Canberra: The Welcoming City

John Hargreaves 18 February 2019 49

Refugees seeking medical attention can easily be accommodated in Canberra. File photo.

Jon Stanhope, when Chief Minister of the ACT, declared Canberra a welcome city for refugees. He did this because he could read the compassion of our people and knew that we had many refugees successfully settled here.

I was Minister for Housing and also Minister for Multicultural Affairs at the time. I remember introducing a temporary housing solution to the incoming refugees from North Africa, using stock destined to be pulled down but still in reasonable condition.

It is against this background that I was encouraged to hear the passage of the “Medevac” Bill allowing sick refugees on Manus and Nauru to come to Australia for medical treatment.

A couple of comments are warranted.

There are only about 300 of the 1000 people on those islands who would qualify. They have already been processed from the status of asylum seekers to refugees, and really are entitled under international convention to be patriated to Australia. I would love to see them come here.

The policy of the Australian government has caused the illness of these people and you would think that we have an obligation to address that. A compensation case in an international court is not a ridiculous idea.

But in cogitating the bill and its success I was struck by an inconsistency. I speak of the case of Hakeem al-Araibi and its resolution compared with the nameless, internationally unknown inmates in those camps.

Hakeem fled Bahrain, a middle eastern emirate, travelled through two countries, Iran and Malaysia and came to Australia in 2014, seeking refugee status as an asylum seeker. He was granted refugee status in 2017. Note that he was on Australian soil when he sought refugee status and no-one kicked up a fuss.

The people on Manus and Nauru came from middle eastern countries, through a couple of other countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, as asylum seekers and sought refugee status. They were sent to detention camps on Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island. During the past 5 years, they have been processed as genuine refugees and not opportunistic terrorists. Yet they are still prevented from coming here.

The Australian Government appealed to the Thai government to release Hakeem even though he is not an Australian citizen yet (hopefully this will be achieved soon) and yet they deny the detention camp internees the same right. Even going to the length of denying them the opportunity of going to NZ.

Back to Canberra.

We could accommodate these 300 medical evacuees easily. The issues are of housing and medical treatments.

We may not have the medical expertise in the numbers needed. But the same must surely be said of Christmas Island, which is a disgusting option designed by this federal Government as an option abhorrent to the Australian public which may say we should not proceed. I don’t think so. It is still appalling.

But, medical services can be contracted out and paid for by the federal government. Indeed, if the 300 were given recognised refugee status and assimilated into the Canberra community, there would be no cost to the federal government.

We have housing stock which is destined for demolition in the suburbs. I talk not of multi-storied apartments but free standing houses. The demolition takes months to happen, needing planning approval, demolition approval and contract determination. It doesn’t happen under six months.

These houses can be, and used to be, given to those refugees coming here and getting on their feet. They don’t jump the public housing queue but are given a temporary leg up.

Now is the time to call for the refugees on Manus and Nauru to come here, to our welcoming city and welcoming community.

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49 Responses to Canberra: The Welcoming City
Phill kirkham Phill kirkham 5:05 pm 21 Feb 19

I have a solution. A new system can be developed (outsourced to a private contractor of course), for all the people who support the assimilation of refugees. They can register as a sponsor for a refugee. The sponsor will be fully liable for the housing and financial support of the refugee. The sponsor must not and cannot seek any government financial support whatsoever, including any tax offsets. The sponsor will be required to take out private health insurance on behalf of the refugee. The refugee will not be able to seek any form of government pension or other financial support, as the sponsor’s household income and assets will be taken into account. Education and work placement would have to be organised by the sponsor and the sponsor will take full responsibility for any and all issues that may arise. Finally, the sponsor will be fully liable as the guarantor for the refugee, both financially and for the assimilation of the refugee into our laws, customs and way of life. This seems like a win-win-win for the supporters, opponents and the refugees.

Stephen Matthews Stephen Matthews 12:54 pm 19 Feb 19

Its a sad commentary on our society when being called a do gooder isconsidered an insult

Alice Moose Alice Moose 9:03 am 19 Feb 19

Yes bring them here!

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 10:22 pm 18 Feb 19

It is very easy to pull wool over the eyes of the authorities. There’s at least one “Iranian refugee” here in Canberra who is in fact Azerbaijani. As are many of his “Iranian refugee” friends. This fellow’s family ALL live in Azerbaijan and there’s no indication they took refuge there from Iran any time in the last 40 years. We are being played for fools. Meanwhile people are stuck in refugee camps in Africa, places that are rightfully theirs taken by people like my friend’s friend.

Tony Armstrong Tony Armstrong 8:51 pm 18 Feb 19

I reckon there'd be a few New Guineans who wouldnt mind seeing a doctor.

chewy14 chewy14 8:28 pm 18 Feb 19

“They have already been processed from the status of asylum seekers to refugees, and really are entitled under international convention to be patriated to Australia. I would love to see them come here.”

This is incorrect, they are not entitled to patriation to Australia under international convention and in fact permanent resettlement is not required at all under the convention, just temporary protection until the risk of persecution is removed. That has been provided.

“Indeed, if the 300 were given recognised refugee status and assimilated into the Canberra community, there would be no cost to the federal government.”

Except for the fact that most refugees remain unemployed for long periods after arrival due to understandable assimilation issues and rely heavily on welfare and other social services. Is the author suggesting that we take over these federal functions and funding for these hypothetical arrivals?

“Hakeem fled Bahrain, a middle eastern emirate, travelled through two countries, Iran and Malaysia and came to Australia in 2014, seeking refugee status as an asylum seeker. He was granted refugee status in 2017. Note that he was on Australian soil when he sought refugee status and no-one kicked up a fuss.”

Because it’s impossible to stop people with valid visas from claiming protection rights?

And due to the necessary vetting of providing visas, successful claims for protection are low and unlikely to significantly affect our ability to draw from overseas camps to fill our humanitarian quotas.

Boat arrivals, however, would completely swamp the system almost instantly if we allowed them to stay.

50000 arrivals under the previous ALP government’s failed policy, with exponential growth. 25000 came in the last twelve months of the policy.

Now is not the time to repeat the mistakes of 10 years ago and reopen the borders to boat arrivals.

Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 6:57 pm 18 Feb 19

Geez. More money spent for political wankery.

Rauny Worm Rauny Worm 5:54 pm 18 Feb 19

I am also with John Hargreaves and those of you who know that our privilege to be born into countries that are 'wealthy and warless' must be shared. There is no reason why we deserve more first. My doors are open and I am not being idealistic or naive. I am against the dreadful rise of fascism across the globe.

Maelinar Maelinar 4:38 pm 18 Feb 19

Sorry John, but somebody who has travelled through 2 or 3 other countries to get here is a traveller and not a refugee and the anti-refoulment provisions do not apply.

I’m all for letting them stay for the duration of a visitor visa with full user-pays access to all of our support systems available to us here in Australia, but they should be ineligible to claim refugee status once they get here via whatever tiki-tour route they take.

I’m also all for a healthy and robust refugee resettlement programme, but we should be concentrating our efforts on UNHCR camps, not on queue jumpers. Queue jumping is as unAustralian as it gets. (yes, I’m looking at you, character test..)

Les Eite Les Eite 4:20 pm 18 Feb 19

But makes Canberra look good taking on more illegals but if your a resident to bad. Labour gov needs to pull its head out the sand. They won’t help Aussies cause where all old news

Judith White Judith White 4:14 pm 18 Feb 19

What you'd expect from a Labor Government in Canberra. Just don't mention the news item today that said that TCH will run out of ICU beds by October, or that a man died waiting for treatment at the Calvary hospital. Don't mention that rental accommodation is so tight (1% I believe) that people can't afford to rent here. Don't mention that there are homeless people on the streets in Canberra now. Don't mention that the recent Bill to bring sick people to Australia was totally unnecessary - that sick people already come to Australia. Don't mention that the law has been taken out of the hands of the Govt. now, and is in the hands of refugee advocate doctors. Don't mention that Manus has 1 doctor for every 7 patients who are sick. Don't mention that nowhere else in Australia has that doctor/patient ratio. Don't mention that the desperate people in the flood areas of North Qld. have to travel hundreds of miles to see doctors. Don't mention the fact that Aboriginal young people are dying in Australia from suicide at an alarming rate and that young children and women are being abused at a terrible rate in Australia . Don't mention that Dr Phelps doesn't seem to care about them. Don't mention the resentment this Bill has caused in Australia by Dr. Phelps and the 'weak as water' Shorten who ignored the advice of the Home Affairs Department not to pass it. Imagine what Shorten will do if he gets into power if he dismisses such advice now. What a disgusting situation the whole shebang really is and a terrible comment about Dr. Phelps and her gaggle of supporters.

    Julia Ross Julia Ross 10:17 am 05 Mar 19

    I just wish that all people in Australia could read your fantastic reply.

Peter McMahon Peter McMahon 3:39 pm 18 Feb 19

John Hargreaves does not speak for me and a lot of other Canberrans. How can he say that when we look at the extended long delays for public housing. Medical service is second rate to non existent. If we all only had access to the medical facilities offshore we would be extremely happy. All the bleeding hearts can cry me a river of tears but it would not change my mind. Look after our own first before economic refugees.

    Niven Stines Niven Stines 11:25 pm 18 Feb 19

    Some facts might help

    Niven Stines Niven Stines 11:29 pm 18 Feb 19

    Peter McMahon I’m sorry to hear your experience of the medical system here has been so bad, mine and my extended family has been very good. Again, stats might be helpful because neither of our experiences will tell the whole story.

    Niven Stines Niven Stines 11:33 pm 18 Feb 19

    As for public housing, I completely agree with you.

    It’s a national disgrace.

    Public housing stock nationally has been slashed over the last 30 years.

    Tony de la Fosse Tony de la Fosse 3:44 pm 20 Feb 19

    Peter McMahon I recommend you listen to this Podcast. It has some relevant facts particularly in relation to your claim that you’d be happy with the medical facilities offshore.

    Luke Pettit Luke Pettit 4:03 pm 20 Feb 19

    Niven Stines Yours must be the exception to the rule then, Its gotten so much worse over the many years I've had to use it and has the worst reputation in Australia. I'm now being farmed out as the hospital cant keep up.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 3:35 pm 18 Feb 19

Ah Canberra, the virtue signalling capital of Australia.

There was a report last week that ACT treasury revenue had fallen off another $100 million, unfunded public servant pension liability is now in excess of $7 billion and today Andrew Barr announces he wants a larger and longer commitment to funding GWS which will be more millions of dollars.

We can’t afford to deliver all the services we need so it is madness to invite more people here whatever their status is.

Then again, we could harvest some more money from the trees at the arboretum.

    chewy14 chewy14 8:52 pm 18 Feb 19

    The actual actuarial assessment of the superannua is over $8 billion, although I don’t think you could call that “unfunded” anymore as the ACT government has $4B saved for it and is putting a few hundred million away each year to meet the liability fully by the early 2030’s.

    It’s being planned for and funded right now.

Geoffrey Bell Geoffrey Bell 3:23 pm 18 Feb 19

Funny how the local government can find short term public housing so fast. Guess who will get first shot when a perm public housing place come’s up. The que for public housing for locals just got a few more years longer.

    Amanda Adams Amanda Adams 3:47 pm 18 Feb 19

    Geoffrey Bell agree, really not looking fwd to more waiting . It’s a bit unfair for the patient ones waiting and struggling

    Julia Ross Julia Ross 8:38 pm 18 Feb 19

    So true Geoffrey Bell.

Michael Murer Michael Murer 3:08 pm 18 Feb 19

This is a difficult subject. It states we have these houses that will be demolished eventually and they can be housed here. Why do we have homeless Australians in canberra then? Our medical system is overwhelmed. I have no issue with helping people whom are suffering. Australia is so politically correct that one can’t have an opinion and if they do it’s racist. Our laws are not observed and we should adapt to them. I work in an area that works with refugees etc. My eyes opened. People that are having lots of children and claiming benefits. Here for 8 years and don’t speak English. They complain they don’t get enough assistance and should take our government to court. They have human rights. We go to their country and we have no rights. Not many countries help refugees etc. I’m all for helping. In England we took refugees in from a country in war. 4 years later the war ended and they where sent back as it was safe. They rioted because they wanted to stay in England. The point is you protect these people while it’s not safe for them to live in their country. If you are lucky enough to escape war etc then gratitude for safety is good. Not we want to live in a different country because it’s better. If that’s the case then apply for a visa and bring a skill etc to Australia. So I support refugees and at the same time don’t agree with offshore camps. Medical assistance should be given but we also need to look after our own.

    Julia Ross Julia Ross 8:42 pm 18 Feb 19

    Most of these people are economic migrants, not refugees in the absolute true meaning of the word. I don't blame them for wanting a better life, but our generous benefits programme is what they really want. This is why they don't want to go to other countries.

    Michael Murer Michael Murer 9:52 pm 18 Feb 19

    Julia Ross I agree

Kylee Taylor Kylee Taylor 2:49 pm 18 Feb 19

I’m happy for them to come here but Canberra really doesn’t have a lot of great medical or mental health services if they need that. Huge waiting times to see a psychiatrist if you need one. If you can attract more psychological services to Canberra that would be good for everyone

Shane Richards Shane Richards 2:36 pm 18 Feb 19

Look after our own first...sick of paying tax for there so called refos to get free or subsidized everything. Look after ourf Indigenous people before them.

Suzanne Tunks Suzanne Tunks 2:31 pm 18 Feb 19

I’m with you John Hargreaves! We have plenty of other good folk in this town who would welcome them with open arms too 😊

Amanda Adams Amanda Adams 2:20 pm 18 Feb 19

Really, many of us have to wait sometimes 6 months or more for some medical appointments,and housing is also struggling to house our low income residents, it’s a long, long wait .How are you going to house these people does that mean our wait is going to be more ,I’m sure they don’t have a high income however you can find them places to live, while many here are homeless Please explain how that works?

June Nassar Kirk June Nassar Kirk 2:19 pm 18 Feb 19

Some of these responses are not what I expected! My late husband and I were very humbled by our experiences accommodating refugees.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 5:10 am 20 Feb 19

    Australia takes in a great number of refugees. I have no problem with that.

    What I have a problem with is encouraging them - even if unintended - to get on a decrepit old fishing boat that has a good chance of sinking under the weight.

    If they have made it to Indonesia, then they are out of harm's way.

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