I was sharing a coffee with Simon Mead, Secretary of the WA State Labor Party on the morning of the day that Kevin Rudd would enjoy his last full day as Prime Minister when I put to him a question that Simon would laugh off. Earlier that morning a trusted insider in the ALP told me that Kevin Rudd would be deposed as Prime Minister by the evening's end and that if he did not go quietly there would be a spill/vote the next morning. Though Simon and I met for other yarns I did put this to him in passing. Justified by his own position in the Party he scoffed and laughed at the preposterous proposition. Simon replied to me that the ALP would never dump its Leader in an election year, that it doesn't and won't happen.
I am sure Simon remembers our conversation as vividly as I do and the next time we met we smiled as I reminded him of my disclosure. The same trusted source has described to me that some Labor Parliamentarians are arguing that Julia Gillard and the ALP will be diminished because of their cowardice towards what they believe a deplorable Malaysian Solution. Some are utterly embarrassed and distressed at the new low by their ALP. They understand party politics and the dynamics of the sad political landscape however some feel this is not what they signed up for!
I have been made fully aware that some ALP Parliamentarians believe that the Julia Gillard Government has made a horrific mistake, and one tantamount to cowardice, in moving towards a piecemeal Howard/Ruddock-like Malaysian Solution.
In 2004 30% of the ALP voted to end Mandatory Detention of Asylum Seekers. Therefore many within the ALP would be naturally frustrated, appalled and increasingly disgusted by their party's leadership. ALP Parliamentarians have described to me that they are working behind the scenes, however with their backs against the wall, for an end to Mandatory Detention or for more propriety driven policies in relation to our Asylum Seekers. Some of these ALP Parliamentarians, some of whom were part of Labor for Refugees, are disgusted. One Parliamentarian has described to me that the Gillard/Swan led ALP has made a horrific mistake in listening to focus and marketing groups on what the constituents of Australia are perceiving about our Asylum Seekers. This parliamentarian believes that rather than keeping voters happy with ultra conservative policies that instead, ironically, the ALP will be crushed at the next election because more progressive and sympathetic voters will be lost to the Greens and other, conservative and the less informed, voters will be lost to the Liberals who they perceive have more consistent policies.
My source describes an incredible irony. She believes that a Tony Abbott elected government will continue harsh Mandatory Detention Centre policies and that like Howard and Ruddock will turn back boats, 14 boats were turned back by the Howard instructed Royal Australian Navy from September 2001 during the ensuing three months and this dissuaded people from seeking Asylum in Australia. However she believes that Abbott may double the number of Refugees Australia accepts! Abbott made this offer to Independent Andrew Wilkie when Abbott was hoping to form government during the hung election period. Such a step by Abbott, according to my source, could destroy the ALP in the voters' minds as Abbott would at least to the majority of voters ensure a harsh deterrance to Asylum Seekers by boat while humanistically taking more Refugees in from the UNHCR camps and hell holes for instance in Malaysia and Indonesia and Kenya.
As an ALP Parliamentarian she believes that the ALP has lost its conscience and is prostituting itself and will do anything to stay in power. She believes that the ALP should be leading the way with a public debate, with dissemination, educating Australia and taking on the challenges of incumbent Liberal Party views. She believes that Australians if educated by strong and honest ALP leaders would understand and sympathesize. She believes that the challenges posed by our trickle of Asylum Seekers have been a lost opportunity for the ALP who if they were honest, courageous and strong in leadership skills could win back voters lost to the Greens and make other swinging voters more aware and understanding. The Malaysian Solution will solve nothing and will make matters worse for 800 people who will be discriminated against in terms of the fact that they will only make up thereabouts 10% of Asylum Seekers who will come each year by boat to Australia because of the vile crises and persecution in their homelands.
Ironically, the more perceived progressive Labor parliamentarians I speak to advise that we push the Greens parliamentarians in rising on the issues and that this will put pressure on the Labor caucus and cabinet to possibly reshape its current policies. However by suggesting such strategies is this not throwing more voters towards the Greens? The paradoxes are astounding. Personally, through the Greens disappoint me in that they have not pulled the pin or threatened to on Labor's incumbency. By not doing this they are complicit in allowing this Government to continue what it is doing. The Greens (Adam Bandt) must withdraw support of the Government and let any future government understand that the Greens will not accept this kind of vile inhumanity on our soil. Excuses such as we may finish up with an Abbott led Liberal government just do not wash.
The UNHCR should reject what Australia is trying to do in Malaysia. Even if Malaysia were to sign and ratify the relevant UN Conventions and Protocols this does not immediately change domestic behaviours, policies and protocols. Attitudes and practices are inter-generational. What has been in the treatment of people continues to be for quite some time, for instance look at how Australia does neglect and maltreat many of its Aboriginal brothers and sisters. East Timor rejected Australia's infamous proposition for a Processing Centre on East Timorese soil which in effect discriminates and insults our global neighbours. The Malaysian Solution is discriminatory of our South East Asian neighbours, an insult to the global community. We must unveil our racial layers and understand ourselves better alongside each other and not merely from within our domestic borders.
Let us take 4,000 Refugees from the Malaysian camps, let us take ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty thousand however let us send no one there. 1,400 have died in these camps since 2002. Australia can take in many more tens of thousands each year for quite some time to come. We took in 160,000 Vietnamese and Cambodians when they fled to our shores.
The ALP Parliamentarian said to me that Australia will further damage its already poor standing with the United Nations and the UNHCR and that we will increasingly become the pariah of South East Asia, and that we cannot hold up our heads to China and Burma in relation to human rights. She is very concerned at the ALP's skewed moral compass - she believes that the ALP is self destructing and that soon come the time some ALP politicians will finally stand up and do a 'Petro Georgiou'. She also made comparisons to Julia Gillard's collapse of the Australian Union of Students in 1983 and to what she sees the current malaise and implosion of the Labor Party. The AUS collapsed in as much in similar ways with ugly wills to and of power.
I hope she is correct and that for instance the Louise Pratts, Melissa Parkes, Alannah MacTiernans and Anthony Albaneses, the Chris Evans amongst others, begin to stand up to their ALP for the sake of human dignity, human worth, human lives. People are dying in the relative new phenomena of Detention Centre Deaths in Custody, six in the last eight months, and in Immigration Deaths in Custody, 29 since 2000 as compared to one death in Immigration Custody from 1992 to 1999. These do not include deaths at sea of boats turned back, they do not include the 353 people who drowned in the SIEVX disaster, 146 women, 142 children. Australia's culpability will be for future historians and legal scholars to fully document however it is not one Australia will escape.
Once again I have it from inside information from a Serco employee at Christmas Island that in the last months there were more than two hundred and forty incidents of self harm and suicide attempts. Australia will not be absolved of human rights abuses, self harm incidents, suicide attempts and deaths from the 800 (10% of all estimated Asylum Seekers to Australia by boat) transported to Malaysia. When you transport someone to camps where the majority are not resettled hence you are transporting them with the prospect of it being for the term of their natural lives.
In June of last year I spoke briefly to then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and I presented him with a letter about the ALP's poor language and nescient policies to our Asylum Seekers which he placed in his shirt pocket, promised to read and did read. In the remaining couple of weeks leading up to his removal from the Prime Minister's role, after being inundated by people like myself with a need to end the unwarranted hysteria towards our Asylum Seekers he began to argue that the Labor Party should not 'lurch' to the "right" in regards to our Asylum Seekers. What is his position? Has he done another about-face?
The ALP has more than just lurched to the right, and in hostile fashion. Hopefully someone within the ALP does do a 'Petro Georgiou'.
Gerry Georgatos, Convener of The Human Rights Alliance,
Refugees Rights Action Network volunteer, PhD Law researcher in Australian Deaths in Custody.