Parliamentary speeches

World Refugee Week

June 23, 2021

This week is World Refugee Week.

We mark it at a time when more people than ever before have been forced to flee their homes.

Last week the UNHCR reported that 82.4 million people have been forcibly displayed.

82.4 million.

In a global pandemic.

The scale is staggering; almost impossible to process.

I think we must confront it though, and respond. This presents two challenges to Australian lawmakers right now.

We have to acknowledge that forced migration is a massive global problem, requiring international cooperation - including of course in respect of climate.

But in doing so, we can’t lose sight of its human scale.

Every one of the millions forced to flee matters.

We should try to hear their stories.

And to share them.

Secondly, and relatedly, we must detoxify this debate which has debased Australian politics for too long.

When we talk about asylum policy, what we are really talking about are the things we are doing (or not doing) to protect vulnerable people in need of our protection.

They can’t continue to be collateral in a soul destroying race to the bottom.

To say this is not to demand agreement on a particular set of policies.

It’s plea to enable a genuine policy debate, anchored in values and concern for the people forced to ask us for help; conducted on its own terms not to further divisive wedge policies that diminish us all, whilst achieving less than nothing.



Today in this building we have recognised refugee week, and celebrated stories of refugee contribution - of which there are so many.

Like that of Tri Nguyen, whose words moved me today.

These are powerful.

They matter.

They must be a spur for each of us and all of us to do better, not an excuse for satisfied inaction - the stakes are much too high.

There are things we can and should be doing right now, which would enable people in our care to get on with rebuilding their lives, with contributing.

That we aren’t is a sad and damning indictment on this place.

I note that my friends the Members for Macnamara and Cooper are proposing that we be better, in a motion today calling for us to accept the New Zealand resettlement offer; to move towards ending the anguish of indefinite detention, and to treat people in our care with the dignity they deserve.

This call should be heeded.



And in Perth right now there’s a four year old girl who’s asked Australia for protection.

A four year old girl, born here, who’s spent every one of her birthdays in detention.

A four year old girl who got so sick - in our care - on Christmas Island so that she had to be airlifted to Perth.

As I speak, this girl, Tharnicaa (we should say her name), has been reunited with her family and is out of hospital.

These are good things, which I welcome.

Likewise, reports of the grant of bridging visas.

But this can’t end here.

Not for this girl, and this family, who have captured the hearts of Australians.

Including that of our new Deputy Prime Minister, at least when he was on the backbench.

The Murugappan family belong home to Bilo.

Biloela says so, so many Australians say so and so do I.

We won’t stop fighting until they are there.

Mr Joyce, what are you going to do about this?