Jul 24, 2013

PNG deal will save Labor — and end it as we know it

Labor took the only deal it could to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea. But this is now a party divorced from its past, sailing against the tide that carried it this far.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


In 1966, a Labor politician got up and described the Vietnam War as a “racist, criminal, genocidal” attack by the United States on a small nation. But it wasn’t Gough Whitlam, whose opposition to Vietnam was late-blooming. It was Arthur Calwell, damned by history as a racist. Calwell by and large wasn’t, in the pernicious sense we associate with the term — he simply continued to believe ideas of racial separateness that had been abroad in the early 20th century, subscribed to by almost everyone. Calwell understood the Vietnam War could only be waged through a contempt for the humanity of the Vietnamese. He was no wild leftie, had no time for communists, and he was from the rather proper Catholic side of the party — but he understood how power and humanity was often at odds.

Calwell’s stand on Vietnam — it cost Labor the 1966 election, and helped provoke an assassination attempt against him — reminds us that Labor is a far more complex beast than the received histories will acknowledge. Labor’s sense that it was part of a global struggle didn’t begin with the chucking out of the White Australian Policy in the 1960s; beneath that policy was still the idea of a universal struggle for justice and equality, even if it was seen as a struggle by separate peoples. Australian Labor’s shattering rise to power in the early 1900s, its world-leading role, could not have occurred if it was a merely sectional party, if it had no idea other than narrow advancement.

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49 thoughts on “PNG deal will save Labor — and end it as we know it

  1. morphy richards toaster

    What glorious irrelevant you live in, Guy.

  2. morphy richards toaster


  3. Edward James

    I have no problem admitting I am unable to understand all that you have written for readers Guy. But my own first hand experience permits me to understand the Labor Party nationally have done the wrong thing by their Australian constituents, once too often! Kevin Rudd may be the last Labor leader in power for quite a while. But he alone is not to blame. He has had a lot of help from those same faceless men who have over years destroyed Labor from the inside out and top to the bottom. All that remains now is for very angry Australian voters to exercise their own votes, putting labor last on ballot papers. With the aim a putting out the remnants of a once great peoples party which is now no better than political garbage. Edward James

  4. paddy

    I’d forgotten about the attempted assassination of Caldwell.

    But I doubt I’ll live long enough to forget the shame of what Rudd is doing to what remains of the progressive ALP.

    The frenzied moral panic over refugees is the most depressing thing I can remember.
    Whether Rudd or Abbott wins the next election, we’ll all be choking on dust and ashes.

  5. @chrispydog

    We are all Pauline Hanson now.

  6. John Newton

    It is clear that nothing, now, separates the Libs from the Labs but a vowel.

  7. Andybob

    What would Labour not do to retain power ?
    The list is depressingly short.

  8. Hunt Ian

    Guy, you are right to say that the ALP has gone for neo-liberalism, which began with Hawke and Keating, and forgotten the ideal of supporting the collective side of our social life. However, you seem plain wrong about the PNG policy.
    I conditionally support Kevin Rudd’s announcement on change of asylum seeker policy. I have been uneasy about the more than 1100 asylum seekers who have drowned on people smuggler boats and the fact that all our increased quota of refugees come from those willing to pay people smugglers. I am therefore happy about a policy that has a chance of ensuring that our future intake will be from asylum seekers who have UNHCR recognition as refugees in various places around the world.

    I am concerned, however, about the asylum seekers who have unwittingly walked into an unexpected situation and now find that they will not be resettled in Australia because they attempted to seek asylum in Australia by travelling by boat to Australian territory. I have no objection in principle to granting asylum to people who come to Australia by boat but I think that the deaths at sea mean we now have to say that people must apply for asylum in Australia by other means.

    However, I think you should use diplomatic channels to persuade other countries, such as Canada and the US, to consider taking asylum seekers who have unwittingly found themselves ineligible for resettlement in Australia.

    I also think that Australia should increase its aid to our former colony, Papua New Guinea, so that it can take a path of development that will provide asylum seekers, who unwitting put themselves in a position where they cannot be resettled in Australia, and who cannot be resettled in other countries, with resettlement in PNG in conditions where they can get on with their lives in peace.

    There will also be a difficult problem with people who take the risk because people smugglers have assured them that this scheme will not work and cite Tony Abbott’s new statements of opposition to it. The government should consider advertising that makes it clear that whatever the outcome of the election, there is no point in getting on boats to seek asylum in Australia and should make a promise that once the number of boat arrivals falls, our intake will be increased, to encourage asylum seekers to think that they can get to Australia (or other resettlement countries) by going through the UHNCR in transit countries

  9. Michael

    Whilst Abbot said he would sell anything but his ar$e Rudd upped the ante and sold his soul. The PNG solution is truly appalling.

  10. Bo Gainsbourg

    Crikey needs a specific detailed article working through the issue of drownings. Though labor has consistently shape shifted on its reasons for cracking down on refugees using boats, this latest justification does need some clear thinking. I don’t think it justifies the PNG ‘solution’. I think refugees will now drown on other journeys, but all important for Labor, they will not be drownings that our media talks about here. I also think there must be ways of reducing the bottlenecks forcing people onto leaky boats other than this. More enhanced processing in Indonesia for one, probably others, short of complete open boaders..of course that does not satisfy the primary labor motivation for this policy…winning votes of those who don’t like refugees. So clearly demonstrated by the shocking ads we are now seeing targeted not at refugees despite the protestations, but at the darkest part of our minds. But at this point it would be good for Crikey to focus on that issue specifically…what are the other options, more humane, for reducing or preventing drownings. As anyone raising legitimate human rights concerns is now being traduced by Labor politicians because of this, and the Greens vilified because they refuse to hold hands with Howard, Rudd and Hanson and walk the same dark path.

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