Why we need a new policy on refugees Print E-mail
Written by The Age   

May 26, 2005
The Age

It's time for compassion and accountability in handling asylum seekers, writes Petro Georgiou.

For many years I have been concerned about difficulties experienced by some refugees and asylum seekers, which result from policies implemented at a time of widespread anxiety that we might be engulfed by a flood of bogus asylum seekers. That fear has not been realised. It's time to review the policy framework established under different circumstances and adopt a more compassionate, transparent and accountable approach while maintaining the integrity of our immigration and refugee system.

Unauthorised boat arrivals have all but ceased and the great majority of asylum seekers who came by boat were found to be genuine refugees. Regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq has seen the halt of major flows of people from two main source countries of unauthorised arrivals to Australia.

Within the region,the activities of people smugglers have been curtailed.

In recent years, the Government has acknowledged the need for flexibility in asylum and refugee policies. Nonetheless, while the perceived crisis has long since passed, asylum seekers continue to be detained for lengthy and even indefinite periods. They include women and children.

Asylum seekers continue to be detained for periods longer than prison sentences imposed on violent criminals, and may be detained indefinitely. More than 300 people have been in immigration detention for more than a year, and about 80 of them have been held for more than four years. Many of those who have been detained for such long periods have subsequently been found to be bona fide refugees.

There is no independent scrutiny of whether it is necessary to keep people detained for lengthy or indefinite periods to protect the community or to prevent them absconding.

The harmful effects of long-term detention on detainees' mental and physical health have been documented by health experts, and the Federal Court recently found that the Government failed in its duty of care to provide adequate services to psychiatrically ill long-term detainees at the Baxter detention centre.

People on temporary protection visas have been welcomed and integrated by Australian communities, and are making significant contributions. Many holders of temporary protection visas continue to live in anxiety and fear of being returned to places of great insecurity.

It is clear that additional measures are necessary to ensure that the system is compassionate, fair, accountable and subject to independent scrutiny. I am proposing two private member's bills to achieve these aims, while maintaining the integrity of Australia's immigration and refugee system.

The first bill contains compassionate measures to alleviate the plight of individuals who are suffering under the current system. The main elements are:

  • Asylum seekers who have been detained for more than a year will be released until their status is resolved, unless a judge who has examined their case decides that they should continue to be detained because they are dangerous or are likely to abscond.

  • Children under 18 and their immediate families will be released from detention immediately pending determination of their applications unless a judicial officer finds that they pose a danger to the public or are likely to abscond.

  • People who have been found to be bona fide refugees but have been granted only temporary protection visas will be permitted to remain in Australia permanently.

The second bill proposes a model of reform so that the problems that have arisen under the current system do not recur. Its features include:

  • Asylum seekers who don't have a visa will be able to be detained only if it is necessary to detain them on specified grounds, for example, to verify identity and to protect public safety. Detention decisions will be subject to Federal Court judicial scrutiny. Departmental officers will be able to detain people initially for up to 90 days and then must show cause to the Federal Court as to why further detention is required. The Federal Court may order continued detention for recurring periods of 90 days.

  • Everyone who is found to be a refugee will be granted permanent residency.

In recent months, many Australians have told me that they supported the framework of stringent measures in the context in which they were introduced. But they now believe that reform is necessary and can be achieved without compromising the security of our borders and our community. I agree.

They are disturbed that children, women and men are imprisoned for lengthy periods simply because they came without prior authority, without any independent assessment of whether they pose a risk to our community. They believe that fundamental Australian values of fairness and decency demand a new approach. I share those feelings.

The measures I am proposing constitute a carefully designed package and in no way undermine our capacity to protect our borders and prevent abuse. One of the enduring strengths of this nation is our commitment to justice, tolerance and compassion for others. Our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived uninvited must surely reflect those deeply held values.

Petro Georgiou is the federal Liberal MP for Kooyong.


Jarvis Walker     Arlec

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Featured Articles

The 'Forgotten People'

by Anna Malbon from the Progress Press October 22, 1996

WHEN nine-year-old "Tom" was asked to draw a picture of himself with his mother be drew her trying to strangle him.

Tom entered the world of adults too early. If he was ever immune to the complications and pain of life that adults try to shelter from children, he says he can't remember.

Bulletin Board

I had to struggle extra hard

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I.

They only listened to her stories ”

“ I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know.”

Hi, I had a mentally ill mother. She passed away last year. I literally grew up hanging around mental hospitals because my Mom's condition was a cycle that always ends in a mental hospital. When I was younger, there was a long period when I cried my eyes out every time I was separated from my mentally ill mother because she had to stay in a mental hospital. After I grew older, my Mom's mental illness became impossible for me to bear.

Literally, my Mom's mental illness ruined my life. I think. I had to struggle extra hard for everything because of my big handicap at home. There was no support at all from anyone other than my father. Nobody else wanted to know about it. My mother's own cousin even said to my father not to bring my Mom to their place. I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know. My mother's own sister has been complaining since 2000 and her last complain was on 5 July 2014. This particular aunt keeps complaining about the same thing. That she had to take my Mom for her weekly injections and complained that my father and I was not around to do it. Then, she goes on to say that she saw my Mom beat me up with a cane. When she said that, I asked my Aunt, you saw my Mom beat me up with a cane? She said yes and than, she walked away.

I feel very sore with this aunt. Number one, the period she was complaining about was when I was still schooling and my father's and my mental health had deteriorated so badly that we had to leave the state for our own sanity. Before joining my father, I had to live alone with my Mom and my baby sister for almost a year. My aunt who lived a few minutes drive away did nothing when my Mom beat me up every day for months until my father managed to cut the red tape to remove me. My body was full of bruises and I was terrified to go home after school. Nobody helped. Not the neighbours who can hear all my mom's shouting at me, nor my aunt, nor my grandparents, nor my school's teachers. Someone should had intervened for a 12+ little girl. No adult helped. My father was trying his best to get me away to stay with him. Nobody helped him.

On XXXXXXXXXXXX, my Mom's sister let slip she saw my Mom beat me with a cane. And yet she did nothing! My aunt even had the cheek to say that my Mom beat me up because I said I wanted to go live with my father. The way my aunt said it was like the beatings were wholly my fault. What is wrong with the picture? You have a 12+ girl being beaten up daily, you are an aunt who knows something is going on and did nothing. Yet for years later you complain about having to take your own blood sister for her injections. And, I do not think she did it for longer than my own experiences. Probably only a few times because my father and I had to travel frequently to see to my mother. Due to the cyclic nature of her illness.

I have been going with my father when he took my mother for her weekly injections as a little girl, knee high, ever since I can remember. My own aunt is so calculative. There was a nurse that visits my Mom to give her her injections. But, the problem is my Mom will not let the nurse into her house that is why the intervention is needed. I have lost count on the number of times I had to go with my Mom for her injections as a little girl.

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I. They only listened to her stories and full stop. I think my Mom's doctors are the most heartless people I have ever met in my life. Until today, I do not like anyone who officially practices psychology because those doctors etc... contributed to my life being ruined. That is how I feel. I have been scolded by my Mom's medical team and they even dumped my Mom on me after I just turn 18 and there was no other adult around. And, they knew the situation. I was terrified because my Mom was a very violent. My Mom has pitched me, beaten me up, she has biten me with her teeth, she has smashed my head against the table and threatened to beat me with a piece of hard wood. I experienced all these as a little girl at the tender age of 12+ I had to learn karate to protect myself from her violent ways. And, when my Mom was home, I would lock my room's door and place a chair against it. I was that terrified of her.

All our belongings can go missing because my Mom is good at that sort of thing. You never know what is what with my Mom. It is like having a criminal live under the same roof as you.

My aunt kept repeating to me that on my mother's death anniversary I will have go visit her cemetery. I live in a different state from where my mother's cemetery is located. And, my aunt knows that very well. However she repeated her question to me until I said yes. I hate being forced to do something against my will because I have been forced to do things against my will my whole life.

My life is in ruins because of my mother's mental illness and people like my aunt is perpetuating the troubles for me after my mother's death. When I was 12+, my mother's mother said to me that it is my father's job to take care of my mother. In other words, my father's job and mine. And, they never lifted a finger to help. Just helping a little, my aunt has been complaining about the same thing for more than a decade. Unbelievable. Shameful.

Even though my father and I lived in a different state from my mother, we had to travel up and down every weekend because that is demanded of my mother. Sometimes, we had to travel after school and upon our arrival, she won't let us in and we had to travel all the way back. And, my father will not let me sleep at home as it is a school day, I had to go to school. My education was very important to my father. My mother could not be bothered if I succeeded or not.

I have seen more than any of my Mom's relatives have seen with regards her mental illness but people whom I just met behave like I have no idea about my Mom like they are the authority on her behaviour and her illness. Goodness gracious.

Despite this huge handicap in my life I persevered with my studies. My Mom did not give me any moral or emotional support at all. In fact her mental illness cycle will peak just or during my important exams. In other words, I had to deal with my exams and on top of them a mentally ill mother. By my final year in university, I could not take the pressure of exams and a mentally ill mother's break downs anymore.

When I was in my teenage years and early adult years, I was suicidal. I had to call Befrienders a lot. Thank God for Befrienders.

Before XXXXXXXXXXdate, I do not wish my experience to be experienced by anyone else because it is torture. However, after feeling how hard hearted my aunt is. A so called holy person, a church goer, rich person who has successful kids and grand kids. And, she can talk like it is my fault that my Mom beat me up and she (my aunt) had to take her (her own sister) for her injections when I was a kid. I really wish that my aunt must reincarnate as my father (a few lifes) so that she can eat her own words. If my aunt reincarnates and is put in my father's shoes, she would really deserve it. Hope she learns compassion through it all.

Why can't the world give children of the mentally ill a break? I am so fed up with all this troubles that stem from my mother's sister's attitude towards my father and I. After all shel lives a great lives. Rich live. What is wrong with these people? I really cannot stand them. This is my story.

After I wrote the above - I am more myself now, and I totally forgive my aunt and everybody who did nothing to help my father and I. And, everybody else who were heartless towards my father and I. However, I still think that by living a few life times as my father (my aunt) - would do her some good. But, knowing her character, she might become a psychopath and pose a threat to humanity. My father is a very, very kind soul. My aunt is a hard hearted, prejudiced, narrow minded, one tracked mind person.

How I cope? Trying my best to keep out of their way, and hang out with positive people. There are plenty of great people out there. Nnaami is included :)


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