Open Letter to Ged Kearney on refugee advocacy in the Batman by-election

Dear Ged Kearney;

 

We are writing to ask you to continue your strong advocacy for refugee rights throughout your election campaign in Batman, to publicly call for the camps on Manus and Nauru to be closed and the refugees to be brought here.

 

As ACTU president you played a crucial role in developing ACTU refugee policy. That policy rightly calls on the government to abandon offshore processing:

 

“Congress calls for the detention centres on Manus Island, Nauru, and any other offshore detention centres to be closed”

 

This has helped give confidence and encouragement to unions and unionists around the country to take a stand and demand the government close the offshore camps and bring the refugees here. When teachers, nurses, doctors, health workers and others defied the Border Force Act, and other restrictive workplace laws, to speak out against the conditions on Manus and Nauru, or to refuse to release children back into detention, the knowledge that the national union movement stands firmly in solidarity has made all the difference.

 

ALP refugee policy remains cruel, it supports boat turn-backs, mandatory detention and is still committed to offshore processing, which has led to the indefinite detention and torture of thousands of asylum-seekers and refugees. But when the bipartisan support for offshore detention has threatened to extinguish public debate, you have been willing to be a voice of opposition as a part of the refugee movement. You have spoken on RAC’s platforms about the need to break the bipartisan support, expressing the views of the majority of Labor voters who oppose offshore detention in the face of silence from the elected Labor leadership. Anti-refugee racism is a tool the Liberals use to prop up their anti-working class agenda and, as you have often said, it is poison for the labour movement.

 

You were quoted in a recent Herald Sun article as saying “It’s no secret I’ve had strong views on these issues”, but also as saying that Labor’s current position as adopted by national conference is “a reality I accept.”

 

It is a reality that can be changed.

 

In 2015, the public opposition of 40% of the ALP’s national conference delegates and many ALP MPs to boat turnbacks helped cement this as a demand of the refugee movement. And figures on the right of the ALP have publicly opposed ALP policy on issues from Tasmanian forests to equal marriage without sanction.

 

 

The public opposition of 40% of ALP national conference delegates and many ALP MPs to boat turnbacks helped cement this as a demand of the refugee movement. And figures on the right of the ALP have publicly opposed ALP policy on issues from Tasmanian forests to equal marriage without sanction.

 

The Labor conference this year will be another opportunity for Labor to reverse its policy on turnbacks and offshore processing. The more publicly Labor’s current policy is challenged – by Labor candidates, MPs, Labor members, unionists and refugee supporters – the greater the possibilities for building the refugee movement and shifting Labor to a welcome refugee position.

 

We know there is a mood among Labor supporters, perhaps in Batman more than anywhere, for change. And for good reason.

 

There are still around 1700 refugees on Manus and Nauru. The US deal has resettled only 230 people in 14 months. It is obvious that Iranians and Somalis have been excluded because of Trump’s travel ban. The scandalous brutality on Manus, and the despair, robberies, bashings and Border Force vetoes on medical transfers on Nauru, have made the shameful depths of Australian government’s anti-refugee racism world renowned.

 

We hope the Turnbull government does not last the year — at the very least it will mean the end of Temporary Protection Visas, and a chance of resettlement in NZ for 150 refugees. But unless there is a change in Labor policy, nothing will change for the majority of refugees on Manus and Nauru, or those in the region who have been brutally towed back, or warehoused in Indonesia with no hope of safe resettlement in Australia.

 

We look forward to hearing from you to clarify the public stance you will take in the Batman by-election. There will be many union contingents, Labor voters and former Labor supporters, attending the Palm Sunday refugee rally, the week after the Batman by-election who want Labor to take a principled position refugees.

 

We hope that you will continue to publicly support the ACTU policy that you developed, which rightly calls to end offshore processing for good.

 

Regards

 

 

Refugee Action Collective