Now is the time for a national anti-racism campaign, Kristina Keneally, the shadow minister for home affairs, immigration and citizenship, told members of the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group in Springwood on Wednesday, March 11.
The coronavirus outbreak has fueled racist comments and attacks on people of Chinese and Asian background, and combined with a rise in anti-Semitism and attacks on Muslims, a national campaign was needed, the senator said.
"We are seeing a rise in right wing extremism, a rise in racially motivated attacks, and the coronavirus just shows that unfortunately when people are fearful, they will sometimes resort to racial stereotypes and condemnation," Ms Keneally said.
"The reality is, Australia is a country that is built by people from all corners of the globe, we are proud of that, it is a strength. Most Australians do value that strength and an anti-racism campaign is a way for us to come together as a community, show solidarity for one another and to make clear to ourselves and the wider world that we are a welcoming, supportive, multicultural country."
Ms Keneally took the opportunity, with Andrew Giles, the shadow minister for multicultural affairs, to meet members of the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group, while in the area visiting Mt Tomah and Bilpin with the Labor shadow ministry in the wake of the bushfires.
"It was a perfect opportunity for Andrew Giles and I to come meet with this group, particularly to discuss the range of issues they are campaigning on and for me personally, it was a great morale boost to know that there are so many people in the community who want to ensure a just and fair outcome for asylum seekers and refugees," Ms Keneally said.
She heard about individual cases at Villawood Detention Centre, including a man who had been there for 11 years.
"I'm here to hear about individual cases at Villawood and in the community, and to see where I, and Susan Templeman can lend a voice and make representations and see if we can get some of these circumstances resolved," Ms Keneally said.
There were several questions from the group on how best to advocate for refugees and asylum seekers, and another on the longterm effects of government travel bans following the coronavirus outbreak.
"It could lead to circumstances where people either mask their travel or mask their symptoms in order to gain access to the country," Ms Keneally later said.
"What we need now is a strong public health response, clear advice to the community about who should be tested and how they get that testing and a response that supports general practitioners and our hospitals to ensure that they continue to deliver the services to the community that are needed as well as deal with the significant burden that is the coronavirus."
BMRSG's Roger Grealy said they appreciated being able to put urgent case studies to Ms Keneally and were looking forward to building a strong relationship with her.
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