Human rights lawyer Julian Burnside is in Perth to propose an alternative to the major parties’ “cruel” refugee policies.
“We seem troubled by people drowning at sea trying to reach Australia,” he told the Voice. “We seem less troubled by the idea that if we’re nasty enough we can deter them from leaving their country where they’ll be slaughtered. I think it’s a pretty miserable approach.”
He says, “a safe way of getting them here if we’re concerned about people drowning at sea is to set up a processing centre in Indonesia, tell them they’ll be resettled safely in Australia and New Zealand… in six weeks, or two months, or four-and-a-half months”.
Awarded the Order of Australia in 2009 “for service as a human rights advocate” he says the 5000 to 10,000 asylum seekers currently in Indonesia could easily be absorbed by Australia.
Mr Burnside concedes this would result in many more then making their way to Indonesia to receive similar treatment, adding his plan requires working with Indonesia to deal with the influx.
But he points out people don’t leave their homes lightly, and 90 per cent of asylum seekers are found to be genuine refugees fleeing trouble.
He’s convinced the numbers should be manageable.
Mr Burnside says instead of paying $300,000 per person per year to multinational companies like Serco to detain people, asylum seekers could be temporarily relocated to country towns while their applications were processed.
They’d be given a right to work but, even in worst-case scenarios, says even if they stayed on the dole their cash would help revive struggling regional economies.
“That would end up costing us about $30,000 per person per year”—a tenth of the current cost.
We would be saving $2.5 billion a year on what we’d otherwise spend brutalising them with the incredible cost of holding them in detention in remote locations and on Christmas Island.”
Mr Burnside will speak at a Greens’ organised refugee forum today, Saturday August 31, alongside senator Scott Ludlam, the Uniting Church’s Rosemary Hudson Miller, refugee advocate Phil Chilton and comedian Sami Shah.
It is at the WA Italian Club, 6–8pm. Entry is free but RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org
by DAVID BELL