Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has unveiled a package of measures, including a proposed A$450 million contribution to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to smooth the way for Labor’s national conference to accept his controversial turnback policy.
In an address opening the conference’s second day, Shorten promised a Labor government would double Australia’s refugee intake to 27,000 by 2025, abolish temporary protection visas, establish an independent children’s advocate and impose mandatory reporting of any child abuse in detention facilities.
It would also reinstate references to the UN Refugee Convention in the Migration Act, work with international partners for independent oversight over every Australian-funded facility and ensure refugee claims are processed as quickly as possible by restoring access to the Refugee Review Tribunal and increasing transparency.
In a strong pitch to defend his unpopular turnback policy, Shorten told the conference: “we must never allow people smugglers to take advantage of a perceived weakness.
"By eliminating incentives for people smugglers, by ensuring that they are unable to traffic in their lethal lies, we can ensure that Australia provides safe haven to a greater share of refugees and the displaced people arrive here more safely,” Shorten said.
“That is why a Labor government must have the option of turning boats around, when it is safe.”
On Saturday morning Labor’s left faction was still considering its approach to the debate later in the day. It was expected to move an amendment, but the numbers were already locked in for Shorten to be given freedom, if he were to become prime minister, to continue the Coalition’s turnback policy.
By making his case outlining his trade-offs in a special morning address, Shorten was able to keep his personal pitch separate from the expected hurly-burly of the afternoon debate.
Shorten went out of his way to acknowledge that people would bring “different perspectives and deeply held principles” to the debate. “I know that we do not all agree. But, undoubtedly for all of us, our motives and views are genuinely held,” he said.
“I want to be honest with you and through you honest with the Australian people. I do believe in a new direction for Labor’s immigration policies.
"I want us to accept more refugees and ensure that we treat refugees more humanely.
"I also want to guarantee that we keep closed the lethal journey between Java and Christmas Island which has already claimed so many lives.
"I stand here before you as the alternative prime minister of Australia to explain how I have arrived at my position,” Shorten said.
On the deterrent side, as well as turnbacks, Shorten said that: “We must maintain the regional resettlement agreements that Labor introduced – the most effective deterrent and the clearest message to immoral people smugglers and their criminal networks.”
Under Labor’s policy the present situation would continue: no-one who reached Australia by boat would be settled in Australia.