The Awful Compromise: In Order to Get Abbott Out, is Labor Jumping Too Far to The Right?

So, by now you probably would have heard the announcements unveiled ahead of the ALP’s National Conference. There have been good, bad and interesting stuff introduced. Right now, I want to talk about the idea of Labor adopting the “boat turn-backs” policy. So let’s begin.

When I first heard of this, I was horrified and deeply saddened. I’ve talked to people and listened to more since then and my initial reaction still stands. However, it is slightly tempered by a couple of potential silver linings trying to show themselves perhaps. We’ll see.

For one thing, Shorten has just announced it as a policy idea. It still needs to be debated. Reportedly, some Labor MPs are rather annoyed that Mr. Shorten pre-empted the conference with this announcement. It does seem a little like he’s pushing the idea.

Secondly, even if it’s adopted it is possible that it will not quite be “binding” as such, but merely an option. Go back and read/ watch the detail of the announcement – Shorten is being rather careful with his words.

Potentially, it could be just another tactic to ensure Labor wins over the LNP in the marginal seats, whose polling apparently shows approval of the policy. For as someone close to me said when I vented frustration about this ‘policy switch’: If we want to ensure Abbott and the LNP are voted out, then we need to be prepared. Labor have been presenting as a soft target for a lot of the time in Opposition, just letting Attack-Dog Tony, still stuck in Opposition mode, do their work for them. It is hard to out-opposition “PM Nope-nope-nope”. They’ve gradually been increasing their pointed remarks for those with ears to listen. But going by the polling, they needed to look “tough”, or at least similar to Abbott on this issue, in order to decisively chuck him out.

It saddens me, but I see their point, even if it feels like greasy politicking – sometimes in order to win the day, I guess that’s what needs to be done. After all, we do not want Abbott as PM for another three or more years – last year’s budget would seem tame. Labor also need to win decisively enough that they have a reasonable majority over the LNP, even if there are a few Independent/ Greens members and senators around. Otherwise, we could be looking at more of the same.

BUT: I have hope.

Call me idealistic, but I’d really like to think that in Labor’s case, “boat turn-backs” might mean something slightly different in practice to the LNP’s. Especially since there’s talk of increasing the Humanitarian Refugee Intake.

My (Slightly Cheeky?) Plan for a Potential ‘Boat Turn-Back’ Policy Which Would Still Help Refugees:


2. (a) Enter into discussion with Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia – encourage them to sign up to the Convention.
(b) Shut down Nauru and Manus Island camps.

3. Intercept every boat once in Australian waters. Tow them to Christmas Island/ other place where there’s an airport.

4. Fly the refugees back to Indonesia/ Malaysia/ Cambodia to accommodation/ properly set-up camps, with access to UNHCR etc. to be processed. Ensure that the refugees have access to proper housing, food, school, work, etc.

5. Increase our Refugee Intake so that we’re taking many people directly from those camps.

6. Voila! Boats stop coming, as they know they’ll just be returned to the camps. At the same time, the wait time for refugees at the camps is reduced, with better facilities available.

….Of course, it wouldn’t be that simple. But come on! We have to try something.
It’s a compromise: I’d really actually prefer some sort of “limited onshore detention > progressing to community detention” scenario. But that’s politics, unfortunately.

What do you think?

P. S. My brain is telling me I’ve seen something like the above solution written before, but I’m having trouble finding it… If anyone could help, that’d be great.

Edit: <– This Guardian article offers another perspective.