Much has been said over the last ten years about the people attempting to reach Australia to seek asylum here. As we are all aware, there were, over a period, many lives lost as unseaworthy boats have been used to get these people from Indonesia into Australian territory. The current coalition government vowed that it would “stop the boats”, and, shortly after being elected applied a policy of turning back those boats which were seaworthy enough, providing lifeboats where they were not, and sending anyone who came close to Australia to overseas processing camps with the clear message that they would not be accepted into Australia even if they qualified as genuine refugees. Many of those who have been returned to the country of origin have been persecuted by the authorities there, proving their claims as refugees, but far too late. Last year, a boat carrying asylum seekers was intercepted within 500m of the main Cocos Island – that’s well inside the Australian territorial boundary, yet those people were summarily returned to Sri Lanka and some have been maltreated for trying to escape. That action by our own government is immoral and illegal. If people reach our shores and apply for refugee status we have an obligation under the Geneva Convention to process their claims properly, instead of deciding, without any attempt to investigate the claim, that they are not bone fide refugees. I am appalled by the government’s stance. I am equally appalled by the use of the term “illegal immigrants” for those who arrive here without full documentation. If you have to run to escape terrible treatment you will hardly ever have a valid passport and a visa to enter another country, so it is far from helpful for our political leaders to be describing these people in such terms. That is not to say that all of those arriving by boat have been genuine refugees.
Even at its peak, the number of people arriving in Australia and claiming refugee status was small compared with the number arriving by plane, with valid tourist visas, and staying here. With a migrant intake of nearly 200000 a year, surely we can process asylum claims properly and accept those who are shown to be genuine refugees.
There are options we could have used years ago to put a stop to the deaths at sea, and without resorting to setting up offshore processing centres of dubious legality and equally dubious safety, but neither major political party has been willing to address those options.
A number of those claiming refugee status who were housed on Christmas Island reported that they had aimed to get to Australia because of the way we treat women. In strict Islamic countries women are not able to do what they can do here, and they are not treated as equals with men. Our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq was the source of much of the information on which that opinion was based, so we should take responsibility for creating the awareness and the desire for a life away from the persecution of women.
Yes, there are those who want to come to our shores to undermine our society, but they are small in number compared with those who are genuine refugees, and it is not helpful for genuine asylum seekers to be labelled as if they were terrorists. It is also not in keeping with the Australian approach for those who put their lives at risk to get here to be told they will NEVER be allowed into the country.
With the cooperation of the new State government I will push strongly for:
● closer relationships with Indonesia and other countries through which potential asylum seekers are travelling, to establish humanitarian processing centres in places where people have been heading to take boats in an attempt to reach Australia, so that their claims can be assessed properly without risk to life;
● timely, speedy and thorough onshore processing of all those who arrive off Australia’s coast, or who reach Australian land, with the specific, and widely stated condition that no-one arriving here by boat and claiming asylum on arrival, will be accepted for residence here immediately, but that we will facilitate their transfer to a country of second choice if their claim is deemed valid after proper consideration, and they will be able to apply for immigration, with proper documentation, after a period of residence in that other country;
● permanent closure of offshore processing centres and for a limit of six months for the processing of all claims.
Authorised by Steven Secker, 4 Dower Court, Armadale.