Saturday 25th July 2015 - 7:03 pm

Labor takes “new directions” on asylum seekers

by Alan Thornhill

After an emotional – and at times tearful – debate, Labor’s 47th Annual Conference in Melbourne today accepted “new directions” in the party’s immigration policies.

The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, had effectively put his job on the line by proposing the changes.

These include turning back asylum seeker boats, when it is safe to do so, but gradually increasing Australia’s intake of asylum seekers to 27,000 a year.

Left-wing delegates fiercely opposed Mr Shorten’s proposals, as did thousands of protesters, who had gathered outside the conference venue, to demand that they be defeated.

Both groups argued for a ban on tow-backs.

But the Left’s motion was lost, at first on voices and later on a show of hands.

Mr Shorten – and his leadership team – had been adamant.

In a speech this morning he said:” Labor is absolutely committed to preventing people smuggling and ensuring vulnerable people do not drown at sea.

“Labor’s regional resettlement arrangement has been the most effective deterrent against the ability of criminal people smugglers to prey on vulnerable people but we must eliminate the risk of people drowning.

“Therefore provided it can be done so safely, a future Labor Government would retain the option of turning people smuggling vessels around at sea.”

Mr Shorten noted that – according to the UNHCR – there are nearly 60 million displaced people throughout the world.

He said: “This requires Australia to do more in our region as a responsible global citizen.

Under his plan, Labor would also commit $450 million over three years to the important work of the UNHCR.

This would make Australia the fifth largest donor to the UNHCR.

Mr Shorten said: “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 to improve the situation of 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.

“By 2025, Labor will double Australia’s annual refugee intake to 27,000.

He noted that:” According to the UNHCR, there are nearly 60 million displaced people throughout the world.

“This requires Australia to do more in our region as a responsible global citizen, ” Mr Shorten said.

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Alan Thornhill

Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
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