THE Point Nepean quarantine station will not be reopened to provide sanctuary for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria despite suggestions last week it could be a suitable base for asylum seekers.
Liberal state opposition leader Matthew Guy had urged Labor Premier Daniel Andrews to consider housing some Syrian refugees at the Point Nepean station “at the end of the Mornington Peninsula” early last week.
“In 1998-99, the Kennett government and the Howard government managed to bring many hundreds of Kosovar refugees to that site,” Mr Guy said.
“If Daniel Andrews won’t do anything with that site then we should use it for good rather than letting it rot and how we could use it for good is use it to house in a peaceful environment many hundreds of Syrian families who are fleeing war and persecution and oppression.”
The Premier said advice received from bureaucrats noted the Point Nepean barracks are in no condition to house refugees but Mr Andrews said Victoria is prepared to play its part in accepting its share of 12,000 Syrian refugees the federal government will allow to permanently resettle in Australia for humanitarian reasons.
Mr Guy’s proposal to house refugees at Point Nepean was also nixed by his federal Liberal colleagues.
Dunkley Liberal MP Bruce Billson said the Syrian refugees, unlike the Kosovars, will not return to their country of birth so a “temporary refuge” is not needed.
“It will be mainly women, children and families identified from persecuted minorities for whom the conflict in the Middle East and how it might unfold will see no opportunity for them to return to their homes,” he said.
“It’s a humanitarian program that sees those allocated visas settled in the community, not in a particular or single facility.”
Mr Billson’s cabinet colleague, Flinders MP Greg Hunt, also noted it is “unlikely that a single central facility will be required”.
“In all likelihood they will be integrated into the community as they arrive in family units,” Mr Hunt said.
“This is as opposed to the temporary places that were required to house the Kosovar refugees.”
Mr Hunt said the Point Nepean quarantine station could be an option to be investigated if such a centre is required.
Nepean Liberal state MP Martin Dixon backed Mr Guy’s suggestion that Point Nepean could be used to house Syrian refugees.
“Thanks to over $40 million dollars invested in utilities and infrastructure by the federal government the former Coalition government, Point Nepean is now a much more viable option for refugee accommodation than it was when we hosted the Kosovars in 1999,” he said.
“The Premier is showing his complete ignorance regarding Point Nepean as these funds have been specifically invested to prepare the site for future accommodation and visitation needs in accordance with Labor’s own 2010 master plan.
“While in principle I support the utilisation of Point Nepean for humanitarian purposes, and aside from the physical accommodation infrastructure, I would like to see more details of how refugees can be managed, cared for and occupied during their stay.”
The Abbott government has agreed to resettle 12,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict in Australia in addition to 13,750 asylum seekers accepted into the country each year.
The federal government is also providing an extra $44 million to help more than 240,000 people in camps displaced by the Syrian conflict with food, clothing and shelter as winter approaches.
“This will take the total Australian government contribution – humanitarian contribution – to people on the borders of Syria and Iraq under the former government and under this government to some $230 million,” Mr Hunt said.
Mr Billson hoped the decision to permanently resettle 12,000 Syrian asylum seekers means “they can make a real go of their new life in Australia”.
“It’s a very generous, warm-hearted but clear thinking response,” he said.