SA State Secretary Speaks Out for Refugees

SA MUA Secretary and President of Unions SA spoke out against mandatory detention at World Refugee Day. Speech is printed below:

Ladies and gentlemen and Honourable Guests:

I'd like to acknowledge we are on Kaurna land and respect the Kaurna peoples  traditional ownership, customs and connection with this land.

I'd also like to acknowledge the Honourable Tammy Franks MLC from the Greens for being at the forefront of this important event and of course acknowledge the contribution of previous speakers Marziya and Shamziya whose stories and messages are important to realising a more just and accommodating Australia.

I am here in my role as President of SA Unions and I bring fraternal greetings from our Secretary Janet Giles and all our affiliates. I am also State Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia and I'll touch later on some of the work my union has done in support of refugees.

The hysteria about boat people and refugees in Australia today is a poor reflection on Australian Societies image of a "Fair Go".

It also demonstrates the ease in which the public psyche can be influenced through political point scoring and influential media.

Far too often people read the headline and not the body of the story or we listen to others, you know the type the people that refer to but "they" say. As Australians we generally do not investigate the root cause or ask questions.

We need to ask 'Why' more often.

Why are these people seeking to come to Australia?

Why are they risking their lives in leaky boats?

Why would they leave family, friends and loved ones behind?

Often it's because (as we have heard from previous speakers) people become refugees because they are escaping, persecution, war and other atrocities that Australian people can't imagine.

The Australian Union Movement has always been at the forefront of social justice causes and we are proud of the work we contribute internationally to assist, develop and organise workers.

In particular the trade union movement has been vocal about the politicising of refugees, in fact my Union the Maritime Union of Australia and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) contributed $10 000 towards the Sri Lankan refugees who barricaded themselves onboard the Oceanic Viking in 2009 in Indonesia. The Oceanic Viking had MUA members onboard who worked hard to ensure the Sri Lankan, Men , Women and Children were fed, sheltered and looked after.

In another incident in 2009 MUA members on the Front Puffin assisted in the rescue of refugees in a sinking vessel again assisting with not only provisions and shelter but also first aid. These acts have been recognised by my own union and internationally - but more importantly demonstrate that there are Australian people who care, have compassion and are accepting of refugees.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions ACTU, in a media release on 9 June 2011 said "Australian treatment of Asylum seekers must respect International law." It went on to say that:

"Australia is a safe and wealthy nation, underpinned by the values of generosity and compassion and this has extended to vulnerable people seeking protection from persecution in their home country."

It is interesting that Australia is quick to support invasions of sovereign countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan and not expect that peoples of those countries will become displaced or persecuted.

Australia therefore has an obligation to develop a means to quickly process claims for asylum that provides for dignity, respect and compassion and end the process of Mandatory Detention.

The ACTU went on to say that "It is troubling to consider that in the past 12 months Australian Values have been blurred by political division and conflict."

"But it would be unacceptable to allow that division and conflict to result in neglect of rights for asylum seekers."

The ACTU release further stated "We call for strong leadership from all politicians and for the courage to not fall victim to the views that seek to demonise asylum seekers or encourage Australia to abrogate its international obligations."

Ladies & Gentlemen the Trade Union Movement stands with you on World Refugee day in calling for the end to Mandatory Detention.