New Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally has pledged boat turnbacks and offshore processing will remain a core element of the ALP’s asylum seeker policy, despite previously claiming it “smacks of cruelty”.
In an interview with The New Daily to mark her appointment as Home Affairs spokesperson, Ms Keneally said she had always supported boat turnbacks, despite Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s claims on Sunday she opposed the tactic.
But Senator Keneally indicated Labor’s support for the Medevac legislation remained strong, setting up a fight with the government when it attempts to overturn the laws governing the medical evacuation of asylum seekers when Parliament resumes.
She also promised to apply “a blowtorch” to Mr Dutton’s administration of the portfolio noting a huge blowout in asylum seekers arriving by air.
Mr Dutton on Sunday unleashed a barrage of vitriol against the woman who once described him as “the most toxic man in politics”, accusing Senator Keneally of being the least credible person to hold the portfolio after she wrote an opinion piece arguing that boat turnbacks are “cruel”.
“Boat turnbacks looked to be a cruel instrument. But the conclusion of that article is actually that it is the right thing to do,” Senator Keneally told The New Daily.
“One, it disrupts the people-smuggling trade and, two it prevents people dying at sea.
“My conclusion in that article and my conclusion today is that boat turnbacks are a necessity. The reason why I wrote it was because I thought many people in my community and the Labor Party were struggling with what the right response should be. I understand that many people, and I do still believe there are many people in the Australian community who want to see asylum seekers and refugees treated humanely.”
Senator Keneally said she also supported an ongoing role for offshore processing on Manus and Nauru.
“Offshore processing is necessary. But it does not necessarily need to be cruel. It does not need to be indefinite. And while there have been some moves by the government to resettle people I do not believe it has been a priority for the government,” she said.
In January 2017, Ms Keneally also wrote an op-ed in which she stated the solution to the Nauru and Manus Island problem would be to bring the remaining asylum seekers to Australia.
“There is a solution to [Malcolm] Turnbull’s Nauru and Manus Island problem that doesn’t depend on the whims of an idiotic and unpredictable US president: bring the refugees to Australia,” she wrote.
However, on Sunday Ms Keneally reverted to former PM Kevin Rudd’s original prescription when announcing offshore detention, that anyone who comes to Australia by boat will not be settled in Australia.
“No, I think it is an essential part of our border protection. It ensures that we are clear: if you come here by boat you will not be settled in Australia,” Senator Keneally said.
She backed a deal with New Zealand tor resettle refugees. And accused Mr Dutton of losing control of borders at airports allowing “airplane people” to claim asylum.
Despite concerns that Labor’s support for the medical evacuation of asylum seekers hurt the party in Queensland, the ALP remains committed to the policy.
“Let me be clear, we supported the Medecvac legislation. We believe that when people are sick they should get the healthcare that they need,” she said.
“They might seek to repeal I don’t know. But we support the Medevac legislation. Anthony Albanese has made that clear. The onus is on the government is they want to seek changes to put them before the Parliament. If the government puts something before Parliament we will take it through our shadow cabinet and the normal processes.”
Senator Keneally said she also would seek a briefing on legislation to exclude foreign fighters from Australia for up to two years.
Mr Dutton, meanwhile, said Senator Keneally’s record on asylum seeker policy was clear.
“There couldn’t be anybody less qualified in the Labor Party to be the Home Affairs Shadow Minister,” he said.
“There is a lot of explaining that Kristina Keneally has to do to make people understand how she can reconcile her most recent views in relation to border protection with that which is even a very weak policy under [Anthony] Albanese as Labor leader.
“Now Kristina Keneally, I predict, will be somebody who is very spiteful, very nasty and very personal in her attacks, that’s been her history. The Labor Party has always been soft on border protection. That’s why 50,000 people came on 800 boats and 1200 people drowned at sea.”