Saturday, July 20, 2013

An Open Letter to some Australian Federal Politicians

The following is the text of an email sent to Australian federal politicians in my division, Ballarat. The email addresses I used are listed at the end, followed by the replies.

The Honourable Catherine King, Federal Member for Ballarat,
Mr John Fitzgibbon, Liberal Party candidate for Ballarat,
Ms Stephanie Hodgins-May, Greens candidate for Ballarat,
Mr Gerard Murphy, Palmer United Australia candidate for Ballarat,
Ms Anne Foster, Australian Christian Party candidate for Ballarat,
Mr Shane Dunne, Katter's Australian Party candidate for Ballarat,

Dear fellow Australians,

I write to you today to express my dismay at the current state of debate regarding the issue of asylum seekers, and in particular, my sense of shame regarding yesterday's announcement of a new asylum seeker policy.

To echo the words spoken yesterday by The Honourable Peter O'Neill, CMG, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Australia is also a vast land with a small population. Approximately 97% of our population are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. While we do need to do more to acknowledge and respect the original and traditional owners of this land, we are a nation of immigrants, including many who were refugees, and this is something we should be proud of and seek to continue.

Further, Australia is a country which prides itself on fairness, justice, and the spirit of "mateship".

Taking these two points together, why is Australian policy on, and the political discussion of, asylum seekers, particularly those who arrive by sea, so unfair, unjust, and totally lacking in mateship? Why are the policies of both major parties so determined to punish, and to be seen to punish, people who are so desperate and in such dire straits that they see no other avenue of escape but to pay exorbitant amounts of money and embark on a treacherous voyage to this country?

Why can we not demonstrate to these unfortunate people, and to the world at large, that we really are a country of decent, civilised, welcoming and friendly people?

I shall give you my thoughts and I would appreciate it if you would each respond so that I may make my decision as to which of you I will vote for in the forthcoming federal election.

  1. There are votes in it. I am not naive, I understand that everything a politician does is firstly, primarily, and always to get elected or re-elected. I find this a shame, but I understand it.

    I am sure that you each have your polls, your surveys, your feedback showing that there are Australian voters who feel that there is a need to "protect" Australia from asylum seekers. I would suggest that most of them feel that way, at least in part, because of the political posturing and maneuvering by you and your colleagues. Repeated use of slogans like "Stop the Boats" and the nonsensical and self-serving use of descriptions like "illegal" only pander to and inflame such sentiments.

    I would like to assure you that there are many, many other voters in the federal division of Ballarat who feel that this is not the answer. There are many who do not even feel that this is very much of a "problem" which requires an "answer". The total number of asylum seekers who arrive by sea are truly trivial and do not require the amount of effort and hot air being spent on them.

    Receive them, rescue them if necessary, and process their applications in a timely and non-discriminatory manner. Allow and assist them to settle in Australia and let them get on with their lives; coincidentally growing and contributing to this great country as refugees and immigrants have always done. I assure you, there are votes in this too.
  2. There is no second point. It is all about the votes, nothing else.
I am most eager to receive your responses on both of these points.

In closing, may I remind you of some words in the second verse of the Australian National Anthem;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
I thank you for your time in reading this letter and look forward to your reply.

Jim Campbell
Voter in the federal division of Ballarat.

Email addresses;
Catherine King (replied 2/8)
John Fitzgibbon
Stephanie Hodgins-May (replied 21/7)
Gerard Murphy
Australian Christian Party
Katter's Australian Party
All of the above

First response - received Sunday July 21 at 7:31 pm

Dear Jim,

Thank you so much for taking a stand and writing to all the candidates. As you would probably expect, I share your concerns and I'm equally appalled at the depths to which both the Liberal-National Coalition and Labor Party have sunk to in this debate. Kevin Rudd's latest announcement is shameful and unsurprisingly it has the support of Tony Abbott.

Refugees deserve our care and should be treated with compassion and dignity as all people should. The Greens have a plan to save lives now and provide security to those who need it. Only the Greens plan is legal, effective and compassionate and is supported by a long list of groups such as Amnesty International, the Refugee Council of Australia, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Human Rights Law Centre, Labor for Refugees, Law Council of Australia and Chilout (Children out of Detention).

Further information including our full plan can be found here:

Many Australians, including people in the Ballarat electorate, are outraged as you and I are. If you'd like to join the Greens or assist in any way, you can do so here:

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss further. My phone number is below.

Warm regards,

Steph Hodgins-May
Ballarat Candidate | The Greens

Second response - received Friday August 2 at 10:35 am

Dear Mr Campbell,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me regarding asylum seekers, and the Federal Government’s response to this issue.

The issue of the movement of people across the world is a difficult one and is constantly changing. That’s why we have been working with our neighbours across the region to find solutions.

Australia is a compassionate nation. It has always had a generous resettlement program for refugees from around the world. This approach is reflected in the Australian Government’s decision last year to lift Australia’s humanitarian intake to 20,000 a year. Our humanitarian program works with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and resettles refugees in need of protection.

At the same time, the Government must respond to the many instances of asylum seekers drowning at sea and the people smugglers that set out to abuse our system and exploit desperate people.

These issues cannot not be addressed by the cheap three word slogans and the unilateral action proposed by Tony Abbott and the Coalition. Regional co-operation is required.

Under a new arrangement reached by the Prime Minister with Papua New Guinea (PNG), asylum seekers who now arrive by boat will have their claims for asylum processed in PNG and if they are found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG.

Asylum seekers will be transferred to PNG following a short health, security and identity check in Australia, and will be housed in regional processing centres that are managed and administered by PNG under PNG law with support from Australia.

Under this arrangement, if an asylum seeker is found to be a genuine refugee they will be permanently settled in PNG. Persons not found to be refugees may be returned to their home country or a country where they had a right of residence.

There is no cap on the numbers that may be transferred or settled.

The Australian Government is working with PNG to ensure settlement occurs where appropriate housing and services are identified. 

People who are sent to be settled in Papua New Guinea will still be cared for. They will not be returned to their place of persecution, and the obligations of the United Nations (UN) Refugee Convention will be adhered to. PNG has agreed to take immediate steps to withdraw its reservations to the Refugees Convention, with respect to persons transferred by Australia to PNG under this new arrangement.

Australia will bear the full cost of implementing this arrangement in PNG for the life of the arrangement. There is no limit on the number of people who can be transferred to PNG under this arrangement. This arrangement is reviewable after the first 12 months.

This approach provides a durable outcome for genuine refugees where they will be properly settled in PNG consistent with Australia’s international obligations. It also means that people smugglers can no longer sell asylum seekers quick settlement in Australia.

As a compassionate nation, we will continue to deliver a strong humanitarian program. This Government has increased Australia’s humanitarian program to 20,000 places a year, the largest increase to Australia’s humanitarian intake in 30 years.

The Australian Government has also indicated the desirability of international forums being convened to consider a review of the UN Refugee Convention. 

If the new arrangement with PNG and the international meeting on the Refugee Convention that has been flagged lead to a significant change in the number of people arriving by boat, then the Government stands ready to consider progressively increasing our humanitarian intake towards 27,000.

On the basis that this arrangement operates in the way that we intend then we will avoid the tragic consequences of people drowning in the Indian Ocean. Our humanitarian program will be decided by Australia and the United Nations and more refugees will be helped.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write to me on this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Catherine King
Office of the Hon Catherine King MP

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