About 200 people attended a forum at the Wesley Centre in Geelong on July 30 to hear speakers from the community and the Labor Party discuss the federal government’s asylum seeker policy.
Speakers included federal member for Corio and opposition spokesperson on immigration Richard Marles, alongside representatives from the Combined Refugee Action Group (CRAG) and Labor For Refugees.
Marles’ reiteration of the message that Australia has to engage in punitive, offshore detention to show compassion to people who were at risk of drowning was met with jeers and derision. His comment that Labor has never sought to demonise asylum seekers in the same way as the Coalition was also booed.
Linda Cusworth from CRAG said Australia’s laws and practices regarding asylum seekers were becoming less consistent with obligations under international laws and conventions. She said it would be hypocritical of the opposition to oppose Temporary Protection Visas, yet remain committed to offshore detention and processing.
Christine Couzens, Labor For Refugees member and candidate in Victoria’s state election, said refugee and asylum seeker policy should be based on compassion and comply with international objectives. Ideally, processing should take place onshore in “urban reception centres” with a 30 day time limit.
Rod Mackenzie, former Labor party member, called for children to be released from detention. He said that Sweden, having roughly half the GDP and population of Australia, had accepted many thousands more asylum seekers directly into the community.