There are now less than 20 children left on Nauru. Only six months ago, it took desperately fought legal battles in the Federal Court to get orders forcing the government to bring life-threateningly sick children off Nauru to Australia.
But over September and October, momentum grew along with the World Vision campaign to get #KidsOffNauru by Universal Children’s Day, 20 November. In mid-October, almost 6000 doctors signed a letter to the government calling for them to get children and their families off Nauru.
Three Liberal MPs indicated that they had delivered an ultimatum to Scott Morrison to get the children off.
When Kerryn Phelps won the Wentworth by-election, Morrison was desperate to avoid the possibility of the now-minority government losing a vote on the floor of Parliament.
On 27 October, thousands attended rallies in Sydney and Melbourne calling for “Kids Off, Everyone Off.” Opinion polls showed 80 per cent in favour of getting kids and their families off Nauru.
Five days later, Scott Morrison announced that all children and their families would be brought to Australia by the end of the year.
This is a big win for the campaign against a brutal government implementing a brutal policy.
But there are still five separated fathers on Nauru along with hundreds of other couples, and single women and men—and hundreds more on Manus.
With the families off, Morrison and other Ministers have taken a hard line over shifting anyone else as the government intends to hold them hostage to their election campaign.
Tragically, but true to form, Labor has again shown itself to be more concerned to support offshore detention than to put the boot into Morrison. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has submitted a bill to get families off and reunite separated fathers. With the support of Phelps and dissident Liberals in the lower house, Morrison could be defeated in parliament. But Labor is refusing to support it.
Rather than push to defeat Morrison, Labor offered to make concessions to support a modified lifetime ban bill as long as it only applied to those resettled in New Zealand. But the government is now as opposed as it ever was to doing any deal over New Zealand.
The government is clearly on the back foot over its refugee policy. The whole movement has been energised by this win against the odds.
The task now is to maintain the momentum and turn this blow against offshore detention into a sustained movement that will finish it off.
Back the teachers’ stand
That is why the teachers’ walk-out actions on 20 November in Melbourne and Brisbane are so significant.
In Melbourne, rank-and-file teachers have won unanimous support from the AEU Victorian Branch Council for a walk-out from 2.30pm, to attend a rally at the State Library at 3pm. In Queensland, teachers backed by the QTU will walk out to attend a rally at 4pm in King George Square. This is a major development for the campaign, and can help galvanise the unions to take their support to a new level.
In Victoria, the teachers are urging other unions to bring contingents to their rally. RAC in Sydney has called a solidarity rally and is urging union members to show their support.
Despite the Victorian Labor government declaring its support for the campaign to let the medical transferees from Manus and Nauru stay in Australia, the Department of Education has issued instructions to principals no to allow leave for the teachers’ walk-off. The need for the right to strike links the unions’ Change the Rules Campaign with the campaign to Change the Rules for refugees.
Union support has been a crucial part of the refugee campaign since the beginning. There have been important union actions before, including at Lady Cilento hospital in 2016, where the Queensland Labor Council backed medical staff and coordinated pickets of the hospital defending baby Asha from being sent to Nauru.
Teachers at Yeronga State High School also took action in support of an Iranian asylum seeker from their school, Mojgan Shamsalipoor, helping win her release from detention in 2016.
But the teachers’ 20 November walk-out action in two states is a breakthrough in union action in support of refuges. It can also help send a message from the union movement to the Labor Party conference in December, that Labor’s support for offshore detention has to end.
By Ian Rintoul