The strong turnout at the recent Parramatta candidates’ forum on refugee issues showed community concern about current policies on asylum seekers.
Anthony Meggitt, Chairman of the Parramatta Refugee Action Group, believes that the refugee issue may be a decisive factor in the marginal seat of Parramatta this election:
‘It is a very strong refugee oriented area. Lots of people, from a whole host of different countries, work and live in Parramatta. I think that makes a huge impact.’
Labor candidate Julie Owens and Greens candidate Doug Williamson attended the forum held last Thursday. Democrats Candidate for Reid Tony Yoo spoke on behalf of Robert McFarlane, while Liberal MP Ross Cameron failed to attend.
Julie Owens was challenged over the differences between Labor and Liberal policies on asylum seekers.
‘It’s common sometimes to hear people say that there really isn’t a difference between Liberal and Labor. I believe that there is,’ said Ms Owens. ‘When it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, we will get the children out, we will be returning detention centres to public ownership and we will improve the processing to make it much faster and fairer.’
Carissa Hulands, from Sefton, explained how her husband Mohamed Selhab, who fled Algeria in 1994, spent 22 months detained in Villawood, only to have his claim rejected. Since his release he has been on a temporary bridging visa E.
‘It means no work, no study, no access to services,’ Ms Hulands said. ‘This has been extremely hard for us as a family.’
Mohamed has now been given only 14 days to obtain a passport and airline ticket to depart Australia, leaving behind his wife and three children. Letters from Kim Beazley and members of community were sent on their behalf to the Minister of Immigration, but to no avail.
All three parties agreed upon releasing children from detention centres, providing open accommodation for asylum seekers, and bringing an end to the ‘Pacific Solution.’
‘It’s nothing more than a farce, it’s cost over 200 million dollars already, and an estimated 85 million this year,’ Ms Owens said.
However, Labor will continue the excision of Christmas Island.
The Democrats and Greens will end mandatory detention of asylum seekers if elected.
Mr Yoo said ‘locking up recent arrivals for prolonged periods is causing unnecessary suffering to people who least deserve to suffer.’
The Democrats aim to complete security and health checks of asylum seekers within four to eight weeks. The Greens will take a similar approach.
‘We will place them in an open reception centre whilst their security and health status are assessed,’ Mr Williamson said. ‘After a two week period they will be allowed to move into the community.’
Labor will continue the Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) system, but will provide one off TPVs for two years, and will process 90 per cent of claims within 90 days and the remaining 10 per cent within a year.
‘I know that some of you would like us to go much further,’ said Ms Owens. ‘But it’s a far better, fairer position than the Howard government will ever offer.’
The Justice Project recently carried out a questionnaire in the Parramatta electorate, in which Candidates were asked to respond to questions about refugees and asylum seekers. The results, which were independently processed, ranked the parties on their support for refugee reform. The Greens came in first place with a score of 94 per cent, followed by the Democrats on 87 per cent, and Labor on 45 per cent. Ross Cameron did not respond to the questionnaire.
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