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New Home Affairs Minister has opportunities for compassion

  • 08 April 2021
  Last week I welcomed the appointment of Karen Andrews to the home affairs portfolio as part of the Morrison government’s ministerial reshuffle. Her strident stance in recent days regarding the mistreatment of women in the Federal Parliament is a welcome sign that she will act on her convictions.

The treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum calls for an equally determined response on the back of years of poor public policy that has led to the misery of thousands and cost Australian taxpayers billions.

I stand to support the Minister in the early days of her new role to make compassionate and sensible decisions, to find a different path for the resolution of the challenges she faces.

A case in point is the Tamil family from Sri Lanka removed three years ago from the central Queensland town of Biloela to Christmas Island where their detention costs $1.4 million a year. To date it is unclear what threat if any, the Murugappan family, including their two little girls, pose to our national security. In fact, the Biloela community has fought hard for their return.

In February I welcomed the release from detention of some people (previously medically transferred from Papua New Guinea and Nauru) into the Australian community. The government has already conceded that it is cheaper for these people to be in the community, particularly as they pose no threat to the community. This logic must not only apply to the Murugappan family but to the 100 or so people (also medically evacuated) who remain in Australian detention.

A major concern is their mental health. In 2019 doctors assessed people for medical evacuation from Papua New Guinea and Nauru and found 91 per cent had psychiatric health problems, with 28 per cent living with post-traumatic stress. For those evacuees remaining in Australian detention, their mental illness cannot be effectively treated because the cause of that illness is the detention itself — continuing, indefinite and prolonged over nearly eight years. They should all be released immediately.

I also encourage the Minister to revisit New Zealand’s long-standing offer to permanently re-settle the remaining refugees from Papua New Guinea and Nauru. If the Morrison government wants to save money, closing its offshore processing regime must surely be an option. It has cost about one billion dollars every year for the past seven years.

'There is no evidence any of these people are a threat to our community.'

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