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correspondence with Tanya Plibersek on Labor Party Conference and policy 2015

From: Mike
Sent: Friday, August 21, 2015 10:55 AM
Subject: Re: Asylum seekers

Dear Ms Plibersek,
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my email. I followed the asylum debate at the Labor Party Conference and I was impressed by a number of the speakers, who addressed the issues with passion and conviction. I acknowledge that there are some key differences between the policies of the ALP and the Coalition on the issue and I agree with you that the debate in Australia has lost rationality, compassion and respect. However, it is surely important to acknowledge that the Labor Party has played a key role in this race to the bottom.
You state that the Labor Party has made a commitment to double the refugee intake to 27,000 by 2025, but that is a decade and many Federal elections away, yet the crisis of people fleeing their countries because of war and persecution is here and now.
It is deeply dispiriting that, on a day-to-day basis, the Labor Opposition is largely quiet on the plight of asylum seekers languishing on Nauru and Manus islands. In spite of the cloak of secrecy, it is increasingly evident that children and their families on Nauru are suffering unspeakable treatment at the hands of those who are paid to protect them. The government hides behind a raft of legal and procedural measures, which seek to avoid its responsibilities and to keep the Australian public in the dark. The Labor Opposition’s responses to the emerging evidence of abuse is at best muted, and that’s just not good enough. Why is it that we have to rely on the sole voice of Sarah Hanson Young, who battles valiantly on a daily basis to try to bring the Government to account? Where are the passionate Labor voices in parliament and in the media?
Richard Marles has stated frequently that we need to get children out of detention, but when pressed on the issue after the Labor conference, the best he could offer was that we need the international community to take responsibility. Does that mean more dirty deals with corrupt and impoverished nations who will be paid large sums of Australian taxpayers’ money to take ourasylum seekers?  That is neither fair, compassionate or principled. It is time to bite the bullet and resettle genuine asylum seekers in Australia. 
I do hope that the Labor Party will at some stage in the near future rediscover its roots and will once again have the courage to advocate unequivocally for the poor and the dispossessed in our world.
Yours sincerely,
Mike Griffin

For Tanya Plibersek's reply to the original email from Mike

Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2015 11:16 AM
To: 'Mike'
Subject: RE: Asylum seekers
Dear Mike,

Thank you for contacting me about asylum-seeker policy.  I note that you wrote to me before Labor’s National Conference, I hope that you have now had a chance to look at the policy we adopted at the conference. It sets out a new policy framework for Labor, including the commitment that by 2025 Australia will have the highest per capita intake of refugees in the world, and the second largest annual intake overall behind the United States.  

As the daughter of migrants who came to Australia after the end of WWII, and as the mother of three children, I am and will always remain a strong advocate for the humane treatment of asylum seekers. 

Migration has made this country great. We should never forget the debt we owe to generations of migrants and refugees who, in seeking a better life, have made Australia a better place for all of us.

Ever since the ‘Tampa’ election of 2001, domestic politics around asylum seeker policies has been nothing less than toxic.  The debate has lost rationality, compassion and respect.  I firmly believe Labor is the only party that can ‘re-set’ this debate, change the conversation, and permanently end the divisive politics regarding asylum seeker policy in this country.

At the end of WWII there were between 20-30 million refugees displaced by the war.  Today there is an estimated 59.5 million individuals forcibly displaced around the globe as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations.  

My view is that as a wealthy nation Australia has a moral obligation to do more to address this global humanitarian crisis.  We must accept significantly more refugees to our country and we must treat those refugees more humanely. I have been calling for an increase to our refugee intake since the Abbott government cut the number from 20,000 a year under Labor, to 13,750.

We want to bring more refugees to Australia, and we want them to get here safely.

Australia played a critical role in the establishment of the United Nations in 1945 because we believed then that we have responsibilities as a good global citizen.

The Abbott government has cut $11.3 billion from our aid budget. That makes it much more difficult for Australian aid to help desperate people in their home countries, or in countries of first asylum.

We should be doing much more to support bodies like the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is struggling to care for an unprecedented number of refugees.

Australia must also support and seek always to operate in accordance with international human rights law.

Labor’s new policy regarding refugees and asylum seekers commits absolutely to such a framework. It massively increases Australia’s contributions to the UNHCR, it prioritises the UN Refugee Convention and restores references to the Convention in our domestic law, and most importantly it doubles Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake to 27,000 a year.

As I said above, under Labor’s policy, by 2025 Australia will have the highest per capita intake of refugees in the world, and the second largest annual intake overall behind the United States.

In relation to support for the UNHCR, Labor’s policy provides $450 million over three years.  This will make Australia the fifth largest donor globally to the international body, and provide an enormous boost to an agency whose entire regional budget is currently only $560 million a year. At the moment we give just $21 million per annum to the UNHCR.

As part of this contribution, a Shorten Labor Government will take a leadership role within South East Asia and the Pacific to build a regional humanitarian framework for asylum seekers.  This will include supporting the UNHCR in providing health and education services to asylum seekers and advocating for work rights for asylum seekers.

We will abolish Temporary Protection Visas which currently keep people in a permanent state of limbo, and give those found to be genuine refugees a permanent Australian visa.

Labor will end the secrecy surrounding the treatment of asylum seekers in this country.  We will implement independent oversight of all Australian-funded processing facilities, both offshore and onshore.

We will make sure that refugee claims are processed as quickly as possible, by restoring access to the Refugee Review Tribunal, and re-instating the ’90 day rule’ for reporting on the progress of a refugee’s claim.

Most importantly, Labor will establish an independent children's advocate and will remove children from detention as quickly as possible.

The children’s advocate will be an independent statutory position and a strong voice separate from government, serving only the interests of children seeking asylum.  Labor will legislate to impose mandatory reporting of any child abuse in all facilities.

Labor will continue to ensure that those working in the immigration system enjoy the benefit of whistle-blower protections so that they can safely speak out about abuse, maladministration and corruption.

No one wants to see further deaths at sea, and the only way to truly prevent this is to provide for quick, safe, processing of claims through the appropriate international bodies, at facilities across the region and globe currently housing refugees.  Labor will not rule out turn-backs as a final resort, but our policy aims to positively address the need for refugees to get into boats in the first place.

I have confidence that Labor’s position helps restore compassion and integrity to the debate about asylum seeker policy in this country.  It is now up to Tony Abbott and the Coalition to end the politics of division and fear and commit to Australia doing our fair share to deal with what is an unprecedented global humanitarian crisis.

If you are interested in any further detail of Labor’s policy, please go to:

For further reading, you may be interested in the Chief Executive of Save the Children Australia Paul Ronald’s opinion piece for The Australian:

Thank you again for contacting me on this extremely important issue.

Best wishes,

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