‘Polarising’ debate

A MULTICULTURAL services worker fears debate about asylum seekers raging in Federal Parliament will “polarise” the community, as the contentious issue filters into the Latrobe Valley.

Last week’s asylum seeker boat tragedies intensified pressure on Federal Parliament to urgently agree on new processing legislation.

Despite the main argument being battled in Canberra, Gippsland Multicultural Services director Lisa Sinha said the differentiating views on the issue were segregating some communities.

“It polarises us all, no matter which view you hold, it pushes us further away from each other,” Ms Sinha said.

“I think there is a myth none of this reaches the Valley, or we are this happy bunch that it doesn’t affect, but of course it does.

“We are part of the country and we have a multicultural community including new arrivals and long-established refugees, the things that we might have, the commonality we have with each other, is divisive.”

Last week, the Senate rejected the offshore processing bill, after the Greens and Coalition argued against refugees in countries, which had not signed the United Nations’ convention on refugees.

The government announced a non-partisan expert panel headed by former Defence Force chief Angus Houston to investigate a solution.

“The only good thing that has come out of the last few days’ tragedies is the expert panel,” Ms Sinha said.

“These things need all sorts of solutions, we have helped create some of the problem… we can’t deny (Australia) is involved so we have a responsibility of what the aftermath is.

“Everything is globalised; this is our problem too.”

Despite supporting the expert panel, Ms Sinha hoped for a “multi-pronged” solution to the decade-old dispute on whether off-shore or on-shore processing was the best outcome for processing asylum seekers and addressing people-smuggling.

According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, asylum applications received by Australia in 2010 totalled 8250, compared to 55,530 in the United States, 22,090 in the United Kingdom, 41,330 in Germany, 47,790 in France and 23,160 in Canada.

Last week’s events and boat tragedies “highlighted the long journey we are still on”, according to Ms Sinha.

“It has come down to the whole screaming, ‘stop the boats’, and a lack of understanding… we need to push the benefits and stop the footballing of it,” she said.

Federal Member for McMillan Russell Broadbent said there was no “silver bullet” for the complex issue.

“It is really a matter of an impasse on not knowing the best way to stop people getting on boats and drowning,” Mr Broadbent said.

“We have an obligation under the convention we signed to look after the people that come to our nation seeking asylum.”

In response to Ms Sinha’s fears of cultural separation due to differing opinions on the issue, Mr Broadbent said “though that may be true, it is sad”.

“There are a lot of people that identify with the issue on both sides, and I have had support and disfavour for the positions I take; that doesn’t mean I will step back from dealing with the issue,” he said.