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  10 March 2014

A letter from Indonesia, a picture from Manus  

Perhaps new questions need to be posed to shift the perspective. Perhaps only then will the heart start to change. Once that shift happens, it is amazing what solutions will arise.
Dr Theresia Citraningtyas, Jakarta

Like many of you, we at Australia21 have been saddened by the impact of Australia's current asylum seeker policy, and we want to help our country find a better way.

Our intention 
We intend to hold a roundtable of leading thinkers from Australia and the region in midyear to consider policies beyond deterrence. Our partners for the roundtable are the 
Centre for Policy Development (CPD) and the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales.

Colleagues at the CPD are preparing a discussion paper as background for the roundtable, and this will be available in April. These activities build on stage one of this project, the essay collection 
Refugees and asylum seekers: Finding a better way.
As part of our preparation, project leader, Bob Douglas, consulted a colleague in Indonesia, Dr Theresia (Citra) Citraningtyas. While we do not know what will emerge from the roundtable discussions later this year, we wanted to share Citra's comments with you now because they show the possibilities of thinking differently about this "problem". 

The possibility for 'amazing solutions' 
Perhaps the first step is to reframe the issue. If the issue is posed as "the flow of asylum seekers", the problem will forever lie beyond Australian borders, and the mindset will continue to be "what to do with them" - which in itself is a problem. For some, this may evoke a sense of protecting one's home from "invasion", which is where the trouble starts. 
As the essays in 'Refugees and asylum seekers' eloquently express, the real problem is not the flow of asylum seekers (which has always been a part of history) to Australia (as people seek solace wherever they can in the world). The volume appears to state the problem as how Australians can safely share her peace and abundance with other human beings who in their plight seek to become Australians too. This is a charitable cause. Perhaps, however, the problem may lie beyond sharing land and wealth, beyond policies and processes that care for others while protecting domestic interests. 
Perhaps the problem lies even deeper - in the heart of what it means to be Australian. That heart is guarded - its boundaries the sea around the piece of earth proclaimed as home. As Trevor Boucher illustrates in the Australia21 volume, the question of who may become Australian carries with it the question of who may not become Australian. I have seen exclusionism in mailing lists voiced by the "slight majority" of Australians that would appal the rest. When the sense of "who we are" is threatened, fear blinds us to other people's suffering, in places of war or in detention centres.  
People don't think of the issue in the following manner, for example: Which citizens would you rather have?
      A.  People who would risk their lives to become Australians.
     B.  People with money and the right paperwork.
From a business perspective I wonder whether it is possible to "beat people smugglers in their game", by providing a safe, fair, cheaper, and more politically acceptable way of helping people seek asylum in Australia or elsewhere. After all Australia doesn't see "the flow of foreign students" or "the flow of foreign investors" as problems. If people pay $10,000 to be smuggled in anyway, that could cover a flight and short immersion course in English, essential skills, Australian cultures and civic education during which requests for asylum could be assessed while considering other evidence in place of missing documents.

Perhaps new questions need to be posed to shift the perspective. Perhaps only then will the heart start to change. Once that shift happens, it is amazing what solutions will arise.

How you can be part of a better way
If you would like to contribute to helping that shift happen, Australia21 could do with your help. We would welcome your comments and/or your 
donation to support this project. You can also help by sending this newsletter to a friend, and sharing it on facebook or on twitter.

Dr Theresia Citraningtyas
Citra's PhD from ANU looked at lived experiences of dealing with the 2003 Canberra Bushfires and the 2004 Tsunami in Aceh. She is currently based in Jakarta, working on a Capacity Building Program for Disaster Mental Health for Communities in Asia while undergoing clinical residency to become a psychiatrist. In addition to her medical qualifications she has a Masters in Women's Health from the University of Melbourne and has been a long time friend and associate of Australia21. 

Tara Moss
Tara is a successful novelist who builds authenticity into her work by relying on well developed research links with military, police and security contacts. We would like to thank her for permission to use the photograph above, which was provided to her by one of those contacts on Manus Island. For a gripping insider's account of recent events there go to Tara's March 7 blog
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