ACT News

Jon Stanhope launches tirade against Bill Shorten over asylum seeker treatment

Former Labor ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope has launched an angry and emotional tirade on his party for its treatment of asylum seekers.

He calls on the Labor Party to "redeem" the party's reputation by changing policy.

"It's a chance to clear a large and rancid barnacle from Labor's own blighted hull," he says.

Mr Stanhope was administrator of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands from 2012 to 2014.

Writing in Saturday's Forum section, he says Labor cannot "continue to play dead" on asylum seeker policy, until the next federal election, due at the end of 2016.

"No amount of 'no comment' or of wishing the issue away by [Bill] Shorten, Richard Marles or indeed every member of the caucus, will save the ALP from having to say at some point where it now stands on asylum seeker policy and refugees," he says.


He hinges his pitch for policy change on the imminent release of the Human Rights Commission report on children in detention.

"[The report] provides an obvious and appropriate opportunity for Bill Shorten and the Labor Party to redeem the party's reputation and standing on human rights and asylum seekers," he says.

Mr Stanhope says the report on children in detention will be confronting and painful to read.

"All of the children who were in detention on Christmas Island during the inquiry, on which the report is based, were confined there between July and September 2013 at the direction of the then Labor government," he says.

"That the current Liberal government has enthusiastically embraced and maintained Labor's policy of indefinite offshore detention of children does not assuage the embarrassment, responsibility and distress that I and legions of Labor Party members experience, or at least should be experiencing, as a consequence of Labor's implementation of these policies.

"This is particularly the case because they are policies that are in clear breach of both Labor's National Platform and the beliefs and values that the platform articulates."

Mr Stanhope says the party's policy could be changed at the ALP national conference, due this year.

" As it currently reads the platform is a nonsense in that it bears no resemblance to what the latest Labor governments have actually done while in office or of what we now understand the policy to be," he says.

"It is inconceivable to me, however, that the platform could, consistent with Labor's 'beliefs and values', be rewritten at the conference to reflect the grab bag of policies which were cobbled together as the immediate past  Labor government disintegrated."

Mr Stanhope believes many Australians will look to Mr Shorten to lead the debate and "reassert the principles that are already written" in the party's platform.