Why Hobart is pushing to resettle the refugees detained at Melbourne's Park Hotel

It is the latest move to put pressure on the government over the detention of asylum seekers and refugees in the Melbourne hotel.

Police outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne, Australia                                                                  Police outside the Park Hotel in Melbourne, Australia

Campaigners protested outside the Park Hotel while Novak Djokovic was being held there. Source: AP

Asylum seekers and refugees currently detained at the Park Hotel in Melbourne - where Novak Djokovic was temporarily held - should be allowed to resettle in Hobart, according to a majority vote in Hobart City Council.

Deputy Lord Mayor Helen Burnet put forward a motion to the city council calling for the Lord Mayor to write to Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to add their voice to those calling for the resettlement of those in onshore detention and work to settle them in the Tasmanian capital.

In a vote of 10 to two, the vast majority of council members agreed to the motion for Hobart Council to advocate for the release of immigration detention, dissented by alderman Simon Behrakis and councillor William Coats. 


Monday evening's successful motion is the latest move to place pressure on the federal government about the treatment of detainees, with leading .

But the successful vote for the 30 refugees to be resettled particularly into Hobart was more narrow, with seven members for the motion and five against. 

Of those who voted in favour of the motion was alderman Damon Thomas who said it was a "disgrace" that Australia's immigration policies allowed for the arbitrary detention of refugees.

"We as a nation should hang our heads in shame," Mr Thomas said in Monday evening's council meeting.

"Many of them have done more than a prison will put you in for murder, and whether or not they came here illegally. We cannot support the inefficient nature of how we process these cases."

"I strongly support [the motion] if anything can be done to make the Park Hotel, a hotel for travellers rather than a hotel for people to be locked up."

Mr Coats argued otherwise, saying the council should respect the federal government's hardline deterrence policy aimed to prevent refugees from "entering through inappropriate means".

Mr Behrakis agreed, who said it is not the role of the council to be discussing a "media campaign" that seems "conveniently" drafted in the lead up to the federal election.

"We've got a motion that looks like it was almost written word for word off the back of a Facebook post from Senator Nick McKim in the lead up to a federal election," he said.

"This is not an appropriate use of council time.

"I think it is completely irresponsible to be calling for to bring a large group of people here to a city that came is struggling to house those that already here."

Meanwhile, alderman Peter Sexton, alderman Jeff Briscoe and Mr Coats expressed their concern for additional people entering the city, citing Hobart's current housing affordability crisis for its current residents.

Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds supported the motion, saying she was appalled by the treatment of refugees who were detained at Park Hotel, media attention they only received after Novak Djokovic's detention ahead of the Australian Open. 

"To basically say we can't [resettle the refugees in Hobart] because we can't accommodate 30 people is a bit like saying we can't accept any migrants or any internal migration into Hobart," she said. 

"I do think there is a strong sentiment of support for these kinds of issues in the city of Hobart."

In Ms Burnet's motion, she made reference to the case of Mehdi Ali, who fled Iran aged 15 and has been held in detention or processing facilities for nearly a decade in the council document.

The motion came about after Ms Burnet was approached by a group called the Tassie Nannas, a group that advocate for refugees and their release from detention.

Speaking to SBS News, she said: "After Novak Djokovic was detained in that very same hotel as many of these refugees and asylum seekers are detained, I thought what better time than now to raise attention and to advocate for these men ... and, should that be successful, welcome them to Hobart.

"Hobart has led the way over the years in some areas of compassion and I think it's time to be leading that conversation again. We are a compassionate island, we've got a big green heart and we have a big heart as Tasmanians and I know from the many emails I've received since suggesting this motion go ahead, we have a lot of people who are willing to help with resettlement."

She added there was no expectation the resettlement would impact housing problems in the city, saying not-for-profit organisations are already responsible for resettling refugees and the council would work with them should the minister help those who are "languishing in the Park Hotel".

"There is an economic benefit: we know that refugees who do settle in our communities contribute and want to contribute. Not only could they utilise their skills ... some come from agricultural and rural backgrounds but, of course, there are many who have university training and we know full well with this current pandemic we have such a shortage of skilled and unskilled labour," she said.

"It would be such a boon for Hobart's economy and the broader Tasmanian economy to have people who can be gainfully employed.

"It costs millions of dollars to hold refugees, to detain them in places such as hotels ... it would be a double-win for our economy not to be wasting such money for this sort of detention."

What next?

Speaking to SBS News, Ms Burnet said she was "really heartened" by the successful motion on Monday's council meeting. 

"What we saw with the support last night was really that compassion that represents the community's concern, in relation to the unnecessary detention of those detainees in the Park Hotel," she said. 

Hobart City Council's Deputy Lord Mayor Helen Burnet (left) and Tassie Nanna Trish Moran (right).
Hobart City Council's Deputy Lord Mayor Helen Burnet (left) and Tassie Nanna, Trish Moran (right). Source: Sarah Maunder/SBS News

She admitted a difficult, "complex" task lies ahead to ensure that the advocacy of her council is successful in the release of the detainees and their resettlement in Hobart.

"If we can appeal as a council to the [Immigration] Minister, and also get the support of Tasmania senators, then that orders well, because no one wants to see the long term detention of these young men."

Principal lawyer at Tasmanian Refugee Legal Service Patrick O'Connor said the successful motion was a positive step in the right direction. 

"I think the decision from the Hobart City Council last night was a really important one, I think it shows the general support for the refugee and migrant community in Tasmania," he told SBS News. 

But there is more work to be done, he said, and a lot of the power rests with Mr Hawke. 

"The Minister will weigh up a range of factors when considering whether to release someone into the community, and that's always at the discretion of the Minister," he said. 

Mr O'Connor explained that one of the factors Mr Hawke may consider is the financial costs Hobart may face if the refugees are resettled in the city. 

"[But] with the Hobart City Council coming out and saying they will support the resettlement of these refugees that can help that particular financial barrier.

"That type of community support and letters of support from the local government can have some effect in the Minister's decision as to whether to release these cases from detention."

'Stark contrast'

Djokovic was taken to the Park Hotel in Carlton, an "alternative place of detention" housing dozens of asylum seekers, after the federal government cancelled his visa for failing "to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia".

He was later released from detention but eventually deported to Serbia, after Mr Hawke cancelled his visa and the Federal Court ruled in the minister's favour.

Jana Favero, Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre told SBS News the motion showed a "spirit of welcome that's been expressed by so many communities across Australia".

She added: "It's in stark contrast to the lack of compassion, leadership and welcome that's being shown by our Prime Minister."

Jana Favero is Director of Advocacy at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
Jana Favero is Director of Advocacy at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Source: Supplied

Ms Favero said 200 people in a similar situation to those at the Park Hotel have been released into the community over the last 12 months, adding "there's no reason for the Government to continue to detain people as has been shown by their own actions".

"The fact that there are communities and cities such as Hobart who are offering to do the resettlement, it shows it's not a financial reason why the Government is keeping them in detention. It's not for lack of them having a safe place to go," she said.

"It's because the Government are ideologically opposed to people seeking asylum in Australia so they punish those who arrive here.  

"That's in stark contrast to what an amazing community and council such as Hobart are doing and opening their arms and saying 'Hey, we'll take away any of the financial costs, we'll take away any of the barriers to release people'.

"That shows the only barrier to releasing people is the mindset of the Government."

SBS News contacted Immigration Minister Alex Hawke for comment but did not receive a reply at the time of publication.

The Federal Government has previously said: "Australia's border protection policy, Operation Sovereign Borders, has been successful in protecting Australia's borders and has led to a sharp decline in the number of people seeking to reach Australia by sea and the number of lives lost at sea."

9 min read
Published 31 January 2022 at 3:51pm
By Alexander Britton, Rayane Tamer, Sarah Maunder
Source: SBS News