I rise on the matter of public importance: the need for the government to urgently end the practice of indefinite detention of refugees both offshore and onshore. I'd like to acknowledge the very thoughtful contributions of everyone who has participated in this debate today.
At the outset, I would like to state my support for the member for Clark's Ending Indefinite and Arbitrary Immigration Detention Bill 2021. As a doctor, I have grave concerns over the practice of indefinite and arbitrary detention, which is both a breach of human rights as well as an inhumane and unnecessary practice, one that costs Australian taxpayers billions and puts the physical and mental health of those imprisoned under the scheme in danger.
I welcome the Government's thoughts that there will be no indefinite detention offshore for people who do not pose a security or safety risk. A recent freedom of information request revealed that there are over 1,400 people currently being detained in Australia's detention centres. While the average time that people are detained is nearly two years, the average time that asylum seekers wait for an outcome on their visa application is even longer at 925 days. This has to end.
However, we know that many asylum seekers and refugees have been detained for much longer. In fact, it took the detention of Novak Djokovic earlier this year to shine a spotlight on the plight of asylum seekers and refugees, some who had been detained for nearly a decade. Australians all over the country were shocked and horrified that these people had been locked away for years and essentially forgotten about. Imagine being detained for nearly 10 years in a small room, all the time not knowing if you will be sent back to the place you fled and feared for your safety, the prime of your life slipping away, your health and your mental health deteriorating due to a cruel and unfair system that targets you for seeking asylum. I believe our treatment of asylum seekers and refugees is a national shame, or it has been, and we must end the practice of indefinite detention immediately.
Since 2016 there have been at least 2,650 instances of actual or threatened self-harm by people in Australia's detention centres. That is an average of one person every day either thinking about or attempting to take their own life on account of Australia's policy of locking up asylum seekers and refugees. Mehdi Ali, the brave Iranian asylum seeker who used his voice while in detention on Nauru and in Melbourne's Park Hotel to shine a light on Australia's cruel policy, described his detention as a 'complete trauma'. Mehdi Ali told of witnessing a fellow refugee burn himself to death, describing what he saw with these harrowing words:
With my own eyes I witnessed the suicide of one soul destroyed by this island. Death by self-immolation was the worst scene I had watched in my life. This was the new reality for us on Nauru.
The trauma, anxiety, depression, injuries and deaths caused by Australia's inhumane policy of indefinite and arbitrary detention is a stain on the soul of our nation.
During the election campaign, the people of Mackellar told me that the humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers should be a priority for me and this Parliament. My community is standing up to do its bit for refugees. Earlier this year a number of families across Mackellar and the northern beaches opened their home to Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russia's invasion of their country. In fact, my own children, when they saw the scenes from Ukraine on our own TV set, made the plea to me that my husband and I please do something. Since April of this year, we too have opened our home to a displaced Ukrainian family. I have heard directly from them the anguish about needing to leave their home, their family and their friends and start a new life here in Australia.
My community in Mackellar, like many communities around Australia, is showing the way when it comes to proving we do not need to be cruel when it comes to the treatment of refugees. I believe my community is showing the true spirit of the Australian soul. I believe we can do better than locking up refugees and asylum seekers indefinitely.