The ALP leadership is tying itself in semantic knots. It now wants to politically distinguish itself from the Coalition over refugee policy while at the same time continuing to support the mandatory detention of asylum seekers.
During the last Federal election, the Labor Party vowed it would be more effective at securing Australia’s borders than the Howard Government. It gave full and uncritical support to the policy of incarcerating people in remote detention centres who were fleeing repression. This consensus by the major parties created an ugly racist climate, resulting in many traditional ALP voters switching to the Coalition on the one hand or registering a protest by voting for pro-refugee Green or socialist candidates on the other.
The ALP is suffering a major ideological crisis. Its Federal leadership is trying to figure out how it can win back the support of those constituents disgusted by its callous inhumanity while still appealing to working class racists. It hopes to achieve this by calls to release children from detention, to mothball Woomera and to end private management of all detention centres, while continuing to support mandatory detention by renaming it “mandatory processing.”
But the growing size, strength and determination of the refugee rights movement, whose key goal is to end mandatory detention, is having an impact within the ranks of the ALP. Three State ALP Conferences — Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria — passed motions calling for the ALP to adopt a more humane refugee policy. A network of rank and file members, trade union leaders and a few members of Parliament has formed Labor for Refugees to push for a policy change. We wish them the very best of luck! The ALP has a long, shabby history of pandering to racism, and was founded on the White Australia policy. Break with this history! End ALP support of mandatory detention — now!