in violation of international law. Our mandatory detention regime within the country is also a disgrace. At the end of last year, there were 1,315 people in detention, many having been detained for more than five years with no end in sight. From 2000 to 2018 there were dozens of deaths in Australia's immigration detention facilities, including as many as 20 suicides. Just last week we saw another tragedy: an Iraqi refugee who had been detained for five years died in a suspected suicide in Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. He had requested to be moved multiple times due to tensions with detainees, including a fight the night before his death, but his requests were ignored.
It absolutely does not have to be like this. This week, by the way, the Greens introduced the Migration Amendment (Evacuation to Safety) Bill 2023 to compel the government to immediately transfer to Australia all those still in offshore detention in PNG and Nauru. It will be up to the Labor government whether or not they can at least allow those people to leave those hellish conditions. It's time to end decades of cruelty and suffering caused by Australia's immigration regime both onshore and offshore. The mandatory detention must end.
But let's be clear about the politics of this. Time and again, politicians from both sides use refugees as a scapegoat. They decide to be cruel and impose cruelty and misery on desperate people, often fleeing conditions which our foreign policy has contributed to—not to mention the invasion of Iraq and the massive foreign policy and international implications that had on refugees moving around the world. And instead of welcoming these people with open arms, this country is deliberately cruel to the point of pushing people to suicide, which is devastating.
Rather than saying that in a country like this, regardless of the colour of your skin or the country you come from, we have enough wealth to ensure that you live a good life, they say, 'No: we have to torture these people to the point of death.' Why does this happen? If we were to tax those big corporations, if we were to take the enormous wealth in this country and use it to give everyone a good life, then we could afford that. But, rather than taking on the rich and powerful, this Labor government continues to go after the weak.