Stuart McMillan calls for a National Summit on Asylum Seeker policies

September 1, 2016 / by Nadine Newell / in: News

The Uniting Church in Australia President Stuart McMillan has added his voice to the growing call for a National Summit on alternatives to Australia’s current policies including mandatory detention and offshore processing. The summit call is supported by faith leaders, over 2000 academics, and community groups including the Social Justice Forum’s Give Hope: Uniting for asylum seekers campaign. With Federal elections behind us, and concerns growing from the appalling reports of conditions in detention, we need to build on the momentum for a national rethink on better ways of dealing humanely with people seeking asylum.

Read more here.

What can YOU do?

What you can do right now is to write a letter, and encourage others to write, to your local Federal Member of Parliament. This should not just be a form letter but a real handwritten or typed-and-signed one, urging the MP to support a National Summit to consider more compassionate policies.

Below are some tips for what you could include – but the point is to write the letter in your own words. You should express your own feelings and thoughts about the polarising nature of the debate; but with the positive message that there are alternatives that could attract multipartisan support and that, as a constituent, you’d like your representative to support the summit call as an achievable first step. Your letter could include a call for a meeting with your MP – and, if there’s a positive response to this, we can provide you with advice on how to maximise the effectiveness of the meeting.

From a Summit, we can rise above the dark gullies of partisan politics and see the wider view. We hope you’ll join with the many voices in your church and the community to help that happen.

Some suggestions on writing to your Federal MP on asylum seeker policies:

  • You should start with expressing, in your own words, your concern about what’s happening in offshore detention to people seeking asylum– the reports, the horrific conditions.
  • Stress that this issue is a high priority for you, something you’re passionate about and you want to see progress on.
  • Indicate that, as a constituent, you’re keen to see your representative move beyond partisan point-scoring and seek positive outcomes.
  • Directly mention the National Summit call by over 2000 Australian academics as a call to action that could result in finding better ways forward.
  • Present a National Summit as an opportunity for MPs from all parties, who are open and willing to consider alternatives, to reach across party lines and put people first, etc.
  • You could acknowledge that, whilst there are concerns in Parliament and the community about not encouraging ‘people smuggling’ or weakening border security, solutions can be found that satisfy these aims without continuing to harm people who are doing no more than seek safety with their families – something we’d do in the same situation, etc.
  • Ask your MP to let you know via email or mail that they’ve received your letter and indicate what action they’ll take.
  • You may want to request a meeting with your MP – be sure to ask that they contact you with suitable times.

Some statistics you may want to quote:

  • There are currently 49 children in immigration detention, all located on Nauru.
  • People seeking asylum spend an average of 441 days in detention.
  • Since 2010, 30 people have died in onshore and offshore detention facilities.
  • The cost of detaining individuals on Manus Island for the past four years is around $1 million for each one.
  • According to the Nauru files, since 2013 there have been 7 reports of sexual assault of children, 59 reports of assault on children, 30 reports of self-harm involving children and 159 reports of threatened self-harm involving children.

More stats here.

The Academics for Refugees policy paper is here.

The most important thing is to write the letter in your own words - this will make the greatest impact. Make the letter personal, including your and your family’s perspective and experiences, so your MP can see that this is an issue close to your heart.

To find the details of your local Federal Member of Parliament visit: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Members.

For more information and advice on writing your letter or meeting your local MP, contact the Social Justice Forum Team at socialjustice@uniting.org or 02 9407 3225.