Refugee advocate wants Ballarat council to sign petition

A refugee advocate has called on the City of Ballarat to urgently reconsider its decision to not sign a statement requesting the federal government abandon its asylum seeker policies.

A notice of motion, put forward by Councillor Belinda Coates to uphold the rights and dignity of asylum seekers was opposed by the majority of councillors at the council meeting last Wednesday night.

The motion called on the council to sign a statement to the federal government, requesting it abandon its "harsh" asylum seeker policies.

It has already been signed by 11 councils across Victoria, including the Hepburn Shire.

Councillors Des Hudson, Peter Innes and John Phillips supported the motion, while Amy Johnson, Vicki Coltman and Glen Crompton rejected the proposal. Mayor Joshua Morris had the deciding vote but voted against it.

Ballarat Australian Refugee Association Circle of Friends co-ordinator Kath Morton said she was "extremely disappointed and puzzled" by the decision.

"This motion was backing up what the council have already done in becoming a refugee welcome zone," Ms Morton said.

Ms Morton said the council must revoke the decision for "the sake of marginalised and vulnerable asylum seekers" residing in Ballarat.

Cr Coates dubbed the decision to reject the motion as being politically motivated by councillors.

Cr Coates said councillors were notified of the notice of motion six days before the council meeting as was protocol.

She said councillors also had a meeting last Wednesday afternoon before the council meeting, in which the agenda was discussed, but none of the councillors raised the issue.

Cr Coltman said councillors had not been given time to read or discuss the letter prior to the meeting and that she did not believe the council was "breaching human rights" by rejecting the motion.

She said it was a "lobybing statement" and the council needed to represent the views of the whole community.

"I am critical not of the idea of supporting refugees at all.

"My concern is the process in which Cr Coates went through to put forward that motion," Cr Coltman said.

"We need to have a bigger discussion of this issue and the best way forward ... not just approve one motion."

Cr Crompton also defended his decision and said the City had a "fantastic network of people" working with asylum seekers living in the community.

"In simple terms I don't see the council's role as being that of a lobby instrument," Cr Crompton said.

Cr Morris said the notice of motion was outside the scope of local government.

melissa.cunningham@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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