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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 11 Hansard (Wednesday, 23 September 2015) . . Page.. 3446 ..

I am proud that Canberra is a welcoming place for migrants and refugees, and I really value the work of many in our community in helping to settle refugees and new migrants to our city. We can point to many places where people are doing that. Some of them are high profile; others are simple acts of kindness, generosity and welcome that make it that bit easier for somebody to settle in, whether they have come as a relatively fortunate migrant who simply prefers to live in Australia or whether they are somebody who has come from great hardship, fleeing persecution as a refugee who needs to come somewhere safer.

I have been saddened and disappointed by the tone of the national debate on asylum seekers over the past few years and the responses of the two major parties that have led to measures like offshore mandatory detention by both Labor and Liberal governments nationally. The language around asylum seekers and the lack of generosity that has been displayed at a national level are something of shame to this nation. Here in Canberra, we have taken a much more enlightened approach, and I welcome the fact that we live in a city that has a greater level of compassion and a broader perspective on these matters.

Like all Australians, I have been shocked by the images of so many people in desperate need fleeing the crisis in Syria. The extraordinary images we have seen in recent times of a tide of humanity flowing across Europe are something that, in Australia as an island nation, it is hard for us to comprehend. It certainly puts in perspective the issues we face in terms of perhaps several hundred or even several thousand people seeking to reach Australia by boat.

We are lucky enough to live in a wealthy country that can offer support and refuge for some of the desperate people that are fleeing Syria. I welcome the fact that one of the last acts of the Abbott government was to listen to calls from the community to take some of those Syrian refugees. They agreed to take 12,000. The Greens argued for 20,000, but 12,000 is a great start. Let us get those people here and get them settled. Then, if we need to make a further contribution, we can have that discussion. As I noted last week, the great irony was that that came in the same breath as announcing that we were going to expand our military contribution and involvement in the Middle East. It strikes me that at least the previous Prime Minister was very happy to go to war—quick to go to war, but not so quick in reaching out with humanitarian support. But we did get to a place where some refugees will be taken into Australia, and that is a good thing.

I am also glad to be part of a government that welcomes refugees and supports calls on the federal government to continue to work in supporting refugees, migrants and multicultural communities and promoting cultural awareness and social harmony. As government, I think we can do a lot here in the ACT in leading the debate and helping to frame the debate and the discussion and the way our community views the arrival of refugees.

I am pleased to support Dr Bourke’s motion today. As I say, I think he has made some very good points. I urge the Canberra community to continue to be welcoming and support particularly those who arrive as refugees in need of safety and compassion as they flee persecution in their home countries.

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