About 30 people gathered in Richmond Park on Saturday 20 July 2019 to mark the six years since those seeking asylum were sent to the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.
Each of the men who died as a result of being detained on Manus or Nauru was remembered by name and a brief report of the circumstances of their death read and a minute’s silence observed for each man. Each man’s portrait was displayed and a flower laid on each chair as their stories were read. The Mayor of Hawkesbury, Councillor Barry Calvert and the Federal Member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman spoke.

The address by Councillor Barry Calvert follows.

Thank you for inviting me here today to address your group.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Darug people, and pay respect to elders both past and present.

I want to congratulate you for standing up for the refugees who are currently condemned to stay on Nauru and Manus Island because of the short-sighted policies of the Australian Government – OUR government.

The people stuck on Manus and Nauru are PEOPLE – just like you and me. Many pressure groups in Australia try to dehumanise them by calling them “illegals”, or “boat people”, or “queue jumpers” etc. These are all terms used to deliberately distance us from these people so that they can be regarded as something less than human. We have witnessed these tactics before in many other parts of the world. It is a disgraceful tactic, but extremely effective.

But they are PEOPLE – people who have been forced out of their homelands because of persecution, torture, war or some combination of all three. In most cases they have fled for their lives, and risked their lives to do so.

They have risked their lives to seek freedom and a better life for them and their children – a better life in a country that holds itself up as a bastion of democracy and freedom – a safe haven for those who need help. And what do we do when they arrive here, begging for help? We call them illegals and throw them in gaol. I am ashamed.

Every Australia Day we stand up and proclaim that we are “young and free” and that “for those who’ve come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share”. The way we treat the people on Manus and Nauru makes a mockery of our own National Anthem and what we claim to stand for. Are we really Advancing Australia Fair?” When the idea of offshore processing was first floated I always assumed that it was meant to be a short term measure whereby people would be processed quickly and then moved into Australia. I assumed six months, not six years! The current government has had six years to fix this but instead of fixing it they continue to blame everyone else for the problem. It is time that the Morrison Government stopped blaming everyone else and moved the people from Manus and Nauru into Australia. Now is the time!

In a very few years from now, climate change will be creating millions of refugees. Are we going to lock them up too? Surely in our country where everything is big, we should also have a big heart and welcome all those people who have lost their homes and are seeking shelter and freedom.

In 2014 Council became a Refugee Welcome Zone. A Refugee Welcome Zone is a Local Government Area which has made a commitment in spirit to welcoming refugees into the community, upholding the human rights of refugees, demonstrating compassion for refugees and enhancing cultural and religious diversity in the community.

In 2018 Council pledged its support to “Back Your Neighbour” a campaign developed to oppose the cuts made to the Status Resolution Support Services.

The Federal Government cut its budget for Status Resolution Support Services by 60% in two years, from $139.8 million to $56.2 million.

These cuts have resulted in more than 1200 men and women being cut off torture and trauma services, subsidised medication, casework and income support of 89% of Newstart or approximately $250 per week to cover rent and food for single adults.

Now families with children over six years old are being cut off, with 42% of recipients of SRSS under 25 years of age.

Back Your Neighbour is a coalition of local councils, community services, community groups, peak bodies, policy experts and individuals that are leading action to oppose these cuts and lobby the Federal Government to fully reinstate the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) program as a matter of urgency.

Congratulations to you for standing up for and embracing humanity. You represent the Australia that I want to be part of.

I encourage you to persist and I hope that those in power in Canberra will ultimately listen to you and your request for decency and humanity

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