Sri Lankan asylum seekers engage in a hunger strike after their boat broke down on the way to Australia’s Christmas Island, at Cilegon on October 16, 2009The Prime Minister’s office yesterday was unable to clarify what its boss, Julia Gillard, means by an open debate on asylum seekers but Dubbo priest Paul Devitt wanted “compassion” to be at its core.
Nanjing Night Net

Just days before an expected announcement of the Government’s new border protection policy Ms Gillard said “people should feel free to say what they feel”.

On Sunday while touring Marysville, destroyed during the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, Ms Gillard told reporters she wanted to “sweep away … self-censorship and political correctness” surrounding asylum seekers.

“And for people to say they’re anxious about border security doesn’t make them intolerant. It certainly doesn’t make them a racist,” she said.

“By the same token, people who express concern about children being in detention, that doesn’t mean they’re soft on border protection.”

Father Devitt, from St Brigid’s Catholic Church, said the debate should be based on fact rather than fear-mongering but believed the leaders of both major parties were “poll-driven”.

“Have compassion that would be the main thing,” he said.

“I hope they do some solid homework and not be dictated to by fear and ignorance. As well, they need to look very closely at where asylum seekers are coming from.”

According to the Department of Immigration 75 boats carrying 3532 asylum seekers have arrived in Australian territory this year.

Afghans accounted for 2149 of the asylum seekers, followed by people from Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran.

Given the unstable nature of those nations Fr Devitt said labels like “queue jumpers” were “nonsense”.

“You’ve got some really sober voices in politics on both sides, they need to be heard,” he said.

“I think the leaders on both sides are very poll-driven”.

Dubbo multicultural stalwart Nasser Sedghi feared any debate would be “political rather than providing real solutions”.

“In reality it has become an election issue between the two major parties,” he said

“Whichever angle you look at each of them are trying to score a point.”

He said the number of refugees trying to enter Australia “paled in comparison” to the number seeking refuge in Europe.

“We can not isolate ourselves from international issues, we have to be part of the solution,” he said.

On Thursday a three-month suspension on the processing of Sri Lankan asylum seekers would be lifted and Ms Gillard has indicated a policy announcement by then.

“What I can say about asylum seeker policy is I can understand the concerns of community members about this. I can understand that it causes them anxiety when they see boats on the horizon,” she said.

“I’m certainly going to have something to say on the question of asylum seeker policy in the coming days.”

The Australian Lawyers Alliance has called on Ms Gillard “to prove she (was) no redneck and issue a clear statement” that she would not return asylum seekers to regions where there was a “high probability of them being killed or injured”.

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