March 22, 2014
NSW Labor powerbroker Sam Dastyari has lashed his own party’s asylum seeker policies and predicted Australians will one day be as embarrassed by offshore processing as they now are by the White Australia Policy.
In a hard-hitting speech that creates a political headache for Labor leader Bill Shorten, Senator Dastyari calls for renewed debate in the ALP over the offshore processing measures adopted by former leader Kevin Rudd.
In a clear sign of the gulf between the NSW Right factional powerbroker and the federal leader, who hails from the Victorian Right, Senator Dastyari concedes that while offshore processing has proven to be effective, “it is not something I am entirely comfortable with”.
Labor has been critical of the government’s handling of offshore processing on Nauru and Papua New Guinea since the election, including the secrecy of Operation Sovereign Borders but there has been no suggestion it is preparing to rethink its policies.
But Senator Dastyari said the ALP needed to adopt policies that were “both firm and fair”.
“I think that future generations will look back on this period in our history with the same sense of embarrassment that we look back on the White Australia Policy,” he says. “Labor is and continues to need to be prepared to have an open debate about the future of our migration policies. The fact is, over the past few years we have tossed and turned on these issues.”
The speech on Saturday to mark the Iranian new year festival of Nowruz is also the first time the Iranian-born senator has spoken publicly about the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati on Manus Island last month.
Senator Dastyari said he was shocked by the “brutal murder” and vowed he would “not allow the government of Australia to criminalise and further persecute young families fleeing their homes”. “Because it could easily have been me, and my sister. My parents fled from a country at war in 1988. I was five years old when I left Iran. My family is part of this story,” he will say.
Senator Dastyari said five principles should underpin the offshore processing regime if it is to continue – greater transparency in the form of open access to offshore processing facilities, fair access to legal assistance, faster processing and improved care for asylum seekers.
Original article available from Sydney Morning Herald