Labor’s Ged Kearney says indefinite offshore immigration detention ‘shameful’ | Australia news
Australia as a wealthy country can afford to take more refugees, but it cannot afford “the ongoing cost to our national psyche” of subjecting asylum seekers to “shameful” indefinite detention in offshore immigration centres, Labor’s Ged Kearney has said.
Kearney used her first speech to parliament on Monday to telegraph her intention to work towards a “humane refugee policy” during her time in federal politics – a public signal before a policy debate expected at the Labor conference in July and a state party conference in Victoria this coming weekend.
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The member for Batman said the plight of asylum seekers was “a passionate and emotional issue” for her local constituents and she used Monday’s speech to identify that the looming internal battle will be around the issue of indefinite detention.
Kearney said people currently detained on Manus Island and Nauru must be permanently resettled “as a priority”, but the speech did not specify whether that resettlement should be in Australia or in a third country.
Australia, she said, must ensure that indefinite detention “never happens again”. Kearney also said all refugees needed to have access to social services and income support.
“I think proudly of the great bipartisan achievements of both sides of this house: of Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke, who with bipartisan support provided sanctuary to those fleeing the consequence of wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and later from the events of Tiananmen Square,” Kearney said.
“I cannot comprehend how a nation that provided a safe home to so many in the wake of world war two – including our large Jewish community of Holocaust survivors – allowed the Tampa and the children overboard scandal to evolve into the shameful policy of indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru.
“Racist dog-whistling has demonised and vilified a community that has everything to give to Australia and the sacrifice of this human potential has been made solely for political gain.”
Kearney said the debate about refugees should be based on fact, recognising that the “overwhelming majority” of arrivals are fleeing conflict zones and meet the test set out by the international conventions to which Australia is a signatory.
“We are a rich country,” the Labor MP said. “We can afford to take more refugees. I doubt, however, we can afford the ongoing cost to our national psyche of subjecting men, women, children to years of indefinite detention in camps.”
In pursuing humane policies on asylum, Kearney said, foreign policy and foreign aid supporting people in extremis needed to be considered. There was a requirement for “assessment, not punishment” and “assessment within a fair time limit, as part of regional agreements for humane resettlement”.
She said a humane policy for asylum seekers required collaboration with the United Nations high commissioner for refugees “and more funds for its operation, as well as a greater permanent intake of refugees, with an expansion of our humanitarian intake”.
Kearney said “offering sanctuary to refugees does not need to compromise or undercut other paths to citizenship that Australia offers to migrants, like family reunions”. “Our society is living evidence that we have, actually, done it before.”
Kearney prevailed in a hard-fought byelection contest against the Greens candidate, Alex Bhathal, in the inner Melbourne seat of Batman in March, gaining a two-party-preferred swing of more than 3%.
The Greens pressed Labor on asylum throughout the campaign, particularly in the closing stages, and Kearney will be under significant pressure locally to take a public stand on the issue.
Last week Kearney telegraphed she was building up a local consultative structure to progress the debate before the July national conference.
While it is clear the major agitation is around indefinite detention, specifics about the direction of the national policy debate are not yet clear.
A draft proposal put together by the immigration spokesman, Shayne Neumann, restates Labor’s commitment to move asylum seekers out of mandatory detention within 90 days, and to raise the refugee intake from 18,750 to 27,000. But it makes no mention of Manus Island or Nauru.
The 90-day processing rule would not cover refugees on Nauru or Manus Island, given that they have already been processed.
Labor’s right faction has expressed confidence that it will either have a small majority in its own right for 2018, or a working majority on contentious issues, such as the refugee debate, with the support of the delegation from the CFMEU. But insiders have expressed caution, saying that no one can be certain about that until Queensland selects its delegation.
Activists are waiting on the final resolution of delegates from each state before beginning the process of drafting resolutions and platform amendments. A precursor to the national conference debate is likely this weekend at the Victorian state conference.
The Labor leader, Bill Shorten, has acknowledged there will be a debate on the issue of refugees, but says he has “no interest” in changing Labor’s stance on asylum boat turnbacks.
However, reflecting internal agitation about offshore detention becoming de facto indefinite detention, Shorten has raised the issue of the lengthy detention periods people are subjected to in offshore camps.
“We don’t believe that mandatory [indefinite] detention has to be the necessary result of stopping the boats,” the Labor leader said in late March.