Labor’s grassroots lurch to the left is continuing with the Victorian Labor Party set to debate at its state conference this weekend moving the date of Australia Day from January 26 to May 9. This is the date when the Commonwealth parliament first met in 1901. Party sources have told the Guardian Australia the resolution will label January 26 as “offensive to Indigenous people”.
The conference will also debate another motion urgently calling for an end to offshore immigration detention and the transfer of all remaining asylum seekers to the Australian mainland within 90 days. This motion at the Victorian conference is being seen as a precursor to a similar motion to be put to Labor’s national conference.
With both Australia Day and offshore processing have the majority support of the Australian people, the base of Labor trying to drag the party further left is a distraction Bill Shorten does not need and provides the perfect opportunity for the Coalition to campaign on theese two issues and highlight their strengths on national security and national pride.
Labor in the past 24 hours has been embarrassed by two of its MPs on the issue of asylum seekers with the new member for Batman former ACTU Secretary Ged Kearney declaring in her maiden speech Australia should take in more refugees and said offshore processing was causing an “ongoing cost to our national psyche”.
Then Labor’s Shadow Minister for Human Services Linda Burney appearing on Sky News with David Speers added her thoughts on the issue when asked “I think that we are saying most clearly that there shouldn’t be indefinite detention. There needs to be a time frame and I’m sure there are people who are working towards that. I think there needs to be a time limit.”
However, the damage of Burney’s comments has been confounded by the fact that Bill Shorten’s office distributed a heavily edited transcript of her Sky News interview. It did not have Burney saying “time frame” or “time limit” among other omissions. The doctoring of this interview was quickly picked up by the rest of the media including Sky News who replayed the interview this morning.
Linda Burney has taken responsibility for her office typing up the transcript claiming it was a “stuff up”. The government have been hammering Labor hard on this ordeal today accusing Labor of tabling a “fraudulent document”. One wonders how Labor thought they could pretend something that was broadcast on national television did not occur.
Labor has also had a confused position on Australia Day, while Bill Shorten has said Labor does not support a change he and other frontbenchers again including Linda Burney have called for another national day which they believe is more inclusive for Indigenous Australians.
Because of these divisions in Labor over contentious policies where political reality clashes with their base, it is being viewed as a blatant political trick that today Speaker of the House Tony Smith announced that the 5 by-elections caused by the High Court decision and Perth MP Tim Hammond’s resigniation will be held on July 28. This is the same day as the Labor National Conference which if both events were held on the same day would mean Labor divisions are on display during election campaigning.
The Government certainly believes it has Labor on both asylum seekers and Australian values, along with Bill Shorten’s current unpopularity it has led to speculation it could go to an election this year. Labor wanting to go further left do so at their peral.