“… That brings me to the issue of asylum seekers, a passionate and emotional issue for the voters in Batman’s community. I think proudly of the great achievements of both sides of this House, of Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke, who with bipartisan support provided sanctuary to those fleeing the consequences of war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and later from the events of Tiananmen Square.

I cannot comprehend how a nation that provided a safe home to so many in the wake of World War II, including our large Jewish community of Holocaust survivors, allowed the Tampa and the children overboard scandal to evolve into the shameful policy of indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru. Racist dog whistling has demonised and vilified a community that has everything to give Australia. And the sacrifice of this human potential has been made solely for political gain.

The facts remain the facts: the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers are from places of conflict and the overwhelming majority have been assessed as refugees under the international convention to which Australia is a signatory. We are a rich country. We can afford to take more refugees. However, I doubt we can afford the ongoing cost to our national psyche of subjecting men, women, and children to years of punitive indefinite detention. We must, as a priority, move the asylum seekers off Manus and Nauru to permanent resettlement and ensure that indefinite detention never happens again.

My commitment in this House is to the cause of humane refugee policy. It is to foreign policy and foreign aid that proactively supports people as they flee conflict. It is to assessment, not punishment, within a fair time limit, and as part of regional agreements for humane resettlement. It is to collaboration with the UNHCR and more funds for its operation, as well as a greater permanent intake of refugees with the expansion of our humanitarian program. It is to ensuring all refugees have access to social services and income support. Offering sanctuary to refugees does not need to compromise or undercut other paths to citizenship that Australia offers to migrants, like family reunions. My own community in Batman is living evidence that we have actually done this before.

Just as migration benefits us, so too does meaningful engagement with our neighbours in the Pacific and Asian countries. In my role as ACTU president, I was on the board of APHEDA, an international aid agency led in true solidarity by the wonderful Kate Lee. APHEDA runs small-scale aid projects that empower communities. But APHEDA and the many other aid agencies need more resources to expand their work. The United Nations and the OECD international benchmark for official development assistance is 0.7 per cent of gross national income, and our current aid budget is 0.27 per cent. Shamefully, we’re 16th on the OECD list of contributors.

Labor has committed to increasing our aid contributions. Lifting the living standards and opportunities of our n…..”

You can read the full transcript:   Ged Kearney’s maiden speech

Watch on YouTube:   Ged Kearney’s maiden speech



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