On 29th November a group of people in Braidwood held a meeting in which we decided to re-form the Branch of Rural Australia for Refugees which had fallen into abeyance. We decided to re-form the group as we were dismayed by the Government’s policy of harsh treatment of asylum-seekers which would also be in breach of our obligations under the United Nations Convention on Refugees.
It is obvious that off-shore processing is not working as a deterrent, and Amnesty’s report of conditions on Nauru is alarming to say the least. It seems that the only short-term solution is to process applicants for asylum on the Australian mainland. However, to hold them for periods of up to five years without permitting them to work on the most meagre of allowances is harsh and unconscionable and will lead, ultimately, to traumatised people who will be extremely difficult to absorb into the community. Clearly the government is seeking to create a deterrent to further people arriving by boat. However, we don’t believe that using people as human guinea pigs for the sake of deterring others from arriving on our shores can be justified-people are entitled to basic human rights regardless of the reasons given for imposing these harsh conditions-once you start to go down that track who knows where you finish.
We are also concerned about the Government’s treatment of children. The Chilout Newsletter of 28th November gives a figure of 664 locked in detention. The first people sent to Manus Island, where TB and a virulent form of Malaria are present, included 4 unaccompanied children.
Clearly the Government and Opposition are influenced by the voting public, a majority of whom in marginal seats, want the boats to be stopped. However, surely, a Government should lead and not be led by people who have been stirred-up by shock-jocks and others with an axe to grind. The Keating Government did a magnificent job in persuading people to accept the Mabo decision and there is no reason why our Government should not do the same in this instance and give up its race to the bottom with the Opposition.
When one looks at the global situation we in Australia are relatively well off regarding the numbers of asylum-seekers coming to our shores. As one of the most affluent countries we should be prepared to shoulder our burden and, rather than reviling refugees, we should be welcoming them and in the process helping them become useful citizens.
On behalf of Braidwood Branch Rural Australians for Refugees