Stanhope / The horrors of the matey bipartisanship

Share Canberra's trusted news:

DURING the Senate debate on the Australian Border Force Act, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, in strongly objecting to the proposal to criminalise “unapproved” statements by people such as doctors, nurses, other health professionals, teachers and child protection officers working in immigration detention centres said: “You have to wonder why the Labor Party is not jumping up and down” about the proposals.

jon stanhope
Jon Stanhope.
And, indeed, one does wonder. Senator Hanson-Young speaks for me in opposing this appalling new attempt by the Federal Parliament to hide the impacts on asylum seekers of indefinite detention.

In fact, the Greens are, these days, the only members of the Parliament who reflect my views on asylum seeker policy or, indeed, what I understand to be the true values and beliefs of the ALP.

When I heard of the passage of the Border Force Act, I wrote to a friend seeking assurance that it was passed without ALP support but was sadly disillusioned when told it would not have passed but for ALP support.

I find it almost impossible to understand why the ALP decided to support this law. It has been denounced by doctors, lawyers, nurses, health professionals and indeed anyone with a commitment to openness and transparency in government administration.

I would have thought the excruciating evidence before the Royal Commission into institutional sexual abuse would have given the Parliament and for me as a member of the ALP and my colleagues in the Labor Party pause for serious thought before agreeing to lower the shades on the management of immigration detention centres.

The Australian response to abuse of children has led to the development of an extensive and rigorous regime, including mandatory reporting. There is currently also in Australia, including here in the ACT, a long overdue and continuing debate about domestic violence and the awful toll it has on women and children.

It is accepted that the insidious evil of violence against women and children in the home, and the abuse of children in institutions and the community, flourished and continues precisely because it is and was perpetrated out of sight and in private places.

Surely the criminalisation of comment by people committed to the health and welfare of innocent, vulnerable people including children detained indefinitely by the State in closed, remote and isolated immigration detention centres reveals an appalling double standard and flies in the face of our commitment to mandatory reporting and the determination to confront and deal with domestic violence.

The president of the Royal Australian College of Physicians, Dr Nicholas Talley, has said in relation to the law: “The evidence from Australia’s immigration detention centres is in. They seriously and irrefutably harm the health of children and adults who have sought our protection.

“Refugees and asylum seekers have complex needs as patients. Our immigration detention policy takes these needs and exacerbates them.

“As doctors, the public relies on us to examine and reflect on what is best for our patients, and to speak up about any barriers to their best possible care.

“I am appalled by this new law which will actively hinder us from speaking the truth about harms inflicted on our patients. Urgent amendments must be passed… to allow doctors their full rights to advocate without threat of imprisonment.”

This new law is, I think, so horribly flawed that I have wondered whether Labor Party support for it was a mistake or an oversight on its part. Is it possible perhaps that no one in the Labor caucus got around to reading the Bill before the caucus decided to simply wave it through?

However, I see that Andrew Leigh, the member for Fraser, in his July electorate newsletter has, consistent with the ALP’s matey bipartisanship on all things immigration, dismissed the concerns of the Royal Australian College of Physicians and others and jumped to the defence of the Border Force Act.

He rationalises his support for the new criminal offence by asserting that if (say) a doctor or someone working for Save the Children is actually arrested and charged for speaking out about something of concern to them they can always attempt to defend themselves by falling back on whistleblower protections.

I doubt Andrew’s advice will be of much comfort to any doctor actually arrested and charged. This law is truly dreadful. It cannot be defended or justified and should be repealed.

Jon Stanhope was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2011 and represented  Ginninderra for the Labor Party from 1998. He is the only Chief Minister to have governed with a majority in the Assembly.

Who Can You Trust?

In a world beleaguered by spin and confused messages, there's never been more need for diverse, trustworthy, independent journalism in Canberra.

Who can you trust? Well, for more than 25 years, "CityNews" has proudly been an independent, free, family-owned news magazine, serving the national capital with quality, integrity and authority. Through our weekly magazine and daily through our digital platforms, we constantly and reliably deliver high-quality and diverse opinion, news, arts, socials and lifestyle columns.

If you trust our work online and believe in the power of independent voices, I encourage you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support will be invested back into our journalism so we can continue to provide a valuably different view of what's happening around you and keep free.

Click here to make your donation and you will be supporting the future of journalism and media diversity in the ACT.

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Previous articleGriffiths / The seductive call of candidacy
Next articleLeaders debate the GST: what you need to know


  1. Sadly true, the light on the hill has dimmed and finally snuffed it along with any principles that the Labor party once held. apart from those which will get them re-elected,

    Vale the Australian Labor party, staunch defender of common people in uncommon times, party of progress and the rights of men and women. I will miss them.

    Voting Green in 3, 2, 1 …

  2. Jon Stanhope’s argument makes sense. So does Don Aitkin’s argument. What we need, surely, is a national dialogue which is not polarized but instead concentrates on finding solutions to the problems that are revealed.

    • I worry the only problem the current government is trying to solve ultimately, is how to further concentrate, and imbue with impunity those who control, wealth and power.

  3. This was written no doubt before Shorten and Marles tried to preempt the debate at the Party conference on Saturday by adopting the turn back the boats policy. That me too on boats is yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that Labor is a progressive party.

    By playing footsie with the Liberals, Labor, the party that introduced mandatory detention and then offshore processing on Manus and Nauru, only shifts the debate further and further to the inhumane right.

    The parties that demonise and attack asylum seekers will soon be demonising and attacking workers more and more.

    The logic of Jon’s comment about the Greens representing what he understands to be true Labor values. is for him to join the Greens.

    I don’t agree with his analysis. I think the Greens are just another party (like Labor) that wants to manage capitalism.

    Their track record when in power (Nick McKimm in Tasmania attacking public schools for example) and overseas shows that they too are subject to the same pressures to capitulate to capital when in power, pressures they invariably give in to as well.

    I think the alternative is to build a left wing party based in the working class and on the struggles of today, both economic and political. Our final goal should be not like Labor or the Greens to manage capitalism but to win socialism, the democratic control of society so that production is to satisfy human need, not to make a profit. That is why I am proud to be a member of small socialist group Solidarity (

    I have written more extensively about the nature of the Labor Party and its degeneration, viewed through the prism of the MRRT in this academic piece if anyone is interested. The minerals resource rent tax: the Australian Labor Party and the continuity of change (

Leave a Reply