Julia Gillard’s pledge to implement the recommendations of the Houston Report into unauthorised boat arrivals elicits the support — guardedly — of The Red And The Blue. In terms of deaths at sea, however, the Prime Minister and her government stand condemned.
It didn’t have to come to this; more than four years after the ALP dismantled the Howard government’s Pacific Solution, hundreds of asylum seekers have died at sea whilst Labor pontificated, procrastinated, politicised innocent deaths in the callous and cavalier pursuit of smearing opponents, all the while avoiding at any cost the reintroduction of a suite of policies it should never have abolished in the first place.
Very few policies, in Labor eyes, were as emblematic of or synonymous with John Howard as the Pacific Solution; the ALP’s loathing of this hardline but effective policy is and was visceral, and it was little surprise when — in early 2008 — its abolition was an early item implemented from the new Rudd government’s agenda.
We all know the subsequent storyline: the boatloads of asylum seekers began arriving again, as people smugglers in the Middle East roared back into business; hundreds of them, carrying thousands of souls desperate to get away from whatever they were fleeing from, and from wherever they had come.
And all too tragically, hundreds have died; drowned, as the rickety, unseaworthy vessels into which they were packed by unscrupulous smugglers proved unable to withstand the voyage.
Time after time after time in the past few years — beginning with Gillard’s ridiculous East Timor Regional Processing Centre, announced prior to the last election and of which the East Timorese had never heard — this Prime Minister and this government have ducked and weaved, and put option after inadequate option on the table to “deal” with the boat arrival/asylum seeker issue.
And time after time, those options have come to naught: in large part because, politically at least, they were motivated almost solely by the desire to avoid reinstating Howard’s policy package.
That avoidance has come at a price; the deaths of hundreds of asylum seekers at sea in the time Gillard and Labor have stuck to their intransigent refusal to reinstitute the Pacific Solution are the direct consequence of those actions and the federal government is responsible, morally at least, for those deaths emanating from its ill-considered policies and its refusal to embrace practical and workable solutions.
Legislation has now been urgently prepared to enable the reopening of detention centres on Manus Island and in Nauru; parallel to this, teams of Immigration officials have already been dispatched to those islands to begin to ready the facilities to be recommissioned.
Obviously, this column heartily endorses these measures, and reiterates — again — that the facilities in question should never have been closed in the first place.
The Red And The Blue also gives cautious support to another recommendation of Houston’s panel — the increase in Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake to 20,000 people per annum. However, I am adamant that these additional places should not be allocated to family reunion considerations in any way, shape, or form.
Indeed, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that so-called family reunions are likely to be the next category of immigration arrivals to experience explosive growth; now that these policies will enforce an involuntary change of focus onto people smugglers away from “get there at any cost” the focus is likely to become “just get one there, and we can work with it.”
This column does note that the Houston report stipulates that Gillard’s preferred “Malaysia Solution” should remain on the table, but be improved and refined prior to any implementation phase being commenced.
The Red And The Blue restates its resolute opposition to the Malaysia Solution in any way, shape or form; as I have said many times now, it is completely unacceptable for this country to countenance any arrangement that involves Australia sending 800 illegal immigrants to a third-party country for “processing” in return for agreeing to resettle five times that number of “processed” persons over whom this country has exercised no control or input into the selection of.
This brings me to the second key point: this column supports the implementation of all of the Houston report’s recommendations, with the specific qualification that this does not and will not extend to the so-called “Malaysia Solution” under any circumstances whatsoever.
It should come as no surprise to readers and to the wider public that Tony Abbott and his parliamentary colleagues have moved swiftly to help facilitate precisely that outcome.
But equally, it ought surprise nobody that the point continues to be made, both by Abbott and his colleagues (led by shadow Immigration minister Scott Morrison) that the measures being legislated should never have been dismantled in the first place.
And if there is a key point I would repeatedly restate on this issue, it is that: Labor should never have abolished the Pacific Solution.
Make no mistake, this outcome is an utter vindication of the Liberal Party and its policies, of John Howard and his government’s stand on this issue, of Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison, and of their consistent and principled position on a difficult issue in the face of attacks in the Parliament, the media, and from those sections of the commentariat who are most able to yell their views the loudest.
Equally, the outcome now being put to practical effect is an utter and abject humiliation of Julia Gillard and the ALP; and it reflects just as profoundly and in the same damning vein on Kevin Rudd as it does on those who now sit in Cabinet following his demise as Prime Minister.
As confrontational as it may sound, Julia Gillard and her colleagues in government deserve no credit or acclaim whatsoever for the measures shortly to resume effect; they have gone well out of their way to attempt to ensure that the Pacific Solution, once dismantled, was buried forever.
Buried for no better reason than the fact it was a Howard government initiative; this is petty Labor politics at its worst, and if there is one lesson Gillard should learn from this, it is that a seemingly petty triviality, if pursued with obsessive fervour, can still lead to the most disastrous of outcomes.
Just ask the families of the dead asylum seekers who perished at sea as a direct consequence of the Gillard government’s policies.
Even so, making these observations are no more confrontational than the language Gillard has already sought to deploy, attempting to portray the reinstatement of the Pacific Solution as an example of her government “getting things done” and presenting Abbott with silly ultimatums almost daring him to attempt to vote the restored arrangements down.
Gillard has rightly been made to look like an absolute idiot over this issue, and whilst it may very well be those around her and in the ALP back room that are equally or more responsible for the contemptible policy settings the government has been determined to pursue, the ultimate responsibility for Labor’s failed immigration policies rests with Gillard.
Ironically enough, if there is one government minister who to some extent is absolved from blame over the asylum seeker debacle, it is Immigration minister Chris Bowen, who — alone of his colleagues — at least attempted to put a reactivation of the Pacific Solution on the agenda on a number of occasions during the past year.
This is part of a point made by Neil Mitchell on his morning programme yesterday on Melbourne radio station 3AW; Mitchell also sheeted home blame for the asylum seeker fiasco — including for the deaths that have occurred in the past year — to Gillard.
It cannot be emphasised strongly enough — nor, indeed, over-emphasised — that the outcomes being implemented are in no way a vindication of, nor a triumph for, Julia Gillard and her government.
Rather, they are an indictment on an inept and incompetent political, policy and administrative outfit that was, and remains, unfit to govern, and which is very heavily culpable for the volume of lives lost off the coasts of Australia.
It may yet prove the case that the restored Pacific Solution is, on its own, inadequate as a complete solution to the boat arrival problem, and as a deterrent to the God-forsaken activities of people smugglers.
Even so — should that prove to be so — a far better framework on which to build lies in a suite of policies previously proven to work in this arena, as opposed to Labor Party alternatives that collectively amount to virtually nothing of any meaningful or constructive consequence whatsoever.
In closing, there one more aspect of this issue, and of this debate, to address.
Looking at the
Communist Party Greens — with their protestations that onshore processing of asylum seekers should not only be retained, but expanded, on the basis offshore processing and mandatory detention are cruel — I have two words: grow up.
And two more: get real!
The Greens would do well to inform themselves of the fact that parties of the Left do not have a monopoly on such decencies as kindness and compassion.
More to the point, they should reflect that in the real world — as opposed to in some doctrinaire microcosm of the mantra of the hard Left — it is sometimes necessary to temper the human instinct to kindness and generosity of spirit with practicalities that are not pleasant, but which optimise the prospect that the best eventual outcome will be realised.
It’s called doing the right thing. Belatedly, the ALP and its leader have done so. It’s time the Greens opened their eyes, put down the platform pamphlet filled with their lunatic ideas, and came to the same conclusion.