THE office of Flinders MP Greg Hunt was in lockdown last Tuesday morning as a group of grandmothers protested about the federal government’s treatment of refugees.
The protest by the South Peninsula Grandmothers against the Detention of Refugee Children came one week after police forcibly evicted members of a church group from the office who were calling for better treatment of asylum seekers being detained on Manus Island and Nauru (“Police praised by ‘evicted’ church group” The News 29.8.17).
“Other members of the public who came were not able to enter to talk with office staff. A woman visiting before our group had formed, could not get in with her request. The door was locked against us all,” Ann Renkin, one of the protesting grandmothers, said.
“Towards the end of our [90-minute] peaceful demonstration I rang Minister Hunt’s office from outside the office door. The answer to my request for them to open the door so that I could deliver a letter was refused on the grounds that they had been advised by the federal police to lock themselves inside, and us out.”
Ms Renkin said her group had earlier briefed Mr Hunt’s staff about the demonstration and said they would be delivering a letter for him.
“We were a small group of law-abiding electors coming to him, our federal representative, to tell him again that we are very critical of his government’s refugee policies and abusive practices,” she said.
“Does our local MP’s distrust extend to all grass roots organisations in his electorate?
“Do we assume Mr Hunt is only available to electors who agree with him?”
The latest protest outside Mr Hunt’s office also came in the wake of reports of a boat carrying six Chinese men breaching Australia’s border security by landing on Saibai Island.
An Australian island in the Torres Strait, Saibai is less than five kilometres from Papua New Guinea. The landing would appear to end the federal government’s ability to boast about its long record of preventing boat landings on Australian soil.
People from PNG are allowed to visit Saibai without visas or passport. Five Chinese nationals were reported as being returned to their country after being detained on Saibai.
A PNG man and a Chinese man were later taken to Cairns where they were charged with aggravated people smuggling under the Migration Act.
Mr Hunt was last week asked by The News for details – timelines and numbers – of the government’s refugee “resettlement agreement with the United States” he had mentioned in a statement issued the previous week.
Mr Hunt’s Hastings-based media advisor Samantha Robin replied that the federal government had an “arrangement with the United States for the resettlement of refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea who are endorsed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for referral to the existing United States Refugee Admissions Program. President Trump has confirmed this agreement”.
“US authorities will conduct their own assessment of refugees referred by the UNHCR to determine which refugees and how many are resettled in the US,” Ms Robin said.
“Resettlement in the US is just one of the options available to support the resettlement of refugees. Refugees will continue to be resettled temporarily in Nauru, and permanently in Papua New Guinea and Cambodia.
“The priority is the resettlement of the most vulnerable refugees, with an initial focus on women, children and families.”
Recordings of a 28 January phone conversation between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull released last month by The Washington Post shows that the resettlement “agreement” is non-specific on numbers but necessary for the government to maintain its hard-line stance against refugees arriving by boat.
“You can decide to take 1000 or 100. It is entirely up to you,” Mr Turnbull is recorded as saying to Mr Trump. “The obligation is to only go through the process.”
Mr Turnbull then assures Mr Trump that the “vast bulk” of people detained on Nauru and Manus Island are “economic refugees” and Australian authorities know “exactly everything about them”.
“Let me explain. We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here,” Mr Turnbull says.