Labor is set to embrace a boost to the refugee intake cap to 32,000 by 2025, but the increase will be delivered under a new sponsorship program.
The ALP conference is set to debate the contentious asylum seeker policy on Monday, with an olive branch to refugee activists who have pushed for a more generous cap.
Underlining the convictions of MPs on the issue, multiple sources confirmed Labor MP Ged Kearney openly wept in an ALP caucus meeting this year when discussing the plight of asylum seekers.
Moves are underway, led by Ms Kearney, to “embed” in the policy platform the proposals to allow the medical evacuation of asylum seekers, as proposed in legislation that Parliament is currently considering.
Activists predicted on Sunday night this would act as a de facto measure to “clear the camps” on Nauru and Manus.
But the vexed issue of boat turn-backs may not even be debated at the carefully managed conference, despite attempts by Labor For Refugees to put a motion up for debate on Sunday.
More generous welfare entitlements for asylum seekers in Australia, including access to education, will be debated under plans to establish a new ‘safety net’ for refugees.
But the substantive platform change that is expected to secure support is the increase in the refugee cap from 27,000 to 32,000.
Asked about an increase to the cap over the weekend, Labor leader Bill Shorten did not rule it out.
“But let’s put our approach on boats very clearly. One, we’re going to stop the boats and we’ll put whatever resources we need to do that,” Mr Shorten said
“Two, we are supporting regional and offshore processing. But three, we think that refugees are part of our population intake. So we will be taking refugees into this country but we’ll do it properly, not via people smugglers.
“We want to be a good international citizen, we also recognise, however, that we’ve got to make sure that whatever policy we adopt we can afford, and that it meets our combined goals of not keeping people in indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru, but also keeping our borders strong so we never again see the people smuggling trade start up, and we see hundreds of innocent people drown at sea merely because they want to come to Australia.”
The New Daily reported last month the ALP conference was preparing to lift the cap and implement a new sponsorship scheme for business and unions to sponsor a refugee.
Two years ago, then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull increased Australia’s annual refugee intake from 13,750 to 19,000.
While the standard cap is expected to remain at 27,000 by 2050, Labor will increase that figure by providing up to 5000 extra places under a new sponsorship scheme.
Left-faction sources negotiating the amendments also confirmed negotiations were continuing over the fate of thousands of refugees dealt with under so-called “fast-track” reforms.
More than 6000 rejected asylum seekers could potentially be given a second chance under the ALP’s plans to reject the “unfair” scheme. The key to the outcome rests on a dozen independent delegates at the ALP conference, including Victoria’s James Button, who are not aligned with the major factions.
Senior sources predicted that was unlikely to happen with Labor drawing a line in the sand under visa applications already processed.
But Labor for Refugees was still pushing for a second chance on Sunday night, arguing the 6000 rejected refugees should have the opportunity to reapply.
The key changes the activist groups want are an end to the policy of detention on Manus and Nauru with refugees to be brought to Australia for resettlement, increasing the annual intake to 50,000 and stopping boat turn backs.
The amendment proposed by Labor For Refugees states: “That national conference calls on an incoming Labor government to cease the practice of turning back the boats”.
It’s not clear if that motion will even be debated at the conference designed to showcase Mr Shorten’s leadership credentials.
ALP sources also predicted Labor MPs including Ms Kearney may be able to “clear the camps” on Manus and Nauru quietly, with Labor’s support for legislation to allow the medical evacuation of asylum seekers the big factor.
Mr Shorten has not pledged to allow these asylum seekers to stay in Australia, instead proposing they be resettled in a third country such as New Zealand or the US after receiving medical treatment.
“Good luck with that,” quipped one refugee activist at the ALP conference, predicting that any asylum seeker who came to Australia for medical treatment was highly unlikely to ever leave.