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Labor hoping to avoid refugee policy fight in Adelaide


Labor looks set to avoid a bruising stoush on refugee policy at the party’s national conference, with key factional players locking in behind offshore processing and boat turnbacks.

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Tony Burke, a leader of the NSW Right faction, and Left heavyweight Tanya Plibersek are confident there will be no changes to Labor’s support for tough border protection measures.

While Plibersek stressed the need for a compassionate approach to asylum seekers, she was careful to avoid opposition to the party’s current platform.

“Boat turnbacks where it’s safe to do so are clearly part of Labor’s policy and we determined that at the last national conference,” Labor’s deputy leader told reporters in Melbourne today.

“We think it is much better, yes to bring people more people safely to Australia, but to bring them here on an aeroplane from the most desperate places in the world.”

Labor’s support for a crossbench bill which would allow sick asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island treatment in Australia on the advice of two doctors looks set to become official policy at conference.

“What you won’t find is there being a significant shift from the views of the parliamentary party by virtue of what happens at the conference,” Burke told Sky News.

He said asylum-seeker policy was always debated at conference, but he wasn’t anticipating major changes at the triennial event in Adelaide from Sunday.

“The majority has always been that we would continue with the turnbacks policy and that’s where it will be this time again,” he said.

But Immigration Minister David Coleman insists the ALP has been exposed after supporting the crossbench push last week.

“The system is working appropriately and Labor’s proposed system is frankly ridiculous,” Coleman told Sky News.

“A person on Manus Island would be under no obligation to consult a doctor on Manus Island at all and could simply decide to speak to two doctors in Launceston.”

The bill allows for ministerial override of medical transfer advice provided there is a parliamentary explanation.

Coleman said Labor’s plan to scrap temporary protection visas undermines a critical part of stopping boat arrivals.

But Burke argued they didn’t exist when the boats were stopped, pointing out abolishing the visa had been Labor policy for 10 years.


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