Western Australian Labor MPs say their federal counterparts have lost their moral compass and have urged them to take a more compassionate approach to children and pregnant mothers seeking asylum.
The split in Labor Party ranks occurred yesterday following revelations on Lateline on Thursday night about Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s people-swapping deal with Malaysia.
Lateline revealed draft documents on the in-principle deal in which Malaysia would accept 800 Australian asylum seekers in return for Australia taking 4,000 refugees.
The documents show Malaysia has removed all references to human rights.
From the start, Ms Gillard’s scheme to be tough on people smugglers, by sending asylum seekers to Malaysia, risked alienating some of Labor’s support base.
A group of Western Australian Labor MPs, including Martin Whitley, are petitioning Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to back away from the deal.
They are concerned Mr Bowen says he wants to send unaccompanied children and pregnant women to Malaysia.
“I am embarrassed that it’s a Labor policy. It’s frankly the sort of policy I would have expected from the worst aspects of Liberal Party, not from the Labor Party,” he said.
“[It’s] a ridiculous concept. I mean, let’s not worry about the politics of it. These are children. Let’s look after them. I think we have a responsibility to look after these kids.”
Fourteen MPs have signed the petition and are calling on more to follow, but Mr Bowen’s office is not responding for now.
WA Labor MP Ben Wyatt thinks the Federal Labor Government has “got this one wrong, both on a political and moral level”.
“I think perhaps it’s up to some Labor MPs around this nation to start making that clear to our federal colleagues,” he said.
And that argument is finding agreement across the political spectrum.
Following Thursday night’s revelations on Lateline, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott drove the wedge in hard.
Tuesday, Andrew Wilkie:
Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie told Federal Parliament yesterday the Government had lost its ‘moral superiority’. He said the ‘Labor Party approach to asylum seekers was not an insignificant consideration’, when he gave support to PM Julia Gillard.