Four of the 16 candidates in the Wentworth by-election attended a refugee forum organised by Wentworth for Refugees on October 14. Waverley College hall was packed with about 300 concerned citizens.
The forum, moderated by Refugee Council of Australia president Phil Glendenning, focused on the almost 100 children on Nauru, many of whom are at risk from “resignation syndrome” and have given up on life. About 1500 people are being held hostage on Nauru and Manus Island by the Australian government.
The candidates present were Dr Kerryn Phelps (Independent), considered a favourite, Licia Heath (Independent), Dominic Wy Kanak (Greens) and Andrea Leong (Science Party).
The Liberal and Labor candidates were notable for their absence. Both major parties support offshore detention and their candidates have avoided questions about the mental health of children on Nauru.
The candidates attending the forum agreed that offshore incarceration on Nauru and Manus Island needed to end immediately, and that the children and their families should be freed.
Phelps said she was “ashamed” of Australia’s policy. “As a doctor and a human being it offends me”, she said.
In spite of this, Phelps was the only candidate present who did not demand that the detainees be brought to Australia, saying instead they should be resettled in “a third country”.
She also said that if elected she would form a group of MPs to lobby the government for an immediate end to offshore detention.
Wy Kanak said Australia’s offshore detention is a “crime against humanity”. He urged voters to consider voting for the Greens, as 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.”