Dear Mr Shorten,

Mr Turnbull’s “American solution” for Manus and Nauru risks re-starting the boats just as much as bringing the detainees to Australia would have done. There is no prospect of any other “third-country” solution—if there were, the government would not be sending detainees to the US.

But not all the detainees, not even all who have been recognised as refugees, will go to America, The government intends to prioritise women and children and family groups. This will leave single men (formerly detained on Manus Island) as long-term indefinite detainees on Nauru.

The ALP should urge that detainees recognised as refugees, or not yet processed, who are not accepted for re-settlement in the United States should all be re-settled in Australia.

That would not give any more encouragement to boat arrivals than the American solution already gives.

John Kilcullen




Email 15 December 2016:

Dear Mr Shorten,

Labor should propose that all detainees on Nauru and Manus Island not accepted for resettlement in America should be brought to Australia.

From recent news reports (e.g. it appears that the Government intends to resettle women, children and family groups in the US, leaving single men indefinitely on Nauru. The effect on these men of such unfair treatment is likely to be very serious.

The Government should communicate in the very near future with each and every one of the asylum-seekers sent to Manus Island and Nauru and promise them that they will all leave those places by a stated date in the near future, to go either to the United States (if the Trump administration agrees) or to Australia. Those who still need to be detained for some good reason (e.g. that they are not genuine refugees) should be detained in Australia.

The “drownings” argument, i.e. the claim that if these people are ever allowed to come to Australia the boats will re-start and people will drown, applies with at least equal force to re-settlement in the US. To stop the boats the government has thrown out a “ring of steel”:,-abf-ships-sent-off-to-block-people-smugglers/8023636 While this ring of steel is in place, the Government can bring the remaining detainees to Australia without any more encouragement to boat journeys than the US resettlement plan already gives.

While in this country we go into aestivation, in the US big things are happening, including a decision on the resettlement of detainees. Now is the time for outspoken intervention.

Yours faithfully,

John Kilcullen   

Email June 2017

Dear Mr Shorten,

At the coming ACT Labor Conference (29 July) the following motions are on the agenda:

* We call on the Australian Government to bring all detainees and former detainees now in PNG or Nauru to Australia as soon as possible. We call on the national leader to pledge that Labor will bring them all here within the first three months of taking office.

* We regard the Turnbull-Trump American resettlement deal as at best a partial solution to the offshore detention problem, since it may take a long time to implement and may not provide resettlement for all former Manus and Nauru detainees. We call on the national leader to promise that while US “extreme vetting” is in process, all the detainees will be in Australia, that those recognised as refugees but not accepted by the US or other countries will be settled here, and that those who are to be deported to their country of origin will be deported from here, after reconsideration of their refugee applications.

In a Morgan Poll on 17-19 Feb. this year the sample was asked: “Do you think asylum-seekers on Manus Island and Nauru should be brought here to Australia or not?”

Sixty-eight percent of Labor voters answered Yes. Thus your present position is out-of-step with the views of two thirds of Labor voters. The electoral cost of this is Nil, because after all these people still identify as Labor voters; the treatment of the detainees is not a high-enough-priority issue to outweigh all their reasons for preferring Labor to the Coalition.

But by the same token the electoral cost of switching the policy would also be approximately Nil. A Labor voter would not switch to the Coalition unless keeping asylum-seekers out is so important to them than it outweighs all their reasons for preferring Labor. Anyone so strongly of that view will already be voting One Nation or LNP. And if a switch in policy sent some Labor voters to the LNP, it would also bring some LNP voters to Labor: 23% of LNP voters want the detainees brought to Australia, according to the Morgan poll.

Though the electoral costs either way are not high, your present position does carry heavy longer-term political costs. The fact that Labor Parliamentarians are so much out of step with the views of Labor party members and Labor voters on a humanitarian issue of major importance makes Labor’s claim to stand for humane values (fairness, equality, human rights, compassion, generosity, etc.) sound hypocritical. The result of the Labor-LNP “unity ticket” on Manus-Nauru will be widespread contempt for politicians, disillusionment with politics, further hollowing-out of political parties, and loss of faith in democracy. Both of the major political parties refuse in this area to implement values many ethically concerned Australians support, and a vote for a minor party can have no effect.

... If preventing the Manus and Nauru detainees from settling in Australia or NZ or any other attractive first-world country were the only way of preventing drownings, the Turnbull-Trump agreement would have led to another surge of boats. America is the first-world country par excellence, a very attractive destination. Whatever is preventing any surge resulting from the American arrangement (that may include turn-backs we don’t hear about, or disruptive AFP operations, or Indonesian government action—whatever it is) would likewise prevent a surge if the detainees were all brought here. ...

Best wishes,

John Kilcullen

The Morgan poll results are similar to results of other public opinion samplings at the time of the last federal election: