The day after politicians united to condemn Katter Party senator Fraser Anning’s “final solution” speech, they ensured that refugees would continue to languish in detention centres. It was an act of irony on a par with Labor prime minister Julia Gillard cutting pensions for single mothers on the day she lectured then opposition leader Tony Abbott about misogyny.

So what was this bipartisan display of cruelty about?

In July, the federal court determined that laws previously passed to keep refugees out of Australia weren’t written for purpose. 

In what sounds like absurdist satire the Liberal government in 2001 removed (“excised”) parts of Australia from Australia (at least for immigration purposes if someone arrived by boat). Anyone arriving by boat to the Australian territories of Ashmore Island, Cartier Islands, Christmas Island or Cocos Islands could no longer claim asylum in Australia.

Not to be outdone, the Australian Labor Party excised the entire Australian mainland from the Australian migration zone in 2013. That meant that anyone arriving by boat to Australia doesn’t, by law, actually reach Australia. The government therefore has no obligation to grant them a visa and can remove them to Manus Island and Nauru.

The federal court found problems with the legislation, paving the way for 1,600 refugees to have their cases heard. Rather than do nothing and allow their human rights, the government abolished the “loophole” (retrospectively). 

The Labor Party lined up to vote for this horrid piece of legislation. Only three politicians in the House of Representatives voted against: the Greens’ Adam Bandt and independent MPs Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan. That a former Liberal Party member and a former intelligence agent have a more progressive attitude toward refugees than the ALP, the supposed party of workers, is telling of Labor’s decades-long rightward drift. 

After decades of the ALP torturing and mistreating refugees, so-called leftists still argue that people should join or vote for this monstrosity above other progressive candidates to create “cracks” in the party. This argument was fundamental in Ged Kearney’s campaign to win the March 2018 Batman by-election. 

As ACTU president, Kearney spoke out to support refugees. But within days of her pre-selection for Batman, she declared that she would accept her party’s appalling policies. Outrage was rife amongst refugee campaigners and constituents in Batman, forcing her to change her tune and say she would try to change ALP refugee policy “from within”. 

Since being elected, however, far from making refugees a big issue, Kearney has used her credibility to silence dissent on Labor’s refugee policy. Kearney and the industrial left faction stopped a debate on refugee policy at the ALP’s Victorian state conference this year. 

In parliament, Kearney voted with all her ALP colleagues to continue to deny human rights to 1,600 refugees, standing against Bandt, Wilkie and McGowan, who presented some defiance in parliament on this issue. 

Rather than expressing her support for these MPs for taking a principled position, she put a video on social media accusing the Greens of not being “respectful” and accusing the party of organising supporters to bully her. That Kearney thinks she and her colleagues on large salaries in Canberra deserve more sympathy than the refugees being brutalised by the bipartisan policies of the Liberals and the ALP shows just how out of touch she is. 

Kearney claimed that if the ALP were elected tomorrow, “there wouldn’t be anyone languishing in indefinite detention”. But official ALP policy, according to the party’s website, continues to be:

“Strong borders, offshore processing, regional resettlement, and [boat] turnbacks … Labor’s resolve on this issue is absolute – the way to Australia through irregular means by boat is closed, and it will remain … As such, bringing people from offshore regional processing centres to Australia is not an option.”

Kearney’s words are as meaningless as Peter Dutton’s claim during the Liberal leadership spill that “I would love to get everybody off there [Nauru and Manus Island] tomorrow – if I could have brought them to Australia in a charter flight overnight I would have.” 

Both the ALP and Liberals have had plenty of opportunity to bring the refugees here.

In sacrificing the refugees today, Kearney claims it will allow her to better have a conversation to change ALP policy at the party conference in December. Like she did at the Victorian state conference? Pull the other one. We can’t trust these “left” faces of Labor.