Refugee Week

In Parliament, Motions

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. J.S. Lee:

That this council—

1. Notes that Refugee Week will be celebrated across Australia from Sunday 19 June to Saturday 25 June 2022 and provides a platform to celebrate the positive social and economic contributions made by refugees to Australian society and create a culture of welcome;

2. Notes this year’s theme of ‘healing’ raises awareness of the experience of refugees and encourages mainstream and refugee communities to learn from each other to heal wounds and grow stronger as a connected society;

3. Congratulates the Australian Migrant Resource Centre for being the successful convener of SA Refugee Week since 2001 and for hosting the annual Youth Poster Awards Exhibition which features posters from primary, secondary and tertiary students that celebrate the courage, resilience and contributions of people of refugee backgrounds; and

4. Commends the Marshall Liberal government for standing in solidarity with the Afghan and Ukrainian communities in view of the humanitarian tragedies unfolding overseas, funding the Afghan Community Service Hub to support the South Australian Afghan community throughout the Afghanistan crisis and establishing the Eastern European Conflict Mental Health Support Line to address the urgent mental health needs of Ukrainian community members deeply affected by the invasion of Ukraine.

(Continued from 15 June 2022.)

The Hon. T.T. NGO (16:17): It is my pleasure to rise today to speak on the significance of Refugee Week. For the past 20 years, this has been a national event in Australia and one which is celebrated in more than 100 countries. As honourable members will be aware, I have spoken in this place previously about my own journey as a refugee. The healing theme of the 2022 Refugee Week showcased aspects of the refugee experience and engaged the wider community on what it is like to be a refugee. Importantly, healing was a way of saying to refugees, ‘We are happy that you are here.’

For Australia, the 2022 Refugee Week also happened to be the time for Australians to welcome the return of the refugee Nadesalingam family to their home in Biloela, a rural town in central Queensland, an event brought about by the actions of the Labor Albanese government, the government which ended the ongoing trauma for this particular family and for the community who fought long and hard for this outcome.

Another great outcome for an Australian refugee also occurring during Refugee Week was Labor’s Ms Fatima Payman, who won Western Australia’s sixth Senate seat. Ms Payman arrived as a refugee from Afghanistan as a child with her parents and three siblings, and grew up in Perth’s northern suburbs. Inspired by the hard work of her parents, this wonderful victory for Australia’s first hijab-wearing Muslim female was announced on 20 June 2022, World Refugee Day.

Refugee Week is a time to acknowledge how our migrants have helped to make this country better. Wherever they have come from, refugees have contributed to the vibrant multicultural Australia we have today. It is good to know that our small regional and rural areas that often have volatile economies and communities are also prospering from our refugee input. Data estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that roughly 70,900 migrants moved to a regional centre between 2020 and 2021.

The latest census data shows that the Karen language spoken by the Myanmar population is the second most spoken language in our Mount Gambier regional community. The Hon. Clare Scriven MLC is a resident of this area and I know she has seen firsthand how the refugees from Myanmar have opened up their lives to the locals through the sharing of their food, cultural practices, music and traditions. Importantly, refugees do not take jobs; they actually help create them. They are often entrepreneurial, creating their own businesses and employing other Australians. Statistics from the ABS support this and have shown that refugees are in fact the most entrepreneurial migrants.

Earlier this year, I represented the Hon. Zoe Bettison MP, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Tourism, at an opening of an international hotel on Anzac Highway. This first-class accommodation will support Adelaide’s tourism industry and contribute to our economy. It was established through the hard work and dedication of three men who arrived in this country from Afghanistan as asylum seekers. On that journey, they set about establishing a partnership, working long hours and sharing their skills to build a business in their new home.

This is a common journey for many of our refugee migrants, who often hold down more than one job in order to earn the money to set themselves up in a business. In doing so, they create employment for themselves and others. There are many such success stories from people who came to this country, often with only the clothes they were wearing. Refugee Week is also a time to reflect on the many forms of adversity displaced individuals have had to endure. We should commend them for their resilience and thank them for being here, enriching our communities in Australia.

In this place in recent months, debate has centred on acts of antisemitism, racism and prejudice, highlighting that Australian communities must do more to ensure people from all walks of life feel accepted. I think Australia can use opportunities such as Refugee Week and the healing theme to push the reset button on how we behave towards one another. How we behave, what we say and how we act will pave the way to making sure all people can feel accepted.

This Labor government’s policies and actions are about protecting people’s rights, recognising social justice discriminations and taking steps to rectify them. The Malinauskas Labor government acted quickly and swiftly in offering support to Australia’s Ukrainian and Afghan communities as well as to their families and friends in their homeland.

Early in April, five pallets of medical supplies were sent to Ukraine to support hospitals and healthcare workers. The federal Labor government also responded quickly to support Ukrainian refugees following the Russian invasion of their country on 24 February this year. Prime Minister Albanese has pledged ongoing financial and logistical assistance for Ukraine, offering $99.5 million in military assistance. Other measures implemented include targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on 16 additional Russian ministers and oligarchs.

Returning to the focus of South Australia’s Labor government, our Premier was one of the first Australians to be banned by President Putin. Premier Malinauskas described his ban on entering Russia as ‘a badge of honour’ because this government will not be bullied and will always stand firm on the importance of doing all we can to promote democracy and human rights in Australian communities as well as our global communities.

With that, I want to thank all our multicultural organisations and the thousands of people who support Refugee Week, including the settlement services and especially the displaced people themselves.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:26): I rise briefly to support this motion, and note that the Greens intend to support it in a foreshadowed—not officially yet foreshadowed—amended form. That form will take the politics out of this. The areas of refugees and asylum seeking in this country really do need the politics taken out of them. We had a proud history in the post-Federation commonwealth government of refugees and asylum seekers being seen as not just a bipartisan but cross-party issue. While we have a sad legacy of things like the White Australia policy, we never used to politicise refugee intake and people seeking asylum, and I just want to put on record a few things.

It is not a crime to seek asylum. It is not an indictment to be a refugee. We could all be refugees, given political or climate or environmental or natural disasters. If we are in the wrong place at the wong time, any of us could become a refugee and need to seek asylum. We have othered refugees in recent decades but South Australia has always been quite bipartisan in our support of the refugee and asylum-seeking community.

Unfortunately, at a commonwealth level this has not been the case. I was repoliticised in my adult life by the events of the Tampa, and I full well remember the politicisation of the Tampa, the claims as well of children overboard found to be false, and I recoil with horror at the recent attempt by the former Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, on election day to yet again use people who are seeking asylum, who seek to be refugees, as political playthings. I would hope that this would never happen in a South Australian parliamentary chamber. With that, I commend the motion in an amended form, I believe, as it will be eventually moved.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Pangallo, I believe you are going to move an amendment; is that correct?

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (16:28): Yes, thank you, Mr President. I was not scheduled to speak on this but I just wanted to warmly acknowledge the motion and also the words that have been spoken by the speakers on this, including the Hon. Tung Ngo and the Hon. Tammy Franks.

I, too, acknowledge the invaluable contributions that refugees have made to this country over the years, beginning even after World War II and, of course, after the Vietnam War and more recently with people from Afghanistan and also Ukraine, who have come here and many others as well who have left war-torn countries seeking refuge—which is where the word comes from—in this country, a better life and safety and security for their families.

Over the years in my previous career, I came across many people who were refugees and heard their harrowing stories of what they had to do in order to come to Australia, even one from the Hon. Tung Ngo, which I was quite moved to hear. In the process of that, I have been able to meet many people who came here as refugees and have made a very valuable life for themselves and their family in this community.

Particularly in the Afghan community, I have met young people who came here without being able to speak a word of English. Within four or five years, the particular young girl who I met not only was able to speak English fluently but ended up becoming one of the top students in South Australia. She won awards and went on to study at university and is now a journalist. I look forward to her joining the ranks of journalists in the state.

As I mentioned, there have been so many other success stories that have emanated out of refugees. It is fortunate that we live in a country like Australia that actually opens its doors to them and welcomes them, despite the interference and politicisation of the situation. Refugees tend to be used as political pawns in trying to score political points and, in some ways, also create divisions within the community about it. I am glad the South Australian community, along with the Australian community, has now moved on and is largely very accepting of people who come to this country seeking a better life.

I seek to move an amendment in my name. I know it is late and I apologise to honourable members but, as the Hon. Tammy Franks pointed out, it is moments like this that you actually take the politics out of the situation, which is what my amendment is intending to do. It is to acknowledge the work of the previous state government as well as the current one in their work to assist refugees. I move:

Leave out paragraph 4 and insert new paragraph as follows:

4. Acknowledges the actions of previous and current state governments for standing in solidarity with the Afghan and Ukrainian communities in view of the humanitarian tragedies unfolding overseas and in providing financial assistance, free education and health services.

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:32): I thank all honourable members who made a contribution to this motion. I want to thank them for their support: the Hon. Tung Ngo, the Hon. Tammy Franks and the Hon. Frank Pangallo. I agree that we live in a very lucky country of democracy, where we all need to preserve our sense of belonging. I extend that welcome to those who are not in a better place—people who have come to this country due to circumstances in their homelands, which have been affected either by war or riots or unfortunate circumstances that require them to flee their country and come to Australia.

I also mention that refugees, including the incoming intake of refugees and the way that we treat them and policies going forward, have always received bipartisan and multipartisan support. I would agree with those comments. With those remarks, I accept the amendment moved by the Hon. Frank Pangallo, and I think this is the will of the chamber.

Amendment carried; motion as amended carried.