Like many of my colleagues on the crossbench and the people we represent, I held high hopes that a change of government might lead to careful, considered reform in the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, whether that be the speedy resolution of people languishing on TPVs or shared visas or indeed a careful reconsideration of indefinite offshore detention. I certainly didn’t expect that we’d be here today being asked to ram through this designation, locking in Nauru as, in the minister’s words, a regional processing centre for another 10 years—not an interim couple of months; 10 long years.
I spoke earlier about my dismay, when I opposed the SSO, which has us now in this managed debate in order to effectively rubber-stamp our approval on another decade of Nauru. Here we are, with an extended but very short debate on this most contentious, most fraught policy, which has seen us in twists and turns in this nation for such a long time. Preventing vulnerable people from falling victim to people smugglers and attempting dangerous journeys by boat to our shores is a matter of the gravest importance and one that people in this House today have spoken to with genuine conviction, including, indeed, the minister herself, who must bear the responsibility of this—an onerous responsibility. I don’t take that lightly.
I acknowledge the work of the member for Clark. Indeed, I stood in this place twice to second his bill, because I genuinely believe that we need to spend our time, our money, our brains, our heads and our hearts on exploring a better way. I sincerely hope that the minister, with all of her responsibilities, takes the Bali Process to the fullest extent that she possibly can as she represents Australia. People held in indefinite offshore detention are experiencing, right now, physical, emotional and mental harm. Today, as before, we heard from Behrouz Boochani, a man with courage and clarity, who has chronicled the despair of people in indefinite offshore detention. To hear the words from the member for Fowler, a member of parliament who knows exactly what it’s like to be a refugee—that is the most compelling witness you could hear.
We’ve heard too about our dismay—and I share it—that the government has just re-signed a contract worth $420 million with a US prison operator to run this offshore detention centre in Nauru, and I’m sincerely concerned about that for all the reasons my colleagues have outlined. Surely, if we’re spending money to that degree, we can think: how can we collectively as a region do this better?
I appreciate that the Minister for Home Affairs has issued me an invitation to speak to her about these issues—about this broader cooperation. It is difficult, I acknowledge. You carry that responsibility, and I don’t envy you for that responsibility, because it is an onerous one. But I welcome the opportunity to speak with you more about this—how we can collectively as a region do better. We must do better. We must have proper debates on things that matter so much to us—not just us, as members of parliament, but the people we represent and, more importantly than that, those people all around the world who are seeking asylum, who are seeking our help, who are escaping the most horrendous situations.
I’ll be voting against this motion because over and over again my constituents contact me about this, and so often I throw my hands in the air and say: ‘If only I could do more, I would. I rarely get the chance.’ Today is such a chance to speak to this motion, to make clear on the record, in Hansard, that to put a rubber stamp on 10 more years of Nauru without putting up any protest or any argument to look for something better would be failing them.
So, Minister, I look forward to having further conversations with you. I’m sorry, deeply sorry, that we are in this position today, debating an issue of such national and international importance in such a rushed manner.