Mollie & Veronica’s Reflection
On Wednesday June 1st, a selection of senior students from Santa Maria College Northcote and Parade College Bundoora had the opportunity to meet with David Feeney, the Labor Party’s representative in the electorate of Batman, and to discuss with him aspects of Labor policy in the lead-up to the next federal election. This meeting specifically centred on the pertinent issue of people seeking asylum and offshore processing, and gave us, the future voters of Australia, the opportunity to put forward our beliefs regarding this issue and to outline the changes we hope to see.
By way of preparation for this meeting, we attended an advocacy workshop, which was facilitated by Samuel Dariol from the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum and supported by staff from the two schools. We explored our own knowledge and assumptions around asylum seeker issues, we heard the testimony of Reza, a refugee from Afghanistan who has experienced the detention system first hand, and we developed key questions and requests that we would put to Mr Feeney.
Our aim was to express the youth voice in the community and seek to challenge and improve certain aspects of any future Labor Government’s response to asylum seekers. As many of us are still eagerly awaiting our opportunity to vote, speaking with David Feeney and having our thoughts taken seriously was our way of being involved in Australian politics. It was a chance to finally question the policy platform of one of the major parties, and to challenge the actions of those in authority, so often in the media. We had an opportunity to shed light on why people seeking asylum must be treated more humanely in our country.
Due to the highly ethical nature of this topic, we hoped to voice our concerns regarding the brutal treatment of people seeking asylum and refugees by the current Australian government. We questioned David Feeney about Labor’s plans to ensure a more just and compassionate treatment of these people if returned to government.
With these goals in mind, we formulated several personal statements and a series of questions which clearly conveyed our unified belief that the current treatment of people seeking asylum and refugees in Australia, is ethically unacceptable and in many ways cruel. It breaches human rights and goes against the basic Christian belief that all people should be treated with dignity and respect.
The meeting itself was a very open and respectful dialogue. Mr Feeney was eloquent and passionate in outlining Labor’s policy on people seeking asylum and refugees, articulating the complexity of these issues and detailing many of the ways in which Labor policy diverges from current Government policy. One student discussed the treatment of Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, while another outlined the appalling treatment of some asylum seekers in offshore detention on Nauru and Manus Island. Both of these students were highlighting the inadequacy of Australia’s current response to people seeking asylum and the ethical compromise involved in Labor’s support for offshore detention. Other students questioned Mr Feeney on Labor’s proposal to maintain offshore detention while increasing funding to the UNHCR, which could be seen as outsourcing our responsibilities to those most in need in our region.
Questions such as these, whilst perhaps not resulting in any change to Labor policy, did invite David Feeney to explain at length the thinking behind the policy and to engage with a range of alternative views.
Overall, this collaborative meeting between student representatives of the two schools and Mr Feeney allowed us, as the prospective voters of Australia, to exercise our democratic right to question one of our politicians. To speak out on behalf of those in need of justice and compassion, and to step into a life of political awareness and action.
We are very appreciative of Mr Feeney’s presence with us and his willingness to engage in serious conversation over these crucial issues of justice.
Mollie Moloney and Veronica Mazur – Santa Maria College Northcote