My fellow Australians,
The last hundred years have witnessed the spread of freedom. We Australians joined the fight against the violent ideology of Nazi Germany. We stood shoulder to shoulder with our allies to conquer the unfreedoms of Communism. We have joined the global resistance to the oppressive vision of contemporary terrorism. The blood of our young men and women was spilled on the battlefields of Europe, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and more recently, Iraq and Afghanistan. Through all these battles we were sustained by the conviction that freedom matters and that tyranny anywhere is an issue for nations everywhere.
Today the struggle for freedom is joined not only on the battlefields of Afghanistan but on the remote trails refugees traverse as they walk to freedom; on the leaky boats that form an ark by which persecuted minorities flee oppression. In the 21st century the struggle for freedom is not found in great wars between nations but in the ragtag collection of persecuted peoples for whom life has become so unbearable in their home countries that they risk danger and hardship to find somewhere, anywhere they will be safe.
Around the world today 15 million refugees stand witness to the unquenchable human thirst for freedom. They are the young woman forced into sexual slavery by her country’s military; the old man thrown into prison for daring to question the government of his country; the child conscripted into an army and told to shoot his parents. They are the15 million who have refused to bow to oppression, who have elected to flee to a place of freedom. They have left behind the places they love, the possessions they own, the people they know, all to be free.
We dare not answer their courage with cowardice, their hope with despair, their thirst with an empty cup. We dare not answer their pain and suffering with more pain and suffering, their oppression with more oppression, their unfreedom with more unfreedom. As we have in the past, so we must now in the present, take our place in the fight for freedom. And this means opening our hearts and our land to those who have had the courage to flee oppression.
There are 700,000 refugees in the world who need resettlement in a country like Australia. Australia cannot bear the burden alone. This is a global problem requiring a global solution. We will work with other affluent nations to find a way to put an end to the long and unacceptable wait for asylum. This of course means the affluent nations of the world must accept more refugees. And Australia will play its part. As of this moment forward Australia will receive 50,000 refugees a year. We will welcome them to our land and support them as they build a new life in an unfamiliar place, but a place where they will be safe and their children will have a future.
Of these 50,000 up to 30,000 refugees will be resettled from countries close to us, Malaysia and Indonesia in particular. Like you, I am deeply troubled by the loss of life as refugees, in a last desperate bid for freedom, board unsafe vessels bound for Australia. By increasing the number of refugees we resettle from Malaysia and Indonesia we will strip away the incentive to board dangerous boats. Refugees will no longer languish for years waiting for resettlement, but will know that their hopes will be satisfied in a short period of time.
There may be some who continue to risk the journey. However unwise we believe their decision to be, we will never again punish a person for fleeing oppression and striving for freedom. From today forward we will end the policy of mandatory detention. After security and health checks have been completed asylum seekers will be welcomed into our communities.
We are a prosperous and free people who have come from many nations. Those refugees who will join us will add richly to our shared life. Their children will be the doctors, scientists, shop-keepers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. They will be the neighbours who introduce us to new culinary delights, regale us with stories of their homeland, and laugh and cry with us through life’s twists and turns.
And we need to be neighbours to them. They have witnessed terrors we cannot imagine and arrive in what will be, initially, a strange place.We will need people of goodwill to help refugees make a home among us. To learn our language, to be their friends, to help them navigate life in Australia. We will need community groups to participate – churches, synagogues, mosques, lions clubs, rotary clubs, school communities, sports clubs. And as we do, we will do so in the knowledge that Australia is a place that will never abandon the fight for freedom, nor those who have fled persecution to seek freedom.