ACT News

Thousands expected to rally in protest at 'harsh' treatment of asylum seekers

Organisers of a rally in Canberra to support refugees expect a big crowd to show their objection to the ''harsh, selfish and xenophobic'' policies of the major political parties.

Pat Power, retired Catholic bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, said the event on Palm Sunday was an opportunity for the wider community to give expression to ''what's deep in the heart of many''.

Pat Power, retired Catholic Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, said there is an opportunity for the community to express ...
Pat Power, retired Catholic Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, said there is an opportunity for the community to express their dissatisfaction about the policies concerning refugees and asylum seekers. Photo: Melissa Adams

''That is the deep dissatisfaction about the policies of both major political parties in regard to refugees and asylum seekers,'' he said on Monday.

''Just listening to ordinary people I mix with, I think they're appalled at these very harsh policies that are being enacted.''

The federal government has boasted of more than 100 days since a boat arrival and has begun talks to send asylum seekers to Cambodia after processing in Nauru or PNG.

Bishop Power suggested Australia's reputation could be harmed.

''When I look at other countries and the way in which seemingly there is a great more generosity shown than there is here, and especially here in Australia we pride ourselves on giving a fair go to people,'' he said.

''I recognise the complexity of the problem that faces the political parties but that hardline attitude that is taken is, I think, a very selfish one in the sense, 'don't in any way upset our comfortable way of life'.

''I think there has got to be a great deal more willingness to share some of the good things we have.''

Bishop Power, who will speak at the rally in Garema Place, said the government's declaration about the period without boat arrivals was sad.

''It's almost a them-and-us attitude and seeing other people almost as the enemy,'' he said.

''That's the way we're treating them anyhow in the detention centres, some of the conditions there are worse than in prison.

''Even language such as 'border protection' - there's something very xenophobic about that as far as I'm concerned.''

Dr John Minns, associate professor of politics and international relations at the ANU, who is one of the organisers, said there had been an extraordinary response this year to the annual event.

''I think there'll be thousands of people at this rally given what's happened recently and the responses we're getting,'' he said.

''It's just been an extraordinary response, we've never seen a response like that - I think people have just come to the point where they think things have gone too far.

''Even if in the past they were perhaps not sure about the issue or what they thought of government policy and perhaps couldn't think of an alternative to it, now they think the government is being deliberately cruel.

''Some of the suggested solutions, Cambodia for example as a possible place to dump these people, are just so ludicrous that I think many people are increasingly outraged.''

Dr Minns said both major parties were in a competition to show they could be harsher on asylum seekers than the other party. ''[Immigration Minister] Scott Morrison decreed in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that the term illegal would be used to refer to these people,'' he said.

''It is very very clear that it is not illegal to apply for asylum.

''The 1951 convention recognises that asylum seekers have special circumstances where they cannot easily get a visa before arrival and for that very reason the convention exempts asylum seekers from that necessity, and Australian signed that convention.''