This book was produced and edited by Labor for Refugees, a ‘ginger’ group of people who belong to the Australian Labor Party and work from within the party with the goal of trying to change Labor’s asylum seeker and refugee policies so that they better reflect Labor values and are more in line with the party platform.
We Australians often congratulate ourselves that our country has a long tradition of respecting the human rights of all people. We point with pride to our record in establishing democratic rights for all citizens and our participation in the establishment of international infrastructure to support basic human rights. As a nation, we celebrate the sacrifice of our young soldiers who do battle in foreign countries against oppressors who violate the rights of fellow human beings. In short, we see ourselves as the country of the ‘fair go’.
And yet, we condone a most shameful violation of human rights when we deny asylum seekers the right to have their claims processed in Australia simply on the grounds that they came by boat rather than by plane. These desperate and suffering people who have few options to escape persecution and terror in their homelands have a legitimate right to seek our protection under the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention) to which we are a signatory.
In June 2012, the Labor Government set up the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to report on ‘... the best way forward for Australia to prevent asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia’. Six weeks later and after receiving 340 submissions, the three man panel reported to the Government with 22 recommendations including the recommencement of offshore processing. The Government immediately endorsed all of the Expert Panel’s recommendations and acted with unseemly haste to implement those relating to offshore processing. These included reopening Manus Island and Nauru as offshore processing centres, the adoption of the ‘no advantage’ principle and denial of family reunion.
The Government’s response deeply dismayed the many refugee advocates that had made submissions to the Expert Panel. Instead of using this opportunity to implement a more humane, compassionate and workable policy, the Government chose to return to policies based on deterrence and punishment. Like many others, Labor for Refugees was puzzled as to the basis for the Expert Panel’s recommendations, especially that which called for a return to offshore processing. What also disturbed our group was the Government’s continuing denial of the approach that the Australian Labor Party has enshrined in its policy platform. Labor in Government has adopted and continues to implement policies which are in flagrant violation of the ALP National Platform.
A rigorous analysis of the submissions found an overwhelming opposition to offshore processing and support for a more humane approach that addressed the desperation of these people, fulfilled our international obligations and created a durable and workable response.
The 340 submissions to the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers are strong statements on how Australia could move away from the dysfunctional policy that has been and continues to be implemented in its name. The writers argue cogently and passionately that there are alternatives available which do not require a return to the soul destroying tactics of offshore processing and indefinite detention. The principles underlying these alternatives are already clearly stated in the ALP’s National Platform but are being ignored as Party leaders step away from their duty to implement the Labor values of fairness, justice and equity. That is why Labor for Refugees has taken the step to make these submissions more readily accessible in the hope that they will better inform the community debate and bring pressure to bear for a change in how we respond to the rightful pleas of desperate people seeking our protection.
Summaries of the submissions are presented in Appendix 1 while a discussion of the views expressed is presented in Chapters 1 and 2. The full version of all 340 submissions is available as an eBook. For information on online stockists please refer to our website www.australianlaborparty.org/ laborforrefugees or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.