The ALP's me-too refugee policy:
Australia will keep turning the boats back
While Project SafeCom is delighted that the Howard Years have finally come to an end with a resounding victory for the Rudd camp, and while we know that we will be 'more amongst friends' than before, there is still a lot of work ahead for us, in terms of creating a wholehearted implementation of Australia's obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention for the Status of Refugees, and for Australia to return to its formerly known standard of decency to 'the stranger' who seeks our help, whether that is to those who sail to Australia, or to those who are having a prior appointment via our Immigration system.
While we're taking some statements made by politicians in the 2007 election campaign with some grains of salt, we also should be concerned about some statements made by PM-elect Kevin Rudd. As spelled out in media transcripts below, these are:
Our Nov 23 press release:
Project SafeCom responded the front page coverage titled "Rudd to turn back boatpeople" in The Australian and Kevin Rudd's responses to the ABC's Kerry O'Brien with the following media release:
"Kevin Rudd's avoidance and flustering performance this Wednesday in response to Kerry O'Brien's questions on the ABC's 7.30 Report on when exactly he intends to bring 72 Sri Lankans, held on Nauru for more than a year, and who already have been declared bona fide refugees, to Australia was in itself shocking enough, but his interview with Paul Kelly in The Australian showed his true colours, finally giving away the fact that the ALP has run an election campaign on the classic vilification of human rights with a "don't mention the refugees" platform, and it is deeply disappointing," WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.
"First, Mr Rudd's lines on the 7.30 Report that he had not looked into the "contractual obligations" with the nation of Nauru was a cheap fallacy: bringing refugees to Australia from the Nauru camp has no bearing on any contractual obligations whatsoever," spokesman Jack H Smit said.
"Secondly, while Kevin Rudd wants to exude a "holier than thou" attitude in saying how principled he intends to be in implementing the United Nations Refugee Convention - as stated to Kerry O'Brien - in his newspaper interview he intends to in fact tell the UNHCR Commissioner, who also represents "unannounced and unauthorised" arrivals by boat, to "bugger off to where you came from" in his hardline intent to turn boats back."
"Finally, and most disturbingly, it shows that Mr Rudd and Labor have, no matter how clever and intelligent the ALP's election campaign has been orchestrated, done nothing but played on Howard's turf all the way since the start of the campaign: the "me too" campaign was of such nature, because Labor felt it could do nothing else than grab John Howard's agenda and turn it on its head: intelligent, but still a campaign where the agenda was set by John Howard," Mr Smit said.
"The fact that Labor integrates Howard's hardline stance on refugees is nothing less than shocking, but it shows how Labor is and has been part of the problem, and not part of the solution in Australia's undermining of human rights, no matter how nicely Mr Rudd has theorised and extemporised on his theology, ethics, and principled stance. Labor will also undermine the UN Convention and keep the artificial and fallacious split between onshore and offshore arrivals in place," Mr Smit concluded.
Rudd 'dishonest on boat people'
Howard says Opposition Leader's 'election eve statement' on asylum seekers inconsistent and unconvincing
The West Australian
John Howard has accused Kevin Rudd of dishonesty for saying a Labor government under him would turn back asylum seekers in seaworthy boats on the high seas.
Despite years of strident criticism of the Howard Government's refugee policies, the Opposition Leader told a national newspaper yesterday he would use the threat of detention and Australia's close ties with Indonesia to deter asylum seekers. "You'd turn them back," he said of boats approaching Australia.
In a pitch for swaying conservative voters, Mr Rudd also rejected the coalition's promise of a referendum on Aboriginal reconciliation and said a vote on a republic would not occur in his first term in office.
Asked whether he thought Mr Rudd was lying about refugees, the Prime Minister accused his rival of being "totally inconsistent" with his party's previous positions.
"He is unconvincing," Mr Howard said in Townsville, where he continued to defend marginal Queensland seats that could decide today's poll. "I am not going to use the other word.
"Why he is unconvincing is that they have not behaved in a supportive, constructive way when we have done these things.
"When they were put to the fire on asylum seekers, they were weak.
"When they were put to the fire on the Pacific solution, they were against it.
When they were put to the test on excising islands to protect our borders, they were against it.
"I'm very unconvinced by an election eve statement by Mr Rudd and in relation to the referendum, I thought Mr Rudd said a few weeks ago that he agreed with it and he seems to be changing his position."
Mr Rudd was still hedging his bets on asylum seekers yesterday, claiming he would abolish that part of the Pacific solution under which asylum seekers were sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea while their claims were assessed.
But he refused to say whether more than 80 boat people languishing on Nauru would be allowed to resettle in Australia. He also refused to elaborate on the plan to turn back boats.
He would only say he would take departmental advice on transferring those asylum seekers on Nauru to the Christmas Island detention centre.
This week Mr Rudd said that Labor supported an "orderly immigration system" enforced by deterrence. "You cannot have anything that is orderly if you allow people who do not have a lawful visa in this country to roam free," Mr Rudd said.
That statement had echoes of Mr Howard's "we will decide who comes into this country and the manner in which they come".
The Federal Government adopted a policy of turning back boats in 2001 soon after the Tampa incident. It is not known how many boats have been turned away under the scheme.
Refugee barrister Julian Burnside described that policy as "horrible" and said there was a grey area legally, about what rights asylum seekers had.
Deputy Labor leader Julia Gillard claimed she wrote the policy to turn boats away from Australia in 2002.
"I was shadow minister for immigration and developed the policy which remains Labor's policy now," she said.
The Government's policy is based on the understanding that boat people can be turned away legally only if they are found in international waters. If their boat is unsafe, Australian vessels have a duty to rescue them regardless of where they are intercepted.
[not available online]
Kevin Rudd live with Kerry O'Brien
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Kerry O'Brien
The man who would be Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has been leader of the ALP for almost a year. Has he got what it takes to get the party over the line and into Government?
Transcript (refugee policy section)
KERRY O'BRIEN: On refugee policy, Mr Rudd, there are 82 Sri Lankans and seven Burmese being held on Nauru as we speak, part of Mr Howard's Pacific Solution. If you win on Saturday, how quickly will you move to shut down the Nauru and Manus Island options and where would the detainees go?
KEVIN RUDD: We haven't taken advice on that. What we have said that for us, we have an appropriate offshore detention facility, though it's part of Australia on Christmas Island. Christmas Island, I understand, has the capacity of some 800 beds. The so-called Pacific Solution has cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars. Why not use Christmas Island instead? It strikes me as pretty well self-evident.
KERRY O'BRIEN: But how quickly would you move to close down the Manus Island and Nauru option?
KEVIN RUDD: Not privy to the specific contractual and administrative arrangements which were associated with each of those deals...
KERRY O'BRIEN: But I think it's policy. I think Mr Burke your shadow Minister says you will.
KEVIN RUDD: It's policy. We will but your question was how soon.
KERRY O'BRIEN: I think his statement is that you would do it immediately.
KEVIN RUDD: That's true.
KERRY O'BRIEN: And I am asking in terms of your immediate priorities in government, your immediate priorities, will you move as an immediate priority to deal with that?
KEVIN RUDD: At a very early stage. The Pacific Solution is just wrong. It's a waste of taxpayers' money. It's not the right way to in fact handle asylum seekers or others and therefore we think the best way ahead is to use Christmas Island instead. It's a facility which is part of the Commonwealth of Australia. The other thing is this. You think I'm somehow quibbling about this. If you're a responsible alternative government you need to actually look at the advice entirely in its detail on whatever contractual arrangements now exist with those...
KERRY O'BRIEN: Would the contractual arrangements overrule the humanity of the situation?
KEVIN RUDD: No, but you need to be mindful of how do you lawfully extract yourself. And on the humanity of the situation we will exit those arrangements as quickly as possible. There will be no continuation of the Pacific Solution under a Federal Labor government.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Seventy-two of the Sri Lankans have been granted refugee status but still have no country to go to despite Australia's efforts to persuade other countries to take them. Will you absorb those refugees who have been granted that status into Australia or will you too seek to have other countries take at least some of them?
KEVIN RUDD: Firstly, on refugee policy in general I believe that Australia, together with the other signatories to the convention need to shoulder and to continue to shoulder its share of the global case load.
Last time I looked it was somewhere between 12 and 16,000 places per annum. I am not sure exactly where it stands as we speak. And the other resettlement countries, I think there are 15 or 16 of them, share their own national loads.
The first principle is to make sure that that sharing arrangement other countries continue. Secondly, when it comes to this case load of 72, I don't have any advice in front of me in terms of individual circumstances in each of those cases.
KERRY O'BRIEN: But they do now have refugee status and I suppose the issue in principle is whether since they have come here and since we've put them in Nauru, would you as Prime Minister take it as your responsibility and this nation's responsibility as refugees to absorb them... as recognised refugees to absorb them to into Australia?
KEVIN RUDD: We would take advice of the department as against all the other claims on the refugee places which exist at the moment. We are sympathetically minded to accommodating people in that situation but I am also cautious.
KERRY O'BRIEN: Do you accept that this will be an test of your compassion as a government? An early test?
KEVIN RUDD: I am cautious about accepting departmental advice also about who others... which others around the world from the multiple refugee camps run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees are currently waiting to come to this country as well.
KERRY O'BRIEN: This is also a department whose culture has been seriously criticised by inquiries and whose actions have suggested a department that was certainly in the recent past dysfunctional. Can you really trust advice from that department?
KEVIN RUDD: On the specific question as to who is now ready to come here and who has been processed to come here from the multiple - and in some cases intolerable - conditions within which refugees live around the world, I would want to take advice of how that fits with the overall program.
You know, I am a great believer in the convention. If you look at the history of the convention, it came about because after Worlds War II we resolved that we will never stand idly by and allow something like the Holocaust unfold. It's where the refugee convention came from.
I'm a passionate defender of the convention. It's an incorporation of a global humanitarian spirit as we looked with grief and despair and guilt and responsibility at what happened to the Jewish people of Europe in the '30s when they pleaded with so many governments to be taken elsewhere and the doors were closed. I will not stand idly by and allow that sort of thing to happen again. But on the case load and the 72 cases we will take specific advice.
Rudd to turn back boatpeople
KEVIN Rudd has taken a tough line on border security, warning that a Labor government will turn the boats back and deter asylum-seekers, using the threat of detention and the nation's close ties with Indonesia.
In an interview with The Australian, the Opposition Leader advocated a layered approach to border security based on "effective laws, effective detention arrangements, effective deterrent posture vis-a-vis vessels approaching Australian waters".
Mr Rudd also said that a referendum on Aboriginal reconciliation, a separate Aboriginal treaty and a republican referendum would not occur in the first term of a Rudd Labor government, if at all.
And he refused to give any commitment to a statutory bill of rights, saying Labor's only promise was to "consult the community" on the issue.
With the campaign closing amid Liberal exploitation of fears about Islam in Sydney's west and the arrival of 16 boatpeople from Indonesia off the West Australian coast, Mr Rudd promised a tough and integrated border-protection policy from Labor.
This would mean close co-operation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Indonesian Government.
Mr Rudd said Labor would take asylum-seekers who had been rescued from leaky boats to Christmas Island, would turn back seaworthy vessels containing such people on the high seas, and would not lift the current intake of African refugees.
"You'd turn them back," he said of boats approaching Australia, emphasising that Labor believed in an "orderly immigration system" enforced by deterrence.
"You cannot have anything that is orderly if you allow people who do not have a lawful visa in this country to roam free," he said. "That's why you need a detention system. I know that's politically contentious, but one follows from the other.
"Deterrence is effective through the detention system but also your preparedness to take appropriate action as the vessels approach Australian waters on the high seas."
Mr Rudd heads into the final two days of the campaign with an election-winning lead in the polls, although early figures from Newspoll and the latest Galaxy poll in News Limited newspapers give the Coalition some hope.
Newspoll is detecting strong gains for the Coalition in Western Australia and a minor recovery in Queensland and Victoria, with full figures to be available in the final poll of the campaign exclusively in The Weekend Australian tomorrow.
The Galaxy poll, which surveyed almost 1200 people on Tuesday and Wednesday, had Labor and the Coalition equal on 42.5 per cent of the primary vote. Taking into account preference flows, this gives Labor a lead of 52per cent to 48 per cent - the Government's best result this year. Such a swing, if uniform across the country, would deliver Labor 15 seats, one short of the 16 it needs to form government.
An ACNielsen poll in Fairfax newspapers gives Labor a two-party-preferred lead of 57 per cent to 43 per cent, which would deliver a landslide victory.
John Howard accused Mr Rudd, in an interview with The Australian this week, of forming an alliance with the Greens in the Senate and with all state Labor governments.
The Prime Minister warned this would form an unprecedented coalition in the Senate, House of Representatives and all state and territory governments, without checks and balances.
Mr Howard said yesterday he believed Mr Rudd "would change the country" if elected.
"When there's been a change of government, there's been a profound change in the direction of the country," he said. "Now if the country were going in the wrong direction, it would be understandable that people would want change, but if it's going in the right direction, why would you change something that's going in the right direction?"
But in his interview with The Australian, Mr Rudd rejected or played down a series of social policies and issues that Labor and the Greens had pursued for years during the Coalition Government.
He said a referendum on the republic was not a priority, flatly rejected the prospect of a separate treaty with Aborigines and said he was unlikely to pursue Mr Howard's plan for a reconciliation preamble to the Constitution if he were elected tomorrow.
Instead, he will pursue practical outcomes for indigenous communities that "close the gap" between the living standards of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.
Mr Rudd said he understood the proposal for an Aboriginal reconciliation preamble to the Constitution was a big change for Mr Howard, but he did not feel the need to pursue it. "From my point of view, the key thing is closing the gap (between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal living standards) and the key to this also is to introduce policies that give effect to closing the gap," Mr Rudd said.
"I am concerned about making advances on the practical front first. Let's take other things subsequent to that."
Mr Rudd also said he was "absolutely" committed to following through on the Coalition's federal intervention in the Northern Territory.
"I am steeled and seized by the report, the Little Children Are Sacred," he said. "You can't read that and just pretend it's business as usual in the Northern Territory, so I am prepared to give it a go." Mr Rudd said Labor would review the intervention after 12 months to ensure it was working effectively against a series of benchmarks on infant mortality and education standards.
"I am fundamentally committed to making a difference on those areas of disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia," Mr Rudd said. "If that is done, perhaps we can look at other initiatives."
He emphasised there would not be a separate Aboriginal treaty under his government.
Mr Rudd said a referendum on Australia becoming a republic was "not a priority" and he could not see it happening in his first term.
"The republic is not a priority," he said. "I doubt therefore we would see any action on a republic during the first term."
Mr Rudd said the ALP conference had agreed to look at a bill of rights but he did not put it as a priority.
"It's not a priority," he said. "We had this debate, it's a highly contentious area."
Mr Rudd said he was aware of the implications for national security legislation if a bill of rights were introduced.
"I think it is an area to proceed very cautiously with," he said. "We are committed to consulting the community on the need for one, we are not committed to implementing one."