A prominent Labor backbencher has warned the party’s leadership and policy makers not to embrace the Coalition’s turn-back policy on asylum seekers.
West Australian MP Melissa Parke told the ABC there would be “enormous ramifications” if the party reversed its opposition to turn-backs at July’s ALP National Conference.
A draft copy of the party’s National Platform contains no references to the policy.
That is despite years of Labor criticisms of it, including a claim by former prime minister Kevin Rudd that it could spark military conflict with Indonesia.
Labor’s left faction had been pushing hard for a softening of the party’s asylum policy.
But there has been virtually no change to the draft platform.
Other Labor positions on Coalition asylum policy have been included in the draft document.
“Labor rejects the practice of referring to asylum seekers as “illegals”,” it says, a reference to the Government’s term — which Labor has opposed for years — for those who arrive aboard asylum boats.
In another minor concession to the Left, the draft has added the words “Labor believes that as a country Australia must not harm people” to its asylum seeker section.
The Left had been pushing for a strong position about the treatment of asylum seekers in detention, following a series of reports of dismal conditions in offshore detention centres, reportedly rife with instances sexual abuse, self-harm and mental illness.
There has also been a push for a more effective resettlement policy, with just one asylum seeker on Manus Island so far released into the community in Papua New Guinea.
Pro-refugee protestors confronted Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at a speech earlier this week asking him “how he slept at night” and accusing him of “complicity” in abuse at detention centres.
Mr Shorten acknowledged the harm being done in detention centres, but added: “If we have policies which drag people here, to hop on unsafe boats and drown at sea, I’m not going [to be a] party to that either.”
He also pointed to recent tragedies on the Mediterranean Sea involving African asylum seekers making their way to Europe.
“Just as we saw at Lampedusa, where 700 refugees died by boat, I cannot turn my mind and ignore that truth too,” the Opposition Leader said.
The Government has this week indicated some European officials have been seeking information about the Coalition’s asylum strategy, including boat turn-backs.
A divisive, public debate at the ALP conference on asylum policy could potentially tarnish Mr Shorten’s leadership.
A united Labor, after years of public brawling when in government, has been one of the Opposition Leader’s strongest assets in his quest to win power back from the Coalition.