Kristina Keneally Has Announced Her Support For Offshore Detention, And People Are Disgusted

Kristina Keneally is officially Labor's Peter Dutton.

Kristina Keneally

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Over the weekend, Labor unveiled its new frontbench, featuring Kristina Keneally as Shadow Minister for Home Affairs. This was touted as a Great Thing — a strong woman in a major portfolio, ready to face off against Peter Dutton on Australia’s offshore detention policy. And it would have been great, if Keneally hadn’t almost immediately announced her support for offshore processing, boat turnbacks, and other pillars of Australia’s current policy towards asylum seekers.

“Labor will ensure Australians are kept safe,” Keneally wrote on Twitter yesterday. “Labor fully supports offshore processing, boat turnbacks where safe to do so, and regional resettlement.” Later, she told 3AW that by regional resettlement, she means that “people should be resettled in third countries. Let’s be clear about this.”

These were surprising — and for many, disappointing — views for Keneally to express, given that in past she’s been vocal about her discomfort with the very same policies. In 2015, she wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian grappling with her party’s decision to refuse to rule out boat turnbacks.

“Instinctively I dislike the option of boat turnbacks,” she wrote. “Towing people away from Australia when they are attempting a perilous journey in order to seek asylum smacks of cruelty. Such action dishonours our past commitments to compassionate welcome and violates our international treaty obligations. Also, I don’t want the Australian Labor party to ape the Abbott government’s secretive and mean policies on asylum seekers and refugees. ”

She went further, too, acknowledging that past Labor governments had made serious mistakes. “Labor in government mishandled policy on asylum seekers,” she wrote. “Some of these mistakes had disastrous consequences: children locked up in detention, people left stuck and hopeless in offshore processing, and desperate people dying horrible deaths at sea uncomfortably close to our shores.”

“Children Labor put in detention have been abused. Women Labor put in detention have been sexually assaulted. Two men Labor sent to Manus Island have died. Riots, mental illness and suicide attempts are the consequences of Labor’s decision to re-open Nauru and Manus Island.”

Four years later, that continues to be a really good description of Australia’s offshore detention regime (except that the deaths and suicide attempts have increased). In fact, refugee advocates report that there’s been a spike in suicide attempts on Manus Island following the federal election result, which they say crushed the spirits of asylum seekers who hoped for better treatment under Labor.

After Keneally’s comments, people are wondering whether there was ever a possibility of policy change under Labor. “What is Labor doing to get us out of here?”, Behrouz Boochani, a journalist and refugee imprisoned on Manus Island asked Keneally on Twitter.

The only real answer Keneally’s given so far is that she supports pretty much the same policies as Peter Dutton, but in a vaguely more humane way. “Whilst I fully support offshore processing, boat turnbacks where it’s safe to do so, and regional resettlement, I do not believe offshore processing needs to be indefinite detention and necessarily cruel,” she told the Herald Sunurging the government to accept New Zealand’s to resettle refugees in Australia’s offshore detention system.

Keneally has also set out to suggest that the difference between herself and Dutton is that she will be even tougher on asylum seekers, saying she plans to “apply a blowtorch” to Dutton for bragging about stopping the boats but allowing asylum seekers to continue arriving by plane.

The Conversation has already responded to comments like that by crowing that Keneally and Dutton will be a “perfect matchup for those into political bloodsports”. And sure, Keneally really does seem to be shaping up to be Labor’s equal to Peter Dutton. If all you’re looking for is politicians with identical policies insulting each other while people suffer in offshore detention, boy are you in for a treat.