Why are we spending so much time on a relatively small problem that could be handled much better?

I am passionate about many things, but one of my main passions is the plight of refugees. I think it’s the compassion in me. I know I’ve been giving quite a few posts about refugees over the past few days. It’s a hard issue for me. If I could, to be honest, I’d throw open the borders to those who come here by whatever means. I’m an idealist and I wish that were possible. But it’s not and that sort of attitude doesn’t address the problem, the root causes, of why they do it in the first place.

I refer back to a post about a month or so ago during Refugee Week, where I wrote up my notes from a speech given by humans rights lawyer, Daniel Webb (see here). We need real solutions and I’m cautiously hopeful that Labor’s may be the start of one. Like I said yesterday – it’ll be easier to negotiate with them than with the current “nope, nope, nope” mob.

With that in mind, here are a couple of reblogged posts. The first rightly asks why we’re allowing this issue to dictate debate (given that it’s been tied to “national security” as well as other matters) as there are other issues we should be focusing on – like infrastructure (or as one commenter on Facebook pointed out, the TPP). The second details exactly how the “boat turn-backs” policy option was pushed through by the Labor Right – apparently by not arguing nearly as much on other issues! So maybe that’s a good thing too? 🙂

Reblogged from http://theaimn.com/refugees-or-infrastructure/

Refugees? Or Infrastructure?

The following is a guest post by the Alexandria ALP Branch.There’s an anger in Western Sydney that could cost us the next election – “our schools, trains, roads, hospitals are full of refugees”.

We allowed and encouraged this anger to focus on how refugees can be stopped, a good Liberal issue.  We ignored and continue to ignore the underlying issue of our schools, trains, roads, hospitals being full. We allowed a single Liberal issue to displace a suite of good Labor issues.

In 2010-11, a total of 4828 Humanitarian Program visas were given to onshore applicants, not all maritime arrivals.  That number is from a total of 13,799 visas granted under the Humanitarian Program, itself a number out of a total of 158,943 new immigrants. Putting that number in wider perspective, new immigrants were part of a total population growth for 2012 of 394,200 people. Australia’s population is 22.32 million. Boat people are about 1-2 per cent of annual population growth which is about 1-2 per cent of our population.

In real terms, the nation is reducing government spending. You cannot have a decade and a half of income tax cuts without consequence. It has been a bipartisan squeeze. The squeeze hurts everyone who depends on public facilities and public services.

This is true not just in the western suburbs. There are stations in the inner city, near where I live, at which peak-hour trains are too full to board. We have kids commuting to nearby suburbs because the local schools are full. I don’t need to tell you what our roads are like. Here in the inner city we blame developers rather than refugees, but the anger is just as real. There’s a reason we’re nimbys. We’re being squeezed. Successive governments have contrived to squeeze public spending. Squeeze spending and you are squeezing the people. The people are the public. That understanding was basic to our civic culture. Used to be.

Here is the problem. Not the one that some people would like to have us believe, not that we have too many refugees, not that we have too many people. No, our problem is we do not have enough infrastructure per person. We are not investing in infrastructure.  Cut taxes, you cease investing in infrastructure. That is the basic problem that this government denies.

The UN estimates that about 1% of ‘ irregular maritime’ travellers drown, and this may be an underestimate. Presumably, a similar percentage of turned-back boats sink. A person who chooses not to become a refugee will not die at sea, but they may instead die at the hands of their own government. The calculus is complicated, and we do not have enough information to be sure that turnbacks do more good than harm.

We do know that turnbacks are damaging our relationship with Indonesia, and we know that they are illegal. We also know that refugees, after balancing the risk of drowning against the risk of staying put, sometimes chose the risk of drowning. It is no surprise that, when assessed, almost all maritime refugee applicants are found to be ‘genuine’ refugees – no one takes lightly to these boats.

We don’t need to spend billions on concentration camps. We need to spend billions on rail lines and on schools and on hospitals and on roads. It is not going to be cheap. It is necessary.

Having an adequate revenue base to facilitate spending is a debate we need to have, a debate we will win. Despite our record in recent government, the electorate perceives us as weak on refugees and economic issues, but strong on health and education and public transport. Why then should we indulge the Liberals in a debate on the refugees when we could be having a debate on health and education and public transport?

This article was first published on the Alexandria ALP Branch site.

Reblogged from http://theaimn.com/how-labor-right-sneaked-turnbacks-through-national-conference/

How Labor Right sneaked turnbacks through National Conference

To save Bill Shorten’s shaky leadership, the Labor Right were successful in getting refugee turnbacks through the ALP National Conference only by capitulating to the Left on a range of other policy measures.The Australian Labor Party National Conference has dominated the news headlines for the better part of a week.

Asylum seeker policy was always going to be a tense and hard fought policy issue; but at two-thirds of the way through the triennial meeting of the supreme policy and rules making body of the Australian Labor Party, it was the first topic to go to a vote.

This is almost unheard of.

Independent Australia were advised, by a well placed senior Left source at the Conference, that this is not an accident.

Bill Shorten and the Right leadership team, the source said:

“… are petrified of the mainstream/Murdoch media responding to a Left win on the floor of the conference with a headline that says ‘Socialist Left controls Labor Party’ or ‘Radical Left controls Bill Shorten’. That’s why Labor’s conference is furiously agreeing on almost all amendments.”

The source says this fear has seen Right negotiators

“… embrace progressive policies and amendments, and almost the most progressive platform the Left can propose.”

The Right have been in the position to decide what wins or loses on national conference floor in votes for much of recent history. It is no doubt an unfamiliar and uncomfortable position for them this time around, where they are not fully convinced they can hold their numbers together and defeat Left motions by peeling off a few stray Left delegates.

Said the Left source:

“Things that a week ago they were rejecting vigorously, they are now agreeing.”

The vast bulk of reporting from National Conference will be that the Left suffered a massive embarrassment, not being able to hold their numbers together to back ruling out boat turn backs under a future Labor government. It will be reported that the Right were the big winners, who cemented Bill Shorten’s authority.

The reality is that Bill Shorten made the issue of allowing turn backs a key pillar of his leadership. It was an aggressive move.

Were the Left successful in holding together and excluding boat turn backs Shorten’s leadership would have been terminal.

It appears after years of internal rancour during the Rudd and Gillard years, the main ally of Bill Shorten on this issue, the powerful left wing union, the CFMEU, couldn’t stomach the idea of more leadership turmoil.

Other left wing unions, such as the ASU (Australia Services Union), the Rail Tram and Bus Union and United Voicealso played a part in ensuring Bill Shorten can turn back refugee boats in the future.

Of course, there are many Labor voters and members upset and appalled that their party now includes Liberal Party policy among the suite of measures it is willing to use relating to asylum seekers. While this is a completely legitimate concern, the predominantly left wing base should turn their attention to the numerous policy wins of the ascendent National Left in the final platform that will emerge from this National Conference, which concludes today.

There are, for a start, signs the influence of the rightwing, religiously driven SDA (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association) is waning.

In addition, rules amendments are set to be debated today, along with a strong motion in support of Palestine, backed by the NSW Right and binding on marriage equality.

It looks increasingly like marriage equality binding will be a reality by the end of today, and a raft of popular internal reforms – like giving the president and vice-presidents of the party a vote on the National Executive and giving rank-and-file significantly more internal power – will be successful.

Should the National Executive rules reform succeed, it would give the Left control of National Executive for the first since the late 1970s.

This is not insignificant. The party membership, it turns out, does have something to smile about — a platform that across the board will more closely reflect their firmly held values.

Looking at the platform of National Conference in total, when all is said and done, the Right will be reeling.

The wider issue for the Australian Labor Party to consider however, is how long are both the Left and the Right prepared to let fear of an unfriendly Murdoch media behemoth dictate the internal functioning of their party?

This is the challenge for Labor going into an election sometime in the next year or so.

Frontbencher Anthony Albanese, second from right, votes against the turnbacks policy at the Labor national conference. Picture: Hamish Blair Source: theaustralian.com.au

This article was first published on Independent Australia.

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