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March in August 2014 Coffs harbour - photos and report

A group of 14 Rural Australians for Refugees BAND supporters rallied at the March in August in Coffs Harbour.

There were others we knew who were also supporting other groups who are being affected by Federal Government decisions and plans.

Mike Grifin gave a powerful heart felt speech and was loudly applauded by all the people attending the rally. The text of his speech follows the rest of the photographs below

A number of speakers spoke passionately

March in August     
Mike Griffin's speech     31st August 2014

I am speaking on behalf of RAR Bellingen and Nambucca Districts.

·      We are here today to speak out on behalf of the seven thousand  refugees currently held in  detention by the Australian government. To speak out for those who have no voice; for those who are kept out of our sight. For the 874 children languishing behind the wire, most of them traumatised and sick, all of them fearful about what the future might hold for them.

·      We are here today to voice our anger at the Abbott government's cruel, inhumane and unlawful asylum policies.

·      We are here today to protest against a government that believes it can simply do whatever it takes, no matter how cruel, despicable and immoral,  so that it can boast "we stopped the boats".

·      We are here today to challenge this government's complete lack of transparency and its total disregard for the rule of law in its treatment of asylum seekers.

·       Finally, we are here today to remind everyone that seeking asylum, regardless of this government's sloganeering, is NOT illegal. What  certainly is unlawful is the denial of a proper process of assessment for those claiming asylum.  What  certainly is unlawful is the indefinite detention of children , with little regard for their health and wellbeing, little access to education, and little hope for the future.  In international law, the actions of the Abbott government amount to cruel and inhumane treatment.

Let's remember:

·      Firstly, asylum seekers have rights under the Refugee Convention. They have the right to claim asylum regardless of whether they arrive by sea or by air, regardless of whether or not they have documentation to prove their identity. They have the right to have their claims properly assessed; they have the right, once they have undergone initial health and identity checks, to freedom of movement, to access to education and to health care. They have the right to be kept safe and to be treated with dignity.

·      Secondly, the government has clear obligations under the Refugee Convention. It is obliged to process peoples' claims in the shortest possible time, as detention is meant to be an administrative process, not a punishment. It is obliged to both respect and protect the human rights of asylum seekers and to keep them safe from harm. It is obliged NOT to send refugees to third countries where their safety or human rights might be threatened.

So how is this government measuring up to its obligations?

·      The Human Rights commissioner, Gillian Triggs, following her visit to Christmas Island in April, reported, and I quote: "These children are actually identifying themselves by their numbers, not by their names, which is shocking." When did we last learn of people being identified by their number rather than by their name? Have we learned nothing in 75 years? If these were your neighbour's children, you would surely report the matter, the children would be removed to a place of safety and their parents would be prosecuted. But this is our government at work here. Believe it or not, Scott Morrison is the legal guardian of the several hundred unaccompanied children presently indefinitely detained on our behalf. Will he face prosecution for this criminal behaviour?  I doubt it.
·      The commissioner also reports that the majority of the children are sick and that many of them have significant mental health issues. The government's response? To instruct the medical staff to remove this damning data from their reports.  They don't want us to know the extent of their inhumanity and cruelty. They don't want us insisting that asylum seekers be treated humanely and with dignity, as surely we must.

·      The churches too have been increasingly vocal in their criticism of  the government's policy. The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce , for example, recently reported that the detention of children, and I quote : "amounts to state sanctioned child abuse, which the Taskforce believes will warrant a Royal Commission." It could not have put it more bluntly.

·      Many other groups, including UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, the Greens and Amnesty International  have made their opposition to the government's policy clear and have called for the immediate closure of offshore detention centres. The policy is not just cruel and inhumane, it's also insanely expensive.  According to the Audit Commission, it's 10 times more expensive to keep an asylum seeker locked up on Manus or Nauru that it is to process their claims whilst living in the community.  How can we spend up to 4 BILLION dollars a year keeping people locked away and destroying their health when we could achieve better outcomes for these people for a fraction of that amount? How can we do that, when the UNHCR only spends $5billion dollars a year on refugees, and it is responsible for 33 million of them in 125 countries. 
·       And all the while, the government tells us that these hell holes are safe. Tell that to the family of Reza Barati, murdered in the Manus detention centre by the people who were paid by this government to protect him.

·      Tell that to the doctors who have reported 128 instances of self-harm amongst children on Christmas Island.
In a nutshell, it is outrageous, immoral and unlawful to use asylum seekers, and especially children, as human shields to protect the rest of us from would-be asylum seekers. But when we explained this to our Nationals MP, Luke Hartsuyker, he told us that,  though we may be well-intentioned, we are naively doing the bidding of people smugglers. Well, we are not naive. We are principled, we are well-informed, and we vote! 
 So let's be clear. This government's policy is not humanitarian, as they would have us believe. It's not about preventing drowning at sea, or about smashing the people smugglers' networks. There are other ways of achieving that. It's purely and simply about doing whatever it takes to keep these desperate  human beings from our shores, because there are votes in it.  These policies are not about protecting people, but about punishing them, including hundreds of children, in order to deter others. That's morally indefensible.

  What is also indefensible is the government's insistence that asylum seekers will never be resettled in Australia. In fact, they can be resettled anywhere but in  Australia. They can be resettled in a growing list of poor countries including the poverty-stricken and corrupt PNG, Nauru and Cambodia. Cambodia, with its high levels of poverty and it's appalling human rights record. Cambodia ,  which ranks 160th out of 177 countries surveyed on the international Corruption index. Cambodia, now led by Pol Pot's Deputy; a regime, let's not forget, that murdered 1 million of its own citizens. Are we comfortable with that as a solution to our refugee problem? 

Is this how one of the richest nations on the planet should respond to those in need of protection? Surely not.

So today, we urge you all:


 ....because far too often in the past we have looked the other way whilst our nation has betrayed young people. Think the stolen generation, the forgotten generation, the institutionalised sexual abuse of children. Will we continue to look the other way?
 No, we will not, so let this issue of asylum seekers be the one on which we make a principled  and united stand, when we show that we care for some of the most vulnerable people on our planet. Let us reject the cruel and inhumane behaviour of this government and its predecessor. Join us today and help us put an end to this shameful nightmare. Sign up to get our regular updates  today.  We will keep you informed and help you to get involved. Let us all do SOMETHING to show that we care and that we reject this government's hateful policy.

 Let us all tell this government, loud and clear: NOT IN OUR NAME.

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