Immigration minister Chris Bowen has succeeded in his bid to change Labor’s National Platform to allow for offshore processing of refugees after a rancour-filled debate at ALP National Conference this afternoon.

A vote taken at the ALP’s 46th national convergence was settled 206 votes for and 179 against Bowen’s amendments, which were seconded by Home Affairs minister Brendan O’Connor. The series of changes also included a jump in official refugee numbers from 13,500 to 20,000 (read an excerpt below).

Left and Right had split on the offshore issue despite Bowen’s attempts this week to lure progressive comrades with the jump in numbers and a relaxation of visa rules.

O’Connor at one point invoking the Holocaust by slamming refugee advocates who view people smugglers as modern day “Oscar Schindlers”. He likened the trade in refugees from Indonesia to slavery.

Bowen claimed that the best way to address the issue was “with a soft heart and a hard head.”

Lindsay MP David Bradbury, who famously boarded a Darwin warship during last year’s federal election campaign in a border protection stunt despite his electorate being landlocked, said Labor “needed to send the strongest possible disincentive” on smuggling, to calls of “shame” from pro-refugee delegates in the bleachers.

A slate of counter proposals from the Left, proposed by NSW Labor for Refugees convener Linda Scott and backed by WA MP Melissa Parke (read an excerpt below), slapped down the offshore diktat and urged the party to follow the current platform. It also called on the party not to discriminate against refugees based on their mode of arrival and end the 45-day rule banning refugees from working.

“We should turn to the light on the hill and not to the shadows of the past,” said Scott.

Textile union head Michele O’Neil, speaking for the amendment, received applause after pleading with delegates not “to reward the government for ignoring the current platform.”

But Corio MP Richard Marles, from the Right, angered the conference when he said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

A non-contentious series of cross-factional amendments to abolish detention debts, end the 45 day work exclusion period for new arrivals stop asylum seekers being detained for no longer than 90 days was forwarded by Bowen and Seconded by the Left’s Cath Bowtell.

The amended Chapter 9 platform was finally passed at 4pm after what had turned into a marathon session.

A contentious debate on internal party rules will begin at 4:30pm.

Chapter: 9 – A fair go for all Australians
Paragraph: 150
Page Number: 155
Mover: Chris Bowen
Seconder: Brendan O’Connor
Amendment Text:
REPLACE SECOND DOT POINT:

 

  • protection visa applications made in Australia will be assessed by Australians on Australian territory.
Original Paragraph 150:
Labor’s protection policies will be based on the following principles:

  • access to protection in countries of first asylum and transit will be supported so as to reduce pressure for dangerous irregular movement
  • protection claims made in Australia will be assessed by Australians on Australian territory
  • those found to be owed Australia’s protection under the Refugee Convention and other international instruments will be given permanent protection under the Migration Act 1958 and will be provided with appropriate settlement support and services
  • those not found to be owed Australia’s protection under the Refugee Convention and other international instruments will be promptly returned
  • the Temporary Humanitarian Visa will be retained for situations where temporary safe haven is required.

 

Chapter: 9 – A fair go for all Australians
Paragraph: 150
Page Number: 155
Mover: Linda Scott
Seconder: Terri Butler
Amendment Text:
Include the following dot point to replace the existing second dot point:

  • Protection claims made in Australia will be assessed under the Migration Act by the Australian Government on Australian territory and subject to judicial review.

Addthe following dot points at the end:

  • Under no circumstances will Australia abdicate its responsibilities by sending asylum seekers to other countries for detention and/or processing.
  • Australia will not engage in the trading of people, in the swapping of any person in Australia, for refugees waiting in some other country.
Original Paragraph 150:
Labor’s protection policies will be based on the following principles:

  • access to protection in countries of first asylum and transit will be supported so as to reduce pressure for dangerous irregular movement
  • protection claims made in Australia will be assessed by Australians on Australian territory
  • those found to be owed Australia’s protection under the Refugee Convention and other international instruments will be given permanent protection under the Migration Act 1958 and will be provided with appropriate settlement support and services
  • those not found to be owed Australia’s protection under the Refugee Convention and other international instruments will be promptly returned
  • the Temporary Humanitarian Visa will be retained for situations where temporary safe haven is required.

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Peter Fray
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