World Refugee Day speakers condemn ‘Pacific illusion’
Speakers at a Rally for the annual United Nations World Refugee Day urged Coalition backbenchers to reject outright the Federal Government’s bill providing for mandatory processing of the claims of asylum seekers arriving by boat to take place in distant countries like Nauru or Papua New Guinea. They should not accept amendments to a fatally flawed bill and should cross the floor in Parliament.
The Rally was organised by the ACT Refugee Action Committee and the ACT Branch of Amnesty International Australia. Speakers came from a wide range of community organisations, including the West Papuan and Chinese communities, as well as political parties opposed to the bill.
In the words of ACT Greens MLA Dr Deb Foskey, we should be treating West Papuans and others fleeing persecution in the generous way we were now assisting the East Timorese, not denying their human rights. Labor MP for Canberra Annette Ellis branded the legislation “a really nasty bill” which should be completely opposed.
Several speakers congratulated the Coalition members of a Senate Committee which had recommended that the bill not proceed because of the overwhelming evidence it had received against the bill and the lack of adequate information on how it would work in practice.
Dr Pene Mathew from the ANU College of Law urged Parliament not to revive the ‘Pacific illusion’ which had been expensive, inhumane and totally unnecessary, resulting in more than half of the refugees being resettled in Australia, and many of the rest in New Zealand. We should back Senator Bartlett’s bills to dismantle the ‘Pacific Solution’. Australia also needed migration legislation which would “implement our human rights obligations properly, for example by saying that no refugee shall be sent to a place of persecution, or be subjected to arbitrary detention.”
Local refugee advocate Marion Le labelled the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ “an unmitigated disaster”. The processing of claims by asylum seekers had been designed from the outset to lead to rejections as the Prime Minister had promised. From her experience she had no doubt a significant number of those who were pressured to go back ‘voluntarily’ should have been recognised as refugees.
Jo Hunt for the Refugee Action Committee and Socialist Alliance’s Andrew Hall received strong support when they vowed to keep opposing anti-refugee legislation. Since 2001 a strong community movement of respect for refugee rights had developed and that was reflected in the dissent in the Coalition ranks.