Tim Watts MP is my local Federal Minister, here in Williamstown VIC, Australia.
I wanted to publicly post this letter which I have just sent through to him, and will also post any replies I receive on the matter.
I would also encourage anyone who has an interest in Human Rights and the Welfare of people in need to write to your local member of Parliament, voice your concern with the way that Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott have been treating these Human Beings; allowing people to essentially get away with murder; launching no investigation to the recent riots and death in custody of a Refugee, desperate to seek asylum in a country where he is not at risk of being shot, blown up or simply killed for his beliefs or his job.
My name is Patrick, and I am a resident of Williamstown. My family has lived here since 1854, so I guess you could class me as a local now. (I also just won your photographic competition with my guess of the Timeball Tower!)
Last night, I attended a lecture being given by Colleen Hartland MP, with guest speaker Julian Burnside AO QC.
Julian was speaking on the plight of Asylum Seekers, and how our government (I am deliberately using a lowercase ‘G’ as I do not respect them or their views) are treating these innocent human beings.
He spoke of the fact that no laws are broken when they arrive, as it is a human right to seek asylum in times of desperation. Also mentioned was the disgusting laws that state that if they are unprocessed and have no visa, then they are to be locked up until either a refugee status is given, or they are deported.
Mr Watts, Julian Burnside speaks for many, many people in Australia on these disgusting and immoral acts brought forward and amplified by Scott Morrison and the Abbott government.
Another thing that Mr Burnside spoke about, and one which I wanted to raise to your attention, in the hopes that this could be raised somehow in Parliament, is his rational, effective CHEAPER method of treating these Human Beings, that will actually save the government $750,000,000.00 per year on average (and we all know how much Hockey likes to cut spending!)
I have linked to this information below, as well as pasted in the text behind the link for you.
Mr Watts, things need to change. These people are struggling to survive in a hell on earth. Offshore means they receive no visitors, no contact with the outside world, and no hope.
When Guantanamo Bay was operating, their lawyers were allowed to visit the inmates there, yet we heard last night that Julian Burnside himself has been blocked in the past by the President of Nauru from entering the country, even after receiving a visa from the government of the day. Legal representation is occasionally blocked, the UN have been blocked, religious groups have been blocked, Salvation Army have been blocked. What is Scott Morrison hiding?
Mr Watts, I did not intend to write such a long letter. My intention was to direct you to Julian Burnside’s idea, in the hopes that it could be implemented in some form. This idea solves many problems; from Immigration Detention costs, rural employment (See how it is working in Shepparton, Castlemaine and other regional hubs), and most importantly of all, Human decency.
A link to Mr Burnside’s “Rural Plan” is below for you to read and hopefully raise in parliament as a viable option to the current situation.
AN ALTERNATIVE TO INDEFINITE DETENTION OF REFUGEES
During the 2013 election campaign, both major parties engaged in a competition to outdo each other in their promises to mistreat boat people. The theory was that this would deter others from seeking protection here.
As it happens, the boats kept coming, even during the monsoon season in late 2013 and early 2014.
Promising to treat innocent people badly is not usually a vote-winner. In most cases it would be seen as a mark of depravity.
But in any event, the argument starts at the wrong place. It starts with the Coalition’s oft-repeated statement that boat people are “illegals”. It starts from the language of “border protection” and “queue-jumping”: language calculated to make the public think boat people are undesirables, people to be feared, people we need to be protected from.
The fact is that boat people do not break any law by coming here the way they do. Over the past 15 years, more than 90% of them have ultimately been assessed as refugees entitled to our protection. Their arrival rate in the 12 months to 30 June 2013 was much higher than the historic average, but even so it represented only four weeks’ ordinary population growth. While 25,000 boat people arrived in Australia in those 12 months, we received 200,000 new permanent migrants and 4 million visitors during the same time. Boat people do not present a demographic problem for Australia.
Spooked by tabloid scare-mongering, both major parties chose deterrent policies: treat them harshly; push them off to small, impoverished Pacific neighbours. The low point of this was the Coalition bringing in the military to deal with the “emergency”. This, and the language of “war”, was calculated to make the public at large feel that Australia is under attack, which is so ludicrous as to be an insult.
The spectacular cost of these measures passes without complaint because it is seen as a kind of protection. While it is difficult to separate out the various components of the cost, on current estimates, we are spending about $4 billion each year trying to evade our responsibilities under the Refugees Convention.
So, how better to deal with boat people?
First, it is essential for a political leader to show some actual leadership by explaining the facts: boat people are not “illegals”; they are practically certain to be refugees; we deliberately, consciously mistreat them for political purposes; it costs us a fortune to treat them this way.
I do not advocate an open borders policy. Initial detention for people who arrive without papers is reasonable. But it should be limited to one month, for preliminary health and security checks. After that, release them on interim visas with the following conditions:
they must stay in contact with the Department until their refugee status has been decided;
they are allowed to work or study;
they have access to Centrelink and Medicare benefits;
until their refugee status is determined, they must live in specified rural or regional towns. There are plenty of country towns which are slowly shrinking as people leave. The National Farmers Federation estimates that there are 96,000 unfilled jobs in country areas, the likelihood is that many asylum seekers would get jobs.
If this approach were adopted, and if every asylum seeker remained on benefits, it would cost about $30,000 per person per year, making a generous allowance for administrative overheads. Even assuming a continued arrival rate matching 2012-2013, the total cost would be about $750,000,000 per year. That is to be compared with the current cost of about $4,000,000,000 per year. More importantly, all that money would be spent in the local economy of country towns: on accommodation, food and clothing. there are plenty of country towns in Australia which would be enthusiastic to receive that sort of economic stimulus.
This new approach would save us more than three billion dollars a year. It would also avoid all the massive psychiatric harm which is caused by locking up innocent people indefinitely.
If an Australian government could be persuaded to adopt an approach like this, I would urge it to use part of the money saved to create benefits within the community. A billion dollars a year could be turned to creating more public housing for homeless Australians; another billion dollars a year could be applied to building schools or hospitals or other infrastructure projects, or used to reduce the deficit or reverse tertiary education funding cuts.
We would still save at least a billion dollars a year. That is one thousand million dollars: quite a lot considering how much hand-wringing went into the decision not to give SPC Ardmona $25 million to help it restructure.
There are many ways these ideas could be implemented. A few billion dollars a year can be used to damage asylum seekers profoundly, or it can be used for the benefit of the community in which asylum seekers live pending refugee status determination. But it won’t happen until someone shows enough leadership that we are behaving badly because we have been misled about the character of the people who wash up on our shores.