Malaysia Solution 'Not In Our Name'
New Matilda, 26.7.11
By Jenny Haines
The Gillard Government has this week undermined the Labor Party's long tradition of fairness and social justice. Enough's enough, says party member Jenny Haines - and she's not the only one
Labor Party members are fed up. They are sick of being ignored, especially over refugee and asylum seeker issues. The divide between the politicians in government in Canberra and the party rank-and-file is growing.
At the last National Conference of the ALP in 2009 the conference adopted a policy that amended Section 157 of the National Platform to say that claims for asylum made in Australia would be assessed here. It reads:
"Protection claims made in Australia will be assessed by Australians on Australian Territory. Those found to be owed Australia’s protection under the Refugee Convention and other international instruments will be given permanent protection under the Migration Act 1958 and will be provided with appropriate settlement and support services."
Section 158 of the National Platform adopted by the 2009 National Conference goes on to say:
"For the Australian people to have confidence and trust in the integrity of our migration system, protection claims made in Australia should be assessed and reviewed in a manner which balances efficient decision making with procedural fairness and ensures that our international human rights obligations are met."
This policy was supported at the time by the National Secretary of the AWU, Paul Howes, a participant in the coup that installed Julia Gillard not long after this conference. Even Bob Hawke was quoted in the context of the 2010 federal election as saying "We are all bloody boat people".
So where did the decision to send 800 refugees to Malaysia for processing come from? If the ALP is a political party, and National Conference is any sort of decision-making body about policy, then the decision of the conference should be respected and implemented by those in power in government.
As Robin Rothfield from Labor for Refugees Victoria wrote in a press statement issued on the weekend: "How can party members have any interest in participating in the forthcoming National Conference in December 2011 when a key policy decision made at the National Conference 2009 can be so blatantly ignored?"
This does not mean that refugee advocates inside the party will not be at the next National Conference, but it is a valid question about how the party now functions. No other decision of the National Conference in 2009 seems to have been so blatantly ignored, so what is it about the refugee and asylum seeker issue that causes political blindness?
ALP members joined the party because they wanted Labor to make a difference in government — to bring about a fairer, more just and equitable society. Much is being done by the Labor government in Canberra to achieve those ends, a lot of it under-reported by the media, but when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers, all of the party’s traditions of fairness and social justice fall away in the face of public hysteria about "boat people". Where there is such hysteria, party members expect their government to lead by example and to educate the public, not be influenced by uninformed voters in marginal seats and focus groups.
Labor Party members are not fools, and throw up their hands in despair at government announcements with no initial substance, which lead to the appalling polls that Julia Gillard and her team now face.
As Shane Prince, the Right faction convener of Labor for Refugees in NSW, has said:
"The NSW disease is rampant in this Federal Government and it will have the same effect on Federal Labor as it had on NSW Labor. There is absolutely no difference between the breach of the Platform by the Gillard Government on refugees and the attempted breach of the Platform on the privatisation of electricity in NSW. These people seem intent on tearing the party apart by tearing up its rules."
Of course, one of the proposals being discussed by those pushing for reform within the party is that federal Labor politicians no longer be required to be bound by party policy as decided by National Conference. It seems pointless having a party if that becomes part of the rules!
Labor Party members want their party back, a party that is committed to fairness and social justice for all — including refugees and asylum seekers. Clause One of Chapter 7 of the Party’s Platform says: "Labor believes that every Australian should have the opportunity to reach their potential and to participate fully in the economic and social life of the nation … We have always stood for equality."
Why shouldn’t this apply to refugees and asylum seekers?
Enter your comments here
David Grayling 26/07/11 5:46PM
We live in a world where the right-wing of politics is always ready to pick up support where they can and enlarge their odious ranks.
Why is the left-wing of politics in Australia trying to emulate the right-wing, trying to outdo them in brutality and cruelty towards refugees?
This Malaysian solution is bizarre and does great discredit to the Labor Party and what it is supposed to stand for AND to our country.
Perhaps you could send the refugees to one of Australia’s many uninhabited islands, Julia, let them fend for themselves?
That’d learn them, eh!
jackal01 26/07/11 10:36PM
I don’t think the left is so much trying to follow the right. The problem is that no one realy understands the Australian working and middle classes anymore.
I heard a discussion on Radio and there was talk on how we helped the Vietnamies etc..way back then and how did Australians become so cruel now, so anti Refugees. Its not the people that have changed, its the circumstances. You see, way back then we still had Government departments that labour or the Liberals, but mostly Labour could stack full of Unemployed people. It is Privatisation, Rationalisation or what ever they called it and Casualisation of the working classes coupled with a shortage of and high housing costs that has changed the future of peoples hopes.
GIO gone, CBA gone, Gov. Printers gone, Railways partly Privatised, Telstra gone, Public works Dept gone, RTA torn apart etc. etc.
Their is no where left to hide a few thousand unemployed. In the old days working for a Government Dept. used to be known as working for the Dole, now you have to walk along the road and pick up pieces of paper, you don’t learn anything anymore, there is no more Training. Prisoners don’t even make number plates anymore. All we have left is, move the Deck chairs about on the Titanic so that they look as if their Employed even if it is for just 2 days. Junee used to be a thriving Railway Town then Governments killed the Railways and that killed the town and they did all that bull so that they could destroy Unions, Union Influance, so that the rich and famous could get back what they had before the 1930 Depression and actually caused it.
The GFC came about because Clinton removed the GLASS, SEGALL ACTS in 1998??? they were put in place to stop the 1930 Depression coming back.
Greed is back and so is the Jack Boot of our masters and when your down trodden the last thing you need is even more, down trodden. So think on this, Politicans caused this mess, will the old Australia ever come back, no, we are now a dog eat dog world, where people struggle and get angry and direct that anger at Refugees. I Pox on both their houses, bring in the Greens, these idiots have been around for far too long, their like stale bread.
GocomSys 27/07/11 7:15AM
Thinking outside the box!
Let’s say we have a current government that tries, often in a very clumsy way mind you, to make a difference. On the other side we have the others who for their own devious reasons are continuously undermining it.
The current OZ government avoided the GFC. We know what and why they did it. We know it worked.
The current OZ government is putting a price on pollution. Is it a perfect scheme? Of course not but it is a start!
The current OZ government is attempting to stop the people smuggler trade. Is it a perfect solution? Of course not! Is it a sincere attempt in a very small way to improve the seemingly intractable worldwide refugee crisis situation? Yes it is!
I urge everyone to stop knocking, to look at the broader picture and become positive and pro-active.
We can do without armchair critics.
jennyhaines 27/07/11 9:28AM
GoComSys - you will note that I gave the Gillard Government credit for implementing a lot of underreported initiatives in the article. I am an active member of the Labor Party and take great interest in the political life and achievements of government. I hate to think what an Abbott led government would have done to this country when the GFC hit. And Abbott is nuts on carbon pricing - doesn’t know what he thinks!
But politics is not just about the doing, it is also about the ideas that underpin what is done, and the morality and ethics of what is done, and when the Labor Party comes together and debates and updates progressive policy in party forums and conferences that is as important in political life as the putting in place of strategies to address issues. If we become a valueless party, we are nothing. I hardly think that the National Conference of the party in 2009 counts as armchair critics. Nor do the concerned members of the party who have joined Labor for Refugees.
Mairi 27/07/11 2:17PM
Here for what it’s worth is one ALP grassroots member who supports the policy, on the grounds that its primary objective is deterrence, therefore it’s likely that nobody will suffer negative effects.
In the event that some do, then I take a utilitarian viewpoint that it will benefit more people than it disadvantages.