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Asylum debate fires up in council chamber

2 March 20210 comments

City of Melbourne councillors have become embroiled in a heated debate about Australia’s asylum and refugee policy.

The council’s Future Melbourne committee recently passed a refugee advocacy motion after a debate over how to best support the 13 refugees still detained at Carlton’s Park Hotel.   

But refugee advocates on the council say the final motions is “watered down”

The original motion, initiated by Greens Councillor Rohan Leppert contained a section that required Lord Mayor Sally Capp to call on the federal government to immediately release the detained me. 

But Cr Capp and five other councillors voted to amend the motion, removing the re4quiremen5 for her to advocate the council’s position to Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.

Cr Capp said while she recognised the “passion and compassion” expressed by the community towards the issue, the council needed to work with other levels of government. 

“We should never discount the economic and cultural contribution migrants and refugees make to our city,” she said. 

“We should find ways to work with other levels of government to advocate for the human rights of and the improved conditions for people who are being accommodated in the Park Hotel which is in the municipality of the City of Melbourne,” Cr Capp said.  

The amended motion advocated “for the provision of medical and mental health support services” and an “explanation for the continued detention of those people” instead of requesting the men be released.  

It also removed the clause, “joins the United Nations Human Rights Council and Human Rights Committee in condemning indefinite and arbitrary detention of people seeking asylum as a gross violation of human rights”. 

The amended motion “notes all people within the City of Melbourne should be protected under the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. 

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said that although he felt very strongly about the issue, he was voting for the amendment as it was an “improvement”. 

“Tonight, we get to decide what terms we advocate to the policy decision makers in this area, the Commonwealth Government, and I think the amendments that the Lord Mayor has put forward is more likely to be listened to and more likely to have an effect where policy is decided,” Cr Reece said.

Cr Leppert voted against amending the original motion as replacing the “deliberately worded” condemnation of the human rights abuses of the remaining men in the Park Hotel was not sending a strong enough message. 

“We’re not speculating on whether there ‘might’ be human rights abuses here, we have incontrovertible evidence that the Commonwealth Government is committing human rights abuses right smack bang in our municipality,” Cr Leppert said. 

“If you water down the City of Melbourne’s position so that it no longer says anything of significance and importance, and our community and our residents can’t see what our position is, we’ve gone far too far and miss the point of representative democracy,” he said.

The amended motion altering the original advocacy policy passed with six votes in favour and five against.