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Wednesday, 25 May 2005

Church welcomes changes for a decent Immigration Policy

The Uniting Church today welcomed the proposed changes to the Migration Act 1958 and urged the Coalition backbench to support the Private Members Bills when they come before Parliament.

The President of the Uniting Church, the Reverend Dr Dean Drayton, expressed the Church’s thanks to Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan and Bruce Baird for their ongoing commitment to changing what is an inhumane and unjust policy.

“We know that they are not the only Coalition members to visit immigration detention centres and we call on those who have to remember the faces of the people they met and the hopelessness in their eyes. These are people who have done nothing more than seek our protection and care but we have destroyed their lives with a harsh and unjust policy. We ask Government members to support these Bills so we can have a decent immigration policy,” Rev. Drayton said.

“The proposed changes to the mandatory detention regime recognise that the current policy is unsustainable and damaging to people’s well-being, as well as being contrary to our international human rights obligations.

“They propose a fairer and more accountable system, providing checks and balances such as judicial and independent review. They seek an end to the indiscriminate and indefinite detention of asylum seekers in favour of a system that is a more accurate reflection of Australia’s generous and compassionate heart,” he said.

“These Bills show that what the Uniting Church has long been calling for is possible. It is possible for identity and security checks to be done quickly and for people’s refugee claims to be assessed while they are living in the community. It is possible to institute a more flexible, transparent and accountable system.

“They acknowledge that there is no evidence or reason to believe that people who are seeking our protection would abscond. There is no need to detain or demonise people assuming that they are a threat to Australian society and there is no need to expose them to such damaging environments.

“Last year I wrote to the Prime Minister asking for an act of compassion similar to the one being proposed in the second Bill. We have been seeking permanent protection for refugees and for those who cannot be returned home. We have asked for the release of all children and their families and for compassion to be extended to long-term detainees. These proposals offer some hope of a decent life to those whose lives we have made a misery.

“This year the Uniting Church celebrates its 20th year as a multicultural church. Our church has been formed out of the multicultural diversity of Australia. Most of us began our life in this land as strangers – we are who we are, as a church and as a nation, because those before us welcomed strangers and because we have continued to do the same. We believe that it is time our immigration policies reflected our true identity,” Rev. Drayton said.

“It is time for a policy that welcomes all strangers and treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings.”