ALP set to reopen row on asylum-seekers

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Picture: AAP


The Australian,

Bill Shorten faces a damaging pre-election brawl over border protection, as the party’s draft ­national platform proposes to overhaul the government’s Home Affairs portfolio and shift asylum-seekers out of mandatory detention after 90 days.

The policy blueprint, circulated to ALP members ahead of the national conference in July, says Labor would review the arrangements for Home Affairs — which includes national security, immigration and border control agencies — “to ensure they are fit for purpose” and “make any adjustments where required”.

It also flags changes that, if passed, would put the onus on the party’s parliamentary wing to ­ensure mandatory detention was used only as a last resort, and “for the shortest practicable time”.

The chapter on offshore detention, drafted by immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann together with delegates from the party’s left and right factions, is ­silent on the future of Australia’s offshore processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

The issue is set to flare up, with a new rank-and-file ballot to elect conference delegates expected to favour left-wing candidates, ­including those seeking to bring refugees on Manus and Nauru to Australia. Labor’s current support for boat turn-backs is also absent from the platform, but likely to be hotly debated.

The platform says “unauthorised arrivals” will be subject to mandatory detention for health, identity and security checks, but “Labor will strive to ensure this is for no longer than 90 days”.

Labor’s current policy only ­requires the Department of Home Affairs to report on the number of asylum claims processed within 90 days. If agreed, the platform would require gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers on Manus Islands to be removed, due to legal and cultural barriers in Papua New Guinea to same-sex relationships.

“Labor will not detain, process or resettle LGBTI refugees or ­asylum-seekers in countries which have criminal laws against any of these communities as it makes these places unsafe environments for all of them,” the platforms says.

It confirms Labor would make “every humanly practical effort” to get children out of immigration detention centres.

The Labor draft policy document would also give trade unions a say over the provision of services at offshore detention centres.

The platform will open up a strong line of attack for the government, which has made political mileage for years by arguing Labor is soft on border protection.

Labor unleased a wave of asylum-seeker arrivals after it abolished the Howard government’s Pacific Solution when it came to power in 2007. Kevin Rudd re-­established the policy in 2013, striking a deal with PNG to reopen a processing centre on Manus. In February there were approximately 1000 asylum-seekers remaining on Nauru and more than 750 on Manus Island. Many have been in detention for almost five years.

A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton confirmed that, this month so far, 233 refugees had been moved from both Manus Island and Nauru to the US, under a deal struck with former president Barack Obama.

The platform confirms Labor’s policy to lift the refugee intake to 27,000 from the government’s 18,750, “to create an orderly pathway to resettlement in Australia”.

It would maintain the architecture of Australia’s excised offshore places, outside the nation’s migration zone.

The draft platform also lays out plans to increase oversight of intelligence agencies and to reappoint a national security adviser.

Labor will also consider whether to increase penalties for those who violate anti-discrimination law, particularly against homophobic behaviour.

The platform includes a strong defence of charities amid debate over whether the government’s proposed foreign donations laws unfairly restrict the activities of not-for-profits. The draft’s authors said the party would develop a single national Associations Act that would offer “a consistent national approach to fundraising and other relevant regulatory requirements”.