With Australia’s refugee exchange with the United States set to expire, a group of prominent Australians have called upon the Prime Minister to accept New Zealand’s seven-year-standing resettlement offer.
Retired Socceroo Craig Foster and rugby league star Sonny Bill Williams joined Labor MP Anne Aly, Labor Senator Terri Butler, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Independent MP Zali Steggall on the lawns of Parliament House to support Amnesty International’s campaign to free the 300 refugees still in detention in Nauru and Papa New Guinea.
A petition of 65000 signatures was handed over to parliament.
Aunty Violet welcomed the crowd to Ngunnawal land “in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation” and pleaded with Federal Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to “free the refugees”.
Mr Foster said he was appalled by what he saw on a trip to Port Moresby, in October 2019.
“To see the conditions these humans were in…,” he said.
“I saw people who were broken. I saw people with deep psychological trauma.
“I saw people who were so medicated they could barely hold a sentence. Doctors who had lost their will to live and young men with scars on their arms from where they’ve attempted suicide.
“These are the awful, horrible stories to come out of this last eight years and it has to stop.”
Mr Foster called on Australians to reject the political side of the issue and said the treatment of society’s most vulnerable was a measure of a country.
“These people have been harmed and wronged by our country, in our name,” he said.
“We are the villains here. What we’ve done is wrong and we have to change it.”
Mr Williams urged Australians to imagine themselves in the position of a refugee fleeing persecution.
He said our recent COVID lockdowns were a small insight into the loss of freedom, but while ours was just weeks or months, there was always a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Imagine doing that for seven years, without that light,” Mr Williams said.
“Brother Scotty just needs to sign that paper; these people are humans just like us.
“Scotty, just give ‘em a fair go.”
International counter terrorism expert turned first female parliamentarian of Muslim faith Ms Aly said now was a good time to “really push it” with the government, as she believed there was a “shift in the Australian imagination”.
“Enough is enough,” she said.
“You can’t detain people indefinitely.”
Ms Steggall said Prime Minister Morrison had spoken about compassion during COVID but when it came to refugees, compassion was “overdue”.
“They’ve not committed any crimes. It is time,” she said.
“The Australian people need to get behind this and tell the Prime Minster it’s not on anymore.
“Maybe through their own personal experience of the lockdown, they can start to have a better insight in the persecution and despair of these people.”
Ms Steggall, who defeated former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the electorate of Warringah in Sydney’s North, said since the late 1990’s the treatment of refugees had become politicised, and the coalition was “out of touch” with its base.
“They are pandering to the conservative right and forgetting their centre-right base,” she said.
“We are a country of refugees; most people came here by boat or plane from somewhere else. I find it quite astounding how we’ve ignored our international legal obligations.
“There are certain ideals and values that we like to think of being Australian. But these policies do not match these values.”