Labor Caucus To Debate New Motion Challenging Offshore Detention

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The motion is the latest move to change the party’s punitive approach to refugees and asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Max Chalmers reports.

Labor is again facing an internal challenge to its support of offshore detention, with a motion to Caucus calling on the party to demand the government improve independent oversight or close the centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

The motion, moved by Fremantle MP Melissa Parke, points to credible reports of abuses, assaults, rapes, and self-harm among asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, as well as a “culture of secrecy” surrounding the detention system.

“[T]hese conditions are contrary to Australia’s obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and other human rights treaties, as well as the values of the Labor party as expressed in the 2015 national platform,” it says.

The motion requests the party “…call upon the government to immediately ensure the conditions of offshore detention meet with human rights standards and independent oversight or, if the government is unable or unwilling to implement these standards, to close the centres on Manus Island and Nauru forthwith.”

New Matilda understands the motion was to be debated at Tuesday morning’s Caucus meeting but was delayed because of Senate estimates and will now be held over, potentially until the next fortnight of sitting, which starts November 9.

The party faced a similar challenge in mid-2014, also spearheaded by Parke, and seconded by former speaker Anna Burke.

That motion was defeated with an alternative and far softer position, put forward by Shadow Minister for Immigration Richard Marles, carried instead. While encouraging the government to adopt ‘dignified and humane conditions’ in detention centres, the counter-motion did not call for centres to be closed.

Similarly, a motion proposing Labor oppose the Coalition’s policy of turning boats carrying asylum seekers back to sea was defeated at the party’s conference in July this year. As a concession to refugee advocates the party agreed to adopt a policy of gradually increasing Australia’s annual humanitarian intake, boosting the number to 27,000 by 2025. In the immediate future the increases will be in line with those introduced by the Coalition, after it severely cut the number when initially returned to government.

Marles recently announced Labor would introduce a Bill to mandate the reporting of abuse in detention centres, despite the fact the party voted with the government to pass The Border Force Act, which criminalises the disclosure of information by those working in detention centres. There is no sign Labor intends to alter that provision, should the party be returned to government.

Earlier in October the Nauruan government announced the Australian-backed detention centre on the island would move to an ‘open centre’ arrangement 24 hours a day.

According to the Department of Immigration’s latest statistics, 934 men remain detained on Manus Island.

At the time of the report 425 people were interned on Nauru, including 92 children.

Max Chalmers

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

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