Labor member speaks out: PNG is no solution

Kevin Rudd’s PNG deal has produced revulsion at the Labor party. There is now a debate inside the refugee campaign about how to relate to Labor party members and supporters. Some have argued people must leave the party or refuse to campaign for them this election if they truly oppose the PNG solution.

This is a recipe for the campaign isolating itself from a groundswell of allies inside the Labor Party and Labor-affiliated trade unions.

Trade unions linked to the ALP have passed motions condemning the government or supporting demonstrations, including the peak trade union body, the ACTU.

Neha Madhok is Young Labor Left (YLL) co-convenor in New South Wales. A week after the PNG deal was announced, the YLL passed a unanimous motion against the PNG deal, which has now been tabled for the NSW Socialist Left to consider. She spoke with Solidarity about why ALP members like her are opposed to the PNG solution.

Why are you against the PNG solution?

I’m against any offshore processing. But especially the PNG solution because it’s not a solution. PNG doesn’t have the resources or the capacity to take those numbers of refugees. The laws around LGBTIQ rights and women’s rights, especially in relation to domestic violence and sexual assault, are all major issues and things refugees are fleeing from.

So to send them to a place where there are those sorts of issues, to a place that needs support, not more people thrown on it who are vulnerable, is one of the main reasons.

Why are you opposed to offshore processing as a whole?

People end up in detention centres for years, when they haven’t necessarily done anything wrong.
The processing that happens in places like Nauru, like Christmas Island, the conditions are atrocious, it takes far too long. People are going through psychological trauma there, being locked up because they may potentially be criminals—they are being treated like criminals… the processing just makes it worse, because it is taking so long, in such a harsh context.

Why should Labor members be opposed to this?

It seems to go against the entire party value system that it holds, at least in theory.
Given that fairness, equality, rights for all, especially rights of workers’ and so forth [are our values], well, these are people fleeing persecution. They are the vulnerable ones, who need help and need support … It doesn’t make sense to throw those people aside.

What sort of policy should the ALP adopt?
I think something where people are treated like people, for starters. Where people are processed far more quickly. The solution does have to be regional … but not just throwing people on other countries. Ideally we should process as many people onshore as possible and take as many people as possible.

What is the mood amongst ALP members about the policy?

Those in the youth wing are not at all happy. Definitely in the Left, it’s unanimously against. In the Right, they won’t come out publicly, but there are certainly members of the Right, who are very much against it, in the youth wing.

I know Ged Kearney from the ACTU has said some words about it recently.

I believe that we need to have left wing people in all areas of change, in order to achieve long lasting progressive change. That means people on the outside, and on the inside, and there’s no reason that people who are on the “inside” can’t also be on the streets, organising and activating.

I’ve seen the difference that activists within the ALP can make … if we shame these people, expecting them to leave then we will lose key players in progressive reform, or risk alienating left-wing ALP members who are painted with the same brush as the government, when they are fighting on the same side.

What are the next steps in the campaign, and what can we do to fight the PNG deal?

I don’t think anything will happen before the election. They’re [the ALP] not going to listen before the election … it will need to be a very community-focused campaign. One that focuses on areas like Western Sydney, Newcastle, Wooloongong … in areas like Western Sydney, where I was growing up, the mood was, “we don’t want them here.” Those people are the people to convince.


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