On Manus and Nauru we can’t sit back and hope for leadership from our politicians

On Manus and Nauru we can’t sit back and hope for leadership from our politicians

On Palm Sunday thousands marched around the country to demand justice for refugees and those who’ve sought asylum. This speech was delivered by Daniel Webb in Melbourne.

We are at a crossroads. The next few months are absolutely critical to the futures of 2000 innocent people who’ve spent the last 4 years trapped in a painful limbo on Nauru and Manus islands.

We know that Malcolm Turnbull has got his US refugee deal. And don’t get me wrong - I think it's great that after four years our government has finally acknowledged that Nauru and Manus are dead ends. But we all know the US deal isn’t going to be enough. It’s not a solution.

It’s five months since this deal was announced and we still have no clarity around numbers, no information about timeframes and no plan for the innocent people who’ll be left behind. Then of course there’s the unpredictability of Donald Trump. It’d be foolish to just sit back and just hope for the best from a guy like Trump.

The bottom line is that these 2000 lives are in Malcolm Turnbull’s hands, not Donald Trump’s. Whatever Trump does or doesn’t do, it is Malcolm Turnbull’s responsibility to ensure that each and every person suffering at his government’s hands is brought to safety and is finally able to begin rebuilding their lives. 

My view is that we should bring them here. Not just because it’s the right thing to do. Not just because leaving innocent people trapped in limbo is cruel and fundamentally wrong. We should bring them here because, frankly, we’d be lucky to have them. I was on Manus last year and met some truly extraordinary people. Writers, cartoonists and comedians. Human rights defenders, engineers and teachers. We are not only depriving them of their most fundamental of rights, we are depriving ourselves of all they have to offer our community.

Now, I know that Peter Dutton will continue to glibly repeat that no one on Nauru or Manus will ever come to Australia. And that’s a real shame. But it’s a mantra that becomes more and more untenable by the day. The PNG centre has been declared illegal. Contractors are walking away. Public opinion is shifting. Innocent people are suffering.

The government knows it has to get people off Nauru and Manus soon - it’s the reason why they signed this US deal. It’s out of time and out of options. Anyone not covered by the US deal must be brought to safety in Australia.

Finally, I want to talk about you and the critical role that you all need to play in the next few months. I was in Canberra last week with a truly inspiring young women. She was in the middle of her HSC exams and is planning to study pharmacy at university next year. But she took a day out from her studies to come to Canberra and meet politicians from across the political divide.

Why? Because despite her, her mother and her brothers and sisters all living safely and happily in the community in Sydney for the last four years, her dad is trapped on Manus Island.

This family fled Burma together. They escaped the same harm at the same time. But they arrived in Australia on separate boats and now they’re here, he’s there and that’s the way it’s been for the last four years.

This brave young woman explained to politician after politician how dinner times were especially difficult for her. The family always ate dinner together. But now every night when they sit around the table in Sydney, someone is missing. Their minds quickly turn to their father, in a queue for his dinner with 800 other men inside the Manus camp.

Every politician she met expressed their sympathies. Every politician she met did their best to console her as the tears streamed down her face.

But the question is what are they going to do about it? What are they actually going to do about it?

The answer, I’m afraid, is nothing. They’ll do absolutely nothing. Unless you make them.

If we’ve learnt anything from the #LetThemStay campaign. If we’ve learnt anything from Baby Asha and the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. If we’ve learnt anything from the church sanctuary movement. If we’ve learnt anything from the defeat of Dutton’s ridiculous lifetime visa ban bill. If we’ve learnt anything frthe successes we’ve had over the last year, it’s this: on this issue, we can’t sit back and hope for leadership from our politicians. It’s you who must lead them.

It’s you who has to say enough is enough.

It’s you who needs to demand decency and compassion and safety for all.

It’s you who must demand the government bring them here.

Daniel Webb is the Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.