HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.24 pm]: I rise tonight to speak about the urgent humanitarian crisis that is currently occurring on Manus Island. The crisis has effectively been created by the federal government, and I point the finger specifically at Peter Dutton. Australia’s Manus Island prison, which was reopened by the Labor government and has been run very punitively under the current government, has long been a human rights disaster. However, it is now an escalating human rights emergency.
On 31 October, the federal government abandoned the regional processing centre on Manus Island and cut the supply of drinking water, food and electricity to the over 600 refugees and asylum seekers at that facility. That begs the question: How did we get to this point? How did this situation come about? As many members will be aware, last year, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court found that the imprisonment of those 600 men on Manus Island was unconstitutional. As a result of that decision, the detainees were allowed to move freely around Manus Island, because that was considered to be sufficient to meet the terms of the court ruling.
The Australian government has since decided that it will close the Manus Island processing centre. This is an arbitrary decision that was made by Peter Dutton and was not necessary to meet the terms of the court decision. The problem is that although the regional processing centre has been closed, not enough accommodation is available on Manus Island for the 600 men who were detained at that centre. The Australian government has offered three sites at which the men can be relocated. However, the accommodation at those sites is not finished and the sites are still unsafe. This has been confirmed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. One of those sites is still a construction site, with a couple of demountables that have effectively been dropped into a sea of mud. More notably, and of great concern, is that after multiple knife and machete attacks on these refugees, the men do not believe they will be safe in the community, which is where these other sites are located. Their concerns are not unwarranted. The Papua New Guinea Commissioner of Police stated recently that the safety of the refugees is not to be taken for granted, given the tensions that have been expressed by the locals on Manus Island. While these men were at the regional processing centre, they witnessed murder, beatings and deprivation, and an armed assault by Papua New Guinea naval personnel. The fact that they feel unsafe in the community speaks volumes about the situation in which these men find themselves.
The refugees and asylum seekers who remain at the regional processing centre on Manus Island no longer have access to medical treatment and medications. These are vulnerable men, many of whom have gone through unspeakable hardship and trauma in their country of origin and in their efforts to get to safety in Australia. These men are largely from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, and they have fled war and persecution. I note that some of these men are Rohingya Muslims who are fleeing violence in Myanmar. As far as I am concerned, to cut off access to basic essentials for these men is appalling, unjustifiable and totally inhumane. Many of these men are clinically depressed and living with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorders. They now have no further access to their psychotropic medications. It is over 30 degrees Celsius on Manus Island. There is stifling humidity that is as thick as soup. It is swarming with mosquitoes. It has been reported that the men have resorted to digging holes to find water, and they are adding hoarded sugar and salt to the water that they are able to find.
These individuals are supposed to be in Australia’s care. They have had their basic human rights taken away from them by the Australian government. This humanitarian emergency has been created by our government, yet it is another example to add to the terrifying catalogue of Australia’s outrageous treatment of refugees and asylum seekers since the Tampa 16 years ago. These men want simply their freedom and safety. They have already suffered for over four years at the hands of our government. The commonwealth government needs to start showing some compassion and evacuate them to safety. I think it is abhorrent that the offer by New Zealand to take some of the men was turned down. I would argue that we have enough space to be able to bring people here to Australia, to safety. Now is the time that we need to make sure get these men out of this place as soon as possible.
I also want to acknowledge the Love Makes A Way protesters today. They are faith-based protesters who made a point of hanging off the side of a building near Julie Bishop’s office to try to highlight this issue. It was also a source of protest at the Melbourne Cup yesterday. Many people are starting to become increasingly distressed by this. I participated in a non-violent gathering on Sunday to express my distress about what is happening. We really need to see an end to this. It is at breaking point and we want to ensure there are no deaths and no blood is left on our hands.