Leading Independent and minor party candidates united to call for the evacuation of refugee kids and their families from Nauru at a major by-election forum in Wentworth last night.
Four candidates in the Wentworth by-election spoke to a packed audience at Waverley College, to discuss refugee and asylum policy in the lead up to the by-election on Saturday 20 October.
Over 200 local voters gathered and heard from Licia Heath (Independent), Kerryn Phelps (Independent), Dominic WY Kanak (Australian Greens) and Andrea Leong (Science Party) to discuss key issues such as the call to get children off Nauru and to restore funding to the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) for people seeking asylum in the Australian community.
Two empty chairs were left out for candidates Tim Murray (Australian Labor Party) and Dave Sharma (Liberal Party) who refused the invitation to attend the forum, despite a concerted campaign by local constituents and organisations in the lead up to the forum.
Each candidate was given an opportunity to present their vision for refugee and asylum policy in Australia and took questions for the audience on issues varying from offshore detention, to Australian Bill of Rights and how electing a non-major party candidate could help change the situation for refugees in Australia.
“I do not believe and will not accept that our choice is between deaths at sea and offshore detention. I find that narrative utterly offensive,” said Independent candidate Licia Heath when asked about her position on offshore detention.
“We are a good-hearted people led by a heartless government … we have to find a way forward to close Manus island and Nauru as soon as possible,” said Independent Kerryn Phelps on offshore detention.
Greens candidate Dominic WY Kanak pointed out the Greens have always opposed offshore detention, which he called “a crime against humanity”.
The candidates all made a commitment to restoring an income safety net for people seeking asylum living in the community. Service providers have been warning about a looming crisis in the wake of recent a policy change made by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to cut Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) payments to up to 8,000 people.
Discussion also focused on how voters in Wentworth could send a message to the two major parties about these issues in the upcoming by-election.
A number of prominent local figures and organisational representatives attended the forum, including a number of faith leaders who have been highly active in the Wentworth for Refugees campaign.
“I was very disappointed tvhat the two major parties weren’t here. But given that, it was excellent to hear the eloquent and committed candidates really expressing my views,” said Sr Susan Connelly of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
Similarly, Jeffrey B Kamins OAM, Senior Rabbi at Emanuel Synagogue reflected, “It was refreshing and inspiring to hear candidates speak about the humanitarian issues concerning offshore detention and our immigration policies in general. I’m hopeful this will be an opportunity for the Australian people to be responsible citizens of our country and our world.”
Maeve Brown, Program Manager, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia, which has a homelessness shelter in Elizabeth Bay, was encouraged by candidates’ strong support for a safety net for people seeking asylum and living in the Australian community. “There are already hundreds of children, women, and men at serious risk of homelessness and destitution, and there will likely be thousands more in coming months if our elected representatives, including the future member for Wentworth, don’t hold government to account on this issue,” she said.