Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry says voters have been let down by a “failure of leadership” on refugee policies.
Addressing a World Refugee Day rally in Melbourne, psychiatrist Prof McGorry called for “bipartisan morality” on asylum seekers instead of using them as a political football.
“It does go back to the kind of country we want to live in,” Prof McGorry said on Sunday.
If you ask the right questions you’ll get the right answers from the Australian public and I think they’ve been led down the wrong track by a failure of leadership.”
Prof McGorry said he had seen first-hand the terrible effects on the mental health of refugees as a result of government policies that have emerged in the past two decades.
But the dawn of the Labor government in 2007 had not yet delivered the expected change in refugee policy, he said.
“I think it’s in the balance at the moment.”
Abbott will listen to refugee
He said Afghan refugee Riz Wakil would be given a fair hearing during his surfing lesson with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
“But the key issue is will he change the policy.”
As part of a charity auction, activist group GetUp! successfully bid for surfing lessons from Mr Abbott so he could meet with six refugees, including Mr Wakil who is now an Australian citizen running a printing business.
The “boat people” issue should be removed from pre-election platforms, Prof McGorry said.
“We should just take this whole issue out of the election platform and get behind a bipartisan approach.
“We need moral leadership on both sides of politics.
“They’re both professing to have high moral values, they’re both religious people, let’s see those values put into practice in support of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia.”