Push to house refugees in inner city


July 21, 2010

A MASSIVE former industrial site seven kilometres from the heart of Melbourne should be home to Australia's new refugee processing centre - not East Timor - says a Labor-dominated local council.

Darebin Council has passed a resolution calling for a community survey on support for part of the old Amcor paper mill site in Alphington to be transformed into a settlement facility for refugees and asylum seekers.

''Council notes that this beautiful site on the banks of the Yarra is well placed to act as a local metropolitan alternative to offshore processing of asylum seekers and could also be a replacement for the inhumane detention of refugees in remote locations,'' states the resolution, passed on Monday.

The 16.5-hectare, inner-city site is up for sale and is expected to fetch more than $150 million.

In April last year Planning Minister Justin Madden rezoned the Amcor site ''mixed use'', allowing residential and commercial development for the area that could accommodate 2000 homes, a shopping centre and offices.

The Amcor site is believed to be in need of an environmental clean-up following almost a century of industrial use. It sits within the City of Yarra boundary, adjacent to Darebin.

Darebin mayor Vince Fontana has requested a meeting with Yarra mayor and ALP candidate for the state seat of Brunswick, Jane Garrett, to discuss the refugee centre idea.

Cr Fontana said he expected the local Darebin community would support the refugee centre proposal.

''We have got a very diverse community and quite a few people have come from displaced cultures and so on, and I think they will have a full understanding,'' he said.

The Labor mayor said he was worried about Prime Minister Julia Gillard's plan to set up a regional processing centre for asylum seekers in East Timor.

''We are concerned if anything ever happened in East Timor, you might get someone like Fretilin burning the place [processing centre] down, so ideally we want to be managing it on our shores and not offshore. It is a more simple, rational way of doing things,'' he said.

Darebin Council will survey residents close to the Amcor site by the end of the month about the proposal.

Darebin is the second Victorian council this week to raise the idea of a new refugee processing centre in the state, with West Wimmera Shire Council confirming it has written to the federal government requesting information on how to establish an immigration centre in the shire.

The Darebin resolution was initiated by the chairman of the council's planning committee, ALP member Tim Laurence. He said the Amcor site should be considered for ''a humane asylum seeker and refugee settlement centre''.

''It makes sense to do it there, not send them off to the desert,'' he said.

source: The Age