Graeme Williams, Mullumbimby
I was in high school in 2001 when the SIEV X sank in Australian waters resulting in the tragic drowning 353 refugees. I recall a sense of both outrage and despair as our prime minister at the time, John Howard, promoted cruel polices that conflated our humanitarian responsibility with his ‘border protection’ rhetoric.
It’s now 2012 and the federal Labor government has re-introduced Howard-era policies that undermine Australia’s status as a fair and decent nation. Yet again, we are about to indefinitely detain some of the world’s most vulnerable people in offshore prison camps on Nauru and PNG, costing taxpayers billions of dollars.
This disgraceful approach denies desperate people their basic human rights and will see the re-opening of the mental-illness factories of the Howard era where children were separated from their parents and suicides and self-harm were all too common.
Punishing refugees does not work. Australia needs to adopt a proven regional solution that prevents deaths at sea and provides refugees a safer pathway to resettlement, like our country did after the Vietnam War. This approach is supported by former PM Malcolm Fraser, law academics, the Refugee Council of Australia and Amnesty International.
What the federal government has introduced is inhumane and ineffective. It’s a short-term political fix designed to bolster votes in marginal electorates.
In my mind, Australia is still a fair and compassionate country where we look after the most vulnerable in our community. I ask Justine Elliot, our local voice in the federal parliament, to stand up for vulnerable people, rather than adopt approaches that punish desperate people fleeing trauma and torture.