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Where do major political parties stand on refugees and asylum seekers - Marlene's letter to local papers 22 May 2016
Election 2016: Julie Bishop backs Peter Dutton on 'illiterate' asylum seekers
May 17, 2016
Political editor, The Age
View more articles from Michael Gordon
It's not yet day 10 of the campaign, and Malcolm Turnbull has played the asylum-seeker card with all the deftness and subtlety of a Tony Abbott shirtfront.
Until now, Mr Turnbull has been content to let Peter Dutton do the dirty work, serving up his daily tally of the number of Labor MPs who have ever expressed the slightest discomfort with any elements of Coalition (or Labor) border protection policy.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after he visited Border Force onboard the Cape Jervis patrol boat with local member ...
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after he visited Border Force onboard the Cape Jervis patrol boat with local member Natasha Griggs in Darwin on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares
Now, with a Border Force patrol boat to provide the photo opportunity, Mr Turnbull has stepped up to declare that Labor doesn't have the courage, or the will, or the conviction to stop the boats.
But, no, Prime Minister, the 25 Labor MPs you say are only the "tip of the iceberg" are not in open mutiny over Bill Shorten's (and Labor's) commitment to turning back the boats and offshore processing (notwithstanding the breathless headlines in the Herald Sun).
Many have done nothing more than express similar sentiments to you, like when you told Fran Kelly you "sympathise with, and grieve for" the "mental anguish" that so many on Nauru and Manus Island have had inflicted on them.
Most of them simply share the concerns you said you had for those on Nauru and Manus in your very first televised interview after becoming PM, before the bureaucrats and Mr Dutton pulled you up.
Many of them believe the United Nations refugee agency when it asserts, after visiting both places with health professionals, that refugees and asylum seekers should be removed "immediately".
The agency described both arrangements as "completely untenable", despite the best efforts of Nauru and Papua New Guinea,saying prolonged detention had proved "immensely harmful" for the around 2000 people on Nauru and Manus Island.
That was after a shocking spike in self-harm on Nauru and the decision by PNG's highest court that the denial of liberty to those on Manus violated that country's constitution – and countless reports chronicling instances of abuse and sky-rocking levels of mental illness.
Yet, in the story Mr Dutton and now you are trying to project, these and other problems are airbrushed away and anyone with a scintilla of empathy is disqualified from office. It's unbecoming.
But it isn't turnbacks, or even offshore processing per se, that is causing most angst among the "Labor dissidents" (and several on your own side); it's the miserable failure, year after year, to find any enduring solution for those who have been found to have a legitimate fear of persecution if they return to their home countries.
After almost three years in office, you have only come up with one third-country option, Cambodia: one of the poorest and most corrupt countries on Earth. Tens of millions has been spent and fewer than a handful resettled (unsuccessfully).
This is the policy failure Labor says it would rectify, though neither Mr Shorten nor his immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, have nominated their preferred resettlement countries.
It is the policy failure you are banking on the electorate being content to ignore.
Indefinite detention causes serious harm to the physical and mental health of
detainees. Self-harm and attempted suicide are becoming routine, such is the
desperation of many asylum seekers.
The majority of Australians now accept that the current policy, supported by the
Liberals, Nationals and Labor, is both cruel and inhumane. Australia is the only
country in the world to detain children who seek asylum as its first option.
It is morally and legally indefensible to detain one group of people indefinitely in
order to act as a deterrent to others who might want to seek asylum in Australia.
The international community continues to remind our government that it is acting
in contravention of our legal obligations under the Refugee Convention.
It is NOT illegal to seek asylum. People fleeing wars and persecution have the
right, in international law, to seek asylum in a safe country.
The current arrangements for offshore detention are costing billions of dollars.
Asylum seekers could be processed onshore for a fraction of the cost. The money
would be better spent on improving our public health and education systems.
Establish regional processing centres in Indonesia and elsewhere under the
auspices of the UNHCR, in order to process asylum seekers in a timely manner and
give them real hope of resettlement in third countries, including Australia.
Increase our humanitarian refugee intake, thereby eliminating the backlog in
Indonesia, where most boat journeys start. Giving people hope, and a clear
pathway to resettlement will discourage them from taking risky journeys by boat.
End the toxic practice of branding asylum seekers as criminals, illegals, terrorists or
queue jumpers. The history of immigration and integration in Australia is largely a
positive one. We have nothing to fear- and there is no queue to jump!
Please forward this email to anyone you know personally who is in a position to influence public opinion and policy.
Please find an email sent to a close friend last night and forwarded to me this morning. The person who sent the email is working on Nauru and I have deleted any information that might identify them. My husband and I also know this person who is a professional from Melbourne and is NOT POLITICAL AND NEVER HAS BEEN. This makes this message all the more devastating. I think we need to take action. I await feedback from you. I know you will all treat this email with respect as the person could face a severe penalty for speaking out and is doing good work on Nauru.
President Mansfield RAR
Subject: Sad but true news
They say bad news travels fast. A UNHCR review panel arrived on Monday and was doing some community consultation this morning to assess the refugees situation and conditions to report back to the Australian Government about the progress towards settlement and prospects for longer term residence on Nauru. They got their feedback! Now we can all jump up and down because we have some dramatic news footage and we can see how serious the situation is. But it has been that serious for some time!!! The long term prospects are not good for a host of reasons. It is not a viable solution for the vast majority of people; individuals and families. People who have been declared genuine refugees after exhaustive investigations and reviews in some cases are being given a very raw deal in order to advance and enforce Australia's border control policies. We know we need to "stop the boats" but should these people be the sole/ primary strategy, incarcerated endlessly to justify the government's political agenda. What's Indonesia doing? What are our intelligence people doing? Their navy, our navy? Why should the refugees be held responsible for the actions of others following months /years later? And, we should keep in mind that many of them set forth before the policy, or as the policy changed. They were doing what refugees do; seeking passage to a safe haven by whatever means were available. Many of them had been in transit for some time / years.
People are understandably shocked and distressed having witnessed or heard about the terrible incident today. It is NOT an isolated incident and we know they will continue and increase.
Please do whatever you can to keep up awareness of the issues being faced by people here. It is understandable that the government instigated policies to stop the boat smuggling but the people who have been used as policy "fodder", as scapegoats deserve better....... deserve something!!! Someone's life hangs in the balance tonight. He was not a criminal. He was a refugee.
I want to throw up when Peter Dutton boasts there are no children (that we are responsible for) living in detention. There are. I've seen some of them and I've seen some of the toll that detention on Nauru has taken. Whatever the faults or unfortunate decisions their parents have taken, the children did not choose this path. "That's unfortunate but what can we do?" you might say. Well, we can lobby. We can ring up. We can write. We can talk. We can do something however big or small because so much that is happening here is wrong.
Medical and psychiatric facilities are barely/not? coping with the number of incidents and deterioration of health of many refugees and asylum seekers. Numerous people have been flown out after self harming or attempting suicide. There are insufficient facilities and medications here and many of the emergency situations are handled by the police who are insufficiently trained and ill equipped to deal with severely disturbed and distressed people. They have passed laws..... If you attempt suicide it is against the law and you could go to jail AND be fined.
Lucky they don't have the death penalty for such a heinous crime!!!
I have previously talked with some about the various employment schemes here and a large number of refugees have got work...... some in construction, mining, utility and retail services but the greatest number are working in security........ not where it's needed mind you. There's limited security for the refugees, some of whom have been set upon, assaulted and or robbed in locations or on tracks where they are forced to travel to get from A to B in a feasible time. Vehicles (motor bikes and bicycles), phones and money have been stolen and property has been damaged but much of this goes unreported because the police do little or nothing. They either don't care or don't have the resources to respond adequately. More often the refugees have given up complaining because nothing is done. There is no redress. Many refugees will tell you that they work simply to maintain some sort of routine and their sanity. Many are paid the princely sum of $2.70 per hour (the locals get a little more than that!). In some cases they get an additional living allowance but then you'd need that because apples and bananas can be $12 /$13 a kilo. A mango or an avocado will cost you $5 - $8. Everything here costs approximately 50% more than Australians would pay in Australia..... so go figure how far a weekly salary of $125 will go. Some of the guys working in construction/ mining testify that a lot of the locals clock on, possibly work for a few hours, disappear and return to clock off and collect their 8 hours wage which pays them approx $250+ per week. When the refugees complained about the unfairness of this they were told it was none of their business and they shouldn't be telling the supervisor what he should or shouldn't do. Wouldn't you be mad. I would!
There is so much more I could mention. There are so many injustices and inconsistencies in the way the system operates or doesn't as the case may be. People have been told they would be moving out of the large, extremely hot and un air conditioned tents into better more permanent accommodation but that has taken much longer to come on line than was at first indicated.
There is a shortage of accommodation and shortage of available building sites because many of the Nauruan landholders do not want the refugees here and even if offered a lot of money (believe me heaps has been paid out) they have not agreed to any proposals. There is a whole accommodation block that was built some years ago. It's on someone's land and is sitting idle and empty. The government has apparently taken over responsibility for it but nothing happens quickly here. And...... to all those who think the refugees have got it pretty good with a roof over their heads and a fortnightly allowance..... Have they ever tried to live in a space approx 2m x 4m? with a window(s) that needs to be covered to maintain privacy. I might be wrong but check and tell me the size of a small container.
Sorry to be such a grump but I'm just telling you the facts. I am not huffing and puffing just for the heck of it. I'm glad I'm here and can see what's going on. By the way if there's any suggestion that the Manus Island people could be relocated here, please laugh loudly because it's not feasible. As mentioned by Julian Burnside there is often insufficient water, food and petrol to service the current population. The island simply cannot sustain the increase in Nauruan and refugee populations and their needs. Mind you it's good business for the government. They get $1000 per month for each refugee/asylum seeker they are "hosting". Our accommodation here costs over $200 per night. With us and permanent local residents that runs into 100s of 1000s of dollars a month. The place is falling down...... leaks, rust, mould, cracks, decay. Return fares cost around $2000. Visas for workers $1000. Nauru Airlines having lost a fortune in days of yore is now making a fortune again. It's another cash cow for the government that has spent and promised very little towards improved infrastructure, educational or health facilities for its people. The Australian Government is building a new hospital but things can't happen quickly enough to service the great increase in demand.
So that's it for now. Pass on this information to anyone who might be interested. I guess if i were not working here I might not be so involved in the machinations and goings on of a tiny little island in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific. But, I am. I have to say something to someone. Otherwise I will feel more complicit in the tragic death or injury of the next person and the others that will surely follow if we do not address the situation. Love and best wishes to all. Hope you are all well. So far I'm OK . I really am.