The Australian Labor Party’s 47th National Conference was held in Melbourne from July 24 to 26. It is its highest decision-making forum and the largest political gathering in the country. The conference decides the policies that Labor will take to the next federal election and potentially implement in government. A few days before the conference began, Labor leader Bill Shorten announced a policy of turning back asylum seeker boats, essentially agreeing with the Coalition government’s policy.
Sixty people listened as refugees gave harrowing accounts of what had led them to seek asylum in Australia at a forum in Parramatta on July 15 organised by People Just Like Us. Shokufa Tahiri and Ezatullah Salar spoke about the long history of oppression of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan. In 1890, Abdur Rahman Khan exterminated 63% of the minority group and until the 1930s Hazaras were systematically driven out of cities, and deprived of citizenship and education. Under the Taliban, it became a crime to be Hazara, Turkic or Shia.
A few days before the National ALP Conference on July 22, Labor leader Bill Shorten announced that he would support a policy to turn back boatloads of asylum seekers at sea if it is elected to government. The announcement shocked and angered refugee rights advocates around the country, including members of his own party.
The demonising of asylum seekers is an elaborate exercise in racist scapegoating designed to distract Australians from the real causes of anxiety and insecurity in their lives. We need to be absolutely uncompromising in our resistance to this toxic agenda.
In breaking news, it seems that the Labor Party left cannot agree to oppose a “turn back the boats” policy. So there seems to be no chance that the upcoming national Labor Party Conference in Melbourne on July 24 to 26 will consider opposing the Coalition policy of turning boats back that are attempting to reach this country, so the passengers can claim asylum, a human right.
Remand prison riot over smoking ban First Nations Liberation organised an action on June 30 in solidarity with the inmates, at the Metropolitan Assessment Prison, colloquially known as Metropolitan Aboriginal Prison because so many of the inmates are Aboriginal, following the riot that took place there in response to smoking bans due to commence on July 1. The action included a smoking ceremony. The ABC reported that about 300 prisoners were involved in the disturbance, which included breaching a “secure inner perimeter”.
Asylum-seekers and their supporters have been dealt a cruel blow this week thanks to the shameful, bipartisan support for offshore detention within the Australian parliament. A High Court challenge to the legality of Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers has been undermined by an eleventh hour bill rushed through the House of Representatives and Senate, unamended and with ALP support, on June 24 and 25.
Early this month the federal government transferred its first infant back Nauru. The five-month-old baby girl known as “Asha” (not her real name), her mother and father were forcibly transported from Melbourne's detention centre to Darwin detention centre and then to Nauru. Refugee activist Siobhan Marren has been campaigning for Asha and her family’s return. She told Green Left Weekly: “Asha is the first baby to be transferred back to offshore detention since the amendment to the Migration Act last December.
The Tony Abbott government’s illegal “Turn Back the Boats” policy is under further scrutiny, following media revelations that in late May, Australian customs officials paid $US30,000 to six crew members on a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, which was heading to New Zealand, from Indonesia.
Thirty refugee rights activists rallied outside Commonwealth offices in Sydney, to coincide with the June 17 presentation of a 65,000 strong petition to the Federal Parliament in Canberra, calling for the immediate closure of Manus Island and Nauru detention centres. The petition is here and can still be signed. Nicole Judge, Manus Island detention centre whistleblower, and Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) spoke at the rally.