An incoming Greens senator who lives in Melbourne has called for every asylum seeker to be released immediately so they don’t catch coronavirus from an infected guard or each other.
Lidia Thorpe, who next month replaces former Greens leader Richard Di Natale in Parliament, made the controversial call as the number of active COVID-19 cases in Victoria surged by a record 428 in 24 hours.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has reacted angrily to her call describing it as ‘unacceptable from a person who will soon take a seat in the Australian Senate’.
A guard at a Melbourne hotel detaining asylum seekers last week tested positive to coronavirus, sparking calls from the Greens, left-wing activist group GetUp! and the Refugee Action Collective for all asylum seekers to be allowed to live in the community.
‘We’re putting them in danger by keeping them in close quarters with people exposed to COVID-19 and refusing to let them have the space to self-isolate,’ Ms Thorpe told Daily Mail Australia.
An incoming Greens senator who lives in Melbourne has called for every asylum seeker to be released immediately so they don’t catch coronavirus from an infected guard. Lidia Thorpe (pictured) made the controversial call as the number of active COVID-19 cases in Victoria on Thursday surged by a record 317 in just one day
‘Let’s be sensible and do what’s right for everyone in the community, listen to the health professionals and help each other stay safe.’
Ms Thorpe is campaigning to have all asylum seekers released after a guard at the Mantra Bell City hotel at Prestons, in Melbourne’s north, tested positive to COVID-19 on July 11.
Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram said this guard had not worked there since July 4 and did not develop symptoms until several days later.
The 45 men in detention at the Mantra were last year moved there from Nauru and Manus Island under the short-lived ‘medevac’ laws – backed by Labor, the Greens and independents – allowing them to be brought to Australia to receive medical treatment.
They were found not to be genuine refugees.
Ms Thorpe suggested these men detained at Preston ‘had to fight to open their windows just a little bit’.
‘They had to fight for a few centimetres of fresh air. This isn’t right. They’ve been here for nine months and they still haven’t received any medical attention,’ she said.
Mr Tudge, who also lives in Melbourne, reacted angrily to her call for asylum seekers to be released based on the argument they could contract coronvirus.
‘Either Ms Thorpe knows this and is lying to the Australian people, or she has not bothered to look into the facts,’ he told Daily Mail Australia on Friday.
‘This is unacceptable from a person who will soon take a seat in the Australian Senate.
‘No detainee in any immigration detention facility anywhere in Australia has tested positive to COVID-19.’
Mr Tudge also rejected the Greens’s accusation the detainees kept in the Mantra hotel had been denied medical care and barred from opening windows.
‘No one has been refused medical care or treatment. At both the hotel detention facilities in Melbourne,’ he said.
‘The windows at both the hotel detention facilities in Melbourne are able to be opened to allow fresh air and all rooms, including communal activity spaces have windows.’
Ms Thorpe is campaigning to have all asylum seekers released after the Refugee Action Collective revealed a guard at the Mantra Hotel at Preston in Melbourne’s north had tested positive to coronavirus. Pictured are protesters on the roof of that hotel in May demanding their release
Ms Thorpe is echoing left-wing activist group GetUp!’s call for 760 immigration detainees to be released from Broadmeadows in Melbourne’s north and Villawood in south-west Sydney, in cities with higher numbers of coronvirus cases.
Mr Tudge has accused GetUp! and the Greens of colluding to undermine Australia’s border protection.
‘It should come as no surprise that GetUp, like Labor and the Greens, want to see foreign criminals and illegal boat arrivals settled permanently in the Australian community,’ he said.
Labor in government scrapped offshore processing at Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea in 2008, only to revive the Manus Island centre in 2013 when Kevin Rudd was briefly reinstalled as prime minister.
The party frontbench, however, hasn’t sought to abolish mandatory detention of asylum seekers, despite calls from sections of Labor’s hard left.
Ms Thorpe (pictured in Melbourne in July 2018) is echoing left-wing activist group GetUp!’s call for 760 immigration detainees to be released from Broadmeadows in Melbourne’s north and Villawood in south-west Sydney
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has accused GetUp! (online campaign pictured) and the Greens of colluding to undermine Australia’s border protection
During his first stint as PM, Mr Rudd gave in to pressure from the left faction, leading to the number of asylum seeker boats surging from 21 in 2007 to 4,597 by the time Julia Gillard overthrew him in 2010.
By 2012, during Labor’s last full year in office, the number of illegal boats had soared to 18,365, prompting Mr Rudd in 2013 – during his second, brief stint as PM – to declare asylum seekers arriving on boats would never settle in Australia.
The Greens nonetheless remain resolutely opposed to mandatory detention and argue Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government had no legal right to lock them up under the United Nations’s 1951 Refugee Convention.
‘Something we need to remember when we’re talking about refugees is that, according to international law, seeking asylum is not a crime,’ Ms Thorpe said.
‘The Morrison government has no grounds to keep these people locked up.
‘They’re not criminals. They’re not dangerous.’
Ms Thorpe said residents at Northcote in Melbourne’s north had volunteered to house asylum seekers now in detention.
‘We have so many volunteers in Northcote that have said that these men have a room to go to when they’re free,’ she said.
‘Why deny anyone the opportunity to self isolate and flatten the curve in our communities?’
Greens leader Adam Bandt, who is also the member for Melbourne, in April called for the men detained at the Mantra hotel to be released.
His immigration spokesman Senator Nick McKim this week argued the asylum seekers should be released because ‘the virus will spread like wildfire if it gets a foothold in immigration detention facilities’.
‘The Mantra hotel is simply not suitable for safe detention as genuine social distancing is impossible with multiple men sleeping in the same small room,’ he said.’
‘This is literally a life or death issue for detainees who are arbitrarily detained under ministerial whim.’