Wangaratta community forum tells MP their arms are open for refugees

REFUGEE SUPPORT: MP Tim Watts addresses the forum in Wangaratta.
REFUGEE SUPPORT: MP Tim Watts addresses the forum in Wangaratta.

MP Tim Watts has traveled to Wangaratta to encourage the community to welcome refugees into the city.

He introduced a motion into Federal Parliament earlier this year, calling on the government to help increase private sponsorships to settle refugees in Australia, rather than use taxpayer funds.

A forum attended by about 50 people in Wangaratta on Thursday heard his argument that if the idea was to succeed, it needed more support from communities - not just politicians.

“If we could create a secure environment where there are economic opportunities … that would have an enormous impact - you would cut the number of people who are being forced to flee,” Mr Watts said.

The priority was providing health care and education for children.

Mr Watts conceded there was a significant cost in the first three years when resettling refugees, for accommodation and language and jobs training. before they became productive members of society.

“Australian multiculturalism has worked in the past 40 years … it works because we invest in people who come to this country,” he said.

“We should create channels for community itself to drive this.”

The forum at Purbrick Hall was hosted by the Rural Australians for Refugees Wangaratta branch and chaired by Di Thomas, the chief of staff to Indi MP Cathy McGowan.

Most of the people at the forum put their hands up when Mr Watts asked who else was frustrated with the refugee debate in Australia.

Wangaratta’s Adrian Twitt said the community had a history of supporting refugees, being the first to resettle Vietnamese families in the 1980s.

“There’s already some expertise around that in Wangaratta,” he said.

RAR social justice committee member Val Edwards ensured there was not 100 per cent support for Mr Watts, saying it was a cop out to blame the Coalition for refugee issues she called “shameful” and “torture” when his Labor Party did not support on-shore detention.