In his penultimate address to the nation, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (Currently on holidays, still tweeting rather forlornly under the "KevinRuddPM" username) made a point of emphasising that under his continued leadership (Which, at that point, he had no idea was going to be approximately nine hours) Australian Government Policy wouldn't "Lurch to the right on the issue of asylum seekers"
It's an interesting remark for him to have made, in the light of all that's followed.
I'll admit that when Julia Gilliard took over the top job, I came to it from a conflicted point of view.
On the one hand, I was thrilled to witness the arrival of our first female PM, although I felt a little cheated that it didn't happen at an election, and thus didn't feel like a real achievement. (And yes, I do know how the Australian electoral system works, and that the PM isn't elected by the people but by the party and all that, but it is what it is. It didn't feel quite real.)
I also like Julia Gilliard, as both a person and as a politician. She's from the Victorian left faction, which is where my natural sympathies tend to lie. She also didn't have my mother shot by her security detail when mum accosted her in the carpark at Canberra airport a couple of years ago, which gets her big brownie points in my book.
BUT - I'm also in the school of thought that believes you don't oust a sitting Prime Minister unless things are terminal. As in, unless he or she is regularly appearing on the balcony of Parliament House with a rifle and shooting at visiting schoolkids, or something similar. You sure as shit don't do it just months before a federal election, which, according to a lot of the pundits I've read, you're not likely to lose in any case! You don't do it to a PM who has successfully steered the country through the GFC without putting it into recession. You don't do it in response to pressure from the mining lobby, and you don't do it at the behest of the NSW right. Call me old fashioned, but an awful lot about the spill of June 24th just plain rankled with me.
Still, politics is a dirty game and, true believer or not, sometimes there's no point maintaining your rage. All you can do is accept things for what they are, offer your regrets to the outgoing PM, don't 'unfollow' the poor blighter on Twitter, and look forward to happier times ahead.
Which was my plan.
Until yesterday, when our new PM announced her intention to address the Asylum seeker issue through the establishment of an offshore processing facility in East Timor. Or, put another way, Pacific Solution 2.0 (And, despite protests to the contrary, there's an awful lot to suggest that this 'solution' to the refugee issue isn't meeting our international human rights obligations so much as 'managing' them for political harm minimisation.)
"Lurch to the Right" Indeed. Makes you wonder just what sort of pressures the former PM was under in regard to this area of policy.
In her 'softening up' speech, the day before announcing the East Timor proposal, the PM suggested that the debate on asylum seekers was hindered by the fact that people felt the need to be 'politically correct' in regard to the issue, and that everyone should openly express their concerns and worries.
Okay then, here's mine:
I'm concerned and worried that our politicians and BOTH major political parties spend far too much time worrying about and pandering to the perceived political clout of ignorant, racist elements of our society in marginal electorates than they do considering the humane and morally just possibilities of the asylum issue.
I'm concerned and worried that our elected leaders, who should be leading and taking the high ethical, moral and social road are so scared of taking a hit in the polls that they would prefer to give ongoing credibility to inhumane and paranoid opinions of talkback radio jocks and bigoted rednecks. And I don't even care all that much that the bigoted rednecks might be a major demographic in the aforementioned marginal electorates - if enough pollies from both sides of the equation had a little more moral fibre in regard to this issue, then perhaps it wouldn't be an issue. At the moment, I'm pissed off at both sides of politics, but I'll still end up having to vote for one of them; let's extend that privilige to all Australians.
I'm concerned and worried that we as a country allow and encourage certain elements of our media to fuel and fan the fires of ignorance, and to make 'issues' out of xenophobia, rather than trying to encourage thoughtful and open debate.
I'm concerned and worried that our willingness to embrace the issue of 'illegal immigrants' (who aren't in any technical sense of the word, illegal) and 'border security' and turn it into a three-yearly palaver of fear-mongering is putting us increasingly out of step with world standards and with the obligations of civilised nations.
This is the point that Tim Hollo - Greens media advisor - made beautifully when writing for Crikey yesterday:
Australia is not an island.And, here's Barry Cassidy, writing at The Drum, on the issue, taking a somewhat more balanced approach to mine.
Not on this increasingly small globe, it isn’t. And it’s not earth-shattering to note that population is an issue of far greater significance globally than it is locally. Population stresses overseas dwarf any here in Australia. With business-as-usual approaches to foreign policy, aid and climate, those stresses will inevitably boil over and inexorably head our way.
Of course, it's all very well for me to sit here and rant away. What about a solution?
Well, for what it's worth, here's mine.
Go ahead with the proposed 'Regional Processing Facility'. But do it properly, not as the cover for yet another shonky 'keep them offshore' campaign. Get the region on board. New Zealand, Indonesia, East Timor - all the local stakeholders. Put together a joint funding plan and build a state-of-the art immigration processing facility where unofficial immigrants can have their applications for asylum assessed, processed and acted upon with a minimum of psychological and emotional harm.
But - and here's the thing - build the damn thing in Australia. In a capital city - Perth or Darwin, perhaps, where there's appropriate infrastructure, a large labour pool to help with the processing, and the capacity to build the requisite facilities at minimum expense, without having to ship supplies and expertise to some out-of-the-way island. Build it somewhere with the infrastructure to allow pending applicants to live comparatively 'normal' lives, preferably in the community, while they have their applications processed. In short, take responsibility for our international obligations; don't just manage them along the most politically expedient lines.
Yes, it means allowing asylum seekers ashore on the mainland, and yes, that gives us certain obligations to them, but so what? As a signatory to the UN declaration of human rights, this shouldn't be a big deal. We have those obligations anyway. The moment one of our patrol boats - flying the Australian Naval Ensign from its stern - intercepts a refugee boat in international waters, we have those obligations. The moment one of our coastwatch planes identifies a boat of asylum seekers approaching Australian waters, we have those obligations. The moment we sent our troops into Afghanistan, we took on an obligation to the people of that country and - from my point of view, at least - this is just another aspect of that same obligation.
You might be getting the impression that I'm rather pissed about this. And I am. For a plethora of reasons, but primarily because this is not the sort of government I signed up for when I voted labour in 1997*. This is the sort of government I voted to get rid of.
*okay, so I'm a decade out, unlike our asylum seeker policy, which is 50 years out...
Edit to add THIS LINK which is, I think, the best thing I've read to date on this subject matter, and speaks my argument above with a great deal more clarity.