Tamil Asylum Seekers, Responding to the Global Refugee Crisis


Peter Khalil: Hundreds of people in my electorate of Wills have met with me, written to me and called me about the Tamil family—Priya, Nadesalingam and their two Australian-born children, Kopika and Tharunicaa—who’ve made their home in Biloela in Queensland. A lot has been said about this family and why they should stay in Australia. Overwhelmingly, the people in my electorate who’ve contacted me want this family, whose children have known no other home but Australia, to stay. I also believe that the minister should use his ministerial discretion for this family—after all, the Minister for Home affairs and the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs have both intervened and used their ministerial discretion in hundreds of cases to allow people to stay in Australia, from au pairs working illegally to other asylum seeker cases. We’ve heard the argument—and we’ve heard it from the other side—that allowing this family to stay will create a backdoor or will open up the floodgates. The reality is that this ministerial discretion has been used again and again and we have not seen a flood of au pairs. The government’s policies are built on this deterrence which involves cruelty. This is the path the government has chosen to take.

We’ve always argued that there are other ways and that we support other ways. We stand against the government’s policy of indefinite detention. We want to see people processed safely, with their dignity and human rights upheld, as quickly as possible. We stand against this government’s delays in processing the applications of some 30,000 people nationally and their cruel removal of all the safety nets, including income support, legal aid, counselling and casework, which would be available to them while they have their asylum claims assessed. We developed a series of policies on this and have been very public in articulating them. One is ending indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru. Labor took to the last election a policy to double the annual refugee intake. I myself co-sponsored a community sponsored refugee program which would have added 5,000 places per year under community sponsorship. We committed $500 million to the UNHCR. We will restore the 90-day rule in processing. We called for an independent children’s advocate. For refugees in our community already, we would end both the temporary protection visas and the safe haven enterprise visas, the TPVs and the SHEVs, and move people to permanent protection if they are found to be genuine refugees. That means a right to family reunion. It means a start to building a life here in Australia that is legitimate. Of course, we would also abolish the fast-track process and restoring the Status Resolution Support Services welfare funding which is so important for families.

Beyond even these policies, we should look further to our role in responding to the global refugee crisis, a role that this government has resiled from. Australia is a successful, multicultural nation, and we should be world leaders, as we have been in generations past, in welcoming refugees. I believe that Australia can and should again be a global leader in the response to the global refugee crisis. History shows us a way forward. In the 1970s and 1980s Australia welcomed refugees from South-East Asia, but for the most part they didn’t come by boat. Between 1975 and 1982, almost 70,000 refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia resettled in Australia. Of those, only 2,000 people came directly to Australia by boat. The rest, the vast majority, came by plane after their claims were processed in Asia through regional agreements that had been entered into.

We need a return to that sort of coordinated international effort. We need an international agreement where 10, 20 or 30 refugee-taking countries commit to taking more refugees, but do so on a consistent basis so that we can start to really address the global refugee crisis. I spoke about this in my first speech to this place, and I have been advocating for this idea ever since. I’ve obviously done some policy work in this space. It is an ambitious goal, but the scale of the crisis that we face globally calls for ambition. If we want to live in a safe and peaceful region, we need to move beyond this toxic, domestic debate, the fear based debate, and step up and lead as a nation. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s in our interests as a nation to do so.