“Albanese and Keneally have moved from supporting the human and legal rights of asylum seekers to supporting a system that has resulted in multiple deaths, sexual abuse, psychological harm, trauma and mental illness,” writes JON STANHOPE.
IT was only a year or so ago that Kristina Keneally was quoted as saying: “There is a solution to… the Nauru and Manus Island problem that doesn’t depend on the whims of an idiotic and unpredictable US president: bring the refugees to Australia.”
Hear, hear, I thought.
Kristina is now, of course, a newly elected senator, the shadow minister for Home Affairs and Labor spokesperson on refugees and asylum seekers.
She trod a short road into the shadow ministry and will, I am sure, be effective. However, Kristina has also had a road to Damascus-like reversal of her thinking about the “Nauru and Manus Island Problem” and now apparently believes that boat turn backs and the mandatory offshore detention of asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are not just defensible but are indispensable to our sovereignty and national security.
Her newly acquired views are now in lockstep with those of the Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, who has long been perceived as supportive of a humane asylum-seeker policy and of the need to respect our international obligations to refugees and asylum seekers.
However, it appears he deviated markedly from that position at the time of the Longman by-election last year when, in an interview on Sky News, he both acknowledged the success of Operation Sovereign Borders and the coalition’s boat turn-back policy and expressed his continued support for mandatory and indefinite off-shore detention.
When asked if offshore detention should be subject to a time limit he answered “no”.
It seems then that both Albanese and Keneally have experienced Damascene moments in relation to the treatment of asylum seekers. They have both moved from a position supportive of the human and legal rights of asylum seekers to one of support for a system that has resulted in multiple deaths, physical and sexual abuse, deep (and in many cases permanent) psychological harm, trauma and mental illness which has torn families apart.
It is a system that violates international law and denies the humanity of people who have come to us seeking protection. The torture continues with reports that in the last month more than 40 asylum seekers detained by Australia in New Guinea have attempted suicide or have self-harmed.
On July 19, it will be exactly six years since the short-lived Rudd/Albanese Labor government implemented the policy of mandatory and indefinite off-shore detention.
I have commented previously, and I am sure I am correct, that the only policy of the Rudd/Albanese government that survived the Abbott and Turnbull governments is the policy of mandatory off-shore detention.
It’s understood that the new and resurgent Morrison government is planning to use the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the implementation of that policy to repeal the medevac laws that were forced on it by the independents before the last election and thereby return to the purity of the original Rudd/Albanese policy i.e., “mandatory” means mandatory and “indefinite” means indefinite.
After six years, I find it inconceivable that anyone in Australia, including most particularly members of the ALP, can support the continued detention of innocent men and women on Manus and Nauru.
In light of the support of Albanese and Keneally for boat turn backs and the maintenance by the ALP of its hard-line, anti-asylum policies it appears that the only apparent solution to the “Manus and Nauru Problem” is, as honestly and so eloquently put by Senator Keneally: “The whims of an idiotic and unpredictable US president”.
While not suggesting that the revelatory or Damascene experience of either Albanese or Keneally, which caused each of them to change their views about asylum seeker policy, was as profound as that of Saul, a Pharisee who was on the road to Damascus to attack and persecute Christians before being intercepted by Jesus and so saw the light, but their change of attitude towards asylum seekers has also, nevertheless, been dramatic.
It is quirkily relevant to what I am trying to say that when Saul (who changed his name to Paul) was in conversation with King Agrippa about his conversion to Christianity he related that Jesus had said to him: “It is hard for you to kick against the goads”. A goad was a sharp implement used to control oxen in harness. Oxen that “kicked against the goads” would be injured and quickly learnt to be compliant.
In the same way, all Labor members of the Federal parliament quickly learn upon election to not publicly criticise or oppose the ALP’s cruel and inhumane asylum seeker policies even though most disagree with and personally oppose them.
They find it, as Jesus said to Paul, “hard to kick against the goads”. Of course, their fear is not that by speaking out or acting according to their conscience they, like the oxen of old, may suffer a physical injury.
The “goad” they fear is the loss of standing within the party and the sure certainty of injury to their ambition and damage to their political careers by challenging public opinion and attracting the wrath of the factional enforcers.
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.