Justice for ALL refugees! Labor, Liberal, Greens: No Choice!

18-06-2016 – The ruling of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Supreme Court that the refugee detention centre on Manus Island was illegal[1] has led to a situation where neither the PNG government nor the Australian government is willing to take responsibility for the approximately 850 refugees and asylum seekers trapped there. The Liberal Party Minister Peter Dutton continues to be unmoved, while the Labor Party in response, has outrageously reaffirmed its support for off-shore detention. Make no mistake, the two major parties are the architects and executioners of refugee and asylum seeker abuse in this country, and in the region. They coldly calculate that cruelty towards “others” from overseas, even those seeking a safe place to live, will be a vote winner while many workers in this country are encouraged to look for scapegoats for a lack of jobs, infrastructure, healthcare, education and unaffordable housing. The unspeakable horror dealt out to those either fleeing for their lives or simply seeking a better chance at life exposes the more than Machiavellian moves of these misanthropic spokespersons for abuse. For them, if torture equals votes, they have no issues with it.

Working people and those with even a modicum of human compassion recoil with loathing at such behaviour from so-called political “leaders”. Understandably, some then turn to what appears like the next available political option – the Australian Greens. Surely the Greens must stand for a principled position on the issue, and would take immediate steps to end this if in office – right? Actually, no. The last federal government, from 2010 to 2013 was an ALP-Greens coalition. The ALP governed with the support of the Greens. And it was in 2012 that the ALP-Greens government re-opened the detention centres on Manus Island in PNG and Nauru. Sure, the Greens mouthed some opposition, but their actions were somewhat different. Rather than threatening to, or actually, quitting the government over the issue, the Greens remained on the parliamentary benches and pointed accusing fingers towards the ALP. That is, the suffering of refugees and asylum seekers was nowhere near as important for them as retaining their overpaid parliamentary positions. This fact should indicate how the Greens intend to operate if there is another ALP-Greens coalition government which forms out of the coming Federal Election.

Previously, the Greens have written that, if elected, they would close down the “worst” detention centres.[2] Are there “moderate” detention centres? All detention centres mete out abuse, in a situation where the detention itself is illegal even according to the laws of the ruling class. The fact is that voting for, or even giving preferences to the Greens will not free the refugees. The refugee rights movement must face up to this fact. This is not because the Greens are not nice people. It is because the Greens, no less than Labor and Liberal, defend the capitalist system at all costs – even if they don’t like to mention it. It is the faltering profit system which is causing a breakdown of society – the lack of jobs, affordable housing and public transport, the stripping of basic civil rights, the massacre of the natural environment, and – the debasement of refugees and asylum seekers. These “facts on the ground” will not be altered no matter how many Greens Senators are allocated a parliamentary bench on July 2.

Electoral “change”

It might be objected, but the Greens can only do so much without governmental power. What if we were able to elect a government of Greens, or a government of Greens and other progressive parties and independents – a “government of the left” ? Surely that would be the end of the matter? Unfortunately not. Look at what happened in Greece. There an allegedly “left” party which called itself “radical” – SYRIZA – was elected in January 2015. It took them a few hours to form a governmental coalition with the far-right ANEL (Independent Greeks). The SYRIZA government then went on to impose even more crushing austerity than that they had said they were opposed to before being elected. Working people continue to suffer job cuts, wage cuts and a decimation of pensions and social services. And with regard to refugees and asylum seekers, time and again Greek riot police have been sent in to assault them. In December last year, SYRIZA Immigration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas declared that refugees had to either leave voluntarily, file a claim for asylum within 30 days, or be forcibly repatriated to other countries.[3] In the last couple of months, the SYRIZA government is doing its utmost to implement the European Union (EU)-Turkey deal, where any irregular arrivals in Greece are deported to Turkey. In response, even some generally apolitical NGOs have suspended their operations in protest.

The SYRIZA party was never left-wing, let alone radical, no matter what it called itself. And there is a world of difference between winning governmental power and state power. The SYRIZA fraudsters won governmental power – of a capitalist state. This meant that it would have to implement what the capitalists – either from the EU or domestically – ordered. They ordered more austerity, and refugee repression, and SYRIZA delivered. The only way this could have been avoided would be if SYRIZA was actually a socialist party, which aimed to prepare workers for the taking of state (not governmental) power. But SYRIZA, like the Australian Greens, have no intention of ever breaking with the capitalist system which provides them with electoral office. Hence refugees, asylum seekers – and working people – become entirely expendable.

War and refugees

Working people voting for, or preferencing, the Greens or the ALP not only crosses class lines. It actually enables the very conditions which create refugees. This is most especially apparent with regard to war. The Greens and the ALP have both fully endorsed the US-led proxy wars on Libya and Syria, from 2011 to this day. These wars have been a huge reason why there is a disastrous refugee crisis in Europe, with some of them fleeing to other parts of the world, including Australia. The danger of war is ever-present today, ultimately as a result of the inability of capitalism to restart industrial production. Consequently, we see the US war machine preparing extremely dangerous military provocations, not only in Libya and Syria, but along the border with Russia and along the border with China. If one of these flashpoints breaks into war, refugee numbers will explode. But the ALP and the Greens remain wedded to US imperialism, no less than the Liberal Party. A vote, or preference, for the ALP or the Greens is a vote for refugee producing war.

It is not only the Greens who enact a war agenda, despite some anti-war hot air. Some left parties which heavily influence the Refugee Action Collective (RAC) also, despite their intentions, fall into the pro-war camp. From 2011 until today, Socialist Alternative (SALT), Socialist Alliance (SALL) and Solidarity (SOL) have extended full backing to the appalling imperialist wars on Libya and Syria. In both cases, such groups have been outspoken in pleas for the destruction of the states of those countries, giving a blank cheque to the US Empire to do just that. Today, SALT, SALL and SOL clamour for regime change in Syria, while simultaneously denying that they are supporting the only forces attempting regime change – the US, Saudi, British, French and Turkish armed mercenaries of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham, amongst others. These barbarians, which operate in concert with the Israeli Defence Force,[4] have recently embarked on yet another wave of atrocities in the Syrian cities of Tartus and Jableh, explicitly targeting civilians.[5] This bloodbath, which slaughtered at least 100 Syrians, is part of a reigniting of the war by the US and its allies after being decisively rolled back by the Russian intervention on the side of the Syrian Arab Republic since September 30 last year. Despite these unspeakable acts, SALT, SALL and SOL variously refer to the NATO armed mercenaries in Syria as either “opposition”, “rebels” or “revolutionaries” !?!

The intervention of Canberra on the side of the US into this war has not caused these groups any pause for thought. Despite opposing Australia sending troops to invade Iraq in 2003, SALT, SALL and SOL join with the Greens in only mouthing muted calls, if any, against Australian military involvement in Syria. The Russian intervention, however, soon pushed Australian military hardware out of Syria. Australia, with a token few jet fighters, would not dare take on the might of Russia, and consequently the FA-18s were diverted soon after Russia began striking ISIS targets.[6] Refugee rights supporters, all working people, and all those opposed to war need to loudly demand a complete end to Australia’s involvement in yet another US led war for regime change. Australian troops: Out of Iraq and Syria!

There are many genuine people contained in RAC and other refugee and asylum seeker support groups, who are keen to help in any way they can to end the suffering of innocents. The problem is not one of a lack of people willing to help, but one of political strategy. RAC and the left parties which guide (or mislead) it continue with a political strategy of seeking the “unity” of all those who seek justice for refugees, regardless of political orientation, regardless of class, and therefore regardless of material benefit from the profit system. The ALP, the Greens, and the Union bureaucracy, all have their well remunerated positions guaranteed IF they guard the profit system by keeping social and political movements within certain parameters. The refugee rights movement is no exception – in fact it is a prime example. The ALP, the Greens and conservative Union leaders are very skilled at intervening into social movements in order to steer it in a direction which suits their needs. Refugee rights activists need to be aware of this, and need to be prepared to counter it. In fact, the refugee rights movement needs to be prepared to split from the influence of the parliamentary parties and the Union bureaucracy to give it a fighting chance of succeeding.

This does not mean that the backing of Unions is not necessary – for it is vital. Yet the conservative Union officials are a direct obstacle to the desperately needed mobilisation of workers for refugee rights. It would greatly assist if the refugee rights movement adopted an independent and pro-worker political basis. Rather than organise actions which gather a crowd before which the electoralist Greens or Union bureaucrats are allowed to self-promote themselves, rallies and meetings could be organised with an orientation which is independent of the parliamentary parties and with a pro-worker outlook. A workers’ rally with clear demands about ending the on-shore and off-shore detention of refugees would be a good start. If Greens or Union leaders wanted to speak, they would have to speak to the demands of the action, rather than their own agenda. In other words, the refugee rights movement needs to dictate the political terms to the Greens and the Union leaders, rather than ceding political control to them. This will require a refugee rights movement which is prepared to politically break with the Greens, Union bureaucrats and left groups which tail them – but it is vital if we are to ever end refugee torment in this country.

This political break cannot be fulfilled until working people are convinced that 1) NONE of the current parliamentary parties will or can act to end the suffering of refugees and 2) that political struggle independent of the parliamentary parties – and the elections they run in – must take priority and 3) such a political struggle must also remain independent of the self-serving Union bureaucracy, while never ceasing to demand these officials take serious action. The welfare of refugees AND that of the working class will either go forward together, or will remain isolated from one another, leading to yet another defeat for both. While working people cannot ignore the election process set up by the ruling class, neither should we be diverted into campaigns which only aim at pleading with political machines who know very well for whom they are acting.

The refugee rights struggle, therefore, is not simply one of cruelty versus compassion. Ultimately it is one of capitalism versus socialism. This is not just the case in the future – it is the case now, long before workers are prepared for a revolution. A socialist revolution involves a fundamental split in the social movements between all those who are employed or mislead by the old order, and their hangers-on, and all workers and their supporters who are risking everything to construct a new social order. In a similar way, decent treatment of refugees can only be won by those seeking a new order – workers and their supporters – with or without those who cling to the old world – the Greens, the ALP, Union bureaucrats and their left backers.


Workers League

PO BOX 66   NUNDAH   QLD   4012

E: workersleague@redfireonline.com


[1] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-26/png-court-rules-asylum-seeker-detention-manus-island-illegal/7360078 (23-05-16)

[2] http://greens.org.au/end-mandatory-detention (23-05-16)

[3] http://www.globalresearch.ca/syriza-government-sends-greek-riot-police-to-attack-refugee-camp/5496244 (23-05-16)

[4] https://friendsofsyria.wordpress.com/2016/05/03/un-finds-credible-ties-between-isis-and-israeli-defense-forces-2/ (25-05-16)

[5] http://www.syrianews.cc/us-uk-unleash-bloodbaths-tartous-jableh/ (25-05-16)

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/07/australian-airstrikes-in-syria-on-hold-as-russias-entry-complicates-mission (25-05-16)

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