By Tracie Aylmer
Yesterday I received a letter from Bill Shorten’s office.
It was in response to an email I sent both Mr Shorten and Mr Marles (Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection). I had advised them both that the International Criminal Court was analysing Australia’s situation in relation to asylum seekers. As Labor have complied with many pieces of legislation that have denigrated the rights of the most disadvantaged in the Australian community, I thought it wise to explain to both that there could be a possibility that both may perhaps be named by the International Criminal Court with charges. Their responsibilities with how Border Force was enacted should not be underestimated. They did have a hand in much of how asylum seekers are now treated.
The letter I received kept talking about the boat turnbacks, mandatory detention and people smugglers. It appears that they are doing the LNP’s job. All of these topics sound exactly like the LNP’s rhetoric. Bill Shorten’s office seemed determined to continue the “Stop the Boats” rhetoric of the Abbott and Turnbull governments. In fact, not once did they comment about the Turnbull government, even though Malcolm Turnbull has been the prime minister for 7 months.
Even though Labor is promising to give the UNHCR many millions of dollars to enable them to do their work, this appears to be hollow. With the boat turnbacks, mandatory detention and talk about people smugglers, I doubt whatever efforts they think they could perhaps perform. Their promises look quite pithy.
It doesn’t take much to show humanity. It’s also much cheaper, and there aren’t any consequences that may occur at a later date. Labor could have shown some humanity. Instead, they are still stuck in the very recent past.
Here is their response to me:
Dear Ms Aylmer
Thank you for your correspondence to Mr Shorten regarding asylum seekers. Your thoughts on this important issue are noted and I have been asked to respond regarding Labor’s asylum seeker policy.
Labor recognises that we are a nation built on migration. We acknowledge and support the contribution of many diverse cultures to our society, recognising that Australian society is richer from the experience of migration, including the contributions of those Australians who came here as refugees or asylum seekers.
The issue of those seeking asylum in Australia is very complex. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of displaced people fleeing from war, conflict or persecution and looking for a better future in other countries is the highest since World War II. By the close of 2014 an estimated 59.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced around the globe as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations. This is 8.3 million persons more than the previous year and the highest recorded annual increase in a single year.
Labor believes that Australia can do more to address this global humanitarian crisis. Labor believes in a compassionate approach to asylum seekers which enables refugees to progress their claims safely and securely.
At Labor’ National Conference, Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Richard Marles, unveiled Labor’s immigration policy which is centred on a humane and compassionate approach to asylum seekers, while maintaining appropriate deterrents to prevent people smugglers preying on some of the world’s most vulnerable people.
This policy is focussed on Australia playing a greater role in the world with respect to asylum seekers and ensuring that we play our part in reducing the sum of global human misery.
A Shorten Labor Government will provide significantly increased annual funding to the UNHCR for its global work program and its work in South East Asia and the Pacific. At a time when the global humanitarian need is greater than ever, Labor will provide $450 million over three years to support the important work of the UNHCR. This funding commitment would place Australia in the top five global contributors to the UNHCR and is something of which all Australians can rightly be proud.
Labor also plans to take a leadership role within South East Asia and the Pacific to build a regional humanitarian framework to improve the situation of asylum seekers.
A Labor Government would also increase Australia’s annual humanitarian intake to 27,000 by 2025. This is almost double the current intake under the Abbott Government of 13,750. As part of our commitment to demonstrating leadership in our region, a portion of the program will be dedicated to resettling refugees from the region.
In 2013, the former Labor Government implemented the Regional Resettlement Arrangement which severely restricted the ability of people smugglers in Indonesia to “sell” the journey to Australia. A future Labor Government will stand firm on maintaining a policy of offshore processing to keep this perilous boat journey shut.
However, this does not mean that Labor believes these facilities should be run as punitive holding cells. The processing facilities on Manus Island and Nauru must be humane and offer people seeking safety exactly that.
Labor will also empower the Commonwealth Ombudsman to provide independent oversight of Australia’s onshore detention network and will continue to ensure that those working in the immigration system enjoy the benefit of whistleblower protections to speak out about any maladministration and corruption.
In the almost two years since the last federal election, it has become abundantly clear that the combination of offshore processing and regional resettlement, together with the policy of turning back boats, has stopped the flow of vessels arriving on our shores. None of these strategies could have succeeded in isolation but together they have ended a human tragedy. Provided it can be done so safely, a future Labor Government will retain the option of turning boats around. This is a difficult decision but one which will save hundreds, ultimately thousands, of lives.
I understand this is an option that can be hard for some people to accept. But what characterised this journey were people smugglers who made huge profits with the result that 1200 people drowned on our border. A future Labor Government cannot and will not allow this human tragedy to unfold ever again.
Labor is absolutely committed to protecting the interests of children within the immigration detention system and will provide a strong independent voice within government to advocate for the interests of children seeking asylum. A Labor Government will appoint an advocate, independent of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, backed by the resources and statutory powers necessary to pursue the best interests of those children, including the power to bring court proceedings on a child’s behalf.
This will not reduce the Minister’s obligations in relation to unaccompanied non-citizen children or the ability of other interested parties to take court action against the Minister. The independent children’s advocate will have access to all unaccompanied minors in detention and in the community to ensure their rights and interests are protected. In government Labor will legislate to impose mandatory reporting of child abuse in all offshore and onshore immigration detention facilities.
Finally, Labor will restore fast and fair processing of asylum claims for those people already living in Australia. This will see us reinstate references to the UN Refugees Convention in the Migration Act to reverse the Abbott Government’s retrograde efforts to undermine international law. We will reinstate access to the Refugee Review Tribunal and abolish the Independent Assessment Authority established by the Abbott Government.
A Labor Government would be focussed on removing people from detention as soon as possible, in particular children and their families.
We will abolish Temporary Protection Visas, which keep people in a permanent state of limbo, and place those found to be genuine refugees on permanent protection visas.
Under the former Labor Government there was a statutory requirement for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to report on how many claims were processed within 90 days of a completed application being received. The Abbott Government abolished this. Labor in Government will reintroduce the ‘90 day rule’ into the Migration Act.
This package will provide for Australia to play the largest role it ever has in tackling the refugee crisis facing the world. At the same time it will prevent people dying at sea.
In sum, this policy is all about opening Australia’s door wider, bringing more refugees here, but doing so safely.
Thank you on behalf of the Opposition Leader for taking the time to raise your concerns.
For more information please visit www.alp.org.au
Office of the Leader of the Opposition
22 April 2016
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