Labor MP Ged Kearney vows to change refugee policy, fight 'racist dog-whistling'

Labor MP Ged Kearney has blasted the bipartisan commitment to preventing asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru from coming to Australia. Source: AAP

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has slammed the Opposition's position on border control after new Labor MP Ged Kearney vowed to push for a more “humane” refugee policy.

New Labor MP Ged Kearney has vowed to fight "racist dog-whistling" against refugees in Australia and to change her party's asylum seeker policies. 

In her maiden speech on Monday, the Member for Batman blasted as "shameful" the bipartisan commitment to stopping asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island from entering Australia.

“Racist dog-whistling has demonised and vilified a community that has everything to give to Australia, and the sacrifice of this human potential has been made solely for political gain,” the first-term MP said in parliament.

“We are a rich country, we can afford to take more refugees, I doubt, however, we can afford the ongoing cost to our national psyche of subjecting men, women and children to years of indefinite detention in camps.”

She said Australia's approach to refugees since 2001 has plummeted into a "shameful policy of indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru".

Australian Federal Labor Leader Bill Shorten and Labor candidate for Batman Ged Kearney.
Australian Federal Labor Leader Bill Shorten and Labor candidate for Batman Ged Kearney.

The former Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president paid tribute to past political leaders from both of the major parties who she said were instrumental in offering sanctuary to those in need.

“I think proudly of the great bipartisan achievements of both sides of this house – of Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke, who with bipartisan support, provided sanctuary to those fleeing the consequences of wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – and later, from the events of Tiananmen Square,” Ms Kearney said.

“I cannot comprehend how a nation that provided a safe home to so many… allowed the Tampa and children overboard scandal to evolve into the shameful policy of indefinite detention.”

The former union boss said the government should work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to develop a more humane policy, as well as allocating more funds to allow for the “greater permanent intake of refugees.”

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton seized on Ms Kearney's comments, saying Labor leader Bill Shorten doesn't have a coherent border protection policy.

“Labor now has a majority of its members in caucus who are opposed to stopping the boats and we see on the Mediterranean thousands of people still dying — so this problem for Australia has not gone away,” he told the Nine Network on Monday night.

“The fact that Mr Shorten now has the same problem that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard did, says that Mr Shorten hasn’t got a coherent policy on stopping the boats and I think most Australians would shake their heads at these comments today.

“Mr Shorten hasn’t got the leadership ability to haul these people into line and to keep the policy that has stopped kids from going into detention, stopped drownings at sea and make sure that boats don’t restart.”

Peter Dutton .
Peter Dutton.
SBS News

Although Ms Kearney said she will prioritise refugee rights during her time in federal parliament, her ability to influence Labor’s policy on mandatory detention remains to be seen.

In the lead up to Labor National Conference in July, a draft proposal by the ALP’s immigration spokesperson Shayne Neumann says Labor is committed to moving asylum seekers out of detention within approximately three months.

However, it does not refer to refugees on Manus Island or Nauru who have already been processed.

Months before the conference, Ms Kearney has already signalled her intention to push for “a more respectful policy for asylum seekers and refugees".

“This is an issue I am deeply passionate about… I want you to know, I won’t stop fighting for change,” she tweeted.

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