Australia has an honourable history of fully welcoming refugees from places of persecution and violence.
Grateful refugees, from many cultures and religions, have settled and become outstanding Australian citizens.
Australia has been enriched both by our own compassion and by the response of those who needed refuge.
In recent times, largely because of the organised crime behind people smugglers, our response to asylum seekers has become more ambiguous. The tone of public debate has been disappointing. Both major parties want to "Stop the Boats", whatever the impact on asylum-seekers who have genuine claims to refugee status.
In a world of 40 million displaced people, it is plainly difficult to simultaneously help all those refugees in UNHCR camps and all those seeking to arrive here without clear refugee status. The ideal of on-shore processing has been swamped both by the reality of the numbers and by those who seek to exploit asylum seekers genuine desperation.
In response, various regional arrangements have been hastily constructed, more for deterrence than for compassion.
In this context, briefly sketched, what does "Let's Fully Welcome Refugees" mean for the Federal Election on September 7th?
It means at least four policies:
1. A wholehearted restatement of Australia's compassionate response to persecuted people who are forced to flee their own homeland;
2. A generous target for refugee resettlement which currently stands at 20,000 per year;
3. A more compassionate response to those 15,000 asylum seekers already in Australia, however they arrived here. Whilst their claims to refugee status are assessed, permit them access to education and right to seek paid work. Let them build a future and lead meaningful lives rather than be demeaned and distressed by residual "no advantage policies."
4. A compassionate detailing of how arrangements such as those with PNG can offer refugees a better future. Australia's Church welfare and aid agencies are amongst those able to lend expertise on how this can be more compassionate than it now looks.
In conclusion, our major political parties are custodians of Australia's record as a compassionate nation towards refugees.
The onus of proof is on them to detail the policies which are those of a civilised nation, saying unambiguously, LET'S FULLY WELCOME REFUGEES.
These four policies would be a step in a better direction.