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Speech: The human toll of 'Fortress Australia'

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 24 Jun 2021

I rise to speak on the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Bill 2021 and I want to associate myself with the comments made by my colleague Senator Siewert on this bill. Of course we should be providing support to people who need this, in these devastating circumstances, but, as Senator Siewert said, we should be providing it to every single person who is living here and who is facing economic and social impacts. This government has locked them out of support payments and they're living on the poverty line, and we will be moving amendments to that effect.

While it is good to see that this bill extends COVID disaster payments, we know that this government has completely failed on the vaccine rollout. And, because of this, New South Wales at this moment is on the brink of another lockdown. It's been 15 months since we first went into lockdown and there is still no plan to open our borders. There are hundreds of thousands of families who are separated; there are gut-wrenching stories everywhere. I haven't seen my mum and daughter since 2019. Seeing Prime Minister Morrison gallivanting around the UK while he dodges responsibility for the vaccine rollout and refuses to safely open borders has made the daily pain of not being able to see my family so much worse. When I shared my story of being separated from my mother and daughter for two years now, there was an outpouring of grief and anger. So many people shared with me their painful stories in response. Here are some of the most heartbreaking stories of what turning this country into so-called 'fortress Australia' has done to its people. I do want to share some of them with the senators in the chamber.

Sonia told me she:

… had to watch her father be buried via Facebook live with her mother sobbing and none of her children there to hold her (they all live in Australia). And now it's sounding like it will be another year and a half before they will be allowed to see her. She's grieving on her own when she would have such comfort being surrounded by her daughters and grandchildren.

Ro shared a painful story, but one also of the extremely cold and cruel rejection of her multiple requests for exemption to be with her family. She said:

Last year, I applied for exemption to leave Australia to help my parents as they were in Lockdown. In my exemption letter I mentioned that they didn't have anybody to help them. My exemption was rejected. My brother and I applied again and wrote to the exemption team that we are desperate to leave Australia as one of us needs to be with our parents. Again rejected. My father contracted COVID and I reapplied and begged the team to allow me to leave Australia and again our exemption was rejected. My father passed away and my mother was in his funeral alone. How can I have my mum in Australia for some time to mourn together and to offer her help and my emotional support? How can I relieve this crippling burden from myself that has taken away my functioning when government doesn't allow family reunification after horrible things that have happened to families during the corona pandemic.

Carissa said:

It's almost 2 years since I've seen my parents in the USA. They are fully vaccinated and would be overjoyed to quarantine for 3 or even 4 weeks at our home with us. This government and its supporters have zero appreciation for the empty aching feeling we experience as immigrants and the skills we contribute to this country.

Sue said:

I haven't seen my mum and dad for 4yrs due to health issues and my dad has Alzheimers and Leukemia and time isn't on my side, so being prevented from seeing them is heartbreaking.

Time isn't on my side, either. My mum is 84, and almost every day I speak to her she says her desperate wish is to see me before she dies.

Steffi said:

I am an only child and haven't seen my parents in almost 2 years. My 3 year old daughter doesn't even remember being hugged by them and thinks they only exist on screen. We are considering giving up our lives and good jobs here soon in order to be with family. This situation is mentally unbearable for so many of us. Parents are immediate family.

Chitra said:

Thank you Senator Mehreen Faruqi for raising this issue.

My mother is living alone in India for the last 18 months after my father died and I am her only child . She is fully vaccinated. I am waiting desperately to hug her and hold her but there is no date I can give her without the government putting out a plan. Let's push for the government to put forth a plan to reunite Aussie families.

Geetesh said:

Our 10 months old daughters never seen her grandparents and we are going through such emotional and difficult phase without our parents. Don't know why this government doesn't understand that parents are first in immediate family.

Laura said:

We have an 18 month old baby boy that none of our family have met they will never get to hold him as a baby! My heart is broken.

Julia said:

I can feel you, I miss my parents. My 3 year old daughter cries at every plane screaming for ger nonna and. Nonno. She said that she wants real cuddles no phone cuddles. This is cruel. I cant breath. Im constantly sad and hopeless.

There are dozens and dozens more stories, and I think it's pretty shameful for Labor senators to stand up here and say that we're politicising this issue in some way, shape or form. There are thousands upon thousands of families who have not been able to see each other, because this government and the Prime Minister have botched up the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. To Scott Morrison, I say: 'Stop dodging responsibility for the vaccine rollout. Your incompetence is preventing families from reuniting. Try to conjure up even the smallest bit of compassion and start taking seriously this country's vaccine rollout so we can safely open up our borders and families can hug and see each other again.'

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