Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese admitted he has had a change of heart when it comes to turning back boats carrying asylum seekers, conceding that the Coalition government have successfully “stopped the boats”.
The Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport voted against refugee boat turnbacks at Labor’s 2015 National Conference but he has now admitted that Malcolm Turnbull’s policy is working and should not be changed, acknowledging that Labor made an “error” in policy.
Speaking on Sky News on Tuesday, Albanese said: “What we know now is that the government’s policies have stopped the boats. They’re not coming. So the circumstances of rejecting boat arrivals has been achieved and the truth is that I’ve said many times before that we got some things wrong.
“We thought that the argument that there were pull factors as well as push factors was wrong and indeed we made an error when we did that. I think that’s been acknowledged by the Labor party. And that’s why we have a framework that includes offshore protection.”
Despite admitting that Labor’s previous stance was “wrong”, Albanese refused to confirm whether he would publicly support boat turnbacks at the next party conference, which will take place in Adelaide in December.
The government, then led by Tony Abbott, launched military-led Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013, with the aim of securing Australia’s borders and stopping the maritime smuggling of people into the country. Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister since 2015, then announced in late 2016 that boat people would receive a lifetime ban, preventing them from ever setting foot in Australia.
Albanese, 55, also denied any disunity within the Labor party ranks during the TV interview, despite increasing conversation surrounding a potential leadership battle between him and current leader of the opposition Bill Shorten.
“I have a good relationship with Bill, I have a good relationship with all of my colleagues,” he said, “When I look opposite at Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott and the ongoing undermining, for goodness sake, they can’t even get an energy policy together.”
A recent Newspoll revealed that Albanese is the preferred choice among Labor voters to lead the party, with Bill Shorten being named the least popular opposition of all time after he landed his 66th successive bad ranking in the opinion polls in May.
The results also showed that voters would prefer to see Albanese heading up the party, with the Grayndler representative securing 26 per cent of the vote, while Shorten and deputy leader Tanya Plibersek are tied in second place on 23 per cent.
Speaking at the time, Albanese brushed off his personal triumph though and described himself as a “team player”.