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Public Consultation - Tell us what
Asylum Seekers and
Time for a New National
Here are a number of options for building a new national consensus amongst Australians on asylum seekers and refugees. Choose the options you support (by ticking the appropriate box), and adding additional comments or suggestions.
Nothing demonstrates the leadership and policy failure of both major parties in Australia more dramatically than the issue of asylum seekers and refugees. Both Labor and Liberal have created confusion and deep division in the Australian community, built an expensive monitoring and enforcement regime which has failed to deter arrivals by boat, and failed to build a national consensus around a sensible handling of Australia’s interests and obligations on these issues.
Both parties display little knowledge of the UN Convention on Refugees to which Australia is a signatory. This Convention requires Australia to not return displaced people to their homeland if their lives are at risk. The Convention does not oblige Australia to accept asylum seekers as permanent residents if they are found to be genuine refugees. Nor does it oblige Australia to detain asylum seekers in detention centres, or provide them with welfare benefits on arrival.
There are 56 million displaced people in the world. Australia’s humanitarian intake of 20,000 people as permanent residents is one of the highest per capita of any country in the world, yet even if this number were doubled or quadrupled, its impact on the total number of displaced people will remain marginal. The overwhelming humanitarian need is for short-term assistance and provision of a safe haven for displaced people until such time as they can return safely to their homelands. Permanent residency for refugees in countries like Australia is not a solution to the displacement of 56 million people.
Public opinion on asylum seekers and refugees is more sophisticated than the thinking of both major parties. Polls show Australians distinguish between provision of a temporary safe haven for displaced people, and the granting of permanent residency. Yet both parties confuse these issues. The Monash University - Scanlon Foundation Mapping Social Cohesion Survey conducted in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013 surveyed the views of Australians on three positions on asylum seekers:
38% supported temporary protection visas to provide a safe haven for asylum seekers until such time it is safe for them to return home.
31% supported permanent residency for asylum seekers found to be genuinely seeking refuge from persecution.
30% did not support temporary protection or permanent residency for asylum seekers.
The cohorts of 31% and 30% for permanent residency and against any form of protection respectively suggest that neither of these positions can command majority support in Australia. Neither are likely to win majority support in the forseeable future. The 38% support for temporary protection visas suggests that this is the only position around which a national consensus of opinion is capable of forming.
Both Labor and Liberal are silent on the obligations of asylum seekers and refugees to their own countries. When the international community oversees a reconciliation process in a country that was previously plagued by violence and war, refugees have an obligation to return to their homelands to participate in the process of reconciliation. This obligation is even stronger in situations where Australia supplies military personnel to assist this reconciliation process (as in Afghanistan). Yet both Labor and Liberal are bereft of a language with which to speak about the obligations of refugees to their own countries. Both remain silent on this critical matter. Educated refugees with professional skills are needed more in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq than in Melbourne or Sydney. When Nelson Mandela faced the challenge of seeking reconciliation in South Africa, his message to his fellow South Africans was not "Run away and start a new life in Australia" - it was "Let's build a new nation in our homeland, based on reconciliation".
Our political leaders are also silent on the obligations of Australians to refugees while in Australia. In the 1950s and 60s, many Australian communities sponsored refugees through their own free will. This was a far better system all round - families and communities (often churches) sponsored a refugee family, and not only supported them financially for a limited period, they provided a social support network in civil society that was critical for survival. This emphasis on social support and community integration is completely absent in the depersonalised detention systems erected by Labor and Liberal.
We aim to build a new national consensus in Australia in providing temporary safe haven to a greater number of the world’s displaced people. This consensus is based on five propositions which are outlined below.
In what follows, we present these five propositions which we believe can form the basis for a new national consensus amongst Australians on these issues. Choose the options you support (by ticking the appropriate box), and adding additional comments or suggestions.
Thanks for your input.
We will adopt a policy statement incorporating the results of this survey, which will be prepared by the Commission of the Heart and Soul of Australia.
We will use this statement to rally Australians in support of a new national consensus on these issues. To be part of this process, join up by completing this membership form (below). There is no cost.