Letters to Politicians

Letter writing project: forcing politicians to be honest about Australia’s refugee policy and human rights

Many Federal politicians do not know the facts about our refugee policy, and most have not confronted the moral issues it raises.

One way to force them into the open is to write to them, asking very simple, focussed questions and then pressing for an answer.

Pressing for an answer is important: they will not want to answer: rather, they will refer your letter to someone else, or respond with bureaucratic fog in the hope that you will go away. Please read on.

Tips for writing to federal politicians:

  • Ask just one or two questions: keep the letter short; do NOT make speeches or offer opinions. There are some very specific questions worth asking. They are set out below.
  • Write often enough that you get through all the questions on the list.
  • A sample letter is attached. Just insert your chosen questions.
  • Handwritten letters often get more attention than word-processed letters. At least hand address the envelope. Emails are often ignored.
  • You are likely to get a wordy or evasive answer. Read it carefully. If it does not actually answer your questions, write again pointing out politely that they have not answered the question. Repeat the question and ask for an answer. A sample follow-up letter is set out below. Repeat this process as often as necessary.
  • If you get a real answer, write asking different questions and repeat above process.
  • Remain polite and keep letters brief. This makes any evasion all the more evident. Remember: repeated refusal to answer a simple question carries its own story.
  • Keep copies of all letters: yours and theirs. Once you have completed correspondence on a question, feel free to send copies to me, Julian Burnside, at 205 William St Melbourne, 3000. If you can make a list of responses and send that as well, it will simplify the task of collating responses.
  • Write to Government members and Opposition members. Whichever party is represented in your electorate, also write to the candidate for the opposite party who stood at the last election.
  • PLEASE: Consider NOT writing to the Greens: they DO understand what the government is doing, they oppose it, and they are understaffed.

Finding federal politicians’ addresses for correspondence

  • House of Representatives: http://www.aph.gov.au/house/members/index.htm
  • Senate: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/senators/index.htm

For information about refugee issues generally, see:

  • Chilout: http://www.chilout.org/myths-and-facts
  • Asylum Seekers Resource Centre: http://www.asrc.org.au/resources/

Some Questions:

1. Do you believe that people commit an offence by arriving in Australia without permission and seeking asylum? If Yes, what offence do they commit?

2. Do you consider that people who arrive in Australia informally and seek asylum should be called “illegal”?

3. Do you believe it is right to imprison children who have not committed any offence?

4. Do you believe it is right to imprison women who have not committed any offence?

5. Do you believe it is right to imprison people who have not committed any offence?

6. Should asylum seekers who arrive in Australia be treated:

a) humanely?

b) decently?

c) fairly?

7. In your opinion, are asylum seekers who arrive in Australia treated:

a) humanely?

b) decently?

c) fairly?

8. Do you believe that people who arrive in Australia informally and seek asylum should be detained? If yes, for how long should they be detained, and why?

9. Do you believe that people who arrive in Australia informally and seek asylum should be sent to other countries for processing? If so, why?

10. How much does it cost Australia each year to pursue its current policy of deterrence in relation to asylum seekers who arrive by boat?

11. Do you believe Australia’s policy of indefinite mandatory detention of asylum seekers is:

a) necessary?

b) humane?

c) decent?

d) fair?

12. The Federal election of September 2013 saw Labor and the Coalition promising harsh treatment of boat people. Do you think it is right to treat boat people harshly?

Initial letter:

Dear

I am concerned about Australia’s refugee policy and human rights record.

I am a voter in the electorate of _____________.

I have 2 questions for you:

{insert chosen questions}

I would be grateful for your response.

Yours faithfully,

__________________________[name]

__________________________[address] Then, unless you get a clear answer to the question,
a follow up letter:

Dear

Thank you for your letter of ________________ [date].

Unfortunately, it did not answer my questions.

My questions were:

{insert original questions}

I would be grateful if you could answer them.

Yours faithfully,

__________________________[name]

__________________________[address]

Summary of responses received by ________________________________________ [your name] Question No.
Politician’s name
Answered Yes
Answered No
Did not answer question
Did not respond to letter