Australian Red Cross

AUSTRALIAN RED CROSS

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: 

That this council— 

1. Notes that— 

(a) 2014 is the centenary year of the Red Cross in Australia, a substantial milestone in the social history of the nation and commemorates 100 years of humanitarian service to the people of Australia; 

(b) many Australians have shared a personal connection with the Red Cross, from its humanitarian role during two world wars, to preparing for, responding to and recovering from natural disasters, or helping vulnerable people and communities overcome disadvantage, and through its world-class national blood service; 

(c) for 100 years the Australian Red Cross has enjoyed a unique auxiliary status to the public authorities in the humanitarian field, working in partnership with governments of diverse political persuasions, in Australia and internationally, to alleviate suffering in a voluntary aid capacity whilst adhering to its principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality; and 

(d) the Australian Red Cross is part of the world’s largest humanitarian movement, with millions of volunteers working in over 100 countries, united by the fundamental principle of preventing and alleviating human suffering, without discrimination, wherever it may be found in times of war, conflict, disaster or personal crisis. 

2. Calls on all honourable members of this council to join the Australian Re d Cross in celebrating the 100 th anniversary of its founding on 13 August 1914, nine days after the outbreak of World War I. 

(Continued from 6 August 2014.) 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 20:04 ): I rise to speak in support of the motion put forward by the Hon. John Dawkins in support of the Australian Red Cross and the Red Cross movement. The Hon. John Dawkins spoke about the noble history of our Red Cross, particularly about its formation after the outbreak of World War I, which was, of course, called the Great War at that time, and about the more than one million volunteers, donors, members and staff who have made such an enormous difference in the lives of those in need across not only Australia but obviously across the globe. Today, I would like to talk about, in particular, part (d) of this motion, which reads:

The Australian Red Cross is part of the world’s largest humanitarian movement, with millions of volunteers working in over 100 countries, united by the fundamental principle of preventing and alleviating human suffering, without discrimination, wherever it may be found in times of war, conflict, disaster or personal crisis. 

We are currently faced with some really divisive discourse in our federal parliament, our media and our community. I cannot help but reflect upon that as I reflect upon this motion. Therefore, I welcome the opportunity to speak in the parliament today about the wonderful work of the Red Cross in welcoming people and including and helping people from all walks of life into our communities. In particular, I would like to commend and recognise the Australian Red Cross for the great support they provide to refugees and asylum seekers.

The Australian Red Cross provides vital support to refugees, asylum seekers, immigration detainees and other people who are vulnerable as a result of migration, through a range of valuable services and programs. Of course, quite often when one is fleeing persecution, and there is also the fleeing of war, it really goes back to the heart of why the Red Cross is there in the first place. Through these Red Cross programs that organisation works to protect and uphold the health, dignity and wellbeing of vulnerable people. Importantly, the Red Cross also works to reconnect family members whose loss of contact is caused by international or internal conflict, war and disaster. The Australian Red Cross does this through programs such as their asylum seeker assistance scheme, migration support program and community detention program. 

As stated in part (d) of this motion, the Australian Red Cross is part of the world’s largest humanitarian movement, with volunteers united by the fundamental principle of preventing and alleviating human suffering without discrimination wherever it may be found. I would like to highlight this important work because I believe that Australia has lost its way as a country with this approach and the Australian Red Cross and the Red Cross movement in general has a lot to teach us. 

The Australian Red Cross has been monitoring conditions in immigration detention facilities for over 20 years. In fact, at one point we were the only country in the world to have mandatory immigration detention, much to our shame. Much to those other countries’ shame, we are not the only country that continues to have that inhumane approach to those who are fleeing persecution and war. 

The Red Cross is an experienced and neutral organisation that people can turn to with any issues or concerns. This, of course, is vitally important where we have this immigration detention regime. The Red Cross aims to reduce harm and increase resilience amongst people in detention, particularly those who are so vulnerable. I note that the Red Cross believes that immigration detention should only be used as a last resort and always for the shortest practical time. People in immigration detention facilities are entitled to the maintenance of good health and wellbeing and to be treated with dignity and respect, and all efforts should be made to mitigate the negative impacts of that detention. 

Humanitarian observers from the Red Cross conduct independent humanitarian monitoring of immigration detention facilities, assessing the general conditions as well as access to services and the treatment of people detained. Previously, they had been the only independent organisation to visit all detention facilities on at least a quarterly basis. As a result of this monitoring, the Red Cross has been able to raise issues of humanitarian concern and engage in confidential advocacy with the Department of Immigration and the Australian Advocate. I would commend them for this vital role, although bemoan that we need to have them play this role within our country where we have gone down this path of mandatory immigration detention. 

With those few words, I echo my colleagues’ support and gratitude to the Hon. John Dawkins for, yet again, highlighting the work of civil society and community organisations in this parliament. With that I commend the motion. 

Motion carried.

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