Labor vs The Greens

15 August 2012
In a sad day for Australia, today federal parliament voted to resume offshore processing of asylum seekers, returning to the worst of the inhumane Howard-era treatment of refugees. I've posted before on this issue, so you can imagine my dismay and anger that we are to go back to paying impoverished Pacific nations to lock up indefinitely those desperate souls who, within their legal rights, attempt to come here to escape persecution. But there's a new aspect to my anger. I've heard and read several remarks from ALP supporters that this is all the Greens' fault; that if the Greens had "compromised" by agreeing to the previous proposal to house asylum seekers in Malaysia(!), reopening the processing centres in Nauru would never have been necessary. "Enjoy letting asylum seekers drown while you protect your ideology", runs the tone of some of the nastier remarks I've seen.

Excuse me? The sentiment is born of anger, and is so very wrong. It should not have to come down to a choice between "letting asylum seekers drown", and locking them up indefinitely. According to the ALP, the Greens had a duty to accept whatever reactive, inhumane, illegal asylum seeker policy was put to them, in order to defeat the LNP. But why should they? Labor could have compromised - to have actually stood up for what they claim to believe in; for what they were voted in to do (if we as a nation wanted to continue with offshore processing, we wouldn't have voted out the government that introduced it). Gillard could have stood up to the racists and reactionaries, called out the shockjocks and the LNP on their lies about "illegals" who are "swamping Australia". She could have lived up to our international obligations, and adopted a fair, humane policy of onshore processing in open centres. But no, she took the easy way out, caving to those who will never be happy with the ALP anyway (there seems to be something pathological about the Gillard government desperately courting the favour of those who hate them) and returning to the reactionary days of families exiled to Pacific outposts, doomed to live for years behind razor wire, then sent back to their homelands to face death due to shifting political climates.

But I wonder if some of the anger is brought about by the shame Labor supporters feel at the actions of their own party. Labor likes to paint itself as the party of "progressive pragmatism". It's all well and good for the Greens' to have lofty ideals, the line runs, but we're the ones who can actually get things done. But from here it looks like what they do is simply caving in. If Gillard had presented a humane response to asylum seekers that respected their rights under international law, the Greens would have agreed to it; and Tony Abbott would have been left the loser, without the numbers to defeat it. Instead, Gillard caved to the racists and shock jocks. What do Labor take a stand on? The NT intervention? Same sex marriage? Not only does Gillard oppose it, she is addressing the annual conference of the homophobia front group the Australian Christian Lobby (who lobby on one issue only: the danger to society posed by same sex marriage).

"Stopping the boats" through offshore processing does not save refugees lives. It means the asylum seekers very well end up staying in their own countries, and dying their from the persecution they were fleeing; if they don't end up rotting alive for years in detention centres if they make the trip after all. But at least then it will all happen out of sight of the ALP; allowing those who support the party of cowardice-not-compromise to sleep at night. They hate the Greens for actually being what they believe themselves to be - principled and progressive. If they worked together, they'd be a force for good to be reckoned with; but the jealousy has destroyed the chance. Don't blame the Greens for offshore processing. The ALP have only to blame themselves.


  1. There's a lot of corporatism in LNP and Labor together, and a lot of money in keeping prisoners in poorer countries to those willing to take the money.
    These same moneyed interests lobby LNP and Labor, profit from the benefits that gives them in policy.
    The Greens don't accept corporate money, that's not something most younger Labor supporters know, even though they would care about it.

  2. I sincerely disagree with this. I'm not a Labor fan, and I'm generally in agreeance with the positions of the Greens, at least in principal.

    However, I find their approach to this simply obnoxious.

    I am now of the opinion that policies which encourage boats to attempt the dangerous journey are failed policies. I didn't used to be, but I'm swayed by the evidence and the horrific toll we've had. Onshore processing encourages that.

    While I think we need to dramatically increase the number of refugees we take in, I think the solution must be based on significantly improving offshore processing and removing that danger. Otherwise lives are lost, and it's a result of our good intentions.


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