Local, Independant and Effective

Protect detainees as Manus Island closes

Posted October 23, 2017

 

Cathy has urged the Government to "be their best selves" and look to those values Australians regard most important with the closure of the Manus Island regional processing centre on 31 October.

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (12:03): I move:

That this House:

(1)      notes that:

(a)   the planned closure of the regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) on 31 October 2017 is creating a highly stressful situation for the 773 asylum seekers who remain on Manus Island;

(b)   the Australian Government is seeking to relocate people to East Lorengau or elsewhere in PNG ahead of the deadline;

(c)   there will be a withdrawal of current medical and mental health care, torture and trauma support and security services to detainees on 31 October;

(d)   a UNHCR survey of the deterioration of the mental health of those on Manus Island and Nauru in May 2016 showed that more than 88 per cent of offshore detainees are suffering serious mental health issues after several years in detention; and

(e)   there is enormous pressure on the detainees on Manus Island to relocate in PNG or return to where they fled, ahead of the deadline, whereas the UNHCR says a majority have been recognised as refugees who would qualify for resettlement; and

(2)      calls on the Government to:

(a)   urgently find viable and humane solutions outside of PNG and Nauru for those remaining under offshore processing arrangements; and

(b)   ensure all detainees are settled safely and with appropriate medical support prior to the 31 October closure of the Manus Island regional processing centre.

I was in grade 5 when I first understood the link between values and behaviours. My ethics teacher explained that in life it is easy for people to endorse values, things, attributes and characteristics, but it is behaviours that give the evidence to these values. She asked us to imagine at the end of our lives one or two important values and the behaviours that we had enacted to show that we had lived by those values. Then she asked if there would be enough evidence to convict us. Her specific example was Christianity, the judge was God and the evidence was how we had lived our lives. In the four years I've worked in this parliament there has been lots of discussion and debate about values—Australian values and community values—and I believe that's exactly how it should be. It's the role of a member of parliament to debate values, cultural norms and behaviours expected and to enact laws to enforce them. In this debate today, I'd like to talk about four specific values—respect; duty of care; fair go for the underdog; and habeas corpus, the right to a fair trial by your peers and punishments that fit the crime—and the behaviours that would provide evidence that we are living those values. My motion notes:

(a) the planned closure of the regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) on 31 October 2017 is creating a highly stressful situation for the 773 asylum seekers who remain on Manus Island;

    …    …

(c) there will be a withdrawal of current medical and mental health care, torture and trauma support and security services to detainees on 31 October;

(d) a UNHCR survey of the deterioration of the mental health of those on Manus Island and Nauru in May 2016 showed that more than 88 per cent of offshore detainees are suffering serious mental health issues after several years in detention; and

(e) there is enormous pressure on the detainees on Manus Island to relocate in PNG or return to where they fled, ahead of the deadline, whereas the UNHCR says a majority have been recognised as refugees who would qualify for resettlement;

In respect of behaviours and evidence, we have seen indefinite detention, severe health issues and very ordinary people detained without trial because they fled from where they came with a well-founded fear of persecution.

In the past weeks I have spoken to the UNHCR—and I acknowledge their presence here today—and I've spoken to the Prime Minister and I've asked questions in parliament. I'm totally unimpressed with the response. Sure, I get the argument: protect our borders, deaths at sea, breaking the business model. But, in our treatment of the people on Manus, I believe we've crossed a line. The evidence shows that we're behaving badly, that we're becoming a bully, that we are very cruel, that we are unfair and, sadly, that we are not being our best selves. Worse than all of that, I believe, we have foisted on our well-respected neighbours a problem we don't want to have to own. Local people don't want foreigners, forced to live in their small rural communities, outnumbering them. Women in Papua New Guinea fear for their safety.

So I say to the government and the opposition: the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. Our treatment of these asylum seekers will define us in the decades to come. It will shadow our role on the United Nations Human Rights Committee. It will shadow our relationship with Papua New Guinea and with our other neighbours. It will shadow us as a nation. Its shadow will be long and heavy and dark. I believe we're better than this. I believe we can protect our borders and we can look after the refugees.

In closing, my words are: it is not only what we do but how we do it. I call on Labor and the government to work in partnership with the UNHCR and community groups such as Rural Australians for Refugees to find a solution to this moral problem and to work with the leaders on Manus to sort it out. We can be better and we should be better, and I call on the government to be better.


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