On Sunday 14 October, Pen committee members, Gil Appleton and Melissa Bruce attended a forum to discuss refugee and asylum policy which was organised by the group ‘Wentworth for Refugees’. The event was booked with around 300 conscientious attendees and was held at Waverley College.
Four Wentworth candidates delivered speeches and answered audience questions; Kerryn Phelps and Licia Heath (Independents), Dominic Wy Kanak (Greens) and Andrea Leong (Science Party). Also present and vocal from the audience, was candidate Barry Keldoulis (Arts Party). Notable absentees were Liberal candidate, Dave Sharma, and Labor candidate, Tim Murray who both support offshore detention and have appeared to have avoided questions about the dire status of current detainees.
The forum was chaired by Phil Glendenning, president of the Refugee Council of Australia and there was passionate agreement amongst all candidates that offshore incarceration on Manus Island and Nauru needed to end urgently. Phelps was the only candidate who did not wholly recommend that detainees be brought directly to Australia, suggesting they could also be resettled in New Zealand or USA.
Phelps shared stories of her in-laws’ traumatic escape from the Holocaust. She argued that Australia was both breaching international obligations and that she was “…ashamed of the policy of offshore detention…as a doctor and a human being it offends me.” She said that if elected she would form a group of MPs to lobby the government for an immediate end to offshore detention and that she supported a bill of rights to protect refugees as a longer-term solution.
Wy Kanak described Australia’s offshore detention as “crimes against humanity”. He urged a vote for the Greens, saying they had been “a consistent voice inside and outside parliament for decades”. He also said, “The Greens will increase the humanitarian intake to 50,000 a year.”
Heath said she did not accept the Coalition government argument. “I take issue when they say if you are pro onshore detention and processing then you are in favour of people dying at sea. It’s offensive.” She promised to keep fighting the issue even if not elected.
Leong said, “Our ‘daggy dad’ prime minster is the architect of untold misery and we need to remember this.” She noted that she had held a placard in 2003, “Boundless plains to share,” but sadly had had to repaint it for a demonstration outside Scott Morrison’s office in 2014.
Discussion focused on the 1500 people being held hostage on Nauru and Manus Island by the Australian government and particularly on the plight of nearly 100 children on Nauru, at least 50 of which have symptoms of Traumatic Withdrawal syndrome.
It was bolstering to hear united support for the issue from all candidates and to be amongst a crowd of seriously concerned voters.
Live feed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_zHwEF8Mqw
Refugee Council of Australia https://www.wentworth4refugees.org.au