Saturday, June 25, 2011

One small step for Australia...

Listening to the discussion around Go Back on SBS this week has given me some heart that we might have moved a fraction of an inch from a hate and fear filled rhetoric towards a clearer view of asylum seekers as people who are in difficult situations and worthy of our support.
The difficulty is the entrenched political positions in Australia. But even there I see an avenue for major change. The change could come with one, small, step. This small step would in one fell swoop drastically lower the cost of asylum seekers to Australia, puncture completely the hate-filled rhetoric, radically improve the lives of asylum seekers and turn this from a major political issue to what it is in truth: Australia's miniature contribution to helping those displaced in an unsettled world.
The one small step is simple: move to a community-based processing system now.
Asylum seekers would simply be held for a duration not exceeding one month whilst they were identified and a security assessment was undertaken. They would then be released into the community with access to Medicare, to education and to transitional support from Centrelink. They would have a right to work and would reside in the community whilst their claim was decided. Those who did not pass initial processing steps would continue to be held in detention centres.
Those asylum seekers released into the community would be free to stay there whilst their claims were assessed and whilst they continued to meet minimal criteria around location and compliance with Australian law. If they were assessed as refugees they would remain in the community whilst waiting permanent residence in Australia or resettlement to a third country.
Whilst we would need to support asylum seekers in the community it would be much cheaper and more humane than the current situation. It would also allow them to receive community support from volunteer organisations and existing compatriot groups whilst waiting.
The only other thing I would ask is for Australia to increase its total refugee intake to something which approaches a recognition of our wealth and resources. A level certainly above what we accept now.
I note that Malcolm Fraser, in a speech last night in Adelaide, also made this point and another point I have previously written about: make ASIO accountable and make it perform in terms of security vetting.
I believe that we should focus our efforts, those of us who are appalled by the current situation, by simply seeking this one vital change. It would be good for us as Australians, good for asylum seekers and good for the Government. Why would it be good for the Government? It would be a positive change to the budget and it would allow the Government of the day to move on and deal with real issues instead of endlessly playing political ping pong.
I think we are increasingly ready for this change as a community.

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