Statement: Australian Labor Party and their failure on refugee rights

October 5, 2023

Follow on Instagram and Facebook for more.

The below article is a personal statement as to my response towards the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and its elected members of parliament (MPs) going forward in relation to asylum seeker and refugee justice. Footnotes justifying why I’m taking this course of action are listed at the bottom of this article.

Introduction and background

For a number of years, when the the ALP was in opposition, Federal ALP MPs often spoke at events and protest actions in support of refugee rights.

In particular, Ged Kearney, now the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, and Andrew Giles, now the the Federal Minister for Immigration, made regular appearances at refugee rights rallies. A few other lesser known names in the Federal ALP political sphere also proclaimed their support for refugee rights and have spoken at events in their constituencies.

The issue and Labor’s weasel words

Since getting into government, Kearney, as well as Giles, among others, have been curiously quiet on the issue of refugee rights. Going into the 2022 Federal Election, ALP MPs would tell their constituents as well as refugee advocacy groups in their electorates that all they needed to do was get into government, that the only way to change refugee policy would be to vote Labor.  That they were only being quiet for fear that they’d lose votes and, potentially, miss out on winning government, was another line that was often used.

We’re now in the middle of a first term Albanese government that has more goodwill, social and political capital than any government ever has had in recent history. Sadly, like so many other crucial issues – not much, at the core of it, has changed when it comes to refugee policy when compared to the Liberal/National government.

Up to 12,000 temporary visa holders remain in limbo, seemingly forgotten and brushed off after the government announced permanent protection for some 19,000 people who arrived during the terms of the previous government. Not only is this contrary to what the ALP told refugee advocacy groups before the election, it’s also in direct contention with the ALP’s own policy platform which stated that they would abolish temporary protection visas (Safe Haven Enterprise Visas and Temporary Protection Visas) and give all who continue to languish under this system a path to permanency.

Furthermore, offshore detention centres – funded, by the hundreds of millions of dollars, by this government – remain in operation.

Labor continues bipartisan cruelty towards refugees, and I’ll have no part in enabling it

As mentioned earlier, on several occasions, I’ve provided images I’ve taken at refugee rights events and actions – where Federal ALP MPs have spoken – to those MPs for use in their own communications material, social media, among other purposes.

My images, often featuring Labor MPs when they’ve shown up at events to promote refugee rights, have also been used by some grassroots and advocacy groups on their platforms.

Going forward, should any Federal ALP MP turn up to address an event or action relating to refugee rights that I’m covering – I’ll refuse to take images or otherwise of those MPs, full stop. I’ll also ensure no image – in relation to refugee rights – that portrays any Federal ALP MP in a positive light, is ever given the opportunity to become public for as long as the Federal ALP continue to support cruelty towards refugees.

At this stage, now that the ALP is in government and has had every opportunity to stand by their stated – both explicit and implicit – promises, all Federal ALP MPs are complicit in the continuing barbarity towards refugees and people seeking asylum.

As someone who has a growing platform – I have a sense of duty to ensure communities aren’t given a false sense of hope from footage that has my name attached to it. Furthermore, my work has the potential (and often does) appear across numerous platforms run by grassroots and advocacy groups. These platforms are often frequented by people belonging to refugee communities and they deserve better. They deserve honesty, not to be misled.

Vision of a Federal MP speaking at an event in their constituency or at a rally or protest demanding refugee rights, while they do the opposite in Canberra, gives that false sense of hope. My focus and goal, through photography and photojournalism, will continue to be on platforming and amplifying grassroots voices and building community resilience and confidence to advocate, as it always has been.

On an individual basis – on the off chance a Federal ALP MP chooses to cross the floor to vote against their party in support of refugee rights – if that MP attends an event I’m covering, it’ll be business as usual from my perspective. It’s important to note however that, to date, not one Federal ALP MP has crossed the floor to vote against their party on refugee policy. All – despite the platitudes of some individual MPs – have voted to continue offshore detention of people seeking asylum and all have continued to vote in support of punitive treatment of refugees. ALP MPs who cross the floor risk almost certain expulsion from their party – meaning that, for them, their party membership is more important to them than their own alleged principles.

Finally, Labor MPs singing platitudes for refugee rights without actually walking the talk seeks to calm and demobilise a rightly jaded and frustrated grassroots refugee rights movement looking anywhere for hope, to lessen their demands and actions, thus giving the ALP cover to continue their cruelty towards refugees and people seeking asylum without any major resistance. I want no part in enabling this either – the way to win rights for refugees is through grassroots mobilisation and action, not capitulation.

It goes without saying that this course of action doesn’t come easy. At every event I’ve covered, I’ve always endeavoured to provide fair and impartial coverage. However, it’s long time a line in the sand be drawn. I’ve never given positive coverage to any form of right-wing politics that seeks to bring hate to the fore and as far as I’m concerned, this is no different.


[1] Asylum seekers sent to Nauru by government only months after last detainees were removed, The Guardian, 4 October 2023

[2] Refugees take protest for permanent visas to minister’s office, Green Left Weekly

[3] Refugees in PNG told they will be evicted after Australian-sponsored housing bills not paid, The Guardian, 29 September 2023

[4] Australia says it has no duty to asylum seekers in PNG, Yahoo News, 30 September 2023

[5] Permanent residency extended to temporary protection visa holders, but thousands still left in limbo after a decade, Human Rights Law Centre

[6] Nauru offshore processing to cost Australian taxpayers $485m despite only 22 asylum seekers remaining, The Guardian, 23 May 2023

Matt Hrkac

Matt Hrkac is a photographer and photojournalist based in Geelong and works across Melbourne and throughout Victoria.


  1. Jamie

    Excellent statement Matt. Groups that organise events in support of refugees need to stop inviting Labor Party politicians to speak at them until they, as you say, actually walk the talk where it actually counts. That’s not just merely saying nice things, that’s actually introducing bills and voting to change the legislation that allows the continuation of cruelty towards refugees.

  2. Sap

    What about refugee advocacy groups who insist on giving a platform to Labor politicians in the first place?

    Those MPs wouldn’t have a platform for their twaddle if it weren’t for the advocacy groups inviting them to speak.

    • Matt Hrkac

      Many of those groups do good work in their own right, hence I’ll continue to support them – broadly speaking. I just won’t provide them with images of ALP MPs that they may have invited to speak.

      At this stage, the groups aren’t at fault; I think they engage in good faith with the ALP by giving them a platform but you can’t have good faith engagement when the entity you’re engaging with isn’t returning that good faith. I’ll continue to have one on one conversations with people in such groups where I can and know people to reinforce this point, and hope they come to their better judgement.

      The good thing is that certain groups – not naming names – who prior to the election regularly invited Giles and Kearney to speak at their rallies are already taking a firmer stance against having ALP politicians on stage at their actions.


Leave a Reply

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This