Search This Blog

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Write to Left Labor MPs and Demand a Much Better Deal on Refugees


In this article ALP Socialist Left member, Tristan Ewins calls on other Labor members to write to Left MPs and their local Labor MPs to demand a better deal on refugees - with a much larger increase in the humanitarian intake, and sustained aid for PNG - to make it the kind of economically developed country that refugees would WANT to live in.

Tristan Ewins

Kevin Rudd’s decision on refugee boat arrivals has many people on the Australian Left as well as human rights and civil liberties advocates angry.

Rudd, Tony Burke (Immigration Minister) and Mark Dreyfus (Attorney General) produced a joint media release from which the following are some selected excerpts:

“As of today asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.

Under the new arrangement signed with Papua New Guinea today – the Regional Settlement Arrangement – unauthorised arrivals will be sent to Papua New Guinea for assessment and if found to be a refugee will be settled there….

Our country has had enough of people smugglers exploiting asylum seekers and seeing them drown on the high seas.

We are sick of watching our servicemen and women risking their lives in rescues in dangerous conditions on the high seas...

Our governments will expand existing facilities on Manus Island, as well as establishing further facilities in Papua New Guinea…

There is no cap on the number of people who can be transferred to Papua New Guinea…

We are a compassionate nation and we will continue to deliver a strong humanitarian program. 

If the measure announced today and the international meeting on the Convention that has been flagged lead to a significant change in the number of people arriving by boat, then the government stands ready to consider progressively increasing our humanitarian intake towards 27 000 as recommended by the Houston Panel…

Access to our humanitarian program must be through the international organisations which resettle people around the world, not through criminal operators who have pushed people onto unseaworthy vessels with tragic consequences….”

(an interesting aside is that it looks like people arriving by boat WITH visas are excluded from the policy…)

In this author’s opinion Rudd and the ALP ‘inner circle’ have decided on this course because ALP private polling must be showing that a decisive marginal seat/swinging voter demographic would switch their votes on this issue.  As far as the ALP leadership are concerned they need to 'neutralise' this issue, along with the carbon tax - for similar reasons. Without addressing these issues in such a way as to win over those swinging, marginal seat voters Abbott would stand a much better chance of victory. 

Personally, I want the polling to be made public so that at least we all know what's driving the decision - and so we know where we have to focus our efforts to turn the situation around.

Rudd’s decision on refugee boat arrivals “will stuff the people smugglers' model.”

It  may even save lives.  

Nonetheless I am uncomfortable with any decision to deny confirmed refugees asylum.

We know that a potentially decisive electoral demographic -whether through fear or prejudice – have hardened their attitude towards these human beings. But Abbott was the first to capitalise upon a perceived  ‘Labor point of vulnerability’; and for years he has hounded an increasingly desperate Labor government towards increasingly ‘hard-line’ positions.  We can be certain, at least, that Abbott’s main concern in outlining these issues has NOT been simply to save lives…

The election could turn on the basis of Rudd’s decision. The Greens may increase their vote significantly from the broad progressive community and liberal Left who will be appalled that it has come to this.  It could help the Greens maintain the balance of power in the Senate; and quite likely now hold on to Melbourne. Katter might also hold his seat...Another hung parliament is possible. And then there is the basis for progressive compromises again... Strategically that's a matter of fact. Therefore Labor needs to position itself in a way which leaves open prospects for future (electorally sustainable) compromises.

Rudd’s decision will understandably meet resistance from the Left within and outside of the ALP.  But we should also be seeking to extract the best compromises we can given the alternative of an open Labor split precipitating an Abbott government.  

So far Rudd has done this independently of the Caucus; He will know there's opposition within the Party- and that in itself is a ‘point of vulnerability’ (For Rudd) that the Labor Left could highlight over the coming week without an open split ‘paving the way’ for an Abbott victory...


For all reading this: On the Left we need to be emailing Left members of Cabinet, applying the pressure between now and including Monday July 22nd.  I have been informed that there is a special meeting of the parliamentary caucus Monday July 22nd.   So for instance, we should be writing to: Kim Carr, Albanese, Macklin, Plibersek, Wong, Butler, Griffin. – and press them to pursue this issue with Rudd at the meeting, and over the next week or so...  Writing to Doug Cameron also makes sense given his senior position in the Left and his past role as ‘the conscience of the Party’.   We need to do this NOW if we hope to influence the parliamentary caucus.


A complete turnaround won't happen - that would finish Rudd and with it Labor...  It would certainly mean victory to Abbott given the context.


But Rudd WILL be wanting to prevent open opposition on the Left dividing the party coming up to the election.... Hence he's already mentioned increasing the humanitarian intake by 7,000.


If the real issue is stopping drownings then why not accept more refugees through the official humanitarian intake - equal to what likely would have occurred anyway?


My position therefore is thus: The Left should demand that PM Rudd consent to an increase in the humanitarian intake by 25,000; and recommit again to a (quicker) doubling of the Foreign Aid budget to 0.50 of GDP; directing that new money to PNG. We mightn’t get this exactly – but at the least we need a strong compromise. The figure of a 7,000 increase in the humanitarian intake simply isn’t anywhere near enough.


Some readers may think my position too moderate. (in conversation a Greens member argued we should lift our intake to 100,000)  Others may think it too radical.  But if we are to secure a good compromise we should be writing to our local members and Left MPs before the caucus meeting on this Monday.


At the very least we need to secure a compromise involving a big increase in our humanitarian intake and a massive aid commitment to PNG - not only to provide health and education - but to modernise PNG's infrastructure comprehensively. And to encourage modern industry and jobs there.

If Australia and Labor are to send any confirmed refugees to Papua New Guinea at the very least we need to commit to making PNG a place where people would WANT to live; with refugees enjoying a full regime of citizenship rights.

The Left needs to act decisively and together on Monday Jully 22nd and the remainder of this week to secure the best compromise we can – Because that is the way of securing the best possible outcome for refugees, and for our impoverished neighbour of 7 million people, Papua New Guinea.


  1. I just don't understand why we don't process asylum seekers IN Malaysia, Indonesia and other transit counties that they manage to reach and then ship/fly them here safely before they get on ANY boat!! I don't believe Rudd's plan will stop people dying at sea in shonky boats, it will just become someone else's problem!! PNG is not such a bad place to end up, especially with the money we will be giving them to cope with the influx of settled refugees!! Processing in transit countries is a MUCH cheaper, more effective and more humane way of closing down the people smugglers' trade!!!!

  2. Reports are that Comrade Doug 'conscience of the party' Cameron says he supports Rudd's policy.

    Never underestimate the spinelessness and opportunism of 'left' members of the Federal caucus.

    Pandering to racism, ignorance and prejudice is the traditional remit of the Labor right. Now the left has joined in. Pathetic.


  3. Yesterday the Caucus failed to deliver any kind of compromise on the announced refugee policy. The 7,000 increase in the humanitarian intake is not enough. And we need much more aid to PNG than the $500 million announced. Rather we need to move to 0.5% of GDP foreign aid with all new money going to PNG.... Even these would be only ameliorative policies - But perhaps the best we can achieve in practice now... A complete backflip now would cost the election. But sending potentially 3,000 to Manus island, with tents, malaria etc - We have to register our feelings about this policy even if we know we cannot win.

    Yes, it's legitimate to want to stop the drownings... That's the primary reason it seems that Left MPs are falling into line here. And it's true we cannot have a complete 'open' door with over 15 million refugees worldwide - though parts of the far left back such a policy. But if our plan is to stop the drownings while respecting the rights of established refugees - We could set up reception centres in Indonesia, and for those who are established to be political refugees via a rigorous process - and paying the usual $8,000 that is commonly paid to the people smugglers - would be taken to Australia by plane. Imposing a fee might seem a bad policy as well - But Australia isn't in a position to resettle every refugee in the region... And the aim would be to stop the drowings by setting up a sustainable alternative process - a process which ATTRACTED THOSE VERY asylum seekers WHO OTHERWISE would have risked their lives in boats...

    Meanwhile the bounties on the people smugglers could go ahead...

    Another possibility would be the 25,000 increase in the humanitarian program I've suggested alongside this... And if as Bill Shorten and others have said our infrastructure couldn't keep up - then reduce other areas in the migration program - and invest in education and training to fill skills gaps with 'skilled up refugees'.

    No I'm not entirely comfortable with these suggestions either - But it's an alternative that could work - while helping more refugees - and stopping the drownings without an unsustainable 'open door'.....

    A further option would be to tie aid to Indonesia to cooperation on the people smuggling front... Though probably the policy I' suggesting would wreck their 'business model' just as surely as Rudd's 'harsher' policy...

  4. So now Tony Abbott is playing the 'Economic nationalist' and the "utterly callous economic self-interest" cards... Apparently we are to RESENT PNG having control of a $500 million foreign aid contribution. (we have a $1.6 Trillion economy or thereabouts)

    So first Abbott says it's ALL about stopping the boats - simply because we want to stop the drownings... But then he RESENTS or beats up resentment against the government providing aid which could make refugees' lives tolerable - and maybe make PNG citizens lives more tolerable too.... So which hat does he have on today? 'Compassionate Abbott'; or 'Callous, opportunist Abbott'?

    So in Abbott's view Australia is to lean on its impoverished neighbour to solve our *political* problems - but provide PNG nothing in return.

    Yet Mandatory detention is already costing billions. And Abbott won't abide by $500m in aid.

    Really - Abbott in a race to the bottom - But where does it end? PNG was an Australian colony effectively for 50 years... We do owe it to these people to assist them out of poverty.... But Abbott would make the whole foreign aid budget a bone of contention if he could... And he'd say we must 'put Australians first' - all the while contemplating sweeping austerity....

    All that said the PNG policy is now *Labor* policy... The Greens will reap resentment against this policy amongst the liberal left, including in ALP strongholds... In the ALP We need to keep the issue of human rights alive including the rights of refugees; But we desperately need to broaden the debate to include Industrial Relations, the threat of potential austerity, superannuation, the threat of regressive changes to the tax mix; the need to pay for public infrastructure; improving funding for our state schools; improving the wages and conditions of exploited workers; and to keep the NBN public.

    The Federal Parliamentary Labor Party are focused on defeating Abbott whatever it takes. On the broader ALP Left we should be able to ask the question if the (human) cost is too much and whether there were other options... And following that I think we should be free to at the very least press for a kinder, fairer compromise as the best possible outcome at this point.. This could well mean moving to finish doubling the Foreign Aid budget and directing any new money to PNG - and especially for the care of refugees. Not my ideal - but better than what's on the table now...

  5. So far DETAINING refugees is set to cost OVER $2 BILLION this year alone... And yet the Liberals - who first dramatically escalated the policy of detentions - want us to believe $500 million in aid to PNG is unacceptable and 'we should put Australians first'. And the Afghanistan deployment had cost us over $7 Billion by 2011!!!! Let's get this straight - A modernised PNG is a stable PNG and is in Australia's interest. And if we expect PNG to solve our 'political' problems do people really think its reasonable for them not to expect anything in return? Australia needs to get its aid budget up to 0.5% of GDP - and invest even more in PNG. If Rudd gets his PNG policy through then the *least* the ALP Left can do is secure generous aid to assist those refugees in having a decent quality of life.