About 200 people gathered inside the Castlemaine Art Gallery today to hear deputy Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek speak about her government’s plan for foreign aid.
The town’s residents, announced this week as the Australians who gave the highest percentage of their income to charity, were a fitting audience for an address calling on the government to pledge 0.5 per cent of its GDP to vulnerable people overseas.
She said aid for people with disabilities was a moral obligation of the Australian government, and said support for impoverished women was also imperative.
“When you lift a woman out of poverty, you lift her family out of poverty, you lift her community out of poverty and you lift her country out of poverty,” Ms Plibersek said.
The shadow foreign affairs spokesperson also addressed the need for change to the federal government’s asylum seeker policy, saying the Coalition had “dropped the ball” when it came to resettling boat arrivals.
She reiterated her party’s commitment to double Australia’s refugee intake to 27,000 people if elected later this year.
“But we want them to come here through safe means," she said, refusing to rule out processing asylum seekers in offshore detention centres.
Asylum seeker advocacy group Grandmothers against Detention rallied outside the gallery on Thursday, bearing signs that read “Bring them here”.
Spokeswoman Ellen O’Gallagher said she came to thank Ms Plibersek for her efforts to dissolve the “toxic nature of the debate” around immigration, but said detention in Nauru, Christmas Island and Manus Island needed to cease.
“The deaths, abuse and conditions are unacceptable,” she said.
Ms O’Gallagher had previously lived in Papua New Guinea, the country where a Supreme Court this week ruled Australia’s processing of refugees was illegal, and said it was an inappropriate environment to house asylum seekers awaiting resettlement.
She said the government needed to heed the foreign court’s decision.
“You can’t just try to alter it so its acceptable,” Ms O’Gallagher said.
Federal member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters agreed the Manus Island centre should close.
“Report after report exposes horrors,” she said.
“This is indefinite detention in the most inhumane environment.
“It needs to be shut down.”
During her Castlemaine visit, Ms Plibersek accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his government of being “all about the big end of town”.
She said a Labor government would restore cuts to health and schools, and reverse the Coalition’s decision not to fund the final two years of Gonski reforms.
“One of the things Lisa Chesters has been campaigning against is $200 million cuts from classrooms,” she said.
“We say to the people of Bendigo: put your faith in Labor,” she said.
Asked how her party would address the cost-of-living pressures on Bendigo families, Ms Plibersek said jobs were critical, as was the maintenance of penalty rates for weekend and late night work.
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