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The politics of solidarity

Solidarity is an idea that is in the foundations of the ALP, writes Tim Curtis, and that means sticking together to fight for the common goals.

This weekend, as did many others I presume, I engaged in some Bill-hating as the ALP conference decided to support a boat-turn-back policy.

As I thought about this I was struck by a question: If I was so concerned with boat-turn-backs, why had I not joined the ALP? And then attended the conference so that my vote, my voice could have made a difference. How could I deservedly be annoyed at a group of people who I had tasked with representing me, when I had taken no direct action beyond writing some letters to make my apparently strongly held view known (contrary to populist belief Facebook and online petitions do not count).

As my self-righteous indignation began to subside I wondered to myself … “I wonder”, I wondered, “is this how Cory Bernadi feels when he doesn’t get his way on abortion?”

It has to be noted that Bernardi, and many others on the lunatic fringe of right-wing politics are rarely seen complaining in public that their particular policy wishes have not been taken on as central party platforms.

Instead he and others fall in line behind the mainstream neo-liberals and conservatives to show a solid front. When there is opportunity, Bernardi flies his freak flag high; but even then there is a definite sense that it is part of a larger design, that the timing of his “outbursts” are to draw away from something else, or to otherwise push the conversation further to where the neo-conservatives want them.

This led to a very uncomfortable thought. The thought that the success of the Right in taking government, and in dictating the terms under which progressive governments operated, and ultimately in controlling the narrative on the economy, immigration, defence and security, came from their unity: The Solidarity of the political Right. It sounds contradictory, and yet when do we see the hard-line neo-liberal voters moaning and complaining that job creators are still being overtaxed in the same way that refugee advocates attack their party of choice on a regular basis? And make no mistake; for the true-blood neo-liberal a completely unshackled market attracts just as much fervour on the Right as social justice does on the Left.

The discomfort does not stop there. At the ALP conference there was strong support for renewable energy and for marriage equality. Why not add refugee advocacy and make it triple-threat?

For the simple reason that it is an election loser.

Right now the ALP has a sure winner in marriage equality. It is also on a winner with renewables; it can co-opt many country and farming votes who feel betrayed by the National party on mining and CSG. It can also pitch action on climate change as means of supporting the expansion of Australia’s renewable energy industry, in turn as a means of rebuilding the shattered manufacturing sector in Australia. This is a pro-job platform that will resonate well in town and country and is sure to be a popular idea amongst all those ex-car industry workers and car-part service businesses and smart manufacturing in general across the nation.

Refugees, or boat people as they are known in the tabloids, have no such sympathies. Gone are the Post-Vietnam days where Australians felt responsible, felt culpable for the dire straits that South-East Asian refugees found themselves in after the fall of Saigon. Refugees from Afghanistan or the Arabian Peninsula, fleeing the mess that we in no small part took a hand in creating, are perhaps not as cuddly. Or maybe Australia has become hardened to the hardships of others because ‘we have our own problems’. Unemployment is up, wages are down, the rich get richer, and our great outdoors seems to be up for grabs to any foreign interest with enough cash to open a politician’s pocket.

Whatever the reasons: If the ALP attempted to go to the next election with a new refugee policy it would lose. There is no one who can honestly look at the untrammelled hysteria in political discourse in Australia and say otherwise.

What the ALP can do is the same thing that Tony Abbott has done: make promises, and then … when in power … change the conversation. Look at what Tony Abbott has achieved with countless NBN and ABC inquiries, Royal commissions, the Commission of Audit, and reviews into anything that can possibly change attitudes and direct the conversation.

Imagine how the public view would change after a parliamentary inquiry into refugee policy and into conditions on Manus Island? Complete hard-nosed analysis of the costs to tax-payers, with heart-warming stories about asylum seekers who have saved country towns from oblivion, and heart-breaking stories about how the Taliban came only hours after the Aussie soldiers had flown away home. These are things that can only happen from inside government.

There are many, including myself, who have had a lesson in realpolitik this weekend. As much as anyone in the ALP wants to change the policies toward Australia’s treatment of refugees, they all know that it is a guaranteed way to lose the next election. And despite what many might be saying about The Greens, it is fairly clear that after the last Federal and State elections, and in particular the election in Liverpool Plains, that The Greens are unlikely to be able to field enough candidates or win enough votes to form government alone, and almost certainly will not be able to win in the areas that the ALP need to win to swing the Liberal-National Coalition out of government.

So where does this leave us?

Sad. Angry. Yes, and more. Though I am more saddened by how quickly the level of conversation in Australia has returned to the bad old days of the Yellow Peril, and I am more angry at myself for being so hopefully naïve that Tony Abbott could lose an election with this issue on the table, when in reality it is likely that it would help him retain office in a sequel to Tampa.

What comes next is possibly even harder. I am still dedicated to changing Australia’s Refugee policy, but I now realise that is going to take time. Time to change the way people think so that tabloid radio, television and newspapers, and more importantly their readers are no longer interested in demonising refugees. And the longer that Tony Abbott and his ilk are in power, the longer it is going to take to drag Australia from the precipice of fear and loathing and back into the light. This means that while I will still hold to my beliefs, while I will still critique, I will also get behind the torches that we do have; marriage equality and action on climate change and do everything I can to get a government that will take action on the big social and economic issues. Because if I do not, then Tony Abbott will likely be re-elected and keep selling off public assets, keep selling out to corporate interests, and keep selling us all up the river with a co-payment for the a paddle.

Solidarity is an idea that is in the foundations of the ALP. Solidarity doesn’t mean that we always agree with each other. Indeed nor should we. What it does mean is that we stick together to fight for the common goals, and to forward our personal or factional goals as much as possible. All the while keeping our eye on the big picture, on the greater goal; of regaining an Australia that is the land of the fair go and where we truly do have boundless plains to share.




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  1. Loz

    I too felt sad and betrayed by the ‘turn back boat’ policy of the Labour Party. However I know that agreeing not to turn back the boats would end a possible victory for Labour Party at the next election. The re-election of the LNP is too horrendous to think about. I am hoping that if the Labour Party is re-elected they will start a conversation with other world leaders on how best to help people from war torn countries. I sincerely hope that they will also investigate what is happening in detention centres and give those people whose refugee status is seen to be genuine be invited to live in Australia. I do not feel that the asylum seekers have been abandoned as their voices will continue to be heard by those who care.

  2. Ricardo29

    I think a good start for an elected Labor Government would be to get us out of our misadventures in the Middle East which is helping to create refugees and is also helping to encourage the madness of IS and its sympathisers here.

  3. David

    I too had a good long thinking session with friends after the Conference, friends all united in one cause to rid the country of Abbott and his ultra Conservative Govt and reinstall Labor. We were disgusted with Shortens boats and refugees policy however as the writer puts it..’What the ALP can do is the same thing that Tony Abbott has done: make promises, and then … when in power … change the conversation.’
    I believe that is the course Shorten will follow and up at the top of the list will be closing Manus and Nauru. Of course that will be vehemently denied, so be it. What will be will be…for the cause.

  4. Florence nee Fedup

    We must always keep in mind, politics is the art of the possible. Yes there are many things we don’t like, but demanding action when the truth is, it is not possible to get the necessary legislation passed. It only gives the Opposition a free pass to government.

    It is the total package that counts. Will always be like the curates egg, good and bad in parts. That is reality.

    Concentrate on what is achievable. Doesn’t mean one gives up on what is impossible at this time. One works to bring about change.

    That is exactly what Abbott did. Struck with great toxic tax, debt and national threats from people coming in wooden boats. Kept under wraps his real neoliberal agenda.

    Yes, keep in mind the golden rule. Politics is the art of the possible.

    Very good article IMHO.

  5. Harquebus

    Again, I would also like to see the causes, poverty, oppression, overcrowding etc. addressed. While we continue to ignore these things, people will continue to flee in boats.

    Vote for which ever party you like. The oligarchs own them all.

  6. townsvilleblog

    Australians simply don’t want more refugees jumping the ques, apparently as a country we will take more of those who arrive through the correct channels so they need to sail to refugee camps not to Australia directly, don’t drown at sea wait your turn seems to be the message that ordinary Australians are sending, no political party has any hope of being elected if they don’t listen to what the majority of the people are saying. If a campaign needs to be run, it needs to be run at the Australian population showing them a different path and why that path would advantage them, it appears all the Aussie population can see is a loss of their own lifestyle and employment in accepting refugees we need to convince them otherwise.

  7. Mike LaFave

    Mr Curtis has put forth a sound and thought-provoking case here. Thank goodness for AIMN writers because it is our iniquitous and/or inept MSM mob which has created this diabolical mess.

    Gore Vidal’s condemnation of the American MSM is sadly apposite for our own Murdoch-dominated infotainment industry:

    “The unique mess that our republic is in can be, in part, attributed to a corrupt press whose roots are in mendacious news (sic) magazines like Time and Newsweek, aided by tabloids that manufacture fictional stories about actual people. This mingling of opinion and fiction has undone a media never devoted to truth. Hence, the ease with which the Republican smear-machine goes into action when they realize that yet again the party’s permanent unpopularity with the American people will cause them defeat unless they smear individually those who question the junk that the media has put into so many heads.”

    “The habit of lying is now a national style that started with “news” magazines that was further developed by pathological liars that proved to be “good” Entertainment on TV. But a diet of poison that has done none of us any good. “

  8. Kaye Lee


    There IS no queue. There is no system of “wait your turn”.

    To be resettled in Australia under the offshore program you must either be referred by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or sponsored by someone already living here. If the person sponsoring you is not a family member, or, increasingly, an immediate family member, your chances of success are negligible.

    To be referred by UNHCR you must first be allowed to register with UNHCR, then UNHCR must be in a position to be able to refer you to a resettlement country.

    For most refugee populations around the world the opportunities for resettlement, and even registration, are slim, and the future is bleak.

    A number of countries in our region refuse to allow UNHCR to even register refugees.

    For example, Bangladesh has refused to allow Burmese refugees to register. Pakistan is now so dangerous UNHCR has had to restrict its operations and Australia’s access has also been severely curtailed. For refugees in these countries and many others, there is no queue.

    The reality is that only a small proportion of asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR—only 19 per cent of asylum claims were registered with the UNHCR in 2013.

  9. kerri

    Personally I still hold the hope that Labor will be forced into a coalition with The Greens!
    This would achieve both goals or all three and force the ALP to take greater action on refugee policy faster, therefore preventing more asylum seeker deaths/mental degenerations in custody!
    If Shorten were really smart he would keep that ace up his sleeve and seek to work with The Greens in a coalition AFTER the election where he would have the valid excuse that working with The Greens was the only way to keep Abbott from power! Stupid Bill will do as Abbott has, and promise to never form government with The Greens and that will then leave him open to being called a liar and a promise breaker, and we all know the MSM will listen to, and report on, Abbott’s hysteria over one lie and ignore his multitude of personal lies! But Bill will do it in a desperate “me too” moment that will seal all our fates to another LNP disaster!
    I will still vote Green!

  10. totaram

    “What the ALP can do is the same thing that Tony Abbott has done: make promises, and then … when in power … change the conversation. ”

    If only we were convinced about this! The signs are not good, but I agree the time to make a noise is when the ALP is in government: they might then take notice. Another way to send them a signal is to vote Greens-1, ALP-2, Coalition-last. That would translate to a vote for Labor but with a “message” attached.

  11. sandrasearle

    Yes, this article is great, but it still doesn’t address the underlying problems (which are worldwide now) and that is there are more people fleeing from harm than ever.

    Thanks Kaye Lee for once again pointing out the facts about the UNHCR & the queues that don’t exsist which exposes the ‘no system of waiting their turn’.

    Since last weekends ALP conference there has been much criticism about the choice of following ‘the turn back the boats’ policy of the LNP we have had 3 days of the “Go Back to Where you came from” program which also pointed out how inept we are dealing with a major humanitarian crisis that has swept the world. The problem, as I see it is how complete inadequate we all are in not being able to see just how bad it really is.

    The problem is that there are very few people who would be willing to give up their cushy jobs & their family lives to help sponsor at least some of these desperate people to settle here for a start. The I’m all right Jack runs very deep in this country.

    Kaye, you pointed out that the UNHCR does not have access to a lot of countries & it seems that this is where the Asylum Seekers who are fleeing from. They travel to places where (if they are lucky) they have access to camps & just a little security, but as the TV program showed us the treatment at certain places is dreadful at best. It is no wonder that it is from these places that people become so desperate they will do anything (get on leaky boats) to try and reach a place that will offer them a better life.

    So it is with this in mind that I hate the turn back the boats policy. It stinks, but if we can all work at helping to change the refugee policy from within the Labor party, preferably before the next election, then we will not only be doing desperate people seeking asylum but ourselves a very big humanitarian favour.

    How can we help the Labor party set up a better policy – well, get involved.

    How do we get involved – find out how we can accommodate more refugees in this vast land of ours. Rural areas could well do with some new people, they keep their towns viable ie education, health etc.

    Best of all, do not be fearful of people with different coloured skins, faiths & customs. Learn about them, help them to settle & assimilate, show them what it means to be a thoughtful & caring society (something that is scarily lacking at present ‘tho hasn’t always been that way).
    There are a lot of very good caring people who want to help, but they are expecting the govt. & opposition to come up with the answers.

    The answers must come from US. We are the solution, so I am imploring all of you caring folk who follow this site & a lot of the other social media sites to join forces & help to formulate policies that we can all accept with pride. We can make a difference.

    I could go on, but will get off my soap box for the moment. Now it is over to you all to comment.

  12. DrachenReiter

    When you said
    “As I thought about this I was struck by a question: If I was so concerned with boat-turn-backs, why had I not joined the ALP? And then attended the conference so that my vote, my voice could have made a difference. ”

    you either had no idea about how the Labor party is run or are just spreading bullshit.

    When Howard started treating the Refugees like criminals and lied about children overboard to win an election i joined the ALP in the hopes of making a difference. What i found was that as an individual member of the LNP you don’t have a say in policy and you don’t get a vote on who stands for your branch (electorate) in State and Federal elections.

    Voting or supporting for either major party is just a waste of time as you are just supporting vested interests. They don’t work for Australians just themselves and their mates.

    To fix this we need to restrict political donations to people and not companies as well as capping the maximum amount of donations per year in money and in other kinds of support. Large custodial penalties are also required for the leaders of parties and individuals who break these laws. There also needs to be a ban on any advertising either paid or editorial on media outlets for political parties particularly after an election is called.

    But hey what do i know as i think the ALP is just as despicable as the LNP for treating the refugees as bad as they do and your solidarity bullshit sounds like a pathetic attempt to say hey look over their they are worse than us but i don’t see it comrade.

  13. eli nes

    Who is confused by the laziness of the media and politicians pandering to the lazy Australians who only worry about themselves and their mates.
    Asylum seekers are not refugees are not refugees are not refugees. they have a choice they have a choice they have a choice.
    Labor reacts to the rabbott and his power seekers because history shows they have no choice they have no choice they have no choice no matter how bad the rabbutt gets his lies will live and the voters will be conned.
    The greens will be happy to see the rabbutt win the next election as long as they have the senate. In the hope of power, they will naturally help labor lose.
    Catholics have to choose between three! Should be fun for the church boys and a conundrum for the others?

  14. corvus boreus

    eli nes,
    I am typing this slowly so you might actually register and comprehend this time.

    Richard Di Natale is not a “church boy”.

    He has stated his irreligious non-affiliation clearly and publicly, and even proposed eliminating prayers in parliament.
    Having RC parents does not automatically make you a Catholic, it is not a hereditary genetic trait.

    Do you understand this time, or should I type even s..l..o..w..e..r?

  15. mars08

    So… form government and then have the courage to “change the conversation” about asylum seekers? hhmmmm… don’t you mean avoid the conversation? Or do you mean repeat the conversation… a la Gillard?

    How on earth do you change the conversation when you’ve spent a decade reinforcing the fear and ignorance it is based on?

    “… if you’re a people smuggler bringing someone to Australia and you’re seeking to settle them in Australia, we will not allow them to settle here. They’ll be sent for processing in Papua New Guinea.” – K. Rudd, 2013

    That was what happened the last time the ALP tried to change the conversation.

    When it comes to asylum seekers, both major parties treat it like an auction of cruelty and callousness.

    Just like all the silly blovation over budget deficits, the topic of asylum seeker has been turned into theatre for the masses, with the toughest and baddest hero wins.

    If Shorten becomes the next PM, it will be without my primary vote.

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