Opposition leader Bill Shorten has called for a new direction for Labor’s immigration policy, urging greater acceptance and more humane treatment of refugees.
In his address to delegates on the second day day of the Australian Labor Party national conference in Melbourne, Shorten said a Labor government would double Australia’s annual humanitarian refugee intake to 27,000 people.
Shorten described the issue of asylum seekers as one of “profound significance for our party and our nation” saying that Australians should never forget the debt we owed to generations of migrants and refugees.
“We know that Australia is a nation writ large because of migration,” he said.
“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 sadly so many lives.”
But Shorten also managed to squeeze in a last-minute appeal to support the turning back of asylum boats.
“But we must never allow people smugglers to take advantage of a perceived weakness and so … a Labor government, I believe, must have the option of turning back boats, turning them around, provided it is safe to do so,” he said.
Earlier this week, Shorten faced push back from within his own political party after he conceded that the Coalition’s policy to turn back asylum seeker boats as well as resettling asylum seekers offshore, was working.
“I can no longer escape the conclusion that Labor, if we form a government, needs to have all the options on the table,” Shorten said.
“It’s not easy, though, because it involves the admission, I think, that mistakes were made when Labor was last in government.”
Labor giving themselves the "option" to turn back boats is what they promise at every election. In govt Labor is weak on border protection.
— Peter Dutton (@PeterDutton_MP) July 22, 2015
Shorten is likely to face opposition from Labor’s left faction after convenor, Stephen Jones, said that “we can’t be turning boats back to a place of persecution”.
“I support increasing, significantly increasing, our refugee intake,” he told AAP.
“At the end of the day, our refugee policy has got to be about maximising the number of people we lift out of misery.”
An immigration debate is scheduled for later today.
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