Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge says it’s a “moral failure” and a disgrace by both sides of government that “cruel” asylum seeker policies are being implemented.
His comments come a day after the Labor Party voted at its national conference to adopt boat turnbacks as official party policy if elected into government.
Labor MP Anthony Albanese voted against Mr Shorten’s policy backflip, while Deputy Leader Tanya Pilbersek and Penny Wong, who both personally opposed the turnback strategy, sent proxies to vote in support.
Archbishop Coleridge, who sat on the ABC’s Q&A panel in Queensland on Monday night, said there was a moral failure on both sides of politics which couldn’t be avoided.
“It puzzles me that systematically cruel policies are devised and implemented by men and women in politics,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s any way around the fact that on both sides politics federally, our policy on asylum seekers and refugees is simply a moral failure and is an international disgrace.
“The very least we could do is to process them onshore.”
But former Nationals Party Senator Ron Boswell said “there’s 10 million people looking for somewhere to go, we can’t open the door to everyone” and “we’re very generous”.
“We take more refugees than I think any other country,” Mr Boswell said.
The audience gasped and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk quickly rebutted and said “No we don’t”.
“Maybe Canada?” Mr Boswell replied.
— Amy Feldtmann (@AmyFeldtmann) July 27, 2015
Labor does not deserve to be elected if it supports boat turn backs. Gutless, moral failure #qanda
— Julian Burnside (@JulianBurnside) July 27, 2015
A question from the audience in relation to Mr Shorten’s backflip asked the panel: “How could Labor convince Australians to trust its borders with a policy that almost half the party didn’t believe in?”
Ms Palaszczuk said she backed Mr Shorten’s boat policy and said the party would in fact double the amount of refugees entering Australia.
“What everyone is forgetting here is that these people are risking their lives in coming to Australia and we don’t want to see anyone killed,” she said.
She was then questioned why Labor took so long to sign up to it, but did not respond directly.
During the Labor vote at its national conference on Saturday, motions put forward by Labor to close detention centres and avoid turnbacks were easily defeated.
Labor decided to continue processing asylum seekers offshore in Nauru and Manus Island, but committed to improving the conditions of the detention centres.
By all means talk about turning back boats. It’s way easier than saying we’re turning away people. #qanda
— Paris (@DavidParis) July 27, 2015
Prime Minister Tony Abbott previously described Labor as “dangerously divided” on asylum seeker policy, and insisted the party could not be trusted with border security.
Speaking to reporters in Sydney on Monday, the PM seized on the division within the Labor Party, which culminated in the weekend vote on asylum seeker policy.
“What the Labor Party did on the weekend is not conducive to confidence that any future Labor government would maintain the strong border protection policies that have been put in place,” Mr Abbott said.
Referring to the number of boat arrivals under the Rudd government, Mr Abbott expressed his distrust in any future Labor government’s border security policy.
“We had 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat on Labor’s watch,” Mr Abbott said.
“Tragically we had more than 1000 deaths at sea on Labor’s watch. You just can’t trust the Labor Party when it comes to border security.”
The panel then turned its discussion to family violence.
Ms Palaszczuk was asked how her government could implement recommendations from the Domestic and Family Violence Taskforce effectively, when the Queensland budget allocated just $31.3 million across four years.
“I do commend the fact the the Prime Minister has put it on the table for a national campaign, but here is Queensland we had a landmark report for actions we can take,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“We have put in $31 million, that’s a great step, and we are leading other states.
“We are putting non extra duty lawyers to help women and our first ever a trial of a special family violence court … that could be rolled out across the state and at a national level.”
Ms Palaszczuk said it was about changing attitudes and culture and education must begin in schools.
Archbishop Coleridge said combating domestic violence was a community responsibility – including the church’s – and cannot be left to the government.
“It’s a very Aussie thing to say that the government has to do something,” he said.
“What we are coming to see is this is a widespread problem across the community. Gone are the days of keeping it behind closed doors.”
He was then questioned about whether the church once ‘turned a blind eye’ towards family violence.
“Yeah, maybe. I think the church certainly needs to reflect upon it, but I just don’t know. If they were turning a blind eye, it was following suit with the whole society,” he said.
“What’s happened now, thank God, is that those days are over.”
#qanda Australia must accept we have a major problem with male violence against women & domestic violence, & then commit to ending it
— Roberto Jones (@rjstrikers) July 27, 2015
#QandA it is time to stop talking about domestic violence and start doing something, DV has been around forever and ignored for far too long
— Ann (@dranninadelaide) July 27, 2015