Media release: Governor General can help a healthier election campaign

May 3 2016The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader should hold a private meeting with the Governor General to agree on strategies to stop the forthcoming federal election campaign descending into the negativity and blaming that has marked Australian political discourse in recent years.

This is the suggestion of Melbourne Anglican Bishop Philip Huggins, the convenor of the national Church’s Refugee and Asylum Working Group, who believes it could be a nation-building demonstration of leadership. Without it, he fears, worsening social divisions may be hard to heal.

Bishop Huggins says Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove could convene a confidential meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to seek a consensus on urgent and divisive problems such as asylum seekers. 

“Both want to ‘stop the boats’. Neither wants to be seen as encouraging people-traffickers yet both share the reality of Manus and Nauru. Both know there is no third country about to take these folk. Together confidentially, they might find a way forward,” Bishop Huggins says.

It would be a positive contrast to angry comments this week by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, blaming refugee advocates for attempted suicides by asylum seekers, which in turn provoked a shocked and furious response.  “None of this produces a solution, just division,” the bishop says.

Bishop Huggins suggests the political leaders agree on an amnesty for those on Nauru and Manus Islands, breaking the deadlock current policy has imposed.

“There has been ample time to find a third country who will take them. There is none – even less so now given the scale of the Syrian crisis,” he says.

Other matters that would benefit from a bipartisan agreement include combating terrorism without radicalising disengaged youth, promoting social cohesion and multiculturalism, and properly recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait people in the Constitution.