Members at the ALP National Conference reached a contentious agreement over the weekend to pursue a policy to turn back asylum seeker boats intercepted in Australian waters. Listen to the Taskforce’s Executive Officer, Misha Coleman, on ABC Radio National today.
MEDIA RELEASE: A new policy adopted by the ALP National Conference on Saturday has been welcomed by the Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce. The commitment is to establish a Children’s Advocate for child asylum seekers – and is one that the Australian Churches’ Refugee Taskforce has been strongly advocating for. There were 15 positive amendments to the ALP National Platform on Saturday, and this was one of them.
Father Peter Catt, Chair of the Taskforce, said that “this goes in part towards what the Churches’ Taskforce and several UN bodies and Senate committees have been trying to get up since 2004, which is to have an Independent Guardian, instead of the Minister for Immigration, to look after children who arrive on their own” (see attached history).
Under the ALP’s proposal, this new independent body would be given the statutory power and importantly the resources, to represent children and to bring court proceedings on a child’s behalf-which right now is rarely done because it relies on pro-bono legal support and on having access to these children and their files.
An alternative model for an Independent Guardian of unaccompanied children has been developed by an Expert Group that convened following the release of the Taskforce’s Report in July 2014, entitled Protecting the Lonely Children (available online.)
Father Peter Catt, said “ I also welcome the ALP’s commitment to increase the number of people we’ll protect to 27 000 people/year. This commitment to increase the quota is within a 10 year time-frame though, so we really hope that this increase can be achieved in a couple of years, as opposed to 10 years. If the number of people that Australia takes in was increased dramatically and quickly, the imperative for families to get on boats wouldn’t be so strong in the first place”.
Executive Officer of the Taskforce, Misha Coleman said that “with regards to the ALP’s commitment to take people away and to turn boats back, the Taskforce continues to reject this and the associated on-water processing procedures”. She said that “when people have been assessed on the 16 boats that have been turned back, 474 people of those people were refused their claim for asylum – only one person was assessed as being a refugee. This is in contrast to what happens in Australia when people get a fair and proper process, where about 90% of people are found to be refugees. Something very strange and different happens when people are processed at sea”.
The Taskforce also strongly support efforts by the ALP to work with transit and wealthy countries in the region, to increase the number of places available to resettle refugees.
Taskforce Vice-Chair, Sister Brigid Arthur, said “I’m extremely upset that there are still no long-term resettlement arrangements to address the fate of people sweltering on Manus Island and Nauru, nor for those people who have been assaulted or harmed in the offshore detention centres, and who are terrified at the prospect of return. I believe it is an indictment on our Nation that we seem to have forgotten about these desperate people”.