The Greens Senator I returned last week, as members may know, from a trip to Manus Island. While I was on Manus Island I spoke to a number of the people who have been detained there by Australia, many of whom have been detained for nearly four years. These people, along with people detained on Nauru, are Australia’s political prisoners. They are people who have been detained with the sole intent of coercing an outcome from them and coercing an outcome from other people who may choose to seek asylum in Australia. Deliberately causing harm to these people on Manus Island and Nauru—as Australia is doing—in order to coerce outcomes from them and from others is torture under international law. Australia is torturing people as we stand here today.
When I spoke to many of these people on Manus Island last week, and I met with many dozens of the detainees there, I was given a petition by many of them who have been given a negative refugee status through the PNG refugee status determination process. Before I read the petition and seek leave to table it, which I will, I want to remind members of the opinion of Professor Jane McAdam, from the Kaldor Centre at the University of New South Wales, in a legal opinion released on 9 February this year. Professor McAdam said this about PNG’s refugee status determination process:
PNG’s refugee status determination process falls far short of the standards required by international law … PNG law does not contain any provision protecting people from refoulement (removal to persecution and other serious harm). Instead, the minister has a discretionary power to recognise someone as a refugee … In light of this framework, PNG’s refugee status determination process is inconsistent with international law in a number of significant respects. In this opinion by Professor McAdam, regarding the Migration Regulation 1979 in PNG she pointed out:
As UNHCR has noted, the Regulation ‘incorrectly applies the limited exclusion provisions of the Refugee Convention to ordinary criminal matters more properly dealt with under PNG criminal law, which could lead to wrongful denial of refugee status’.
Professor McAdam concluded her opinion by saying there are ‘considerable concerns’ about the integrity of PNG’s system for recognising and protecting refugees; given these, there is a significant risk that the forcible removal of an asylum seeker from PNG ‘may violate international law’. We have a situation where on Manus Island there are somewhere in the region of 850 of Australia’s political prisoners that we are torturing—every day, in that place—under torture as defined by international law.
I had the honour of being given a petition signed by a large number of people who have been given negative refugee status through a process which Professor Jane McAdam from the University of New South Wales says is inconsistent with international law in a number of significant respects and which the UNHCR says could lead to a wrongful denial of refugee status. The petition from refugees with negative refugee status on Manus Island says:
We the undersigned are those who have been given a negative refugee status through an unfair process of assessment. Many of us have refused to have our refugee claims assessed after the attack on 17th February 2014 and some who had started the assessment process discontinued their assessment. We were left with no trust in the system, as we had been attacked by staff of the detention centre, two of whom were subsequently convicted for the murder of Reza Barati. Many of those who were assessed as negative were not given a proper opportunity to describe their situation as they were still traumatised by the attack.
We have been detained here for almost 4 years. Some of the people who came on the same boats as us are now living in Australia. Other people who came on boats after 19th July 2013 are also living in Australia. Condemning everyone who came after 19 July 2013 to indefinite detention is as unfair as the flawed process of refugee assessment. Most of us are now suffering from mental illness as a result of the stress of imprisonment on Manus Island.
We have never chosen to go to Papua New Guinea and we have not committed a crime for which being taken to PNG should be the punishment. We have been taken to Manus Island against our will and we experience this ‘transfer’ as kidnapping. We request your help with our situation in Papua New Guinea. We cannot live there. There is no law and order in PNG and we are routinely robbed when we go into the Lorengau town.
Additionally, Australia is deporting people back to their countries of origin, which means deporting them to danger. They were not correctly assessed and their lives are at risk. We need to go somewhere safe. As you are aware, we were attacked by sailors from the PNG Navy on Good Friday 14th April 2017. About 100 rounds of ammunition were fired into the walls and ceilings of the detention centre and many people were nearly shot. We did nothing to provoke this attack. No-one is safe here, not asylum seekers and not the staff.
Please give us protection and take us from this dangerous place. We need to settle in a safe country, not PNG and not be dumped back in the dangerous places from which we have escaped. We also need a valid refugee assessment process and all those who have been given negative status or no status must be reassessed by an independent authority like the UNHCR.
There is page after page of signatures on this petition. One of the most heart-wrenching aspects of this petition is that all of the people who have signed this petition have included their boat numbers because in the Manus Island camp they are addressed not by name but by boat number, by their own individual identity number. This is part of a deliberate systematic regime in the camp to dehumanise the people who made no other mistake than reaching out a hand to Australia for protection, a hand that we have ignored and shunned.
I now seek leave to table this petition in the Senate, so that there can be no excuse for anyone in this parliament not to be fully aware of the damage that we are causing people and that is being done to them in Australia’s name, and the unfairness of the Papua New Guinean refugee status determination, as confirmed by Professor McAdam from the University of New South Wales, and so that, when, as I believe is inevitable one day, one day there are inquiries and royal commissions into this and when apologies and reparations are made, no-one in this country will be able to say that they did not know the harm Australia was causing to these people that was occurring on our watch.
Chamber Senate on 10/05/2017 Item STATEMENTS BY SENATORS – Immigration Detention Speaker: McKim, Sen Nicholas Attribution Parliament of Australian full- Official-Document
Copyright: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/au Document used for News Reporting.