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.





Refugee Action Collective


13 FEBRUARY 2018
The Australian government’s decision to deport to Sri Lanka a former ranking member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) puts at risk his safety and possibly his life, the Tamil Refugee Council said today.

Santharuban, the man in question, is subject to a United Nations Committee Against Torture interim measure request that he not be returned to the country. Yet the government last Thursday issued him a notice stating that he would be deported on 22 February.

“Members and suspected former members of the LTTE continue to be disappeared, detained, tortured and harassed by the Sri Lankan security forces,” said Aran Mylvaganam, Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson. “This notice ignores the reality facing returning Tamils and, if acted on, would place Santharuban in significant danger.”

For more than 30 years, the Tamil Tigers led a struggle for national liberation, in the country’s north and east, against chauvinist Sinhalese governments that denied the Tamils basic human and civil rights. Since the organisation’s military defeat in 2009, Sri Lankan military and security forces have occupied Tamil lands and continued to oppress the population.

Human Rights Watch, in a new report, “Locked up without evidence”, quotes Ben Emmerson, a former UN special rapporteur who visited Sri Lanka last year: “The use of torture has been, and remains today, endemic and routine, for those arrested and detained on national security grounds.”

In November, the Associated Press quoted Piers Pigou, a South African human rights investigator, as saying, “The levels of sexual abuse being perpetuated in Sri Lanka by authorities are the most egregious and perverted that I’ve ever seen.” AP was reporting on the case of 50 Tamil men seeking asylum in Europe, who were abducted, tortured and raped in Sri Lanka in 2016-17.

The United Nations working group on arbitrary detention has released the preliminary findings from its visit to the country in December. It notes receiving “accounts of Tamils who were arrested and detained in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when returning to Sri Lanka after seeking asylum in another country or working abroad.”

“The Working Group received testimony that, in some cases, the returnees were beaten and kept under surveillance once released, and charged with offences relating to illegal departure from Sri Lanka.”

Yet the Australian government continues to detain Tamil refugees, some for years on end, and now is moving to deport yet another.

The government implies that the country is safe for returning Tamils. It says that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) – legislation under which thousands of Tamils have been indefinitely detained, tortured and denied natural justice and due process – has been suspended.

This is a highly dubious claim, made by the Sri Lankan government itself. There continue to be scores of political prisoners locked up under PTA provisions and it is not at all clear that the security forces have stopped using it as a practical operating guide.

Either way, the draft Counter Terrorism Act, which is to replace the PTA, contains extraordinary provisions that are in some cases worse. A leaked draft of the proposed legislation proposes a range of new terrorism offences, including:

“threatening, attacking, changing or adversely affecting the unity, territorial integrity, security or sovereignty of Sri Lanka or … illegally or unlawfully compelling the Government of Sri Lanka to reverse, vary or change a policy decision or to do or abstain from doing any act relating to the defence, national security, territorial integrity [or] sovereignty of Sri Lanka.”

“The scope of this draft legislation is chilling and shows that the Sri Lankan government is not at all ‘reformed’,” Mylvaganam said.

“In effect, it outlaws in advance any movement for Tamil national rights. How on earth can the Australian government square this reality with its determination to deport Tamils who fled precisely because they were involved or were suspected to be involved in the struggle for Tamil national rights?

The Tamil Refugee Council is calling on the Australian government to:

  • Withdraw its notice of intention to deport Santharuban
  • Release immediately and grant protection visas to all Tamil asylum seekers currently held in detention

Media contact: Aran Mylvaganam 0410 197 814 


Refugee Action Coalition



The second group of refugees to leave Nauru for resettlement in the United States are leaving Nauru this afternoon, Nauru time. The 22 refugees are flying from Nauru to the United States, via Fiji, to Los Angeles. (Photos attached of refugees checking-in at Nauru airport .)

Except for one couple, a Rohingyan man and his wife, the other refugees  leaving today (Sunday, 11 February) are single men Afghans, Pakistanis, and Rohingyan.

It is expected that altogether around 130 refugees will fly from Nauru to the United States this month.

As usual, the departure of the refugees highlights the flaws in the US resettlement process.  Last week, Iranian refugees – the largest national group of refugees on Nauru – protested for the second week in a row, over Iranians being excluded from the US intake.

Also among the people leaving today is one Rohingyan refugee who has family in Australia. He told the Refugee Action Coalition that he asked Australia for protection, and had initially declined to go to the United States.

“I don’t know anyone there,” he told the Refugee Action Coalition.  The man had been told if he declined to go to the US, he could expect to be on Nauru for 20 years, or could go to Cambodia.

The departure of the refugees comes as Nauru makes the first medical transfers to Taiwan in an attempt to deal with the fundamental the lack of medical facilities on the island.  Three refugees were sent to Taiwan for medical treatment last Wednesday.

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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