“… During a long career working for the United Nations and for the Red Cross in hell zones such as Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Australia’s place in the world and how we treated those less well-off became more important to me.

In particular, how we treated asylum seekers and refugees became the main yardsticks I use in judging Australian society. I was disgusted by the events surrounding the Tampa and the 2001 federal election. I was deeply involved as a Labor candidate in a marginal Victorian seat…

Labor tied itself in knots after 2001, losing focus on its position on asylum, and missing an opportunity to put alternative policies to the people… After election in 2007 and again after Julia Gillard took over as leader, Labor missed the chance to lead Australia in a genuine, well-thought-out debate on an alternative policy. Labor could have reset the national mood to one of ”how do we safely and securely control entry to genuine asylum seekers?”, instead of continuing a negative dialogue around ”how do we stop illegal entry and excise territory from our migration zone”.

Hence, when my Labor membership renewal form arrived in the post in 2011, I could not…in all conscience find a meaningful difference between Labor and Liberal. I decided to quietly let my membership lapse…

So why speak out now? Excising the mainland from Australia’s migration zone… I no longer wish to leave the ALP quietly. The asylum-seeker issue now defines our national character. It sets the tone of how we wish to be perceived by ourselves and by others.

…[T]o me, loyalty is to principles first, party second and leadership third. Many in the Labor Party appear to have forgotten this…

No wonder people are confused. The truth is we don’t need just new leaders of the two main parties. It is not about changing Abbott or Gillard. What we need is new parties…

If we do not have parties that represent the ideological divide in our community, then where is our democracy? Where is our choice? Australians should get to choose on belief, not personality. Perhaps then we might get better government.

Andrew Macleod was the ALP candidate for the federal seat of McEwen in 2001, and is a former chief executive of the Committee for Melbourne and the author of A Life Half Lived (New Holland Press)”

For full, original text visit: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/why-i-quit-the-alp-20130526-2n50x.html

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