This Labor government has no shame whatsoever. But having now seen the depths of Labor’s inhumanity in refusing to call for a ceasefire in Gaza when thousands upon thousands of children and civilians are being killed by Israel, sadly, I am not surprised at Labor’s lack of human decency and sense of justice for refugees. In both cases Labor is showing complete disregard of its international obligations and its moral responsibility.
Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (17:42): Refugees and people seeking asylum have for decades borne the brunt of cruel, inhumane and racist government policies in this country aimed at dehumanising, demonising, deterring, detaining and deporting vulnerable people, resulting in unimaginable damage for thousands of people, including women and children. Refugees have seen decades of bipartisan Labor-Liberal cruelty in the form of temporary protection visas, mandatory detention, offshore processing, being locked up in hotels during the COVID pandemic and not being allowed to go even to university. They have been hidden away with no access to journalists, losing all hope, and in desperation they’ve harmed themselves, they’ve died by suicide and they’ve died because they didn’t get medical treatment. That’s the extent of the cruelty that Labor and the Liberals have inflicted on people who are just seeking safety in this country.
They are maligned by how they are described: queue jumpers, boat people, illegals, criminal aliens, economic refugees, threats to national security. It is just disgraceful. They are painted as people very different to so-called mainstream Australia. They are from a different culture, we are told. They are not one of us, we are told. It is shameful. Politicians have said they don’t want people like that in Australia. These boat people, they say, throw their children into the ocean. They lie. And so continues the othering of people just like us. For years we have watched politicians and the media whip up anti-refugee and anti-immigrant hysteria. For years we have warned of the impact it has on our community. For years we have spoken out about the damage this causes and the sucker it gives to white nationalists that want to kick all non-white people out of Australia.
In 2001—and I do want people to be reminded of this, in case some have forgotten—the then Prime Minister John Howard famously, or should I say, shamefully, said, ‘We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.’ This culminated in the Tampa affair, which you could say was one of the most divisive federal election campaigns in Australia. This was also the first time I ever considered joining a political party, and the Greens were the obvious choice. While both the Liberals and Labor were busily creating panic and demonising desperate people, claiming they had thrown their children overboard, the voice of Bob Brown rose over and above the rubble. When innocent people seeking asylum were maligned by the Howard government, supported by the Beazley opposition, the Greens were the only voice of humanity speaking out to bring them here. I’m so proud of my colleague and comrade Senator Nick McKim, who has carried on the tradition of courage, humanity, fairness and justice for refugees.
From then to now, people who seek asylum and refuge have been increasingly subjected to policies that have become more and more cruel, more restrictive, more punitive and more militarised. Both Liberal and Labor have inflicted this cruelty. The same systemic racism that has played out so viciously for First Nations people results in prejudice against people of colour, against immigrants and results in the mistreatment of refugees again and again. Here we are, yet again. This terrible persecution of refugees goes on, and it gets worse every single time. Under this bill, refugees and stateless persons who were released into the community as a result of a High Court decision which found indefinite detention was unlawful and unconstitutional will be placed in a precarious position yet again, where they are judged and sentenced not by the court of law but by the stroke of a politician’s pen.
This will create a subclass of individuals who are judged not by their actions but by their visa status. But white Australia has never been shy about having one rule for it and another for people it regards as second class. Everyone in Australia should be subject to the same criminal legal system regardless of who they are, where they come from or their visa status. When people on visas are sentenced to imprisonment in Australia, they serve those sentences before being taken into immigration detention. Haven’t you had enough of the fear and division? Haven’t you caused enough harm and damage to these people? Now you are willing to sidestep the judicial process of the courts and challenge the very principles of equality, of democracy, of fairness and of justice that are supposed to be the bedrock of this country’s legal system. At what point will you be satisfied? At what point will you see them as humans? We are told refugee policies are not racist. This is then justified by claims that it is fair, impartial and commonsense policy. We are told, ‘Shouldn’t those who have been patiently waiting for their turn in a queue get priority, rather than those jumping the queue?’ We also told, ‘Shouldn’t we protect our national identity and Australian culture from those who are so very different to us?’ And so the real racist agenda emerges, marginalising people who fall outside the very narrow conception of what it is to be one of us.
Labor’s decision to fast-track this draconian legislation is yet another capitulation to Mr Peter Dutton’s fearmongering and dog whistling. Now you are even writing the amendments for the Liberal Party and going to introduce them, doing their dirty work. This Labor government has no shame whatsoever. But having now seen the depths of Labor’s inhumanity in refusing to call for a ceasefire in Gaza when thousands upon thousands of children and civilians are being killed by Israel, sadly, I am not surprised at Labor’s lack of human decency and sense of justice for refugees. In both cases Labor is showing complete disregard of its international obligations and its moral responsibility. That is how low the Labor Party has sunk. There is still time to wake up, Labor—there is still time. Stop trampling on human rights and stop persecuting refugees.