ACT News

ACT government offers to resettle asylum seekers in Canberra

The ACT government's offer to resettle the asylum seekers bound for deportation to Nauru "sends a signal" but is unlikely to be made a reality unless the federal government allowed the group to apply for temporary protection visas.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr was one of five state and territory leaders to declare his support for the 267 asylum seekers waiting to be flown back to Nauru, saying on Monday the ACT would welcome the families.

Samuel is one of 37 babies born in Australia who is now destined to be sent back to Nauru.
Samuel is one of 37 babies born in Australia who is now destined to be sent back to Nauru. 

A senior academic in the Australian National University College of Law Marianne Dickie said the political declarations would put added pressure on the federal government to act responsibly in a humane way.

While the outcry may delay the deportation of some of the asylum seekers, she said it was unlikely to improve their overall chances of staying unless the bar on temporary protection visas was lifted.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Multicultural Affairs Minister Yvette Berry have spoken out in support of the 267 ...
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Multicultural Affairs Minister Yvette Berry have spoken out in support of the 267 asylum seekers bound for Nauru. Photo: Graham Tidy.

"The resettlement offer is good but I doubt it has any difference to the other people who are currently going through that process of which there are thousands," she said.

"They'll wait a while, access people… and do things very quietly when the heat has gone out of the situation."

Ms Dickie said she believed pressure from advocates would make it difficult for the federal government to send back asylum seekers involved in high profile cases, but others would be quietly removed.

"The fact that they keep saying they'll take each case individually makes it look like political they'll make the right decision," she said.

"Any mass movement of sending people back to Nauru will result in huge outcry from the public."

Multicultural Affairs Minister Yvette Berry said the ACT government's offer sent a signal and the wider community's willingness to lend a hand could be seen in church action and public rallies.

"When you see thousands of Australians coming to rallies at a moment's notice saying it's unacceptable we need to go further than just managing a situation, these are human beings, these are children," she said.

"It's difficult for the community to have a reaction other than the one it's had because of the secrecy around the centres and the slim amount of information getting out.

"Everyone feels as though we're not hearing the whole story."

Ms Dickie said the increasing numbers of stories about individual asylum seekers was making the issue "politically unpalatable" and helping sway public opinion.

"It's undone the government's intent to make everybody invisible," she said.

"The High Court decision from a legal point of view upheld what the government was doing but from a political point of view exposed … the personal impact of the legislation."

Ms Berry said the ACT had welcomed almost 2000 humanitarian entrants since 2007 while 1852 people remained in immigration detention centres, as of November 2015.

"When you think of how many we've settled in the ACT and how many in detention centres it seems so tiny and insignificant yet we're treating these people so terribly," she said.

Ms Berry said she had spoken out publicly against offshore processing and detention centres and hoped for a change to Labor's policy at a federal level.

Mr Barr called for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues to "show national leadership" and "compassion" for the asylum seekers including the 37 Australian-born babies in the group caught up in "exceptional circumstances".

Ms Berry said the resettlement offer showed the ACT's declaration as a "Refugee Welcome Zone" last year went beyond a piece of paper.