‘I’m comfortable’ says Albanese as Labor embraces offshore detention

When 39 asylum-seekers were discovered at Beagle Bay, 150 kilometres north of Broome on 19 February, Opposition leader and former offshore detention jailer, Peter Dutton, thought he was on a winner for the Dunkley by-election just a couple of weeks away on 2 March.

Dutton went feral, hoping to play the refugee card once again. He warned darkly, “We’ll end up with an armada of boats.”

Dutton claimed that Labor had slashed the budget for Operation Sovereign Borders and that Anthony Albanese is “a weak Prime Minister being tested by people smugglers” and that Operation Sovereign Borders is not the same “as we knew it when the Coalition was in power”.

The tragedy is that Operation Sovereign Borders is exactly the same as when the Coalition was in power.

Labor’s Home Affairs Minister, Clare O’Neil, bragged that Labor’s commitment to Operation Sovereign Borders “is absolute”. “Every person who has attempted to reach Australia by boat since I have been minister is back in their home country, or in Nauru,” she said.

Albanese responded to Dutton, “I’m very comfortable that the Operation Sovereign Borders has been put in place. It’s the same system that operated before … Our position on Operation Sovereign Borders is very clear, and people who attempt to arrive here by boat will not settle here.”

The February boat was the third group of asylum-seekers to be taken to Nauru since September; 11 people were transferred in September and another 12 who were also found on the Western Australia coast were transferred in November.

There are now about 54 asylum-seekers being held on Nauru, after eight (including a child) who were taken there last September returned to Sri Lanka.

At least four people on Nauru have been found to be refugees. They face the same fate as the refugees sent to Nauru in 2013—years and years on Nauru. Labor has no resettlement options. New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 people a year from Nauru does not apply to people taken there after June 2023.

Labor is spending $420 million to contract a US company notorious for detention abuses, MTC, for garrison support services on Nauru to September 2025. All the indications are that the refugees are being held in closed detention in RPC1, which has been the administrative centre of detention on Nauru.

The Albanese government is denying permanent visas to the more than 1000 refugees who were transferred to Australia from Nauru and PNG on medical grounds between 2014 and 2023.

About 52 refugees that Australia sent to PNG in 2013 are still there. Labor continues to deny responsibility for refugees in PNG although their services have been cut since October.

All the contradictions of Australia’s discrimination against boat arrivals are back on display. While Labor will continue to take asylum-seekers who arrive by boat to offshore detention, last year 22,916 people who arrived by plane made an onshore protection claim, and if found to be refugees will get permanent visas.

Now, despite the horrors in Gaza, Labor is denying consular assistance to many Palestinian refugees, although that consular assistance is needed for refugees to get through the Rafah crossing and out of Gaza. This is despite the government issuing them tourist visas for Australia. Some of the visas are expiring before they can used to get out of Gaza.

With every denied visa and every asylum-seeker transferred to Nauru, Labor digs itself deeper into a ditch of human rights abuses.

Labor easily won the Dunkley by-election. Labor’s embrace of Operation Sovereign Border has nothing to do with Dutton’s scare-mongering—it is part and parcel of Labor’s shift to the right, to govern from the centre. Albanese is “comfortable” with offshore detention.

To end Operation Sovereign Borders, we will need to build a movement strong enough to make Albanese very uncomfortable indeed.

Rallies around Australia on Palm Sunday, Sunday 24 March, will be demanding the closure of Nauru, an end to turnbacks, the evacuation of refugees from PNG and permanent visas for all refugees.

By Ian Rintoul


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