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Labor’s concern for human rights limited by service to capitalism and US imperialism

Written by: Nick G. on 2 April 2023


In the lead-up to the Whitlam government, and during its term of office, the Australian Labor Party promoted itself as having a stronger independent national outlook, of being a better provider of public services, and of being committed to humanitarianism and social justice.

It is difficult to find any of this in the contemporary Labor Party and in the Albanese government.

It is true that it took some early measures that were more humanitarian than those of its predecessor, the Morrison Liberal government. The almost immediate decision, in May 2022, by the incoming Labor government to grant bridging visas to the Sri Lankan Murugappan asylum seeking family, thus enabling them to return to the embrace of the Biloela, Queensland community, was widely acclaimed. 

 This was followed two months later by the waiving of charges against lawyer Bernard Collaery whom the previous government had charged with breaches of national security for having revealed details of the Australian government’s bugging of the poverty-stricken East Timorese during negotiations over control of the resource-rich Timor Sea.

Early this year, the government announced it would abolish Temporary Protection Visas that had kept 19,000 refugees in limbo, unable to access social security or to reunite with family members. Although this continued to exclude asylum seekers who tried to arrive by boat under the turnback policy, and the associated offshore detention of such persons, it was also welcomed as a humanitarian decision.

Beyond these three measures, there are limits to Labor’s humanitarian actions.

Most recently, a South Australian District Court judge found that Australian Tax Office whistleblower Pater Boyle was not immune to prosecution under the Public Interest Disclosure (PID) Act. Boyle had made public cases where the ATO’s aggressive debt collection tactics had resulted in injustices for the people concerned. Commonwealth prosecutors successfully applied for the judge’s decision to remain confidential. 

Despite the fact that Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus could withdraw this prosecution as he did in Collaery’s case, the matter will go to a trial in which Boyle faces life imprisonment.

Then there is the impending actin against David McBride, the Australian Army lawyer who was blocked within the Army from raising concerns about possible Australian war crimes that he had raised following two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He subsequently took his concerns to the ABC whose program based on his concerns led to the Brereton Commission of Enquiry and now to the laying of war crimes charges against the soldier who shot and killed an unarmed Afghan in a wheatfield. 

McBride deserves to be Australian of the Year, not a criminal and sent to gaol. Dreyfus could also intervene in this case, but so far chooses not to.

And then there is Assange, still languishing in an English maximum security cell and facing extradition to the vindictive punishers in the US. Also facing extradition is former US marine pilot, now a naturalised Australian citizen, Daniel Duggan, arrested on US orders last October and held ever since in isolation and n maximum security as he awaits extradition on US charges of having trained Chinese aviators. 

Despite pleas from his lawyers for his immediate release and an end to the extradition, the Labor party has been silent.

Or rather, it has been selective in its most recent expressions of concerns for human rights.  Foreign Minister Penny Wong illustrated this perfectly week when she said: “It is one year since Australian citizen Cheng Lei faced a closed trial in Beijing on national security charges. She is yet to learn the outcome. Our thoughts are with Ms Cheng and her loved ones. Australia will continue to advocate for her to be reunited with her children.”

Her concern for Cheng Lei may be sincere, and the conditions of Cheng Lei's imprisonment and trial may deserve condemnation, but Wong is staggering in her hypocrisy. 

Of course, it helps that she is criticising the Chinese, and not her masters in the US.

David McBride tweeted in response, “It is five years since I was charged with telling the truth and standing up for the law in Australia, which was my job. I too will face a secret trial, shamelessly influenced by the US (who have no place in our Courts). It’s the only life my 2 daughters can remember.”

Boyle has been subjected to a secret court judgement. Duggan is yet to learn the outcome of his extradition proceedings. Assange rots in gaol. He has been under threat of extradition to the US since 2010, and held in the UK’s high security Belmarsh Prison since April 2019, that is three years longer than Cheng Lei’s post-trial detention.

And there are still asylum seekers held in indefinite off-shore detention, some of who have been there for over ten years.

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister both belong to what is regarded as the “left” of the Labor Party.

Of this “left”, foundation Chairperson of our Party, Ted Hill, said back in 1975, “The "left" espouses broad humanitarian policies and no doubt some of this "left" genuinely stand for these. This still does not alter the essence of the question, namely that fundamentally the Labor Party serves capitalism and in Australia's case, the multi-nationals. Moreover these "left" people do not have much difficulty in passing to the right” (Australia’s Economic Crisis – The Way Out p. 24).

We demand that whatever “humanitarianism” survives in Labor ranks be immediately extended to Julian Assange, David McBride, Peter Boyle, Daniel Duggan and the remaining incarcerated asylum seekers.


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