Cathy McGowan seeks compassion for Manus Island refugees
THE Northern Victoria Refugee Network has welcomed a spirited challenge by Cathy McGowan (MHR, Indi) for federal parliament to ensure the humane treatment of asylum seekers held on Manus Island.
Network co-ordinator Freida Andrews said Ms McGowan’s heartfelt call in the parliament’s Federation Chamber on August 16 for resolution of the Manus crisis meant North East communities – and refugee advocacy organisations in Bright, Beechworth and Wangaratta – were being heard.
An Australia Institute survey early last year showed almost 64 per cent of Indi electors wanted asylum seekers who were found to be genuine refugees to be allowed to settle in Australia.
Ms McGowan told parliament the planned closure by the end of October of the Manus regional processing centre and its medical care, trauma support and security services was “adding to a highly stressful situation for those remaining there”.
She said she found the situation “extraordinarily distressing”.
“My office is flooded with letters, phone calls and calls of the heart – ‘Cathy, what are we doing?’” she said.
But she wanted constituents and the “large numbers of people who’ve come together under the Northern Victoria Refugee Network” to know that their concerns had been heard.
Ms McGowan said she had been told by a Yackandandah couple, among others, of “inhumane and criminal treatment” of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island, off the coast of Papua New Guinea.
She had sought and received a briefing from the office of Immigration and Border Force Minister Peter Dutton.
She said she understood the logic of the government’s approach but “I don’t get the heart of it”.
“I don’t believe we as a nation can be so, so… legalistic in our approach,” Ms McGowan said.
“Of course it’s important to follow the rules, of course – but to lose our heart, to lose our care?
“To my community… I don’t know what else I can do.
“I bring your call of the heart here to the parliament.
“I talk to my colleagues in parliament.
“I say we as a nation are much better than this.
“We are so good at solving so many complex problems – and we have a problem in Manus, we know we do.
“But it’s not a reason not to apply our best selves, not to apply our Christian principles – to love your neighbour as yourself.”
Ms McGowan said she was proud “to be part of a Christian nation… but I don’t see what we’re doing in Manus is that”.
“While the law is important, the heart is more important,” she said.
“I know every single member of parliament is hearing the same call from constituents.”
COMPASSION CALL: Cathy McGowan (MHR, Indi) said in parliament she found the Manus Island refugee situation as distressful