Refugee advocate scorns Labor's promises in Australia

Refugee Council of Australia CEO says opposition ‘pandering to the politics of fear’ by formally reversing stance against turning back boats

Refugee advocate scorns Labor's promises in Australia

World Bulletin / News Desk

The CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia doesn’t buy opposition leader Bill Shorten’s argument, that adopting the Abbott government’s hard-line asylum seeker policy is the most humane option.

This weekend the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has formally reversed its position on turning back boats, eliminating one defining difference between Labor and the government’s asylum seeker stance.

The reason for the backflip, according to Shorten, is to eliminate the risk of people drowning and to stop people smuggling.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, the Council’s Paul Power said Sunday that turning back asylum seeker boats, regardless of the justification, is “pandering to the politics of fear.”

Scoffing at the ALP’s assertion that there are significant points of difference between their policy and the ruling Coalition’s, Power said the opposition’s form to date on asylum seekers makes it difficult to take them at their word.

“We’ve recently seen the Labor Party support government legislation designed to muzzle whistle-blowers,” he stated, referring to the Border Force Act passed by parliament in May.

The legislation allows for a jail sentence of up to two years for anyone who speaks publicly about issues at detention centers, part of Australia’s policy of holding asylum seekers at offshore sites in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

“That is appalling,” Power exclaimed. “Now we are expected to believe that this is a political party with good intentions and deeply concerned about people seeking protection from persecution?”

Power’s comments come after Labor delegates voted down late Saturday a motion to reject Shorten’s call to implement asylum seeker boat turn-backs during the ALP national conference in Melbourne.

Despite angry protesters, who interrupted proceedings by unfurling a banner on stage reading "No refugee towbacks," the left faction’s push to quash the turn-back policy and close offshore detention facilities, if they don't meet "humane and safe conditions," didn’t carry.

Shorten has outlined what he described as “a compassionate, humane and safe approach to irregular migration.”

He has committed to build “a regional humanitarian framework to improve the situation of asylum seekers,” donate AU$450 million over three years to the work of the UNHCR and double Australia’s annual refugee intake to 27,000.

He has also expressed willingness to abolish Temporary Protection Visas that currently keep people in a permanent state of limbo, give those found to be genuine refugees a permanent Australian visa, create an independent statutory advocate to protect the interests in children seeking asylum and establish greater transparency in border protection.

Confessing “deep disappointment” that a future ALP government will now have the ability to turn back asylum seeker boats, Power told Anadolu Agency: “What Australia are is signaling to the world is that we clearly don’t want to have any role in providing asylum for people.

“The real challenge is not how do we stop them but how do we do provide effective protection for those who most need it?”

Power reflected on a report released in 2012 by an expert panel on asylum seekers. He spoke of the way in which the Julia Gillard-led ALP government “moved very quickly on the re-establishment of offshore detention but dragged its feet on the more constructive recommendations.”

He let out a sigh and feigned a laugh when asked his thoughts on Shorten’s pledge to increase refugee intake by 27,000.

“That’s a terrible response from somebody in my position but what I’ve heard has made me so depressed, I haven’t looked at the details,” he confessed.

“But we will certainly be analyzing every positive recommendation and hounding them not only to implement them if they’re elected to government, but also challenging the government on its policies.”

Güncelleme Tarihi: 26 Temmuz 2015, 17:36