Zac Gillies-Palmer is Secretary of the Sydney University Labor Club
After the heckling has died down and the cameras are off the vast majority of Labor Right will concede that offshore processing and refugee boat turn backs are fundamentally wrong. Many of us who have spoken against their ongoing support of Manus & Nauru have been treated to the drunken confessions of the Young Labor Right in which they assure us that they are ‘actually pretty left wing’ and "don’t support the current refugee policy".
Sadly, few if any of them have ever had the courage to dissent publicly or agitate for a change of policy. Their in principle opposition to the Labor Party’s refugee position is purely performative, at best a handful may absent themselves from the floor during a vote on the issue.
Only the most dedicated right-wing hacks cling to the line that ‘boat turn backs save lives’ and that in fact the process of incarceration and dehumanisation they advocate is somehow a benevolent gift to the refugees seeking our help. For the most part, bootlickers on the left and right hide behind some vulgar approximation of utilitarianism. Why endanger Medicare, penalty rates and action on climate change for a few thousand ‘queue jumpers’? They believe that the lives of these refugees are a worthwhile sacrifice for the broader electoral success of the Labor Party.
The foundation of their argument is that certain federal seats in Western Sydney are dominated by people who are so inherently racist and ignorant that they could never be expected to sympathise with refugees. There is absolutely no acknowledgement that the vast majority of Australians have been relentlessly bombarded with right-wing propaganda for over a decade.
For the most part the Federal Labor party has chosen to accept the conservative narrative and fight them elsewhere. In what other portfolio would it be reasonable to work within the parameters established by the likes of Rupert Murdoch? Would the 'Yes' campaign have rallied millions of Australians if not for the Labor Party using their federal platform to challenge the conservative line? Would the penalty rates campaign have enjoyed such success but for the ACTU and ALP taking on the Business Council and Turnbull? Surely not.
That’s not to say of course that the Labor Party is the sole arbiter of what working people think or believe. The refugee movement as in all other activist spaces is replete with extraparliamentary leftists taking on the conservative agenda, their contributions to this fight are just as important as any political party’s. Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that the Labor Party has a formidable platform from which to project a counter-narrative, to challenge the conservative line and to convince people in marginal seats that community processing is the only humane way to welcome people seeking asylum.
I, along with other comrades in the Left categorically reject the cynical assumption that working people aren’t capable of opposing the illegal incarceration of refugees. It is an argument clearly rooted in contempt for the intelligence of working class people that has no place in a party seeking to represent the working class. If there was a time to take this fight on and expend some political capital surely it is now while we are leading 54/46 on a two party preferred basis.