Tonight I want to talk about supporting refugees and people seeking asylum. It’s an area of the work that our government has been doing that is important to me, and I know it’s important to many people in my community who regularly contact me about this. In the past year since our government was elected, we have been steadily working through some of the issues we inherited in this space. We know, and I think our communities know, that there isn’t an overnight fix to many of these issues. They know that important work like this takes time. But we were clear before we were elected that we thought the approach we could take was showing humanity while also making sure that our borders remain strong, and that is indeed the approach that we have taken now that we are in government. I know to many people in my community, who, as I said, contact me regularly about these issues, that is a really important approach. It marks a different approach to what we have seen previously in this place.

Our government has delivered on our commitment to provide TPV and SHEV holders in our country with a pathway to permanent residency. Many of these people have been living in our communities for a long period. For some of them it has been a decade or more. Providing these people who have been found to be owed our protection with a permanent visa pathway will obviously make a tremendous difference to their lives and to the lives of the people around them. Again, many people have contacted me about people they know in their communities, people they have supported over many years who are TPV or SHEV holders. For those people who have worked here, who have started businesses, who have built lives in local communities, this decision goes some way to taking them out of the limbo they have been in and gives them that pathway to a permanent place in Australia.

Our government has also taken an approach of supporting refugees and people seeking asylum in communities. In my community there are many local groups that do this work, including the Jagajaga Grandmothers for Refugees, the Montmorency Asylum Seekers Support Group and the Welcome to Eltham group. I want to thank them for all they do to support people living in our community with links to work and with a place to stay and for building those connections for asylum seekers and refugees in our area. I am pleased that our government has supported 20 social enterprises, including eight in my state of Victoria, that are providing pathways to employment for refugees. To have these social enterprises providing support to alleviate the financial pressures people feel and providing a source of connection and pride for the area they are working in is an important thing.

Our government is also investing in supporting the mental health of refugees and asylum seekers in our community. As part of our government’s aim to provide the best settlement services, we are providing $136 million over four years for torture and trauma services to help support refugees with the psychological issues which arise from what have often been traumatic experiences before arriving in Australia. As I said, it’s about providing humanity while making sure we remain strong on our borders, providing the right amount of support at the right time. We know that everyone is different and that people may need extra support at different times.

Our government is also expanding the Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot, which provides a community based pathway for refugees settling in Australia. That is just one example of how we are trying to make sure that our communities, who want to support refugees and asylum seekers, can do that work. Our government is working globally on this issue; we know that it’s not something we can tackle as an individual nation. So we did support a visit earlier this year from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In fact, it’s the first time that someone holding this position has visited Australia in 11 years. I think that gives an example of the change in approach that we’ve seen. The commissioner was clear that our government has a lot of work to do but that he was reassured by the steps that we have taken to date.

In this place, I was honoured to help launch the Parliamentary Friends of Refugees, and I serve as a co-chair together with other members of this place. It’s the first time in our parliament’s history that we have had a group like this established. I very much thank all the MPs who have joined the group and hope that you will join with me in trying to change the conversation we have in this country about refugees and asylum seekers—to make sure that it’s not an ‘us and them’ argument that we fall into, to make sure that people seeking asylum are not demonised for political purposes, but to make sure that we are upholding our responsibilities to protect people where those responsibilities exist, and to show humanity while making sure that we keep our borders strong.

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