The Hobart City Council wants the 30 refugees being held indefinitely in the Park Hotel in Melbourne to be freed. A successful motion on January 31 authorised Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds to request federal and state governments resettle the refugees in Hobart.
The City is part of a network of Refugee Welcome Zones.
Councillor Damon Thomas told the meeting it was a “disgrace” that Australia’s immigration policies allowed the arbitrary detention of refugees. “We as a nation should hang our heads in shame. Many of them have done more [time] than a prison will put you in for murder."
Liberal Party Councillors William Coats and Simon Behrakis voted against the motion, saying the resettlement of refugees in Hobart would be “completely irresponsible”.
Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds dismissed this. “To basically say we can’t [resettle the refugees in Hobart] because we can’t accommodate 30 people is a bit like saying we can’t accept any migrants or any internal migration into Hobart.”
The motion shows local governments can play a leadership role in promoting humane polices for refugees.
Refugee activist with Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy Niko Leka told Green Left that the Hobart declaration is significant because “it represents the view of a community” rather than a political party.
Local councils have a history of taking action: Bega Valley Shire Council became a Welcome Town for Refugees in 2002 and Newcastle became a Welcome City for Refugees in the same year. Leka said this developed into a movement and many regional centres like Newcastle have recently “reaffirmed themselves as Welcome Towns or Refugee Welcome Zones”.
More than 50 councils passed a motion in 2014 calling on the then Attorney-General George Brandis to drop proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The changes would have watered down the Act, legitimating racial abuse.
Regional communities have been important advocates for refugee rights. In Biloela, for example, locals have fought hard to get the Murugappan refugee family back home and be given permanent protection.
When local communities speak up for refugees, racism is broken down, Leka said, adding, it is always worth approaching councils to take a stand on human rights.