Speech by Anne-Marie Delahunt, given at the Canberra Refugee Action rally: 30 October 2016
Friends: it’s great to be here today in front of such a crowd of people concerned, as I am, about the people on Manus and Nauru.
Concerned for people – for men, for women and children suffering under Australia’s cruel asylum seeker policies.
It’s Time to remember some stats: Well, let me try because finding out accurate information about asylum seekers held by our government is a very difficult task – designed to try to stop us speaking at all.
I have tried to be accurate – and can verify the source of my statements – but I cannot say it is correct.
Don’t you find it odd that such a major government expenditure, over $3.2 billion every year since 2013, doesn’t provide clear information – about the people we detain, the outcomes of their assessments and where they are now.
I think there are 551 men on Manus
- 98% – yes 98% have been found to be refugees – that is, 540 men on Manus are refugees
- of those 540 only 20 have been resettled in PNG – 3.7%
- as we know, some of those people have tried to return to detention in preference to attempting to live their lives in the community.
The numbers for Nauru are more awkward to be certain about – as the detention centre there is ‘open’ and many assessed refugees have been moved into the ‘community’ – so they disappear from Australian statistics
- Of those processed, 77% are refugees
- 5 refugees have been resettled in Cambodia (but only one, possibly two remain there now).
While many on Nauru are now ‘free’ within the community – let us remember that Nauru is a very small island – 21 sq Kms (the ACT is over 800 sq Kms). Nauru has a population of just over 10.000 people – with over 500 people in the detention centre (reported at the end of 2015). There are also many people, no longer in detention, having found to be refugees, housed in the Nauruan community. A ratio of one refugee for every 10 Nauruans has been cited.
Did I mention that both PNG and Nauru are some of the poorest nations in the world.
It’s Time to recall some uncomfortable truths:
Refugees on Manus and Nauru, whether physically in detention camps, or in transit camps, or in the community, are still not free
- they cannot leave–
- they are not citizens
- they do not have passports.
Journalist Julia Baird has described this as being ‘free as a bird with a leg chain’.
Over the last few weeks, a number of things have happened that heightened our concern:
We had the 4 Corners program. We saw remarkable, bright young people gradually deteriorating before our eyes as the full horror of their life – a life of detention, a life without hope, broke their spirits.
- And the response of the government? Minister Dutton claimed that the ABC had been ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’.
We had the Q&A program where one of the architects of Operation Sovereign Borders said that ‘most Australian Towns would give their right arm’ for the medical facilities on Nauru
- Perhaps Jim Molan is not aware of that poor child on Nauru, whose broken arm has not been properly set – and who is provided with Panadol instead of medical treatment; or his sister who suffers from an aggressive skin rash; or his mother awaiting attention for lumps in her breast.
We know that the men held on Manus Island – the men who have been found to be refugees – have been told that the detention centre will be closed (after all, the PNG Supreme Court as ruled that it is illegal to detain people there).
And their options are few. –
- Return home – if home is an appropriate name for the places from which the 540 men fled due to legitimate fear of persecution; or
- Move into the PNG community – without the protection of a clan nor the resources of the expat community– to be able to live a secure and productive life.
We know that it costs over $500,000 to keep each person in Manus and Nauru but only $40,000 for each person in community detention in Australia
Did you know that it costs just over $300,000 to keep a convicted serial killer, Ivan Millat, in supermax detention in Goulbourn jail. We spend an extra $200,000 more to keep people who have been found to be refugees – people who have fled from persecution – in jail.
Let’s be clear – as a community we pay $300,000 to keep a convicted serial killer in jail. And, we pay an $500,000 to keep each and every person, child, woman and man, in detention on Manus and Nauru – because they sought asylum in Australia.
Something is very very wrong with that.
But I speak today because I am also concerned for us – for Australians and for our country. What we are doing to asylum seekers we are also doing to ourselves – our sense of ourselves as a ‘fair go’ country, of a country that has a proud tradition of upholding values of decency, justice and honesty.
What is the reality:
Our Prime Minister has claimed that what happens to refugees held on Nauru is the responsibility of Nauru.
- This is not true – in February this year, the High Court, in the M68 case, ruled that Australia has responsibility for people it detains offshore.
- The Australian Migration Act also makes it clear that Australia can take ‘any action’ it wants to in relation to regional processing.
What is the reality:
The standards of the public service have been so undermined that Michael Pezzullo, head of the Immigration and Border Protection Department recently said that he was personally offended by the Amnesty International report. He was offended by a statement that our Border Protection policy “essentially amounts to torture”.
- Unfortunately, he was ‘personally offended’ – he wasn’t offended or concerned for those people in Nauru and Manus who are ‘essentially’ being tortured – by the policies and practices managed by the department he leads.
- Well – I am more than personally offended – I am furious – and very very angry. When I was a senior public servant – only 2 years ago, there was something called the Australian Public Service Values – one of them is about being Accountable to the community.
Mr Pezzulo – you are accountable for what happens to refugees and asylum seekers detained in those camps, you are accountable for what ‘essentially amounts to torture’.
And the Prime Minister’s response to that same report: “It is absolutely false”. – no evidence, no argument – just a Turnbull spin.
A person in the street apologised to me for not being able to take a Close the Camps leaflet because they ‘worked for the government’. Excuse me? Public Servants are no longer able to read a leaflet not authorised by the government?
Perhaps it is Mr Dutton who is doling out the Kool Aid.
Another reality –
When Omid Masoumali set himself on fire, and died, while in Australian detention on Nauru, Minister Dutton argued that people self-immolate so they can get to Australia. To quote Robert Manne:
“It took 30 years of brutal behaviour for a remark like this to be possible and for Australians not to notice how truly remarkable was the Minister’s brutality.”
And a reality that shook me to my core –
During a recent Rainbow Refugee Action meeting, a speaker related this incident:
- A member of the Refugee Review Tribunal asked a gay asylum seeker what he did in the shower – let me repeat that – a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal asked a gay asylum seeker what he did in the shower with his partner.
- I mean really?? Since when did we as a nation become quite so prurient – and inappropriate? Surely the Tribunal was seeking to assess this man’s fear of persecution – not to assess his personal habits or sexual performance.
The final abuse – today Turnbull announced new legislation banning those held on Manus and Nauru from ever ever even visiting Australia?
Let’s think about that – a refugee from Manus or Nauru eventually finds sanctuary in other country – say New Zealand – and rises to become Governor? Will we put that person on the Border Control Watch List? For daring to seek asylum by boat?
Are Turnbull and Dutton seeking to protect themselves from future court cases? Or just wedging Shorten?
These last couple of weeks have been exceptionally difficult – it seemed that every day there was another reason to be upset, perhaps to experience despair and a loss of hope. And to imagine, with fear and shame, the reality of offshore detention.
But I also listened to Michelle Obama’s New Hampshire speech and some of her comments kept nagging at me – and I hope that keep nagging at you too
- ‘I have to tell you I can’t stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.
- This is not something we can ignore.
- We cannot allow ourselves to be so disgusted that we shut off the TV and walk away. We can’t sit around wringing our hands. We need to recover from our shock and depression.’
- We need to get to work”
We do know the right thing to do – it is to bring people from Manus and Nauru and settle them here in Australia. Why:
- It is the right thing
- We cannot imprison refugees – and nearly everyone is a refugee, for taking a boat
- We should not imprison children at all
- We have a duty of care to people who have been subject to Australian policies – after all their suffering, we must begin to really care for them
- We know there is no mythical third country anxiously waiting to resettle the people that our government has so damaged.
So, let us affirm that what we want as a nation – and what we want as a community is simple:
- A fair go for all
These are not aspirations – they are the minimum standards that we will accept – from each other and from our government.
Our work is to keep going – to push on with vigour and hope. It is time for us to act:
- Call out our representatives: Katy, Zed, Gai and Andrew – visit, email, call, talk, picket and protest. They are not representing us when they remain silent about Nauru and Manus. Let us make their lives uncomfortable.
- Speak to your family, your neighbours – talk about the men, the women, the children, the violence, the costs
- And keep talking
- Put a poster in your front yard
- Join the Refugee Action campaign
- Ask yourself – what will I say to my kids and grandkids in the future when they ask – how did operation Sovereign Borders happen – why didn’t you stop it?
- Ask yourself – what else can I do.
- Challenge yourself to resist the sedative – Waleed Aly’s biting description of the ‘stop the boats’ mantra.
It’s time – for us to be brave, for us to keep talking, for us to keep campaigning and to speak up.
As David Morrison said – The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.