On Wednesday Richard Marles, Labor shadow minister for immigration, called on Immigration Minister Scott Morrison not to let any asylum seeker found to be a refugee in PNG settle in Australia.
Marles expressed concern that if those found to be refugees — if and when PNG get around to processing the people they have on Manus Island — were allowed to enter Australia, there could be “dire consequences for the flow of asylum seeker boats”.
Labor is in a shambles in opposition over asylum seeker policy. They are still desperately trying to defend the decision to re-open offshore detention on Nauru and Manus Island, even though Kevin Rudd is long gone, safely in Cambridge.
Never mind that what Marles is calling for is a blatant breach of the Refugee Convention to deny recognised refugees their right to enter Australia. His statement has provoked outrage in the pro-refugee movement and rightly so.
Labor for Refugees, which represents thousands of angry pro-refugee members of the party, believes that Labor has gone far too far to the right on asylum seeker policy. The Labor Parliamentary Caucus’s policy on PNG has become a disaster.
It is true that the recent violent events and the death of Reza Barati — for which no one has been charged — troubled many Labor politicians. This should be an opportunity for the parliamentary party to atone for its poor policy decisions.
Richard Marles himself seems to recognise that. Only two days ago he called for an independent and comprehensive inquiry into the recent violence on Manus Island.
Where did Marles get the idea from to deny recognised refugees entry to Australia? The Labor Party National Conference in 2011 confirmed that “Protection visa applications made in Australia will be assessed by Australians on Australian territory.” That seemed pretty clear to ALP conference delegates, but obviously not to Labor politicians in the parliamentary caucus.
There are some hopeful signs of change coming in Labor. At least six female and two male MPs have recently spoken out against Labor's current policies on asylum seekers. Most notable are Anna Burke, the former Labor speaker, and NSW powerbroker-turned-Senator Sam Dastyari. Some Labor MPs consciences are still troubled.
Labor’s refugee and asylum seeker policies need urgent reform. We must develop humane and practical alternatives to offshore processing that can be put in place by the next Labor Government — which, given the way the Abbott Government is travelling, can’t be too far away.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.