Refugee advocate and Liberal candidate for Adelaide Carmen Garcia has criticised Kevin Rudd’s Papua New Guinea asylum seeker resettlement policy – which her party supports – saying Australia is dodging its responsibility on asylum seekers.
Asked yesterday whether she supported mandatory resettlement in PNG for asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat and are found to be genuine refugees, Garcia said “I think it’s handballing our responsibilities.”
“I think it’s really unfair that a country like PNG that has its own social development problems is going to get lumped with ours because we’re not prepared to take responsibility, put hard-line policies in place for long-term outcomes that not only will support Australia but it will support those humanitarian entrants that are genuinely seeking refuge.
“The document that they keep referring to is so thin, so there’s nothing to analyse and assess in terms of what that policy’s actually going to look like.”
Last month Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison announced his party would support the PNG resettlement policy.
“That is certainly something we’d be seeking to take up from them, as well as the ability to expand the regional processing capacity on Manus Island, ” The Australian reported Morrison as saying.
Garcia is currently the Director for Multicultural Youth SA – where she’s heavily involved in leading refugee youth support programs – and a Labor government appointee to the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council where she offered policy advice on refugees to the Immigration Minister.
“We’re setting them up to fail. Because we’re not teaching them that the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
She admits her work colleagues were a little stunned when she was announced as the Liberal candidate for the seat of Adelaide.
“They were surprised – but I think it was more because they didn’t understand the Liberal philosophy.
“The media have done a very good job typecasting what a Liberal looks like. A Liberal doesn’t look like daughter of a migrant, living in Blair Athol, working her way up, running a refugee youth organisation.”
Despite her concerns about the PNG resettlement plan, she supports the Coalition’s policy to turn around asylum seeker boats.
“It’s about saving lives, and it’s about making sure that just because people have the means or opportunity to pay for airfares, to pay people smugglers to get on boats, they’re not superseding the people that have walked miles in bare feet carrying their children in Africa to get to refugee camps.
“It’s reasonable for them to want to come to Australia, as it’s reasonable for people that are in Africa to want to come to Australia.
“It’s really interesting how the people on the left side of politics are actually advocating for the people that have more means and opportunity than the people that aren’t here.”
Launching her campaign last week, Liberal leader Tony Abbott called her the modern face of the Liberal party, Garcia, 34, tells InDaily proudly.
But if she wants to fulfil that role, Garcia will need to unseat sitting ALP Minister Kate Ellis – a difficult, but not impossible, task.
Ellis, a current government minister, has held the seat since 2004 and sits on a comfortable 7.5 per cent margin.
One factor Garcia believes may help her take a seat with a strong Greens preference flow is her claim to “probably the strongest social justice background” of the seat’s candidates, particularly on refugee advocacy.
Garcia says she’s seen how broken the Labor Government’s refugee system is, and she’s getting into politics to fix it.
“In the refugee youth sector, I’ve seen more than ever the way the current Labor government has forced this entitlement mentality about a handout. We’re setting them up to fail. Because we’re not teaching them that the harder you work, the luckier you get.
“What I see happening is re-traumatisation. I’ve worked in it with the Department of Education, and it is a band-aid approach in the way they’re dealing with asylum seekers. That’s not good policy, and that’s not taking responsibility for our country and the people that we welcome here.
“When we welcome people to Australia, we’re going to meet them half way and we’re in a position to respond to their needs and support them being active citizens.”
But asked how she would fix refugee policy, Garcia quickly reins herself in.
“I don’t know how much of that I can say. I have lots of ideas, but it’s probably not the right time to share my ideas because I’m not the elected member.”
Clues on her ideas might be found in her work at Multicultural Youth, where her policy direction strongly focussed on “reciprocal responsibility” – “a hand up, not a hand out”.
Garcia required the young refugees in her organisation’s programs to stay at school and do English classes, rather than letting them leave early and seek full-time work – as refugee service providers in other states were allowing their charges to do, she says.
“We don’t give them short-term employment outcomes. That’s what a lot of people do – they got a job, tick a box.
“If you can’t speak the language [English] you can’t get a job. You’re not going to be able to pursue further education and training.”
“Now people look at [that policy] and say ‘you can see she was a Liberal’, ” she laughs.
If elected, she says she will be a strong advocate for the not-for-profit sector in a Coalition partyroom.
“I do believe in influencing from within. I do believe it is about a battle of ideas. I’m strong enough, if I’m elected, to sit around the party room table, voice my concerns, and actually bring a different perspective so that we get outcomes that really meet the whole need of the community.”
By Liam Mannix, 15 August 2013
InDaily Adelaide Independent news