Veteran Liberal backbencher, Russell Broadbent believes his own government’s policy on the indefinite detention of asylum seeker children is sadly out of touch with contemporary Australian sentiment.
In a direct challenge to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s pledge to plug into the values that make us all Australians, Broadbent says “Long-term indefinite detention is not good enough in this country”. He says it is a betrayal of Australian values and he is disappointed his call for it to end soon after the change of Liberal leadership largely went unheeded by the media.
His call was prompted by Morrison’s values promise at his first news conference and by a protest of 1,000 medical staff at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. They protested against the return of children to off-shore detention where they cannot be effectively treated.
Other medical staff have pointed to the enormous harm done to children, some of whom were born on Nauru and now live without any hope. Broadbent told the ABC that the protesting nurses and doctors were “not lefty activists” but they were giving expression to a widespread community view that our detention policies are not good enough. They are inhumane and a blight on our international reputation.
Broadbent, in 2006, joined other Liberals in crossing the floor to vote against Howard Government asylum seeker laws; policies that subsequently the Labor Party has fully embraced. Indeed, the dreadful situation on Nauru and Manus was Labor policy implemented by Kevin Rudd on the eve of the 2013 election.
Labor’s current immigration spokesman, Shayne Newman, wrote to Peter Dutton last month when he was immigration minister and urged him to use his authority to get kids off Nauru and immediately accept New Zealand’s offer to take many of them.
Dutton’s refusal to hear these humanitarian pleas is in stark contrast to the speedy overturning of his own department’s blocking of entry for foreign tourists who had worked as au pairs for a former Queensland police colleague and for the family of a generous Liberal donor.
What adds insult to injury is in reasons obtained through Freedom of Information, Dutton said he made one of the decisions as “a humanitarian act”. This is the same minister who is deaf to humanitarian calls from Australian doctors and aid workers begging him to allow sick children and refugees to come to Australia for treatment.
It is this disturbing double-think that makes the whole saga of the au pair decisions so sick making. The completely spurious claim that to allow even one refugee child from Nauru would send a message to people smugglers to get back into business was disproved two weeks ago when a boatload of Vietnamese asylum seekers landed near the Daintree in Queensland. The deterrence through cruelty certainly didn’t stop them from breaching our borders to seek protection.
We should be grateful that our parliament has a lone humanitarian voice in Broadbent but outraged that his pleas go unheeded.