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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 14 Hansard (11 December) . . Page.. 4351 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

Detention of anyone when there is no suspicion that they have committed a crime is deeply wrong. Detention of blameless children is utterly inexcusable. If the facilities are as humane and satisfactory as Mr Pratt has claimed, why would the federal government need to take steps to place children elsewhere, again as Mr Pratt has claimed? If the facilities are fine and adequate, it should not be necessary to separate families. Carting people away to harsh, remote locations is simply a part of the dehumanisation process. If refugees are kept out of sight, it is that much harder for Australians to see refugees for what they are-people, humans, just like us but whose lives have been so much harder and harsher.

The refugee welcome zone initiative, unfortunately part of this motion the Labor government wants to remove, is a wonderful way for councils, or in our case the Assembly, to express a spirit of welcome on behalf of their local community. It is quite pathetic that members of the Labor government here are so afraid of offending their federal colleagues that they cannot embrace this initiative on behalf of the people of the ACT.

My hope lies in the basic decency of the people of the ACT and of Australians more generally. If those of us who believe in human rights keep working to show the community that refugees are indeed human beings, then one day the whole community will be working to tear down the walls of detention centres, to wipe these unjust laws from our statute books and to welcome these brave people into our community, just as we have done in the past. Courage and compassion cannot be found today in the hearts of the majority of members of this Assembly, but I believe and hope that justice will finally win out, as it must.

I keep referring to human rights. That is what we are discussing today-the rights of human beings. We cannot forget this. We cannot deny it. If we forget that people escaping persecution and seeking a better life are humans, then all hope is lost. I cannot fathom how we can fail to see that these people are human and should be afforded basic human rights. When we take the basic step of acknowledging our fellow human beings as humans with human rights that cannot and should not be denied, then we are truly embracing and being part of the community, a community we can be proud of. I hope that one day we achieve that. It is unfortunate that the Assembly cannot do that tonight.

MR SMYTH (Leader of the Opposition) (11.00): The opposition will not be supporting Ms Gallagher's amendment, because is guts the motion in a way that allows the ACT Labor government to put the boot into the federal government about its policies but shrug off anything the Assembly might require of it.

Tonight I have spoken to some people who have seen a report about what the various state jurisdictions have done in regard to refugees. Unfortunately I could not get a copy of the report tonight, but I will get a copy as soon as I can. I am told that the ACT government does not come out very well on the scale of jurisdictions which are helping refugees. Therefore, it is little wonder that Ms Gallagher would move this amendment to force the ACT government to do something to support asylum seekers rather than engage in the rhetoric we have heard from the Labor Party on this issue.

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