BOTH major political parties are guilty of using “the language of protection in a dangerous manner” in order to gain advantage in the Federal election campaign, a Queensland regional Catholic social justice commission spokesman has said.
Toowoomba diocese’s Social Justice Com-mission (SJC) executive officer Dr Mark Copland, who has been involved for more than 10 years with refugee and migrant issues in the region, said he “was very opposed to the use of such language”.
“Both the Government and the Opposition are making these statements (on asylum seekers) as if Australia is at imminent risk from some outside source,” Dr Copland said.
“This is not helpful and even dangerous.”
Dr Copland made the comments as he supported the Australian Catholic Bishop Conference’s (ACBC) statement on a separate issue – migration policy.
The ACBC’s recent statement said the conference “strongly questioned bipartisan policies on migration” calling them “without foresight or hindsight”.
ACBC delegate for Migrants and Refugees Bishop Joseph Grech expressed distress at both political parties’ ignorance of the rich contrib-utions of migrants to Australian society in their respective policy statements on immigration and questioned why both sides of politics were bowing to pressure at migrants’ expense.
“Both parties are arguing that higher levels of migration will put strains on the country’s infrastructure,” Bishop Grech said.
“However, it is the job of the Government to look to sustainable infrastructure, regardless of migration levels.”
The Opposition on July 25 announced that if elected, it would cut overseas migration from 300,000 to 170,000. In the initial announcement the planned cuts were to focus on family and student visa programs, while skilled migration would largely be quarantined.
The Opposition’s statement followed Labor leader Julia Gillard’s announcement that she did not believe that a “Big Australia” with a population of about 36 million by 2050 was desirable either; a policy which was at odds with her predecessor Kevin Rudd who announced the “Big Australia” policy.
Prime Minister Gillard also maintained the Labor Government had already started reducing migration, and was on the way to arriving at 145,000 net migration.
Dr Copland was concerned about policy statements on migration or asylum seekers that could lead to a stigmatising of migrants and refugees already in Australia.
He said this could deepen community divisions, particularly in such regional centres as Toowoomba, home to a large African community, mostly refugees from Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Of further concern were the Opposition’s stated plans to control family reunions amongst refugees and migrants.
“Such an approach cuts into Australia’s humanitarian responsibilities towards such people,” he said.
“Also in terms of accepting or not accepting these people in terms of what skills they may or may not possess is wrong.
“Migrants possess many gifts beyond the purely economic.
“And anyway, what about the Christian tradition of hospitality to the stranger?”
Dr Copland said Toowoomba diocese’s SJC had been planning a research paper to look at the benefits of having refugees in the community.
Melbourne’s La Trobe University researcher Robert Johnson, on professional placement with the SJC, recently started on the project to look at the positive impact of refugee resettlement in and around Toowoomba.
“The research paper is expected to be released in October,” Dr Copland said.
“It will be a good way to identify the refugees’ settlement and participation in community development in the area, as well as challenges faced.
“I would expect benefits discovered will include greater economic and cultural diversity, leading to the broadening of the community’s horizons.
“In terms of the economy, it can be frequently seen that these people are saving to buy houses in the local area rather than taking their money elsewhere for holidays and so on.”
Bishop Grech in his recent statement also mentioned benefits to Australia from the presence of migrants.
“In (the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference’s) 2008 document Graced by Migration, we demonstrated that Australia needs migration,” he said.
“The various migration movements have offset the impact of Australia’s declining birth rate; they have contributed to the nation’s economic well-being and they have added to our reputation as a unified nation specially committed and equipped to the creation of cultural and religious diversity.
“The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference believes that by cutting down the migration program that there would be no economic gain for citizens of this country, rather we would lose the valuable contribution that migration brings.”
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