Sydney’s Inner West is one of the original homes of multiculturalism in Australia. Over the decades our local area has welcomed refugees and asylum seekers from places like Europe, Asia, the Middle East – people from all corners of the world.
Our care and compassion for people fleeing danger, violence and persecution, has helped to shape the vibrant and diverse Inner West communities that we love being a part of.
Sadly in Australia, policies and practices developed by Labor and Coalition governments have for over a decade treated people fleeing danger as political footballs. The bipartisan consensus on indefinite and mandatory detention of people seeking asylum has seen Australia establish offshore prison camps on Manus Island and Nauru, where foreign governments are essentially paid to keep people in terrible conditions.
This race to the bottom of government cruelty has not only isolated Australia in the international community, it has seriously impacted the physical and mental health of those seeking a safer life for their families.
While federal governments are failing the most vulnerable, councils and community groups in our local area have stepped up to truly reflect the values of the people.
When I was elected to represent residents as a local councillor in 2012, Marrickville Council already had a strong tradition of care and compassion, for instance being in 2003 one of the first councils in Australia to become a Refugee Welcome Zone.
Since then we have erected signs across council buildings and in other public spaces reading ‘Marrickville Council Welcomes Refugees and Asylum Seekers’. Marrickville also became one of the only councils in Australia to divest from companies involved in implementing Australia’s offshore detention regime. Recently we launched the Asylum Seeker Community Passport, connecting new arrivals with a variety of services across the local area.
These efforts added to those of the local groups supporting refugees and asylum seekers, including the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, Amnesty Newtown, the Refugee Action Coalition, Settlement Services International, and services involved in the Marrickville Multicultural Interagency.
Last month Liberal Premier Mike Baird sacked Marrickville Council, along with 41 councils across NSW. We should be seriously concerned about the effects on local services, including those that benefit asylum seekers and refugees.
The people of Marrickville and Sydney’s Inner-West are compassionate, welcoming and caring people. It’s important that these values continue to be represented at all levels of government. And when governments fail or are unable to reflect the values of the people, it’s the community who must to step up and take their place.
• Sylvie Ellsmore is the Greens candidate for Sydney for the 2016 Federal Election.