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Labor's refugee policy

I am continually astounded by the depth of the depravity and inhumanity of this government in its treatment of the most vulnerable people, refugees and people seeking asylum. And the justification for this cruelty, such as we just heard from Senator Macdonald, is a stain on our country. These are our fellow humans. They are simply seeking safety and a future for their families. It is shameful and it has gone on for far too long.

Of course, it's not just the government that should be ashamed. We've just heard Senator Gallacher be an apologist for ongoing, indefinite incarceration of asylum seekers on the offshore hellholes of Manus Island and Nauru. The Labor Party must also recognise its key role in this. The Labor Party and the government are equally responsible for the cruelty and inhumanity of those offshore camps.

In the face of this cruelty and bigotry there are, however, some windows of hope. In my home state of Victoria people are undertaking determined, hopeful actions, in the face of this regime, to drive change and signal Australia's true values of care and compassion. Both major parties should take heed. Victorians are exercising their voices, and they'll continue to do so at the ballot box.

One local council, the City of Darebin, which lies within the federal seat of Batman, has fearlessly demonstrated its support for refugees and asylum seekers. In December last year, council resolved to write to the Prime Minister to express concern regarding the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Australia's offshore detention camps.

Mayor Kim Le Cerf stated that all levels of government must meet their humanitarian obligations to support asylum seekers and refugees. She called on the federal government to close the offshore detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru and immediately bring the refugees and asylum seekers to Australia for resettlement.

I also note that Darebin is a refugee welcome zone, where refugees successfully settle and receive support in the community, and that Darebin council is a signatory to the joint statement on asylum seekers by Victorian local governments. There are many other Victorian councils and community groups that are providing leadership, humanity and a vision for a welcoming Australia; who are reflecting the values of their community and the wishes of ordinary Australians that refugees and asylum seekers be treated with compassion. I commend them all. It makes me proud to be a Victorian.

Both major parties should heed these community voices. I know a lot of good former Labor supporters who cannot abide the current parliamentary party's continued support for the fear based, cruel regime we have in place, so I say to my Labor colleagues in this place: there is always room to recognise these humanitarian options, but until you do Australians will struggle to believe that you are ever true to your purported values of fairness and equality.

In a few short weeks the residents of the Batman electorate will get the chance to send a strong message to the Labor Party that they want action—no more talk, no more lip service, no more pussyfooting around on refugees. Labor talk tall on refugees and asylum seekers but in the end they always fall into lock step with the cruel policies of this government in a race to the bottom.

The likely Labor candidate for Batman, Ged Kearney, tells us she's progressive. She tells us she will represent the people of Batman. She tells us she's a lifelong supporter of refugees and asylum seekers. Indeed, I commend her work and her previous advocacy. But since becoming the likely Labor candidate she's already fallen into line with party policy. She now says Labor's position on boat turnbacks and offshore detention has been adopted at the party's national conference and 'as a candidate and hopefully member of the Labor caucus, that's a reality I accept.'

Well, that's not good enough. 'A lifelong advocate for refugees,' she says. 'That's the reality I accept'—a reality of cruelty, inhumanity and indefinite detention in these offshore hellholes. That's not a reality that the people of Batman accept, and it's not a reality that Alex Bhathal, the Greens candidate for Batman, accepts.

When you're given the honour of being an MP or a senator, what matters is how you vote, not your supposed lifelong advocacy for refugees and asylum seekers, not how much you say you're going to change the party from within and not what realities you accept. What matters is how you vote. And the people of Batman deserve someone who believes that how they vote matters.

Alex Bhathal is a lifelong advocate for refugees and asylum seekers. She will vote, as the member for Batman, to end the cruelty of offshore hellholes, she will vote to end boat turnbacks and she will vote to end indefinite incarceration, because Alex Bhathal knows that what matters to the people of Batman is how she votes in the parliament as their representative.

I have hope for a day when this cruel, inhumane, secretive and, frankly, globally shameful treatment of refugees and asylum seekers will end. We must never stop highlighting its horrific impact on people. Australian community members won't be silent, and the Greens won't be silent, because the current cruel and inhumane asylum seeker and refugee policies are not a reality that the Greens accept.

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