REFUGEE advocate Julian Burnside wants the Border to play a major role in helping asylum seekers.
People had been misled by “false rhetoric” about refugees, he said.
“We’ve been told they’re illegal and queue jumpers and that they throw their children into the sea. It’s simply false.”
The prominent QC will outline his plan at a forum in Benalla tonight.
Pamela Curr from the independent Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is the other guest speaker at the “Stop the boats, burn the boats or welcome the boats?” forum at FCJ College in Wedge Street.
Organiser Erin Buckley said the event was “an amazing opportunity” to hear some of the world’s leading commentators on the issue.
“Benalla and the North East has an excellent history of welcoming asylum seekers and of recognising the benefits that asylum seeker communities bring with them when they resettle in Australia,” she said.
Mr Burnside’s plan would have people who arrived in Australia without official paperwork detained for one month for health and security checks.
“After that I’d release them on interim visas with the right to work, the right to Medicare and Centrelink benefits,” he said.
Until their refugee status was determined they would have to live in a specified country town.
“The point of it is that if every single one of them stayed on Centrelink benefits for the whole time, it would cost the government about $500 million on last year’s arrival figures,” Mr Burnside said.
“All of that money would be spent in the country towns.”
Mr Burnside said that compared with the $4 billion a year now spent on sending asylum seekers to places such as Nauru.
“I’d rather save $3.5 billion, help the economy of country towns and maybe use a billion dollars of the savings for housing construction projects for homeless Australians.
“We’d all come out better off and we’d save a couple of billion.”
Mr Burnside said his address would be largely guided by what people had to say.
“One of the main things that concerns me at the moment is we’ve just had an election which is unprecedented in Australian history where both the major parties have tried to outdo each other in their promises of cruelty to a particular group of human beings,” he said.
“That’s striking when you stand back and think about it.”
Ms Curr said she wanted an open discussion “not an angry fight, where people they feel they can ask the questions, the hard questions” and “make up their own minds”.
“In the previous incarnation of this horrible system it was actually the country people, the group Rural Australians for Refugees, who woke up politicians,” she said.
“This is really important for us as Australians because it actually affects the way the world will see us and the way our children will be treated when they go out into the world.”
Mr Burnside despaired that Australia was “misrepresenting itself” over refugees.
“We are not bad people but we are behaving like bad people because governments have misled,” he said.
“We have this idea of ourselves of being a generous, open-hearted country and some of the things that we do support that.
“But then you go overseas and people say ‘how embarrassing, you people are so selfish and cruel’.”