Lawrence rallies the troops on detainees

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Posted by David Chibo from ( on Monday, February 18, 2002 at 7:29AM :

Wednesday 13 February 2002

Labor frontbencher Carmen Lawrence yesterday stepped up her campaign for a more compassionate ALP policy on refugees, calling for a system where the community release of asylum seekers "is the norm".

Supported by 10 Labor colleagues including fellow frontbencher Anthony Albanese and new Victorian MP Maria Vamvakinou, Dr Lawrence told a pro-refugee rally of more than 2000 people outside Parliament House that the current policy of mandatory detention had to change.

Her impassioned plea came as Labor and the minor parties yesterday moved to widen a Senate inquiry into the allegations that asylum seekers deliberately threw children overboard to include scrutiny of the Federal Government's "Pacific solution" for asylum seekers.

Dr Lawrence told the rally that Labor was looking at a system where asylum seekers were released after undergoing identity, security and health checks.

"We can incarcerate asylum seekers indefinitely in remote and inhospitable camps where brutal treatment goes unreported," she said.

"Or we can ensure a regime where community release is a norm and people are not detained."

Dr Lawrence said Labor's new framework of debate on asylum seekers did not mention the detention of asylum seekers while their claims were being processed.

After a landmark caucus meeting on Monday, Labor agreed to a "framework" of debate on the contentious issue of asylum seekers. Opposition Leader Simon Crean said the ALP remained committed to mandatory detention but would consider some changes to it.

The move to consider the community release of some asylum seekers angered MPs who were advocating that Labor abandon its commitment to mandatory detention and those wanting no change.

Dr Lawrence urged rally participants to continue their agitation for change on mandatory detention. "The wall has broken on this issue - keep persuading," she said. "There are alternatives and we must embrace them."

New South Wales Labor MP Tanya Plibersek also called for the community release of asylum seekers.

Dr Lawrence was supported by the presence at the rally of George Campbell, Duncan Kerr, Jann McFarlane, Julia Irwin, Kelly Hoare, Jan McLucas and Trish Crossin.

Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja told the protest the government would be "judged as criminals" for the way they have treated people in detention.

The Senate votes today on the establishment of the Senate select committee to examine asylum seekers. The inquiry - to report by May 16 - will now also examine the cost of the Pacific solution and the detail of agreements struck by Australia with Nauru and Papua New Guinea to process asylum seekers.

Meanwhile, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson yesterday welcomed the Federal Government's decision to allow her envoy to inspect Woomera detention centre. But she called for the visit to take place no later than May. The Government has said the visit would take place between May and August.

-- David Chibo
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