The other night I had the pleasure of joining thousands of Australians across the country in protest against the Government’s proposed plan to return 267 asylum seekers (including 37 babies and 54 children), who are currently living in the Australian community, to offshore detention centres. Among this number is a boy who was allegedly raped on Nauru and 12 women who have been seriously sexually assaulted or suffered serious sexual harassment on Nauru. Many of the babies were born in Australia and have never been to Nauru or Papua New Guinea. This was my speech:
It is a privilege and an honour to be speaking before such an amazing crowd. I’d like to thank you all for being here. In an era that seems to be known for political apathy, you have taken the time to stand up for what you believe; you are here supporting those you do not know; you are fighting for those you could easily forget.
While working in Nauru, I witnessed the gradual erosion of the human spirit. I saw men lose hope, lose their minds, harm themselves and eventually attempt to take their own lives. Across the detention network there’s a report of a sexual assault every 13 days. Most of those are children, which is even more horrifying.
Reza Berati was murdered in Manus by a detention centre staff member; Hamid Kehazaei died due to a treatable infection in his foot; Fazel Chegeni was found dead under suspicious circumstances after having escaped Christmas Island Detention Centre. If the Australian government cannot guarantee the safety of newborn babies, children, women, and men in the detention centres we finance and run, we should not keep them imprisoned there. Let them stay.
If these were Australians we would find another way. If this was your newborn child; if this was your son who had been sexually assaulted; if this was your brother or sister, father or mother; we would find another way. Let them stay.
We have been down this road before. We treated our own indigenous people like animals; we took their children; and we are still trying to right our wrongs. I’m telling you now there is another way.
Deterrence is not the only option. It’s just the option the government is selling the Australian people. We don’t have to subject these people to the horrors of our detention centre regime. There are other ways. We can let them stay.
In this hour of darkness, when it appeared certain that the federal government would continue it’s morally bankrupt stance against people asking for our protection, ordinary Australians have stood up for what is right. The Uniting and Anglican churches have reminded us that we can do the right thing even if our politicians can’t.
But in the last few days we have also seen that politicians can act humanely while in office. That they can affect change even though so many politicians have told us there is no other way. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman, SA Premier Jay Weatherill, NSW Premier Mike Baird, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews have all offered their support to people seeking asylum. So why can’t Malcolm Turnbull?
If Malcom Turnbull sends these people back to Nauru; if Malcolm Turnbull continues to incarcerate people in the detention centre regime; he condones the abuse; he is complicit in that abuse. However, if Malcolm Turnbull allows these people to stay, he recognises that there are systemic failures in our offshore detention centre regime; he recognises that we are responsible for the safety of these people; and he recognises that we need to change our approach to helping people who are asking for our protection.
It is not enough to say we are stopping the boats. We must guarantee these people’s safety. Malcolm Turnbull, for their sake, for our sake, please be our leader, please let them stay.