Bendigo refugee advocacy groups have slammed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to reopen the Christmas Island detention centre.
Mr Morrison’s announcement follows a historic defeat for the government in parliament.
The medical evacuation bill, which gives doctors greater say on whether asylum seekers will be brought to Australia for medical treatment, passed the Lower House last night before passing the Senate this morning.
Mr Morrison said the bill will undermine border protection and restart the people smuggling trade.
But Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) convener Christine Cummins said Mr Morrison’s comments and latest announcement about Christmas Island are merely scare tactics.
“(Mr Morrison) is only grasping because he’s a dead man walking,” she said. “He’s got absolutely no chance of remaining as PM come the federal election in May.”
Ms Cummins worked for five years as a torture and trauma counsellor on the Christmas Island detention centre.
She said the trauma refugees and asylum seekers experience in offshore detention is harrowing.
“Most people who flee are just like you or me,” she said. “They’re ordinary mums and dads, tradesmen and farmers, who are just seeking a life where they are safe.”
“They have copped demonisation at the extreme, particularly by this government,” she said.
The Bendigo branch of the Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children is also concerned detained asylum seekers will be used as a political football as campaigning for the upcoming federal election ramps up.
“This is just fear tactics and the politicians have completely ignored the needs of the asylum seekers,” Bendigo coordinator Di O’Neil said. “But we as grandmothers will be ramping up our own campaign.”
“We’ll be watching the politicians who come into town and speaking to the public,” she said. “We’re asking that we end the detention of children in any form, families are reunited, and there are safer alternatives for people in detention.”
Ms O’Neil said it is about just basic values.
“Australians believe in fairness and compassion, and we give other people a go,” she said. “We do not believe that the abuse there people are fleeing should continue in Australia.”
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