Stanhope / Time to confront the forgotten pledge

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CONGRATULATIONS to Katy Gallagher on her appointment to the Senate. I am sure her tenure will be characterised by energy, intelligence and great distinction.

jon stanhope
Jon Stanhope.
Katy will achieve, in time, a standing in the federal parliament second to none of who have served the ACT in either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

It won’t all be clear sailing and it is likely that the ALP’s current policy on asylum seekers will represent perhaps the first significant challenge for Senator Gallagher.

At the recent Palm Sunday Rally for Refugees she informed local media that she was not comfortable with the ALP’s current policies on asylum seekers. She said she proposed to work within the party with like-minded members in an effort to have the policies changed. To this end she would seek to ensure that the asylum-seeker policy was considered at the ALP National Conference in July.

The current policies were introduced by the Rudd and Gillard Governments and have, since Labor’s crushing defeat by Tony Abbott, been defended and maintained by Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek and the current shadow cabinet and the caucus.

A threshold issue for those within the ALP who oppose the current policies is that they are, in almost all respects, in breach of the National Platform. The Platform provides, for instance, that Labor does not support offshore processing or the detention of children.

On July 19, 2013, the Rudd/Albanese Government announced a policy of indefinite, mandatory detention, including of children in offshore processing centres.

The Human Rights Commission in its recent report, “The Forgotten Children”, outlined the devastating and, in some cases, permanent consequences for the children locked up indefinitely by the ALP and the current government.

What Katy Gallagher has effectively said she is hoping to do is have the ALP stick to its platform.

The fact that the Opposition has not bothered to respond to the “Forgotten Children” report or its recommendations does not, however, bode well for Senator Gallagher’s campaign to have the National Platform respected and the policies changed to reflect its intent.

There are no indications that either of the ALP factions have any stomach for a return to principle on asylum-seeker policy. The Left, in particular, will seek to hide its discomfort and guilt about asylum seekers behind the smokescreen of a confected battle at the conference over a conscience vote on gay marriage.

Meanwhile, the response of Senator Gallagher’s two ACT colleagues Andrew Leigh and Gai Brodtmann to the current illegitimate asylum-seeker policies presents an interesting challenge to the ALP’s ACT Administrative Committee. Both Leigh and Brodtmann are on the record as supporting the current policy.

The ACT branch of the ALP has called for nominations for pre-selection for the next federal election. Nominations close on May 15. All candidates for pre-selection are required, pursuant to the rules of the party, to sign a pledge to support, if elected, the National Platform in its entirety.

The pledge which Leigh and Brodtmann signed when previously pre-selected provides:

“I hereby …pledge myself:

  • To be bound by the Objective and the National and ACT Platforms and Rules of the Australian Labor Party…

If returned to the Federal Parliament:

  • To do my utmost to ensure the implementation of the principles embodied in the abovementioned platforms;
  • On all resolutions to vote as a majority of the Labor Caucus may decide PROVIDED such decisions do not conflict with the provisions laid down (above)…”

Members of the ALP, not least those who supported Leigh and Brodtmann in their pre-selection, might well be wondering whether the party rules stand for anything and how the Administrative Committee will respond if either Leigh or Brodtmann nominates again for pre-selection. At a minimum they should be asked to explain how they reconcile the signed pledge they have made with the position they have taken on asylum seekers and explicitly agree in future to honour their word.

In an ironic and bitter twist, the National Conference will be held on the second anniversary of the decision by the Labor Party to indefinitely incarcerate innocent men, women and children on Nauru.

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.

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