Labor silent on refugee issues: advocate
April 2, 2007 – 11:39AM
The Age (Melbourne)
A refugee advocate has blasted Labor's cautious stance on asylum-seeker issues in the lead-up to the federal election.
Jack Smit, who heads Project SafeCom, said the opposition had been frozen with panic about the prospect of a political debate on boat people during an election year.
He urged Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd to stand up for asylum seekers' rights, following reports Australia is considering expanding its controversial offshore processing regime to encompass Indonesia.
The plan comes as 83 Sri Lankan boat people, intercepted en route to Christmas Island in February, have their asylum claims processed on Nauru.
Mr Smit said Prime Minister John Howard was once again politicising the issue of refugee arrivals – reviving memories of the 2001 “Tampa” election campaign.
“With the coming of Kevin Andrews (to the immigration portfolio), Howard clearly wants to set the agenda back to 2001,” he said.
“He's sniffing out where Labor goes.”
But Mr Rudd and Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke did not want to discuss the topic, he said, for fear of being politically “wedged”.
“Labor is very scared that (Mr Howard) would make this into a new Tampa. Labor is too scared to declare that John Howard is an underminer of international conventions,” Mr Smit said.
“They've failed to claim refugees, human rights and international conventions back for their own platform.”