5 reasons the Greens aren’t good enough on asylum seekers

Back when the Greens opposed mandatory detention... Policy Snapshots Booklet 2007

Back when the Greens opposed mandatory detention… Policy Snapshots Booklet 2007

Sarah Hanson-Young gets up at a refugee rights rally, sobs for a bit, then tells people to vote Green. It’s not good enough. Here’s why.

1. The Greens could have scuttled the re-opening of camps on Manus and Nauru but didn’t

It wasn’t an Abbott government that introduced the most retrograde policy on refugees in a decade. A policy so appalling even the Howard government was eventually forced to wind it down when faced with a revolt from the liberal wing of his own back bench. Oh no.

Julia Gillard and Labor re-opened the camps on Nauru and Manus Island, and they did so with the support of the Greens.

In 2001 Bob Brown proclaimed that the Greens were not a single issue party and took the Greens into bat on the issue of refugees. It was why in 2001, as a fourteen year old, I got involved. But when push came to shove in 2013, when the Greens precious hold on the balance of power finally gave them the chance to walk the talk, they utterly failed.

The new round of crimes on Nauru and Manus Island are only possible due to Greens weakness. They were not even prepared to push.

2. The Greens support mandatory detention

The Greens favour the mandatory detention of refugees. Including children. Perhaps indefinitely. Oh they mouth a few platitudes like “refugees to live in the community as soon as possible”, but will they close down Australia’s system of barbaric prison camps? No, they will:

“Establish 30 day time limits of detention so initial health, security and ID checks can be done, and periodic judicial review of any detention thereafter” – Greens.org.au “Caring for Refugees in Our Community”.

As Nazeem Hussain explains:

The Greens know a ’30 day cap’ for security checks is little more than a sentiment. You can’t rush ASIO, they take as long as they like ‘need’. 40 Sri Lankans and an Iranian have been waiting in detention for ASIO clearance, some waiting up to 4 YEARS!

Under Greens policy, after 30 days – will they just release detainees even with no security clearance?? Why detain them in the first place if security checks aren’t actually imperative?!

NZ only detains ppl for 7 days for health checks and performs security checks in the community. Noone complains.

It’s not a crime to seek asylum, yet the Greens policy will imprison refugees, including children, perhaps indefinitely.

3. The Greens consider the standards of at least some detention centres acceptable

Before you delude yourself into thinking that The Greens mandatory detention camps will be nicer than Abbotts or Rudds, consider this:

“The Greens … will … close down the worst Australian detention centres on the mainland and on Christmas Island.”

As far as the Greens are concerned, only “the worst” of the camps are the problem. At least some of the camps that now exist are acceptable.

I ask, will the Greens nominate which of the camps in the Australian gulags will the Greens not close down? If Nauru is unacceptable, what about that nice new camp on Christmas Island? Or if that’s no good, what about that centre of fun and games in Broadmeadows? It’s compartively low security, refugees only occasionally try and starve themselves to death in order to get out.

4. The Greens support a “Malaysia” style “solution”

Instead of defending the absolute right of people to seek asylum from persecution, the Greens “Safer Pathways” policy accepts the absurd concept of a “queue” and proposes a “Malaysia” style “solution”.

The Greens policy document The Right Way Foward on Refugees even quotes the absurd Houston Panel in support of it’s policy, the same “expert panel” the Gillard government established as cover to reintroduce the camps on Nauru and Manus Island.

The key points the Greens highlight in their document include:

Increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 30,000 … including resettling at least 3,800 directly from our immediate region, including from Indonesia, as recomended by the Houston Panel.

This statement accepts the false logic of a queue, that people should somehow have to wait for permission to exersize their fundamental rights. It accepts the absurd notion that Australia should set limits on the number of people somehow allowed to seek asylum here, as if a rich country like Australia should be able to say “wait, no, you might have an absolute right to seek asylum but we’ll pick and choose”.

Their document also talks about “regional processing” in Indonesia. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, under the Greens Australia would still outsource it’s international obligations.

This policy from the Greens treats asylum like a charitable jesture, as if refugees do not have absolute rights, and our racist government can just meet part of it’s obligations, in small amounts, when it feels like it.

5. The Greens wont even close Nauru and Manus Island

The Greens have already conceded on Nauru and Manus Island. It is clear they were not prepared to take the Gillard government to task over it’s treatment on refugees, and they wont make the closure of Manus Island and Nauru conditions for forming government after the next election.

They have a whole policy that accepts that Manus Island and Nauru detention camps wont close. Instead, they propose a laughable figleaf, an Independent Health Advisory Panel.

Read it and weep:

“The Australian Greens want to put a stop to offshore detention altogether. But whilst it is in place, Australia remains responsible for looking after the health and wellbeing of refugees we send to detention camps. There must be special oversight of the impacts of indefinite detention on these already traumatised people.”

That’s right, The Greens won’t actually stop the barbaric treatment of refugees, they’ve clearly signalled that with this policy. Instead they’re prepared to accept some totally meaningful oversight, so we can watch and wait for the inevitable result of barbaric and inhumane treatment.

Consider the tone of all of these documents. The Greens care. They Greens want to look after these poor traumatised people. The Greens don’t seem to accept that refugees are people with agency, fighting for their lives, who we have to stand with shoulder to shoulder.

Would be Greens Senator Janet Rice agrees that 30 days mandatory detention is A OK.

Would be Greens Senator Janet Rice agrees that 30 days mandatory detention is A OK.

The alternative…

It’s time to stop placing our faith in the great Green hope.

In a recent Facebook exchange, Victorian Greens party figure and psephologist Stephen Luntz justified his party’s drift to the right on the grounds that he hasn’t heard criticism from the refugee movement and support campaign:

If they’ve got criticisms of our policy point me to them, but so far all I have encountered is people from both categories asking me where they can sign up to campaign.

The Greens are in the process of mainstreaming. They assume the million or so Australians on the left are locked in, and they are on the move rightwards in pursuit of what Greg Barber used to describe as “the next ten percent”.

If you think voting is enough, if you think the Greens are enough, you are sadly mistaken.

We need to tell the Greens they’re not bloody good enough. They take your $2.10 for granted.

We need to build a refugee movement that stands in solidarity with refugees, that absolutely defends the right to seek and enjoy asylum:

“This is an important issue because there is a long history of workers who support unions being persecuted because of their belief in standing up for workers’ rights.

“There are still many countries where working for a union or being part of a union can place workers in danger. We believe it is important these people, like all people fleeing for their safety, have the right to ask Australia for safety. We believe it’s Australia’s responsibility to treat these people fairly. – Victorian Trades Hall Council

We need to build a militant refugees movement that goes beyond a paltry focus on the electoral cycle. We need to stand with those who resist and take the battle to those who profit.

Don’t just vote, get organised.

RISE: Refugees, Survivors and ex-detainees
Beyond Borders Collective
Refugee Action Collective


  1. Mick WebsterAugust 26, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Kieran its Nauru, not Narau. And while the Greens are not good enough on this as on many other issues (population policy sticks out) I’ll still be working for them on election day, as the least unpalatable of the parties

    • Spelling corrected… (I hope)

      • Kieran, we can make such criticisms, and encourage those inside the Greens to push further, but at the moment their opposition to offshore processing, to the ‘no advantage’ ‘principle’, and their support of work rights for bridging visa holders stand out like dogs balls. Soc Alliance running in a tiny number of seats.
        Moreover, the Green vote % that we see in the Sunday papers on 8 Sept will be one factor (not the only one) determining how confident people will be to take the fight to Abbott from the get go.

  2. Mark,

    The Greens are still prepared to talk opposition to offshore processing, savour that whilst it lasts, but they have already conceded the political ground.

    The Greens have been dragged to the right, and whilst the refugee movement remains lock step in behind the Greens, it is being dragged to the right as well.


    • Ouch! I’ll give you the first one, but I think refugees not been the issue dragging the Greens to the right (think carbon tax, think rhetoric about responsible partners in government). If you have any suggestions as to how the refugee movement might articulate a more radical open borders stance (in a concrete way that can galvanise people, not just slogans that make us revolutionaries feel good) then I’m all ears. “Welcome the boats” half does that, and “Decriminalise people smuggling” is worthwhile (though it does require explanation). Lay it on me!

      • I think what the small no-borders group in Melbourne have been trying to do is interesting.


        For a long time the refugee movement has pointed to the obscene amounts of money involved in persecuting refugees, I think it’s actually useful to go beyond that and target the corporates who are implementing these policies, as well as targeting the politicians who dream them up.

        Obviously banging a few pots and pans in a foyer still falls well short of the ideal of direct action, but I think also being prepared to target Toll, Serco, G4S and alike is a step in the right direction.

        I am not familiar at all with the situation in Sydney, but in Melbourne these are the same names that crop up again and again in industrial disputes (Toll Somerton for example), and could point to furthing a refugee campaign along class lines rather than simply relying on do-gooder “empathy”.

      • As for why the Greens have moved rightwards, I can’t comment on their internal dynamics in more recent years, but there was always a tension between being a mass party, a party of the movement, and being a “professional” party.

        From what I could see, The Greens were not just dragged to the right, but actively moved to the right in the pursuit of greater “respectability”.

        The deal with Gillard and their timid conduct in coalition for the past three years are the logical outcome of the ascendency of that approach.

  3. A couple of points:

    1. Mark Goudkamp is correct when he suggests that the temptation of being a “responsible partner in government” has shifted the Greens to the Right. I have never supported the Greens, but their performance in the last Parliament has shown that I underestimated just how opportunistic they are. If this is how they perform when they only have one MP in the Lower House, what will they pay in order to get one of them appointed a Minister in a coalition government?

    2. The media never discuss why refugees have to get on leaky boats to come to Australia. Why don’t they just fly here like tourists do?

    The reason is quite simple. If you apply for a visa to enter Australia and the Australian Embassy or Consulate in the country where you are thinks there is a substantial risk you will apply for asylum when you arrive, they’ll knock you back. Now, the process isn’t foolproof and some still slip through the net. People who apply for asylum after flying here don’t get detained and don’t have the huge restrictions placed on them that boat arrivals have. And, as a point of interest, we find that the success rate of asylum claims for plane arrivals is much less than that for boat arrivals – meaning that the more likely you are to be an actual refugee, the harder the Government tries to keep you out of the country.

    If any of the Parliamentary parties were concerned to stop refugees drowning at sea because their leaky boat sank, there is a simple thing they could do. They could put up a bill to stop Australian Embassies and Consulates screening refugees out when they apply for an entry visa. The simplest way to stop the boats is to let the refugees fly here.

  4. LeftInternationalistSeptember 8, 2013 at 2:20 am

    This long New Left Review article on the German Greens may be interesting and relevant to think about in relation to the path the Australian Greens may be heading down,chronicling its radical beginnings to the sorry state it is in today in many respects.


  5. Kieran, do you have any sources re point 1? I couldn’t care less about the Greens, but have been arguing with a Green member friend, who reckons the reopening of the island concentration camps mostly didn’t require legislation to be passed, so Greens had no way of opposing it even if they wanted to, and where legislation was put to parliament, it passed not through Green support but bipartisan Lib-Lab support. Can you clarify this point?


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