Victoria University: #LetThemStay

February 25, 2016

On February 18, a delegation of Victoria University staff and students delivered a letter to the office of Tim Watts, Labor MP for the federal seat of Gellibrand.

The letter, signed by 125 students and teachers — in only two days and before most students were back at university — pleaded with Watts to follow Premier Daniel Andrews' example and advocate that the 267 vulnerable asylum seekers, including 36 babies, not be sent back to Nauru.

The letter expressed a deep, justifiable concern about the "physical and emotional well being of this group", and identified the very real and serious risk of physical and sexual assault if they were returned to offshore detention.

Joan Broughan, who helped deliver the letter, appealed to Watts to reconsider his support for mandatory offshore detention: "I am at a loss to comprehend the culture of a profession — politicians — that condones child abuse.

“We have mandatory reporting of such abuse. Does it not apply to children of parents who are asylum seekers?

“If so, then we have two problems: child abuse and discrimination.

"I struggle to feel any connection to a community, society or country that cares so little for the children in their care. I cannot, in all conscience, encourage students to pursue integrity, social justice and human rights in their chosen field, while doing nothing when I encounter injustice.

"To have any validity as teachers, we must be seen to 'walk the walk' as well as 'talk the talk'."

Watts can certainly “talk the talk”. His website says: "Multiculturalism is a personal passion for Tim". Though his office and Facebook page are decorated with his "Your child: your future" campaign, it is clear that Watts does not care for all children.

Watts was unable to receive the letter in person. But one of his staff members, Steven Lee, met the group. Lee sympathised with their concerns and requests and was keen to advise on all the great work Watts is doing in the electorate. But when the subject of state Labor's support for #LetThemStay was raised, he was reluctant to comment.

Watts may respond to the letter. But it is likely his response will come too late for those facing a life of torture and abuse.

If a society is to be judged by the way it treats the most vulnerable, then this society has failed. It is indeed a tragic day when a community needs to protest against the torture of children.

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