Close Manus, Close Nauru – Let them Land, Let Them Stay! a RAC response to Brad Chilcott’s ‘Possibility before protest’

Close Manus, Close Nauru – Let them Land, Let Them Stay!

a RAC response to Brad Chilcott’s ‘Possibility before protest’

Brad Chilcott, director of Welcome to Australia, issued an absurd announcement that he is opposed to Labor refugee advocates voting for policy to oppose offshore detention at their national conference. This is tragic advice from an erstwhile refugee advocate.

Instead of ‘stop the boats’, Chilcott would have Labor chanting ‘close the ocean route to Australia’- which means exactly the same thing. He wants a more ‘humane’ version of offshore processing. But brutality is built into logic of offshore processing and boat turn backs. Unless we want to see Labor revisit its own nightmare reign over the hell holes of Manus and Nauru and its endless efforts to foist responsibility for refugee resettlement on any other country in the region, we must keep up the demands- ‘close the camps, welcome the boats’.

Welcome the boats

The lessons of the Rudd/Gillard labor government ought not be lost on refugee advocates. Without a fundamental break from anti-boat hysteria, Labor will reach again for the border brutality.

As long as we are surrounded by war and water, people will come by boat to Australia to seek asylum. The navy could easily perform rescue missions instead of turn backs. It could provide safe passage to refugees coming via Indonesia. But there is never an excuse to ‘close the ocean passage’ to desperate people seeking our protection.

We can win

 Chilcott cites the latest opinion polls as evidence that winning the argument to welcome boats of refugees is just not possible. But the refugee movement under Howard won public opinion; between 2001 and 2004 the number of people who thought all or some asylum boats should be allowed to land went from 47 percent to 61 percent. 

The refugee movement is building again. Essential Poll found that 49% of Australians agreed that ‘Asylum  seekers  arriving  by  boat  should  be  allowed  to  stay  in  Australia  if  they  are  found  to  be  genuine  refugees’. 15,000 people turned out to this years Palm Sunday rally, the number of organisations and institutions backing the rally close to doubled, new refugee rights groups are springing up all the time. 

But Chilcott’s strategy would take all this building pressure off the ALP, and cede large amounts of political ground to the Coalition.

Increase the humanitarian intake – no regional resettlement

Regional processing or resettlement is simply a euphemism for Australia outsourcing its refugee responsibility onto poorer neighbours. Every regional resettlement program Australia has come up with is a lock-the-refugees-out scheme. Nauru, Manus and Cambodia have all been multimillion dollar humanitarian disaster ‘solutions’. East Timor, and Malaysia would have been the same if Labor got them through.

While our neighbours absorb the vast majority of refugees in our region it is a nonsense to suggest Australian politicians set up yet another scheme of regional resettlement. Australia must radically increase its humanitarian intake immediately. 

Labor leaders must speak out

Labor does not need refugee bashing to win an election; in fact until it deals head on with the anti-refugee sentiment it has contributed to building up in Australia it will be haunted by the issue. 

Far from ‘re-energising the politics of fear and vilification’ a strong vote against offshore detention at the national ALP conference, and more vocal Labor leaders willing to say ‘let them land, let them stay’ would begin a bipartisan break with refugee cruelty. 

Every refugee advocate must be at the ALP conference refugee rights rally, urging those inside to push for a real change- starting with closing Manus and Nauru, and ending mandatory detention, but not stopping until refugee deterrence is in the dustbin of history.