This is the letter I’ve just send to Bill Shorten, along with my membership card.
Dear Mr Shorten,
I am a long time member of the Australian Labor Party, having joined as a young man over two decades ago. I’ve been on branch committees, I’ve met many members of parliament and I come from several generations of rusted-on Labor voters.
However, of late I have found myself questioning my membership, and questioning the behaviour of the party itself. And I’m afraid the time has come for me to leave.
It has been a long time coming. I gritted my teeth when the last Labor government continued to invest in the dramatically late and extraordinarily over-budget F-35 fighter jet that the Howard government decided on for political reasons. I know this because I worked at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation at the time.
I was very angry when our last-but-one Labor prime minister refused to support marriage equality. Thus demeaning the relationships of many of my friends.
And I was incensed when I got to see firsthand the workings of the factional machine during the preselection for Batman on the retirement of Martin Fergusson (and don’t get me started on him!). I watched not one but two amazing local women put their hands up for the seat. Either of them would have been a great addition to the parliament and very representative of the local area. But no, a factional hack was parachuted in, on the votes of the many stacked branches in that FEA. I’ve seen the membership lists, there is no way there are that many Labor members with the same address and the same surnames in that area. So once again a very safe Labor seat is used as a token and a reward in a game that has nothing to do with the desires of the local people and the genuine local members.
I’ve watched with dismay as you and your fellow ministers have wholehearted gone along with this dreadful administration’s fear mongering about national security. Based on the desire to not be seen to be “weak”, you and the federal party have chipped away at our rights and our privacy. And tacitly endorsed the demonising of Australia’s peaceful Muslim community. You can wish everyone a happy Ramadan every year, but it doesn’t hide how this group are being treated as outsiders and as dangerous.
But for me the straw that broke the camel’s back has been refugee policy. Howard found he could win votes from those otherwise inclined to vote for One Nation by declaring those desperate refugees to be “illegal”. I can still hear him intoning, or dog whistling, “We will decide who will come into this country and under what circumstances.”
And what do I find from the party I belong to? A compassionate treatment of asylum seekers? Attempts to build regional consensus about how best to help these people? No. Far from it.
I tried to look away when Keating introduced mandatory detention. I gritted my teeth when Gillard created the Nauru and Manis Island detention centres. No, let’s be honest, they’re prison camps. And I was furious when Rudd then excluded the whole of Australia from the migration zone.
The way these people have been treated is not just immoral and cruel, it’s moved into violations of international law.
So imagine my disgust when I found that one of the worst policies of this current federal Coalition government, headed by a man capable only of parroting the same three word slogans over and over, was being adopted by the ALP at the most recent national conference. I’m talking of course of turning back the boats. Or, to describe it more accurately, sending people away to die elsewhere.
I shouldn’t need to tell you that seeking asylum is not illegal, it is a basic human right. It shouldn’t need stating that this nation does not have a refugee crisis by any measure – more people cross the Mediterranean in a day than turn up here in a year. And let’s look at Syria’s neighbours, who have absorbed four million people, the population of Sydney, as refugees in the last few years.
So it is with great disappointment that I return my membership card. The ALP could have drawn a line and said enough is enough, we will accept these people into our community, we will work with Indonesia and our other neighbours to, say, create a regional processing centre where we can assist these desperate people without them having to risk their lives in unseaworthy boats. The ALP could have made far better use of the huge amounts of money being wasted to imprison small numbers of people in another nation.
You may form a government which reduces unemployment to record low levels. But you will still be locking up babies in mouldy tents.
You may preside over an administration that introduces a working carbon trading scheme which reduces our huge greenhouse footprint. But you will still be putting refugee women in serious danger of rape and assault, and knowingly putting children in danger of being abused.
You may undo some of the extraordinary unprincipled things this current government has done, a list far too long to make here. But we still won’t know who killed Reza Barati, nor will you be able to guarantee the safety and appropriate medical treatment of anyone on the island camps.
You may renew the place of unions in our society, but you will still be condemning already traumatised people to a dangerous limbo, whilst our bureaucracy drag its feet for years, processing asylum claims. Or simply condemning them to some other dangerous part of the world by towing back the boats.
This nation of ours is paradise. It is safe and prosperous, the envy of the world. And we used to be a compassionate nation. We resettled thousands of refugees from Vietnam, who have gone on to great things in their adopted nation. Now, we seem content to use innocent men, women and especially children to political ends, to win a couple of votes in Western Sydney and far north Queensland. The ALP used to be a landmark of compassion, a bulwark against the ruthlessness of the right. But no longer.
Despite the fact that there are good people in the party – Tanya Plibersek, Lindsay Tanner, Daniel Andrews, Jenny Mikakos, Chris Couzens, the late and sorely missed Joan Kirner – I find it is time for me to leave.
I don’t expect to get anything other than a form reply to this letter. In fact, I doubt you’ll read it at all. But know this, despite my utter disgust with the Abbott government, I will vote for other parties and actively campaign against you and your party whilst these immoral and illegal refugee policies are in place.
P.S. I wrote this before the decision to admit an extra twelve thousand refugees from Syria was made. While commendable, this action throws into sharp contrast the extraordinary hypocrisy of locking up thousands of other, equally worthy refugees in off shore camps. This double standard must cause you headaches from the cognitive dissonance.