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newsletter for 29 May 2018 Rural Australians for Refugees Bellingen and Nambucca Districts

Roadside Demonstration: Thursday 31st May, Toormina  2.30 to 4.00 pm
Valla Beach market: Saturday 2nd June from 9.30 am to 1.30 pm
Fundraising Concert: Reaching Out. Sunday 10th June
Another death on Manus Island
Response to last week’s newsletter
Labor Party Victoria Conference

Roadside Demonstration: Thursday 31st May, Toormina  2.30 to 4.00 pm

A reminder that our next roadside demonstration will take place on Thursday on Hogbin Drive, Toormina. You will find us with our banners and placards at our usual spot near to what used to be the Sawtell Nursery. Please come and join us if you can. We are always looking for new recruits!

Valla Beach market: Saturday 2nd June from 9.30 am to 1.30 pm

Our next market stall is at Valla Beach  this coming weekend. As always, we’ll be handing out leaflets, asking people to sign our open letter to delegates at the (now postponed) Labor Party conference, talking to market-goers and selling our merchandise.  We have a new leaflet which explains the government’s latest cruel plan to strip asylum seekers of all their benefits. Some single asylum seekers have already lost these benefits, but from 4th June, many thousands more, comprising families with young children, and living for the most part in the suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney, face homelessness and destitution in the weeks ahead. Please come along if you can, pick up a copy of the leaflet, and then let our politicians know what you think about this latest act of inhumanity.
If you can help out at the stall for an hour or two, then please email Mike at:

Fundraising Concert: Reaching Out. Sunday 10th June

Have you purchased your tickets yet? The concert starts at 2.00 pm in the main hall of the Nambucca Community and Arts Centre, which is located on Ridge Street in Nambucca Heads. You can purchase your tickets at The Alternative Bookshop in Bellingen, or at Helloworld Travel in Nambucca Heads. Alternatively you can phone Marlene on 6569 5419 to arrange for your tickets to be collected at the door on 10th June.
We now have a great team of volunteers to cover the tasks on concert day.  A big thank you to all those who have volunteered to help. If any supporters could bring along a plate of sandwiches, cakes or other finger food to help with refreshments, that would be greatly appreciated and will help keep our expenses to the minimum.
We are looking forward to a great afternoon of music.

Another death on Manus Island

Last week, yet another refugee died on Manus Island, apparently by suicide. This is the third death in as many months on Manus. Salim Kyawning, a Rohingya refugee, was the seventh man to die on Manus, and the fourteenth person to die in offshore detention whilst in the care of the Australian government. Salim, a husband and father, had been held on Manus for almost five years, and like others on the island, his spirit had been broken by the cruel and inhumane treatment to which all these refugees are subjected, and by the utterly inadequate medical care  on the island for people with serious health problems.
Salim’s health problems were well known to authorities. Both Doctors4Refugees and Rohingya refugees on Manus had petitioned the government to help him. Behrouz Boochani, who has been held on Manus for five years, commented: “Salim was a father of three. A Rohingya man who escaped genocide and persecution, endured five years of prison and illness, but lost his life to Australia’s cruel offshore processing regime. A tragic ending. And Australia has a seat at the UN Human Rights Commission. What a strange world we are living in.”
Our government made no attempt to contact Salim’s wife to break the news of her husband’s death – she learned about it from a staff member of the Asylum Seeker Resources Centre who phoned to offer their condolences. But our government did find the time to leak details of Salim’s confidential medical file to their friends at The Australian newspaper. The information provided to The Australian was reported under the headline : “Mentally ill refugee had ‘violent history”’ , which was a clear attempt to smear his name within twelve hours of his tragic death, and to absolve the government of any responsibility. Salim’s death was the direct result of government policy, which is deliberately designed to inflict suffering.
It is clear that the main political parties in Australia have little interest in bringing this cruel and inhumane policy to an end any time soon. Only we, the citizens of Australia, can bring about change. We must continue to make our voices heard. Please consider phoning:
Malcolm Turnbull: (02) 6277 7700 or (02) 9327 3980
Bill Shorten: (02) 6277 4022 or (03) 9326 1300
Peter Dutton: (02) 6277 7860  or (07) 3205 9977

Response to last week’s newsletter

The Labor Party candidate for the Federal seat of Cowper, Andrew Woodward, does not feel that the comments reported in last week’s newsletter properly reflect his views on asylum policy. You can read his letter, together with Mike’s response, on our blog. Just click on the link at the end of this newsletter. 
Scroll down to the next post to read the correspondence.

Labor Party Victoria Conference

There were high hopes that the Victoria State Labor conference would debate the party’s asylum policy at the weekend, and there was a  motion for the conference  to “close the offshore detention centres, transit centres and other camps on Manus and Nauru within the first 90 days of a Shorten government”.  And what happened? Union delegates combined to defer that motion, and all others, bringing the conference to a close.  The CFMEU powerbroker John Setka, tells us that this is “democracy in action”. Really? Earlier, Bill Shorten had made it clear that Labor would not “weaken” Australia’s tough border protection policies. He added that “We just happen to think that we shouldn’t be leaving people in semi-indefinite detention for five years just to achieve this”.
It’s clear that we cannot expect any support from the major parties in bringing about an end to the appalling treatment of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru. It’s up to us, the Australian people, to make change happen.

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Correspondence between Mike Griffin and Andrew Woodward

Andrew Woodward Labor candidate for Cowper letter follows Mike's letter

Sent: Thursday, May 24, 2018 11:08 AM
Subject: Labor's asylum policy

Dear Andrew,
Thank you for your letter regarding our conversation at the Labor party stall at Bellingen market last weekend. Let me say firstly that, in reporting on our conversation in our weekly RAR newsletter, I accurately described the comments which you made to me. You repeatedly asserted that there would be no changes to current Labor policy at the upcoming conference.  You stated clearly that the Labor party would not seek to end offshore detention, because in the party’s view that’s what the public wants, and finally you were adamant that, given that the Labor party is working to win the next election, and that changing policy on offshore detention is a vote loser, you would not support any changes  to current policy. That is what you said, that is what I faithfully reported , so I’m at a loss as to how you can regard my reporting as misrepresenting your views. I would be grateful if you would acknowledge this and correct the record.
I was disappointed  that you believe that it is the role of politicians to follow the public mood, rather than to take a leadership role in shaping public policy.  Labor, sadly, has been wedged by the Coalition in a race to the bottom on the issue of asylum seekers and has been silent for years on the key aspects of current policy – offshore detention, and no resettlement in Australia -  for people arriving by boat. In spite of widespread international condemnation of these policies, the Labor party has largely kept its head down, for the reasons that you articulated at the market. Compare the party’s approach to that of the Canadian prime minster, who met many of the 50,000+ Syrian asylum seekers at the airport, welcomed them as new Canadian citizens and assured them that they would be warmly embraced by the Canadian people. And they were, and we could do that too, if we had principled politicians who were prepared to lead rather than to follow. As recently as the 15th May, Bill Shorten, when asked by a journalist whether the proposal  to limit detention to 90 days included those asylum seeker currently languishing on Manus and Nauru, was unequivocal:  “The answer to that is no.”
I have of course read the Labor party’s current policy statement, much of which is commendable, and I have also read the paper prepared for the upcoming conference. Regarding the latter, as Trump would say, “let’s see what happens”.  Neither of the documents deal adequately with the issue of the 1500 or so refugees suffering on Manus and Nauru. Our group, and the other 70+ RAR groups across Australia, will continue to campaign for the  urgent closure of offshore detention centres and for the resettlement  of the refugees whose claims for protection have been found to be valid, in Australia and other countries where their safety can be assured.
I’m attaching for your information an excerpt from Ged Kearney’s recent maiden address to Parliament, in which she takes a principled and compassionate stand on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees. We need more of that! I’m also attaching a letter that I sent to Tanya Plibersek, in response to a letter that she sent to me about the Labor party’s position.
Finally, I, and others in our RAR group, would welcome the opportunity to discuss asylum policy with you at some mutually convenient time. If you would like to suggest some possible times and a venue, hopefully before the Labor party conference, that would be appreciated.
I will ask our blog manager to post your letter and my response on our RAR blog.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Griffin

Email from Andrew Woodward

I have been forwarded a copy of your public comments regarding myself following our brief conversation in a public thoroughfare on Saturday.

I feel you have misrepresented my position and ask that you share this email with your membership, as I have done on my website - . 

There were three issues at the heart of our conversation, as reported to your members:
Off-shore processing.
The political implications of this issue.
Labor Party Conference.

Let me go through these one by one. But first, let me say I 100 per cent support Labor’s current asylum seeker policy. It is a humane and compassionate approach inline with majority community wants. That said, hopefully some refinements will be made at conference to improve the basic fundamentals of this fair policy. 

To the specific issues. 

Offshore processing: The 2015 conference endorsed the Labor policy to significantly accelerate off-shore processing of detainees, particularly children. I wholeheartedly support this and the proposed refinements for consideration by the 2018 conference. 

Political implications: For a decade now the people of Australia, according to myriad polls, support off-shore processing. All too often, I hear people say “you politicians don’t listen to the people”. Here we are listening to the majority of people and yet we are criticised for it. And yes, if you don’t listen to voters and act in accordance with their wishes, you lose votes. That’s basic politics.  

Conference: Labor wants to put a time limit on offshore processing and this appears to have significant support, including my own. LINK . 

On Saturday, I gave you a copy of our current policy and I look forward to receiving your feedback on it. We also have a draft of the policy being taken to the 2018 conference. I invite your feedback on this too. You can read it here: LINK.  See pages 160 to 169 on Humanitarian Migration Program.

I hate seeing and hearing about the human rights abuses under the current government. It just doesn’t sadden me, it disgusts me. 

Personally, I am well aware of the issue of asylum seekers and refugees. What we see today is nothing compared to what we may see in the future. Part of my studies as a Master of Environmental Management at UNSW looked at the issue of climate refugees.  In the years ahead the world will have to deal with hundreds of millions of climate refugees. This is one of the reasons I work in the sustainability industry  and advocate to government for stronger action on climate change. Perversely, government policy in thids country accelerates the climate crisis, which will help lead to a climate refugee crisis. 

You can read one of my papers on the issue here: LINK. Climate change refugees and migration . The Senate last week brought down a report on the National Secuirty implications of climate change and I am pleased to see it raised the issue of refugees LINK. Hopefully this report will help place the issue higher on the national agenda. 

A ‘pure’ world will be a much different place to be in. Unfortunately, we don’t live and work in a pure world and we never will. So, so we have to work with what we have got and balance community views with public policy. There are many different views, agendas and vested interests at play in many issues, including asylum seekers, people smuggling and the wider migration program. I simply seek a more compassionate and humane approach for legitimate asylum seekers and I therefore fully support Labor’s policy. I was at the 2015 conference in Melbourne and listened to the debates intently. I am happy with what we have agreed to. 

I look forward to hearing from you on our current policy and proposed refinements and having further conversations with you in environments conducive to constructive discussion.

Andrew Woodward
Labor Candidate for Cowper