Refugees welcome in the Sutherland Shire

Certificate signing: Carmelo Pesce discussed council's Refugee Welcome Zone in last week's Mayor's Message in the Leader.
Certificate signing: Carmelo Pesce discussed council's Refugee Welcome Zone in last week's Mayor's Message in the Leader.

I was heartened to read Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce's message (Leader, June 12) that the Sutherland Shire is a Refugee Welcome Zone.

Cr Pesce sits in a fine tradition of refugee advocacy within the Liberal Party, of whom former PM Malcolm Fraser and the former member for Cook Bruce Baird were also shining beacons.

Cr Pesce writes that "we will welcome refugees, uphold human rights [and] demonstrate compassion."

It is sad that such a commitment has been largely absent from our national leaders over the last nine years.

Instead, open hostility towards these values has often ruled.

I will not recount here the stories of abuse, despair and psychological damage that our offshore detention regime inflicted on many innocent men, women and children who were fleeing persecution.

Thankfully the recent #kidsoffnauru campaign was largely successful, though others remain stranded in the offshore system.

Closer to home, many refugees who reside in Australia are subject to rules that condemn them as second class citizens for the rest of their lives.

In 2014 the Federal Government introduced visas for refugees that only offer temporary protection. These refugees need to reapply to stay in Australia every three to five years.

There is strong evidence that this uncertainty contributes to mental illness, especially among children and young people who cannot plan for a stable future. It also clogs up the processing system.

These visa holders are never allowed to reunite with their families. They cannot access the social security system, tertiary education and the national disability scheme in ways that we take for granted.

We have in the shire a senior politician who shoulders a large responsibility for the current state of affairs, but who also has unprecedented authority to be an agent for positive change.

In the wake of Refugee Week, I hope that Scott Morrison takes stock of his own legacy, looks to those of Carmelo Pesce, Bruce Baird and Malcolm Fraser, and turns the ship around.

Rob Taggart, Engadine