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Crean Calls For Release Of Women And Children From Detention Centres

The Federal Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, has broken a months-long silence from the ALP by calling for the release of women and children from detention centres around the country.

CreanDelivering a speech at an Australia Day citizenship ceremony in Brisbane today, in which he praised multiculturalism, Crean claimed that “we should all be able to agree on at least one thing: that it is just plain wrong to hold innocent children behind razor wire. Children should be out in the community where they can live more normal lives, get an education, and be protected from some of the horrors too many of them have witnessed.”

Crean put forward a 5-point plan of rebuilding Afghanistan, cracking down on people smuggling, protecting the nation’s borders by establishing a coast guard, expediting the processing of refugee applications, and getting the balance right between border protection and compassion.

  • Listen to Crean (15s)

Prepared text of Simon Crean’s speech.

Mr Chairman, Lord Mayor, my fellow parliamentary colleagues and my new fellow citizens.

It’s a great pleasure to speak at your Australia Day citizenship ceremony here today.

I have been attending these ceremonies for well over forty years. I started going to them with my father, who, like me now, addressed them as a member of parliament.

I was born here of citizens born here. But I grew up alongside recently arrived migrants who were part of the great postwar immigration program.

They were different, but it didn’t matter.

We lived in the same suburb, went to school together and learnt tolerance and understanding together. It just seemed the natural way to go. It was part of being an Australian and must continue to be a part of it.

I believe that the immigration program has been unambiguously good for this country. It has made us richer economically, socially and culturally.

Our immigration program has until recently been the envy of the rest of the world. We successfully settled millions of people from many backgrounds – rich and poor – as well as refugees, while becoming a diverse but united and peaceful people.

Multiculturalism is the key

I am a great believer in Multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is about simple, strong values we all hold dear – mutual respect, understanding, tolerance and compassion.

It means not having to give up your culture to embrace the rights and responsibilities of Australian citizenship.

It means investing in the services communities need to help them make the transition to life in Australia.

Today Australia needs to reaffirm its belief in, and commitment to, Multiculturalism more than ever.

We will be a bigger, better and more prosperous country if we do.

One of the reasons why we’ve achieved so much as a nation since the Second World War has been the bipartisanship underpinning Multiculturalism, immigration and refugees. That bipartisanship gave us the confidence to build a diverse and harmonious nation.

Unfortunately the Government has abandoned that bipartisan support. The issues have become polarized. As a nation we have lost confidence in immigration and in the future.

The obvious example is the current debate about asylum seekers.

Restoring confidence is essential

So how do we restore this confidence?

We can do it by finding a solution that is lasting, bi-partisan and firm but compassionate. One that recognises fundamental human dignity.

As combatants in the tragic events in Afghanistan, we have a responsibility, along with the rest of the world, to play our part in finding a solution.

There are a number of steps we must take.

Our first step must be to help restore order and safety to the people of Afghanistan through a lasting international solution. A peaceful and democratic Afghanistan will not be a country from which people are forced to flee.

Our second step must be to crack down on people smuggling and foster a more orderly system internationally for dealing with refugees.

Whilst I am sure we all wish for a world at peace and without persecution, the real world in which we live is one where there will always be people fleeing oppression. For those who do so, we must create a more orderly process for providing assistance so that people do not risk their lives crossing dangerous waters but can be assessed quickly and fairly within or close to their homeland.

Australians rightly are offended by the notion of ‘queue jumping’, by the suggestion that people aren’t getting an equal and fair go. But it is obvious to all Australians who watch the nightly news that in countries embroiled in conflicts, orderly refugee queues do not really exist. We must help create them.

While Australia, like any other independent nation, has the right to determine our own approach to these complex issues, we must work together with the international community.

The Prime Minister must use forthcoming opportunities, including his visits to Indonesia and the United Nations and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Brisbane in March to create a community of nations willing to tackle this problem and develop a process for dealing with it.

Whatever our views about the so-called ‘Pacific solution’, the fact is, it is not working. It is ad hoc and costly.

We must fix the problem of people smuggling now.

The Labor Party is prepared to work with the Government to get bi-partisan support for a comprehensive and lasting solution.

The third step is to ensure that our borders remain well protected through the establishment of a proper coast guard.

The fourth step is expeditious processing to speedily determine the legitimacy of people’s refugee status.

And the fifth step is to get the balance right between protecting our borders and compassion. We can show compassion without being a ‘soft touch’.

That compassion should start with children.

Australians are becoming increasingly distressed with the plight of the children held in detention.

One of the principles the Labor Party holds dear is that, regardless of their family background, all children should have the chance to be happy and healthy and get a good education. It’s a principle we must be big enough to extend to the children currently held in detention.

Their plight is not their fault.

We should all be able to agree on at least one thing: that it is just plain wrong to hold innocent children behind razor wire.

Children should be out in the community where they can live more normal lives, get an education, and be protected from some of the horrors too many of them have witnessed.

Today I am putting forward a proposition that the whole community can support, and I challenge all people of goodwill to come out and support it too.

In a genuine spirit of bi-partisanship I make this offer to John Howard.

Let us start with the children, let us start where there can be no dispute about what should be done.

I am not interested in scoring political points; I am interested in points of principle and points of agreement.

What I am proposing is first steps in rebuilding the consensus about immigration, restoring our reputation for tolerance and healing the wounds that have opened.

We shouldn’t just wait until individual children in detention suffer abuse before we release them. A safer course and a sounder principle is to get them all out of detention centres.

In practical terms it means this:

Where children seeking asylum are unaccompanied by family members, they should be fostered out in the community, as quickly as possible.

Where children are accompanied, we should allow them and their mothers to be released from the centres into ordinary style housing under appropriate supervision.

In any case where for some reason a more formal detention setting is required for a child’s family, then those families should be separated from the other asylum seekers and housed in more appropriate conditions.

I believe that in general there should be greater streaming of people in detention centres so that the higher level security which may be needed for a few troublemakers is not imposed on peaceful and co-operative asylum seekers.

The nation desperately needs real leadership on this.

We must rekindle the bipartisan spirit and recognize its great benefits.

We must again recognize the great national benefits of a national migration policy.

With goodwill, we can produce a more compassionate policy that does not compromise the integrity of our refugee system and adequately protects our borders.

Concluding remarks

As I said at the start of my speech, our immigration program has been unequivocally good for Australia.

It should be part of a comprehensive population policy that demonstrates clearly the economic, social and cultural advantages to all Australians of immigration.

Such a policy can help us meet the challenges of attracting the brightest and best from all over the world to our shores. It can help us rebuild the population of our country towns and regional centres, and ease the population pressures on our major cities, while protecting our fragile environment.

And its starting point is that we remain open and tolerant.

Thank you again for your decision to take Australian citizenship. I wish you the very best for your life here in Australia.

Together we can ensure that Australia remains a beacon of decency, liberty, fairness and hope to people from so many different parts of the world.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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