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Policy Review Opens Path to End Australia’s Refugee Policy Shame

Dr. Sabrin Farooqui

Australian Labor Party (ALP) members have recently been given an opportunity to contribute to improving ALP National Platform, the basis of policies for a future Labor Government.

As part of our COVID-19 response, all party members and branches are being consulted on the next National Platform, a different approach from the usual procedure of debating and deciding policy at National Conference.

Policy areas that generated particular interest were our approach to immigration; proposals to end Australia’s shameful and cruel indefinite offshore detention and processing; and a move away from the Coalition’s draconian policies that hamper refugee attempts to settle in Australia and hinder future prospects once here.

In an effort to seek and consider a wide range of views on this policy reform, on November 19, 2020 the NSW Left facilitated a Zoom event to discuss proposed changes, including a raft of reforms from the Labor for Refugees (L4R) group.

Among L4R’s several aims is the desire to see people seeking asylum treated with compassion, justice and in accordance with Australia’s international obligations; the recognition of the right of people to seek protection and have their claims assessed on Australian soil, under the Australian legal system; and for people to be housed in government run and urban-based reception centres, not jails, and for them not to be deprived of their freedom. When a formal application for refugee status has been made and security, health and identity checks are complete, people seeking protection should be relocated to supportive communities.

L4R is also pushing for protection claims to be decided within 90 days of arrival with a right of judicial appeal, and for people seeking asylum not covered by the United Nations Refugee Convention be treated with compassion and given appropriate protection.

The group’s submission to ALP National Policy Forum under the current round of consultation is a joint New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland submission, and expands on L4R’s refugee and asylum seeker position.

L4R believes its proposals will be enhanced by complementary and supportive submissions from rank and file Labor members and Jennifer Haines, NSW Co-Convenor, spoke in the November Zoom to canvass ideas and urge wider participation in the consultation process.

She spoke of wanting Labor to end Australia’s indefinite offshore detention and processing regime, something regarded by many as shameful and cruel; oppose rules that require refugees and people seeking asylum to pass English language tests to IELTS 6 standard, unless their job prospects require it; and increase Australia’s annual humanitarian intake from 27,000 in the current platform to 50,000.

L4R also wants Labor to change its accommodation and detention policies for refugees and people seeking asylum. The current National Platform rightly identifies detention in an immigration detention centre as a “last resort” but then vaguely states “for the shortest practicable time”.

But L4R does not think this is specific enough and wants to limit detention to no longer than 30 days without judicial oversight.

Importantly, L4R is calling for a future Labor government to provide protection to refugees and people seeking asylum currently held in Papua New Guinea, and on Nauru, and a commitment to bringing them to Australia as required under our Refugee Convention obligations. This measure would have saved $18 billion from 2013 to 2020, which could have been spent on other priorities.

Members and Branches were urged to make a submission by 30 November 2020 to the National Policy Forum endorsing Labor for Refugees’ submission.

Hosted by City of Sydney Councillor and former Labor for Refugees Co-Convenor Linda Scott, the forum provided Labor members with an opportunity to learn about L4R’s vision for the future and provided immediate feedback and suggestions.

Zoom forum participants also heard from long-time ALP and L4R member Esta Paschalidis-Chilas, who emphasised Australia’s need to show global leadership in resettling people, and rightly argued Australians are generally a welcoming people and a more welcoming attitude to refugees and people seeking asylum better reflected Australian’s true nature. Esta also wants the ALP to attain greater diversity across all levels of its organisation. And importantly she also urged Australian governments to include refugees with lived experience on policy making teams.

Kate Leany from Welcoming Australia elaborated on the suffering of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia and how Welcoming Australia helps them.

This is a unique opportunity for the rank and file to play a critical role in developing fair and equitable processes to help people fleeing war, persecution and other dangers in their native countries. It is consultation we should all play a part in to end processes we should be ashamed of.

Party members can make submissions to the draft ALP National Platform before COB 30th November – make your submission here:

To see example submissions from Labor Action Groups including Labor for Refugees, LEAN, Labor for Choice and Rainbow Labor go to

Dr. Sabrin Farooqui is a passionate community advocate for social justice and cultural diversity. She has worked for private and public sectors, in higher education, research and policy. She is also a directly elected rank-and-file member of the NSW Labor Policy Forum and Junior Vice President of Labor For Refugees NSW.


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