THE federal member for McMillan, Russell Broadbent, has challenged the Corner Inlet Justice Group to continue its fight for “a fair go for asylum seekers” and an increase for overseas aid.
Mr Broadbent came to Fish Creek last week to brief the local justice group on the key issues of asylum seekers, overseas aid and adequate housing for all Australians, with a special emphasis on South Gippsland and the Bass Coast Shire.
He told the group that throughout his public life he has always fought for the things he believed in and “when all appeared to fail, [he] still held onto hope”.
The federal member stressed to the Corner Inlet Justice Group that if they wanted to see a change in refugee policy from either major party all the churches needed to speak with one voice and offer a viable solution.
“Recently I have met with officials of the Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Churches to discuss this issue. It is not satisfactory ‘to stop the boats at any cost’ but political leaders are looking for solutions to this tragic situation,” said mr Broadbent.
He said he believed the Corner Inlet Justice Group had a serious role to play in mobilising their local denominations into unified action.
“Churches must realise that they still wield enormous influence, and on social justice questions they should use it.”
Mr Broadbent questioned statistics that show up to 70 percent of Australians in favour of the current policy of both major political parties regarding asylum seekers. His reading of Australians is not that they agree with the policy but that they see the issue as too difficult to solve and wish that it would go away. If only, he said, we heard more about the injustices allegedly practised against individual refugees.
“When Australians hear about the suffering and abuse of refugees they react, because we have always been a nation demanding a ‘fair go’ for our mates,” said Mr Broadbent.
He emphasised that Australians must see their responsibilities to all peoples not only their own disadvantaged.
Salvation Army major Ron Cochrane addressed the Fish Creek briefing about his work with refugees in Nauru. He said that once the refugees saw the government replacing tents with buildings in Nauru, they became frustrated and angry and burned down the facilities because they saw their situation as being permanent. Major Cochrane called for “greater understanding of the mind of refugees”.
On the issue of adequate housing in South Gippsland, Mr Broadbent said that the local council should be supported to make this “their first priority”. He reminded the Corner Inlet Justice Group to lobby the council, because it is through the local government that State and Federal Government become involved.
The acting manager of Homelessness and Support Services for the Salvation Army in the Gippsland Region, Liz Cox, gave a comprehensive outline of rental accommodation. She gave examples of the difficulties both jobless people and victims of domestic violence have in finding accommodation. She said that the Salvation Army had access to a motel and other facilities which were not suitable for long term accommodation.
The chairman of the Corner Inlet Justice Group, Peter Philp, said that after speaking with the South Gippsland Shire Council and other care agencies, he felt there was an absence of current data on homelessness in South Gippsland. He said that the justice group needed to work at the local level first. The group plans to speak with councillors and shire officials to see if grants are available to update information on homelessness and disadvantage. The last survey was taken in 2006.
Peter Philp said, “This briefing session with Russell Broadbent and the Salvation Army was invaluable. We are fortunate to have a federal member who is passionately committed to social justice and is prepared to act to see that our refugees and local disadvantaged get a fair go. Both Ron Cochrane and Liz Cox have shared their experiences which are grounded in working at the grass roots. This is critical information and the type of challenge that we need. I thank all three for their continuing contribution and the Corner Inlet Justice Group will work with them as well as the other welfare agencies in this area.”
He added, “A group of people from the Bass Coast Shire is now part of the Corner Inlet Justice Group which means that our group now has a wider network.”