"We've Sent Them Away To Die": Tony Windsor Lashes Out At Hard-Line Refugee Policies


Former Independent MP Tony Windsor has confirmed he is considering a return to federal politics, using a Radio National interview this morning the savage Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and reiterate his previous criticism of Australia’s tough refugee policies.

“We’ve created what I call the Ratsack approach. We’ve sent them away to die,” Windsor told Fran Kelly.

“If we don’t see the problem on the oceans around the perimeters of the nation there is not problem. Well that’s not correct. There is a problem, and we saw it quite recently where people were just floating around aimlessly in various oceans looking for somewhere to go and no-one wanted to have them.”

In May it emerged that thousands of Rohingya asylum seekers had been left adrift at sea as multiple countries in the region refused to allow them to land.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australia would not assist those who refused to come through the ‘front door’, a characterisation angrily rejected by Rohingya community groups.

As the former member for the NSW seat of New England, Windsor joined fellow Independent Rob Oakeshott in providing crucial support to Julia Gillard after the 2010 election, allowing Labor to form a minority government.

Windsor has previously spoken out about the hard-line policies and politicisation of the refugee issue, but also maintained his support for the Gillard then Rudd governments as they moved towards more punitive policies, including offshore detention and processing.

“There needs to be a regional approach. The UNHCR, the United Nation, all of the players [agree], and Australia could play a leadership role, that’s what we were trying to do in that hung parliament,” Windsor said today.

“We just seem to have gone into this very hard, cold world where [we say]: ‘let’s shut everything down, keep it secret. If something wrong is happening, well, if people don’t know who cares?’ And that’s atrocious.”



Windsor also used the interview to throw down the gauntlet to Joyce, who won the seat of New England after the Independent declined to recontest it at the 2013 election.

It was revealed yesterday that Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt had approved the controversial Shenhua Watermark coalmine, which will consume prime farming land in the New England electorate, and has provoked anger among farming groups.

The issue could be a handy wedge for Windsor to wield against Joyce, who has denounced the decision, but will have to convince voters he did everything possible to prevent it from going ahead.

Windsor said the mine threatened some of the world’s best agricultural land, but particularly drew attention to its potential impact on water.

“This is really an issue about risk management and water, and the impact that it has on agriculture,” he said.

Windsor said he hadn’t made a firm decision on returning to parliament, but said the approval of the mine was pushing him to consider it.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.