By Liam McLoughlin 20/10/2015
The text of Prime Minister Scott Ludlam's speech to Parliament.
I move that today we honour the many thousands of asylum seekers interned, exploited and abused by the Australian government over two decades. I rise to apologise for the pain inflicted by previous governments upon your bodies, hearts, minds and souls. I cannot take away your trauma, nor can I ever make up for these grievous wrongs, yet may this act offer you some solace. May it also be the first small step towards national atonement.
You fled your homelands in fear and desperation. You were forced to give up your beloved relatives and community for a perilous path to an uncertain future.
You believed a large continent to the south may be your salvation. You came across the seas with courage, dignity and hope to share in our boundless plains.
Somewhere around Ashmore Reef we confiscated your daydreams of salvation and dressed you in a shroud of damnation. To our eternal shame, we fed Australians a diet of lies and turned the nation against you.
For caging you like animals and condemning you like criminals, we are sorry.
For denying your future by detaining you indefinitely, we are sorry.
For legislating anxiety by giving you only temporary protection, we are sorry.
For tormenting you to the point of mass hunger strikes and starvation, we are sorry.
For the self-immolation and death of Pakistani refugee Shahraz Kayani in 2001 outside Parliament House, we are sorry.
For deceit and slander during the children overboard affair, we are sorry.
For our negligence and denial of any responsibility in the drowning of 146 children, 142 women and 65 men on the SIEV-X, we are sorry.
For using racist, nationalist rhetoric to vilify you, we are sorry.
For consistently contravening the 1951 Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with our detention regime, we are sorry.
For manufacturing a lifetime legacy of mental illness for a generation of children in detention, we are sorry.
For detaining Kashmiri refugee Peter Qasim for seven years, we are sorry.
For your cruel and inhumane treatment in offshore detention camps on Christmas Island, Nauru and Manus Island, we are sorry.
For making you pay for your time in detention, we are sorry.
For forcing you and your families back into imminent danger, we say sorry.
For stripping you of legal safeguards in offshore camps, we are sorry.
For the 48 asylum seekers who drowned after their boat smashed into the cliffs off Christmas Island in 2010, we are sorry.
For the damage caused by the ‘no advantage’ test, we are sorry.
For demonising you with the misnomer ‘illegal’, we are sorry.
For removing your right to ever seek protection in Australia, we are sorry.
For not protecting Reza Barati and for failing to push for the prosecution of those responsible for his murder, we are sorry.
For detaining 157 Tamil asylum seekers for one month at sea, we are sorry.
For delaying medical attention to Hamid Kehazaei leading to his death from septicaemia, we are sorry.
For policies damned by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, we are sorry.
For the sexual abuse of children on Nauru, we are sorry.
For turning back boats, we are sorry.
For ignoring or denying the culture of physical and sexual violence in offshore camps, we are sorry.
For deploying a militarised culture of secrecy to hide your suffering, we are sorry.
For our deaf ears and blind eyes to an epidemic of self-harm, we are sorry.
For denying Somali refugee Abyan counselling and flying her back to Nauru, we are sorry.
For the self-immolation of Khodayar Amini, we are sorry.
For the more than 35 asylum seekers who have died in Australia’s onshore and offshore detention centres, we are sorry.
For the nearly 2000 asylum seekers who have died at sea en route to Australia, we are sorry.
For collaborating with the media to condition Australians to deny their own basic humanity, we are sorry.
For all these tragedies and for those which remain unspoken, I am sorry.
This national apology cannot be symbol alone; it must be a harbinger of national reform.
To this end, today I would like to to give substance to this apology. First, sorry means being compensated for your suffering. All asylum seekers ever detained by the Australian government will receive a share of $2 billion in reparations. Second, sorry means never doing it again. Mandatory detention ends today. All domestic and offshore detention centres will close within weeks and all asylum seekers will be processed in the community and have full access to welfare and job opportunities. Third, sorry means giving asylum seekers realistic and timely prospects of being resettled in safety either in Australia or internationally. Australia will increase its humanitarian intake to 100,000 refugees per year and the $1.2 billion spent annually running our offshore camps will now be given to the UNHCR.
As a willing participant in the war on terror, Australia fully acknowledges our role in the refugee crisis. As one nation within the global community, we also recognise our duty to accept our fair share of refugees, and more if we can. As a multicultural immigrant nation, we will welcome these new citizens with open arms and are excited about their future participation in our communities.
Thanks to the efforts of refugee advocacy organisations like the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Refugee Council of Australia and the Refugee Action Coalition, as well as whistle-blowers, active citizens and asylum seekers themselves, you will no longer be punished in the shadow of Tampa.
Never again will we violate your ears with phrases like stop the boats, illegals, sovereign borders, queue jumping, country shopping and the Pacific Solution. These and other buzzwords of brutality will now fade from public discourse and in time, public memory.
This does not mean we should ever forget the seriousness of our crimes. We should never shake that nagging sense of national shame, for it is the least we deserve.
Yet between our repentance and your forgiveness, perhaps the nation’s soul is not beyond repair.