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Martin Ferguson, Asylum Seekers and Refugees: Labor Policy

It was excruciating for several advocates to stay in the presence of Mr Ferguson when he presented his delivery. His voice sounded loud, harsh and at no point in time he expressed any affection for the advocacy work of Rural Australians for Refugees or any other groups or organisations: it seemed like he was seriously cheesed off in "having" to do the honours at the Conference.

It wasn't entirely a surprise, because what he had to say represented the right-wing, hardline Labor approach - which really was nothing more than a predictable pandering to the hardline approach taken by the Howard government since 2001. It seemed that Ferguson had swallowed the "xenophobia response" following the 9/11 attacks hook, line and sinker, and that as a result the "keeping Australia safe" politician's line was entirely connected to asylum seeker and refugee policy.

By the time Mr Ferguson was about to conclude his delivery, almost 15 people had walked out of the AREC hall, and outside on the lawn a choir chanted "Free The Refugees"...


7 December 2002: The Mudgee Muster: Rural Australians for Refugees, its Mudgee National Get-Together - 'We might have had the idea, but unless you'd turned up in your numbers and proved to be the energetic, dedicated, passionate people you are, Rural Australians for Refugees would still be just an idea.' The Events' Program, Report, and Presentations of various speakers at this event.

7 December 2002: The Mudgee Muster photos: RAR Supporters and Friends in Mudgee - Some casual shots, by Grace Gorman, of the Mudgee RAR get together: From politicians to refugees, they were all there!

7 December 2002: Chilout's Kate Gauthier at the Mudgee RAR Conference: The Cruel Facts - We must fight this government policy with every method at our disposal, which includes acts of civil disobedience. Every one of us has a skill or a resource available to us for this fight. It is our duty to our fellow humans to find this skill, and more importantly, use it.

7 December 2002: Justice for Asylum Seekers Alliance: Reception and Transitional Processing System - Speaking at the Mudgee Rural Australians for Refugees Conference, Grant Mitchell presents an alternative approach to dealing with the processing of asylum seekers for Australia: The Reception and Transitional Processing System provides a realistic, detailed and soon to be costed reform of the immigration detention system which resolves many of the serious problems...

7 December 2002: Australian refugee policy: past and present, warts and wounds - Margaret Piper, Refugee Council of Australia, speaks at the Mudgee National Rural Australians for Refugees Get-Together. "At first glance, refugee policy is much the same as Tehran traffic: complex, chaotic and behaving like an untethered hose. It is only when you understand the complex interplay of international and domestic factors that you can perceive that there are rules..."

Martin Ferguson, Asylum Seekers and Refugees: Labor Policy

Presentation at
The 2002 Rural Australians for Refugees
Mudgee "Get Together"
Australian Rural Education Centre
Cassilis Road, Mudgee NSW
by Martin Ferguson MP
Federal Member for Batman (ALP)

Martin Ferguson is the Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Transport, Infrastructure and Tourism

On Thursday, Simon Crean and Julia Gillard released Labor's policy for Asylum Seekers and Refugees.

The policy is a complex package but it is a series of interlocking measures.

It is a better way of protecting Australia and a better way of meeting people's legitimate concerns about how this nation is treating individual asylum seekers.

The policy addresses three important strategies - protection of Australia, a new processing system and treating asylum seekers decently.

In relation to better protecting Australia, the policy details five new important steps that Labor will take. These five steps are:

  1. Labor will introduce a US style Green Card to crack down on illegal workers and ensure they are not stealing Australian jobs and undermining the pay and conditions of Australians.
  2. Labor will smash onshore and offshore people smuggling rings through tougher policing including stationing more Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers in Indonesia.
  3. Labor will impose harsher penalties, including million dollar fines, for people smugglers.
  4. Labor will focus on eradicating people trafficking for the purposes of sexual or other exploitation, as well as people smuggling.
  5. Labor will better protect our airports and seaports.

These five steps are in addition to our recently announced $600 million Australian Coastguard, a cop on the beat 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Together these initiatives will continue the proud Labor tradition of protecting Australia's borders.

Labor proposes a fairer worldwide refugee system by having the world adopt one processing system for refugee claims.

This is about leadership.

To lead the world requires leading by example. Labor will:

  • Maintain the excision of Christmas Island in order to pilot the processing regime it will advocate should be adopted globally. Christmas Island will be the prime asylum seeker processing and detention facility;

  • Put its processing regime to the ultimate test by monitoring the return of failed asylum seekers;

  • Increase funding to the UNHCR to $25 million per annum in order to better assist those who live and too often die in refugee camps overseas;

  • Boost aid to address the issues that cause people to move such as poverty, natural disasters, conflict and environmental degradation;

  • Increase aid to countries of first asylum. Such aid is desperately needed and is important to facilitate the development of a system of return of asylum seekers.

Advocating a new worldwide system is a bold step.

We're putting forward a unique international idea for moving the global protection system for refugees forward.

That unique international idea is that the developed world resource UNHCR to undertake refugee determination everywhere.

This would be the ultimate deterrent. There will be no point in moving on from the country of first asylum to another.

We understand that unauthorised boat arrivals are the worst of all possible worlds.

It's the worst of all possible worlds from Australia's perspective in terms of managing our borders.

It's the worst of all possible worlds for the asylum seekers involved, because many fail in the attempt, many die trying to get here in leaky boats.

Labor will keep mandatory detention for the proper purposes of protecting Australia from health and security risks.

Mandatory Detention will also ensure refugee claims can be dealt with efficiently and failed claimants removed.

Under Labor the system of mandatory detention will be humane, not a system of punishment.

Labor will end the "Pacific Solution" because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.

Labor has already announced that it will free children from behind the razor wire, close Woomera, return detention centre management to the public sector, and lift the shroud of secrecy around detention centres through media access and the involvement of independent medical professionals.

On Thursday, Labor outlined a number of additional ways it will ensure mandatory detention treats people in an Australian way:

  • Labor will run a fast, fair and transparent processing regime on Christmas Island and on mainland Australia that determines 90% of regime claims in 90 days. Genuine refugees will be quickly identified and released while failed claimants will be quickly returned.

  • Labor will administer better health and ASIO security checks;

  • Those with claims of merit who are ASIO security cleared, health cleared and who pose no risks will be able to live in hostel style accommodation. Christmas Island will have a supervised hostel. Any other supervised hostels required will only be located in regional communities that bid to have one.

  • Labor will create an independent Inspector-General of Detention, who will monitor detention conditions and resolve complaints.

  • Labor will have an expert committee that will review and make recommendations on any case in which a person is detained for more than 90 days.

Labor will treat genuine refugees in an Australian way.

There are refugees in Australia who, under current laws, may be here a lifetime but will never be eligible for family reunion.

Labor will not maintain such a system.

Labor will replace this system with a short-term temporary protection visa after which a genuine refugee can access a permanent protection visa.

The nature of the global refugee problem is changing. In the past refugee status would last a lifetime.

Increasingly, the nature of people displacement is that people have short-term protection needs.

We therefore think it's important to have a first instance Temporary Protection Visa.

At the end of the first TPV we will assess whether anything has changed in the in the country of origin.

If nothing has changed, then their protection needs are ongoing and they will get a Permanent Protection Visa.

Labor will facilitate genuine refugees settling in parts of Australia where they will be welcomed and are needed.

Regional communities that want to increase their population through having refugees settle there will be able to do so through Labor's regional settlement plan and will receive targeted resources to assist them to do so.

Labor will give priority to family reunion applications from those who have settled in the regions of Australia designated as in need of population and with labour shortages.

Labor recognises that the population distribution in Australia is unbalanced.

Too many people live in Sydney and Melbourne.

Too few people live in country Australia.

As a result, there are skills shortages in many parts of Australia.

Communities are finding it difficult to find labour.

Businesses are choosing not to invest outside of Sydney and Melbourne because they find it difficult to attract labour.

This is unacceptable.

It is holding back regional development.

It means that Australia is not reaching its capacity.

It means that some inner city regions are expanding rapidly and many other regions are being left to whither and die.

Labor strongly believes that it is not good enough to let some regions wither and die.

We believe strongly in the notion of one nation - in the positive, inclusive sense.

In this regard, I mean a unified and inclusive society.

One that trusts and supports each other, builds strong and effective networks and partnerships and takes the world head on.

Building our nation, by building our regions both in the city and in the country, will provide what our community expects for them and their families.

It will bring about a better quality of life and increased opportunity.

One piece of the regional development puzzle that Labor is putting together is changing the settling pattern of refugees and new migrants.

Labor supports the dispersal of these people to our country regions.

They will enrich our regions.

I also put it too you that the communities themselves must be ready to embrace a new culture.

They must be open to new ideas, new customs, different family structures, different foods, different dress and different religions.

But diversity should not be seen in a negative light.

Diversity must be seen as having a positive influence on community building and a legitimate conduit to regional development.

The capacity to ensure regional sustainability relies on a commitment by all tiers of government to regional development.

It also relies on a concerted, whole of government approach to addressing regional needs.

We must extend our thinking to create new social and economic opportunities in regional Australia.

If our regions are going to be able to support migration, it is vital that this agenda is linked with the broader regional development agenda.

Infrastructure development on roads, railways, water provision, energy, housing, schools, hospitals, telecommunications and the like continue to be desperately needed in regional Australia.

At the same time it is essential that migrants have access to health services, English language lessons, orientation services, interpreting and translating services, job network information, training assistance social services, referral services and access to advice.

It is essential that we employ flexible support programs that ensure such services are available where they are needed, whether that's in the capital cities or the regions.

We need to encourage local government organisations, non-profit organisations, educational institutions or community groups to establish formal or informal support networks that work in conjunction with government agencies.

In other words we must recognise that regional migration is a win-win situation so long as it is applied strategically and properly supported.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to address you today.

It is a good coincidence that we have announced our asylum seeker and refugee policy just days before I address a gathering of forward thinking regional Australians.

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