Asylum Seekers and Refugees
10th September 2015
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [10.52 a.m.], by leave: I acknowledge all those who have contributed to this debate as well as those who are not able to do so today but share in the sentiment that has been shown across the House. I am delighted to support the motion moved by the member for Sydney and to use this opportunity to welcome yesterday's announcement by Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the Federal Government that Australia will take an additional 12,000 Syrian refugees. This is a sensible and compassionate response. I acknowledge the leadership of the Premier, the Hon. Mike Baird, for articulating in a meaningful way our responsibility as a global citizen to react to the current crisis and for putting the issue on the agenda of his Federal counterparts. I think his actions have not only spurred an outbreak of common sense and benevolence at a political level but have also, most importantly, helped to bring the community along on this initiative.
There is one thought we should all have when we see vision of thousands of refugees off our shores or in the waters off Europe, or massed at railway stations or by the roadside, stateless and with only the possessions they can carry, heading for an unknown destination where they hope to begin their lives anew. That thought is: there but for the grace of God go I. In other circumstances this could be any of us or any of our family members, leaving our homes and all we know behind for an uncertain future in a bid to protect our families and give them a life with some semblance of hope. Although 12,000 refugees brought to Australia will make only a small impression in the problem at hand—there are hundreds of thousands of displaced people on the move as a result of the Syrian conflict—this country's response will make a vast difference to every one of those 12,000 lives. By opening our arms and our country, we give them safety and the opportunity for a secure future.
The benefits of taking these people in do not flow one way. Australia has benefitted monumentally from the contributions of people who have come to this country as refugees. As mayor of the City of Lake Macquarie in former times, I had the privilege of officiating at ceremonies to bestow citizenship on people who had migrated to Australia under these circumstances. Invariably they were hardworking members of their new communities, enormously grateful for the opportunity their new country had given them. I would be surprised if other members of this place who have been mayors or councillors and who have attended such ceremonies have not had similar experiences.
One man from southern Sudan sticks in my memory. He was a quiet man, who would lower his eyes in deference when speaking. He and his family had fled terrible violence and persecution in their country. One of his brothers had been murdered and another was missing, presumed dead. He did not say much at the ceremony but afterwards I received a heartfelt handwritten letter from him in which he thanked me, the then member for Charlton, Greg Combet, who had also officiated at the ceremony and the Australian people for giving him a chance. He wrote, "I was dead. You have given me life." Our decision to welcome Syrian refugees similarly offers life and hope to people who have run short of hope. I commend the Federal and State governments for their actions in addressing the current humanitarian crisis, and I thank the member for Sydney for bringing this important motion to the House. More so, I acknowledge the coming together of the members of Parliament across this House.
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