Last week I emailed Cath Bowtell, Labor candidate for the Federal Seat of Melbourne, to ask her views on the asylum seeker scandal. (Melbourne is formerly a blue ribbon Labor seat, but it was snatched by The Greens’ Adam Bandt at the last election. Labor is pulling out all stops to get it back, and will be preferenced by Liberal ahead of The Greens.)
Here it is- my email, her email, and my email back. You decide.
Dear Ms Bowtell,
You are the Labor candidate in my seat of Melbourne. I would like to hear your position on the Prime Minister’s decision to send all boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea, with the vow that they will NEVER be allowed to settle in Australia. Papua New Guinea, a country that the Australian Government cautions Australians to take “extreme caution” if travelling there due to high levels of crime and substantial levels of cholera, HIV, and malaria. Papua New Guinea, by many measures a third world country. Where one third of the population live on less than $2 per day. Where the people have had no say in their Prime Minister’s decision.
As an aside, I’d like to draw your attention to a statement Mr Rudd made in 2006:
“Another great challenge of our age is asylum seekers. The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst. That is why the government’s proposal to excise the Australian mainland from the entire Australian migration zone and to rely almost exclusively on the so-called Pacific Solution should be the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches. We should never forget that the reason we have a UN convention on the protection of refugees is in large part because of the horror of the Holocaust, when the West (including Australia) turned its back on the Jewish people of Germany and the other occupied countries of Europe who sought asylum during the ’30s.”
I note that your website and Facebook page is replete with photos and stories from young people of diverse cultural backgrounds, some of whom I’m sure came to Australia as refugees, and I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you are not merely publicising your meeting with them to gain some ‘cultural credibility’. I would like to think you actually care about the lives of these people, as well as the beliefs of the residents in the electorate of Melbourne, who overwhelmingly support a compassionate approach to lawful asylum seekers arriving by boat.
So, what is your position on all of this? Where do you stand? What do you believe? What are you going to do to represent the views of the majority of residents in the electorate of Melbourne?
Dear Mr Holmes
I understand your concern about this issue and the Government’s recent announcement, much of which I share.
I know that people leave intolerable circumstances in their homeland – war, famine, persecution. Many of these people have made Melbourne their home and contribute daily to our vibrant community. I hear from many of them, particularly from some Horn of African countries who have been waiting for years for their families in camps to be processed for settlement to Australia. I can assure you that I care very deeply about these people.
I am a strong advocate for taking a significantly greater number of refugees; I also believe we have a humanitarian obligation to deter people from taking dangerous sea journeys. The number of deaths we have seen recently does require mechanisms to deter people from risking their lives, and those of their children.
Australia should provide protection to as many people as we can, and offer them the chance to rebuild their lives. There are currently 46 million such people in the world. Our country cannot provide an unlimited number of places, but it can do better.
Labor has recently committed to an increase our refugee intake to 20,000 plus an additional 4000 earmarked for family reunion. This is similar to the number of refugees resettled after the Vietnam war.
Labor has committed to consider a further increase to 27,000 per year and I will work towards achieving this goal, as a minimum.
I will also advocate for the retention and improvement of resettlement services which have been important to retain support for our multicultural and multi-faith community.
We need to work with other nations in our region so people can find protection in countries that are currently “transit” countries.
A framework of regional assessments and resettlement will not only provide protection to many thousands of displaced people, it will go some way to discourage sea journeys.
Wherever people’s claim for protection is heard, it should be done promptly and there must be a fair process to determine the claim. People should be supported during the process, with access to health care, education for their children and the right to work. I am on the record expressing concern about PNG’s current capacity to meet this standard.
We have to accept that the community is very divided on this issue. In my view, changes to Australia’s treatment of refugees will come about primarily through the efforts of people like you and me to convince others that it is the right thing to do.
My commitment is to work for this within the Labor caucus and in the community.
Please contact my office if you require any further information.
Labor Candidate for Melbourne
Dear Ms Bowtell,
Thank you for taking the time to reply to my email.
I am however underwhelmed by your response, for several reasons:
You said “Australia should provide protection to as many people as we can, and offer them the chance to rebuild their lives. There are currently 46 million such people in the world. Our country cannot provide an unlimited number of places, but it can do better.” Yes, i already heard that from Bill Shorten on QandA- it was a ridiculous, obfuscating comment then and it still is now. It is nothing more than scaremongering.
You said “I am on the record expressing concern about PNG’s current capacity to meet this standard.” Great- and this will do what exactly? Big words when you’re not even an elected member, but it’ll be just as impotent if/when you’re a backbencher and PM Rudd doesn’t even know your name.
You said “A framework of regional assessments and resettlement will not only provide protection to many thousands of displaced people, it will go some way to discourage sea journeys.” So, you believe that not only PNG but the Solomon Islands and other Third World countries should be taking the asylum seekers that Australia can easily absorb do you? You’ll fit in quite nicely with the current government.
You said “We have to accept that the community is very divided on this issue. In my view, changes to Australia’s treatment of refugees will come about primarily through the efforts of people like you and me to convince others that it is the right thing to do.” Yes, except you’ll be subject to an arcane but effective system of silencing voices of public dissent otherwise known as the Labor Party, whereas I have the freedom to actually shout my anger from the rooftops.
Finally, I note that you failed to mention the awful truth (though many of us are sadly unsurprised) emerging, before you wrote, of torture, rape, mutilation and abuse occurring in at least one of the offshore detention facilities. That a former employee has been so tormented he is willing to risk prosecution, and that PNG employees have corroborated his claims (likely at a much higher risk) is a vicious indictment of the government’s hands-off attitude to the treatment of lawful asylum seekers. I personally have no doubt that these crimes are occurring at all detention facilities (I prefer to call them jails), along with the psychological trauma that all detainees will continue to suffer from their unjust imprisonment. You choose not to discuss this- I’m not surprised.
Hey- good luck in the election, I’m sure you’ll give it a good go, especially as the Libs will be preferencing you over Adam Bandt. If you want my view, I believe there are now 2 political parties in Australia: Liberal/National/Labor, and The Greens, and your preference deal just proves that. You’ve taken your place in the political world- I hope you learn to live with that.
Ps it’s not good form to censor your Facebook page just because you get dissenting comments. Ironically, I respect the fact that the Greens, with many many hateful remarks, do not remove any posts from their various FB pages. To each their own…