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.
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.