The night that humanity, justice and a fair go went missing
Leaving Canberra behind for my first Christmas as senator, I feel far from festive.
The Senate last night passed the most cruel, heartless, draconian legislation, abrogating our responsibilities to refugees and asylum seekers. The government blackmailed the crossbench with threats of 'pass this legislation or the kids stay on Christmas Island'.
Using these children as hostages is the lowest negotiation tactic I have ever witnessed.
The list of changes to our immigration laws is as cruel as it is long.
Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison, Clive Palmer and their mates have put in place a regime of leaving refugees in limbo with temporary protection visas, with no family reunion rights, no ability to travel home to visit family still trapped in danger, and even more insidiously, giving the government powers to tow boats back to anywhere in the world, assessing refugee claims via 'fast track' processes that don't give asylum seekers the chance to fully present their case, and trashing their rights of appeal. And the government - that is Minister Scott Morrison - gets to define who is a refugee, as we remove mention of the Refugee Convention from our laws.
The government was cheery and chatty the whole way through the long night. They were having a long-awaited win. They fawned over the crossbenchers they had got onside. Glenn Lazarus and Dio Wang who had been sold a pup. Nick Xenophon, always the player in the thick of the action doing deals. And Ricky Muir, compassionate Ricky who chose bad legislation over what he had been convinced would have been an even worse outcome.
Because humanity, justice and a fair go weren't on the table.
My heart goes out to the 30,000 refugees in Australia who won't be able to settle down, put down their roots and have the opportunity to properly feel part of our wonderful, diverse Australia. They will spend years if not decades living in limbo, not feeling wanted, not feeling valued.
I've met quite a number of these 30,000. They include the 60 Hazara men I met in June in Shepparton, as I was on a listening tour through regional Victoria as I travelled to Canberra to take up my place in the senate. The TPVs they are likely to be offered may allow them to work or study, but do not do what they desperately asked for - to give them a permanent home. They wanted certainty and knowledge to establish their lives here, to be able to apply to bring out their families who are still living in danger and visit those same families to give them heart and hope.
But in particular I weep for the tens of thousands of refugees who we should be welcoming to our shores. People, our fellow humanity, who are destined to spend years, decades, the rest of their lives short or long, living in fear, being persecuted, being tortured. People who are destined to see their family and friends persecuted and harassed. People who won’t be able to offer their children the life they deserve. They will be forced to cope with starvation, despair and feeling like the world has abandoned them.
Australia is imprisoning thousands of people from countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan and Syria in appalling circumstances on Nauru and Manus Island. There are still 167 children being held on Nauru, and 24 babies will soon join them, who are now stateless, labelled as Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals, born to asylum seeker mothers in Australia.
I think of the desperate man from Iraq who has been sending me messages on my Facebook page.
‘Please can you help me?’ he asks.
Sadly I can't. Where's the queue I can suggest he join? Where is the safer pathway for him to escape persecution and torture? Where is our compassion?
The government has promised that it will gradually increase the numbers of refugees we accept over the coming 6 years from 13,700 back to the 20,000 it was under the previous government. And they can't put it into legislation because...well, just because. They ask us to trust them. They say we can't accept more refugees because of the cost. Heartless, cruel bastards.
There's a simple caring way to stop the boats and that's to increase our refugee intake. Greens policy says 30,000 a year. It's the absolute least we should be accepting.
My first order of business in Melbourne is to meet with Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children. Good Australians, kind Australians. Australians who want to help, who are angry and sad and depressed and outraged about the actions of our government.
Not in our name, we say together.
Taking a deep breath, I think back to that revelation of learning about climate change that started me on my political journey 30 years ago. My first five months in the senate has been bookended by appalling legislation. It began with removing the price on carbon, and has ended with removing justice for refugees.
But I know that despair is not an answer. We have the power of being a voice of hope for people. My fellow Greens and the massive numbers of kind, good Australians will keep working for justice until compassion, decency, and love prevail.