Australians ask NZ Bishops for help settling asylum seekers

Last month I joined with Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) to speak at a series of public forums around the country to discuss the future for asylum seekers who remain in limbo in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

So far I have spoken in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Hobart and Launceston, Adelaide, Perth and Benalla in North East Victoria.

The idea for the forums came ahead of a visit to Papua New Guinea (including Manus Island), that I made in August, following my retirement from the Federal Parliament.

I wanted to get the message across to Australians and our government that even with the closure of the detention centre on Manus Island, the next step must be taken for those who remain in PNG as asylum seekers.

We must continue to urge the Australian Government to resettle those eligible asylum seekers in New Zealand.

The existing situation continues to cost Australians too much both financially and in terms of our reputation in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.

The overwhelming response from the PNG people has been that it is time to end detention and they are proud and supportive of the action taken by their Prime Minister, James Marape, to initiate the termination of services provided to asylum seekers detained on Manus Island.

During my two terms as Member for Indi between 2013 and 2019, eight branches of Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) in the electorate and the then National President, Marie Sellstrom, ensured I was informed of the status of those seeking asylum in Australia but placed in offshore detention in PNG and Nauru and in onshore detention in all Australian states.

Working with Rural Australians for Refugees provided the opportunity to speak directly to Australians about respect, justice and compassion for those seeking asylum and the need to find a solution to the plight of people “dumped” in PNG.

It is also important to respect the rights of PNG to manage its own affairs in the best interests of the country and its people.

I want to do more than speak to rural and regional Australians about the plight of asylum seekers.

I want everyone I speak with to take action and write to their local MP and State senators in the Federal Parliament. By taking this kind of action throughout our communities, there is a greater chance the Government will listen and respond.

We must continue


to urge the Australian Government


to resettle those eligible asylum seekers


in New Zealand.

Many within the faith communities I have spoken to in the past month support this approach. The Josephites, Brigidines, Baptists, Uniting Church and Anglicans have all provided venues for the speaking tour we have organised.

I thank them and my friends within RAR for their help.

Now we are asking all faith communities to support our request that the Australian Government end the punishment of people seeking asylum. Please write to the Australian Government and Parliamentarians, asking them to work cooperatively with the New Zealand and PNG Governments to find a resolution to the unacceptable quarantining of human beings on the islands of PNG and Nauru.

Pope Francis has said, “Migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion”.  It is shameful the Australian Government and the country’s major political parties have taken this approach.

On September 30, 2019, Fr Giorgio Licini, General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG and the Solomon Islands wrote:

“Nauru and Papua New Guinea fall within the majority of countries that, in spite of all the goodwill, still can’t ensure proper care for their citizens.

“These countries have few doctors, scarcity of medicines, lack of equipment and lack of facilities.

“Thousands of people die in PNG every year from curable diseases despite everybody’s efforts. Trying to push the idea that asylum seekers and refugees in PNG have proper health care is laughable and irritating.”

Together with Rural Australians for Refugees, I ask all those who believe in social justice and human rights, especially the Bishops of New Zealand, to support Fr Licini and urge the Governments of New Zealand, PNG and Australia to work together to find a resolution to this issue seeking a fair and just process for people seeking asylum in the Asia Pacific Region.

  • Cathy McGowan AO, Former Australian Independent Federal Member for Indi
  • Image: Planning Institute Australia
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