Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese says he voted against his leader’s plan on boat turn-backs because he himself could not turn back an asylum seeker boat at sea.
But Mr Albanese believes the party’s chances of winning the next federal election have been enhanced after yesterday’s passionate and emotional debate over the policy at the ALP National Conference.
Delegates rejected a motion from the party’s Left to prevent Opposition Leader Bill Shorten from adopting the turn-back policy.
“I couldn’t ask someone else to do something that I couldn’t see myself doing,” Mr Albanese told Insiders.
“If people were in a boat including families and children, I myself couldn’t turn that around.
Mr Shorten said a future Labor government would adopt the boat turn-back policy but he also vowed to nearly double Australia’s refugee intake to 27,000, improve conditions at offshore detention centres and give more money to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to support its work in the region.
Opening the final day of the conference, Mr Shorten said he could not be prouder of Labor after yesterday’s debate which highlighted the divisions in the party over the turn-back policy.
“It was respectful, it was passionate, it was open and I’m not sure that the objectors intended to do this, but as our great party does, we don’t mind disagreeing with each other, but we’re not going to let anyone else tell us how to disagree,” he said.
“We won’t let anyone outside damage us.”
Mr Albanese said his party now had a “comprehensive” solution to the asylum seeker problem and does not believe a future Labor government will need to turn back any boats at sea.
“I don’t believe [turn-backs] will start,” he said.
“Everyone in Labor wants to make sure there aren’t turn-backs because there aren’t boats.”
The Federal Government is not convinced by Labor’s policy shift and maintains it cannot be trusted when it comes to border protection.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Mr Shorten’s “dodgy deal” on boat turn-backs was “anything but a policy”.
“What Mr Shorten is proposing here is basically a white flag to say that if the Labor Party was re-elected at the next election, if they went into government at the next election, there would be hundreds of thousands of people arriving illegally by boat,” he said.
Mr Albanese rejected that and said he believes Labor will go to the next election in a strong position.
“I think our position has been enhanced in terms of winning the election as a result of this conference,” he said.
Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek and frontbencher Penny Wong also voted with the left, to ban boat turn-backs, although their votes were lodged via a proxy.
Ms Plibersek defended her decision to vote by proxy, saying it was standard practice.
‘Well my vote was exercised by proxy delegate, it’s absolutely standard procedure at [the] ALP conference and I think it’s extraordinary that people are focusing on this process,” she said.