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New Home Affairs Minister has opportunities for compassion



Last week I welcomed the appointment of Karen Andrews to the home affairs portfolio as part of the Morrison government’s ministerial reshuffle. Her strident stance in recent days regarding the mistreatment of women in the Federal Parliament is a welcome sign that she will act on her convictions.

Main image: Karen Andrews speaks to media during a doorstop in the Press Gallery at Parliament House (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

The treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum calls for an equally determined response on the back of years of poor public policy that has led to the misery of thousands and cost Australian taxpayers billions.

I stand to support the Minister in the early days of her new role to make compassionate and sensible decisions, to find a different path for the resolution of the challenges she faces.

A case in point is the Tamil family from Sri Lanka removed three years ago from the central Queensland town of Biloela to Christmas Island where their detention costs $1.4 million a year. To date it is unclear what threat if any, the Murugappan family, including their two little girls, pose to our national security. In fact, the Biloela community has fought hard for their return.

In February I welcomed the release from detention of some people (previously medically transferred from Papua New Guinea and Nauru) into the Australian community. The government has already conceded that it is cheaper for these people to be in the community, particularly as they pose no threat to the community. This logic must not only apply to the Murugappan family but to the 100 or so people (also medically evacuated) who remain in Australian detention.

A major concern is their mental health. In 2019 doctors assessed people for medical evacuation from Papua New Guinea and Nauru and found 91 per cent had psychiatric health problems, with 28 per cent living with post-traumatic stress. For those evacuees remaining in Australian detention, their mental illness cannot be effectively treated because the cause of that illness is the detention itself — continuing, indefinite and prolonged over nearly eight years. They should all be released immediately.

I also encourage the Minister to revisit New Zealand’s long-standing offer to permanently re-settle the remaining refugees from Papua New Guinea and Nauru. If the Morrison government wants to save money, closing its offshore processing regime must surely be an option. It has cost about one billion dollars every year for the past seven years.


'There is no evidence any of these people are a threat to our community.'


There are other pressing issues the Minister might consider in her early days in the portfolio, including streamlining a pathway to permanent residency for the many people currently existing on temporary protection visas, allowing them to settle and work in regional areas where there is a labour shortage due to the pandemic.

The 100 people recently released from Melbourne and Brisbane on bridging visas now join tens of thousands of others on similar bridging visas and temporary protection visas.

The fundamental problem here is that these thousands have no path to finding a safe country as a permanent home, and the government has no plan to find them that home. The government must now release its plan for a permanent resettlement solution for all these people. In the meantime, the Society continues to do its best for these vulnerable people and is advocating for greater government support.

And if the plight of the hundreds of adults living in limbo because of flawed government policy has no resonance, perhaps the lives of some 16,000 children in families seeking protection in Australia, many with no income because of government policy, will strike a chord.

I would argue that none of these decisions will compromise our border security nor our community safety, priorities the Minister recently enunciated for her new portfolio.

There is no evidence any of these people are a threat to our community. And in recent years the government has reduced the numbers offshore and in Australian detention and allowed permanent resettlement of these people in other countries. All without resulting in any further irregular maritime arrivals into our country.

The recent spike in COVID-19 cases in PNG, centred on Port Moresby, where almost all the refugees live, emphasises the continuing risks to safety and health faced by these vulnerable people. I understand that 14 men currently held in PNG have COVID-19. PNG’s COVID-19 cases have tripled in the last month. Their health system is on the brink of collapse. We should be providing all the help we can to the PNG government to mitigate the impact of the outbreak there and remove these men from an overstretched health system to Australia.

Plenty to work with here in the months leading up to the federal election.


Claire Victory is the National President of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia.

Main image: Karen Andrews speaks to media during a doorstop in the Press Gallery at Parliament House (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Claire Victory, Karen Andrews, asylum seekers, PNG, Biloela Tamil family



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Existing comments

Well spoken Claire. The government has much to do to get its house in order. I hope they see the economic sense of better treatment of refugees even if they persist in their lack of compassion in this regard. Let's hope the former stance at least, is acted upon

Henri | 08 April 2021  

Dear Claire, I hope you are right in your suggestion that the new Minister will have more compassion than Minister Dutton, who will fit in better with the 'hard-hats' in the military than he did in his previous role. The major hurdle for Karen Andrews is that 'bloke at the top of the wood pile'- Scott Morrison, who was the hardest block of wood in the Turnbull & Morrison governments, with a strong dislike for "illegal" immigrants. Good luck with that- may Andrews be more compassionate and clear minded than her predecessors in this role. Humanity and compassion are not in the charter of the Morrison government.

JOHN WILLIS | 08 April 2021  

Well done Claire. The treatment of the family from Biloela has been beyond shameful. Their transfer to Christmas Island was a mean, punitive (and vastly expensive) measure to remove them from any physical support from their thousands of followers. It is high time for the new minister to exercise compassionate discretion.

Llew Davies | 09 April 2021  

Unhappily, it is likely that any minister, regardless of political persuasion, acts first in the interests of those who are likely to support him/her at the ballot box. Let us hope the new minister is better than that, untainted by her predecessors. But don't hold your breath waiting - it could prove fatal!.

john frawley | 09 April 2021  

Thanks Claire for highlighting important concerns. We can only hope and pray that Karen Andrews shall be able to act on her ideals of compassion. Perhaps a female voice will be a strong one? Here's hoping.

Elizabeh B | 09 April 2021  

The Government and Opposition in Australia are waxing lyrical in honouring the Duke of Edinburgh (RIP). It is worth noting that, as a baby, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was a boat-person asylum-seeker. As such he would not have been allowed to enter today's Australia.

Gerard Hore | 10 April 2021  

Oh dear, the system was set up by women, against women and those women have now left parliament, some are still there and are totally silent on the ongoing abuses.

Marilyn | 11 April 2021  

Gerard Hore: ‘as a baby….he would not have been allowed to enter today's Australia.’ It’s impossible for Australia to accommodate everyone who is a genuine refugee. Smugglers can get pretty much any genuine refugee from anywhere in the world to Australian waters. The only thing that stops a smuggler from doing so is a lack of inclination on the part of a genuine refugee to trust with hard cash in the efficacy of the smuggler’s service. If the blockade doesn’t work to break this trust, news that there is mandatory quarantine in a detention facility might. Even that isn’t necessarily so. Perhaps news of mandatory quarantine in an offshore detention facility might. But even that isn’t necessarily so. It is arguable that smashing a smuggling network only leaves genuine refugees with fewer options for safe haven. If it is simultaneously good practical policy and bad moral policy to smash a smuggling network, perhaps the virtue-signallers can tell us how exactly to fix the asylum seeker problem. Australia is a free country. There’s nothing to stop the virtue-signallers from drawing up a timetable of rallies outside the embassies and high commissions of those governments which cause refugees to be created.

roy chen yee | 12 April 2021  

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