Julia Gillard is rattled; after her disastrous handling of the carbon tax and her “solution” to the Resources Super Profits Tax, now her “solution” to unauthorised boatloads of smuggled people is about to blow up in her face.
Make no mistake: if Gillard’s attempt to resolve the asylum seeker issue fails, it’s effectively the end of her Prime Ministership.
And if that happens, it becomes a question of “when” and not “if.”
The planets have lined up against the Prime Minister.
She came to her office claiming that “a good government had lost its way,” and promising to fix things.
To fix specifically the mining tax; the carbon tax; and the asylum seeker/unauthorised boat arrival issue.
The whole carbon tax debacle is of itself enough to cost Labor government, courtesy of Gillard’s handling of it.
And the mining tax is simmering along, generating hostility beyond the bounds of any mine — a slap in the face of orthodox economics, and a kick in the balls to the one industry holding this country out of recession.
Those issues alone are enough to fuel a colossal electoral defeat for the ALP; but this government — and this Prime Minister — have a very special death wish.
They have to keep going…in policy directions the majority passionately detests.
Australian people, like it or not, do not want thousands of boatloads of commercially trafficked asylum seekers turning up here every year.
There’s nothing racist or bigoted about it: the country can’t afford them, and people resent queue-jumpers who will do anything to get into the country at any — ANY — cost.
Arriving as they do from third-world countries with no screening or checks, there are particular community concerns in terms of public health, community safety and the common good that must be properly evaluated before these people are allowed to stay here.
Julia Gillard is in a bind now. Having watched as her predecessor Rudd relaxed entry controls to the point more boats than ever before began arriving, and having subsequently knifed Rudd, she faces a massive and potentially existential dilemma.
The ALP under Rudd abandoned the Howard government’s “Pacific Solution” because publicly, it claimed it was inhumane, but privately because it saw it as emblematic of the Howard years and resented the fact that it worked.
When the boats predictably resumed their flow — in far greater numbers than anything Howard ever had to face — Rudd did nothing and Gillard, having rolled him out of office, promised to fix the issue.
Her first “fix” was the “East Timor Solution” for a “Regional Processing Centre” in Dili; something that died a reasonably sudden death when it became public knowledge that not only did the East Timorese not have formal knowledge of the proposal, but that they were disinclined to accept it.
That in turn led to the “Malaysia Solution” in which — to paraphrase — Australia would send 800 of our illegal arrivals to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 of their “processed” refugees.
Even before the High Court ruled this scheme unlawful, the pitfalls were obvious: one, Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees; and two, a one-for-five swap with such a country can only invite the question, “who would they send?”
Malaysia would send the people they really, really didn’t want, and under Gillard’s proposal, we would be obliged to accept them.
Irrespective of their status in terms of disease, criminal history, or anything else.
Thank goodness for the High Court, I say.
And so we are now in the situation where another political slugfest is in play, but this one is different.
Gillard is polling worse in the polls than any other Prime Minister has since commercial opinion polling in this country commenced.
She knows that Kevin Rudd is looking over her shoulder; she also knows there are several other potential candidates for her job and unaware of just who the potential assassin, or assassins, might be.
She’s singularly wrecked her carbon tax through lies and public deceit and a sell-out to the Greens; the issue of a mining tax is, quite literally, a quagmire.
And now that the focus has turned squarely to boat people and illegal immigrants — perhaps because of that issue, but more likely as a result of a cocktail of all the issues and history we are talking about — Gillard now has a hunted, haunted look in her eyes.
Since the High Court voted down her “Malaysia Solution” Gillard has attempted, in a bungling, amateurish way, to wedge Tony Abbott and the Coalition on the issue of asylum seekers.
In the knowledge that no non-government member of the House of Representatives will vote for her supposed enabling legislation to circumvent the High Court ruling and make the “Malaysia Solution” possible, Gillard has clumsily attempted to pin the blame for her own colossal failure on Tony Abbott.
“If Mr Abbott ends the ability of government to process offshore then he must also take the responsibility for the consequences that that lack of resolve will send to people-smugglers,” she told reporters in Canberra. “If they see no resolve then that means we will see more boats and Mr Abbott will have to take the responsibility.”
There’s a few problems with this (and I acknowledge The Australian for the quote).
1. Tony Abbott, the Liberal and National Parties, and the Coalition generally, are not responsible for government policy — Gillard is and the ALP is.
2. It has been Coalition policy since 2001 to process unauthorised arrivals offshore on Nauru and Manus Island, and that position remains Coalition policy.
3. Abbott is right — it is not the role of the opposition to implement or blithely wave through government policy.
4. Abbott and his Liberal and National colleagues aren’t in government — Gillard is. As such it is her responsibility to enact policy, and the Coalition is blameless if those policies are a failure (if implemented) or are voted down in Parliament and never see the light of day.
and…5. Abbott has offered Gillard a way out on this issue — a straight return to the Howard government’s “Pacific Solution,” which worked, with the quid pro quo that in campaign terms he would regard the issue as neutralised.
Gillard and Labor refused the offer point-blank.
But Gillard and Labor can never accept a return to the “Pacific Solution.”
They spent too many years in opposition railing desperately against it, demonising it and castigating it.
And one suspects they are deluded enough to think it helped them win in 2007 (it didn’t — WorkChoices and the general “It’s Time” factor did that).
The “Pacific Solution” generally, and Nauru specifically, are anathema to Labor politicians around the country; to revisit that policy would be tantamount to an admission of defeat, and a colossal humiliation to the ALP and to everything it claims to stand for today.
My own thoughts — as has been the case since the initial policy was enacted in 2001 — are that Howard got it right and that the “Pacific Solution” should have been, and should be, a permanent policy of the Australian government irrespective of who holds office in the Parliament.
I’m not a bleeding heart, but I’m not a prick either.
But to watch Gillard on this issue — even after everything else that has happened in the past few months — is to watch a woman who is keenly aware that her world is falling down around her, and that there isn’t a thing she can do to stop it happening.
Hell, even her sworn enemies won’t bail her out. And when you even need to ask for support from those types of quarters, it’s clear you’re absolutely desperate.
If Julia Gillard and Labor really want to “put offshore processing beyond any doubt,” they should never have abolished the “Pacific Solution;” if they are serious about putting offshore processing beyond any doubt, they have an open invitation from Abbott to reinstate that highly effective policy.
Nothing that happens in terms of government policy is the fault of anyone other than Julia Gillard, her party, and her associates in the Greens and on the cross-benches.
Abbott and the Liberals have their integrity intact: they have held one position on this issue for ten years, and they’re not about to budge on it.
And it the ALP can’t control the policy outcomes from its own government, perhaps they ought to resign.
But they can’t do that: new PM Abbott would instantly advise an election, at which Labor would be blasted to smithereens.
In the past few days, as the political debate has swung back onto boat arrivals and asylum seekers, we’ve seen the Prime Minister panic, bluster, and make hysterical pronouncements that, whilst aimed at anyone and everyone outside her comfortable little circle, reflect solely and squarely on herself and on her government.
I think she/they are finished — and she at least knows it.
It’s time to put them out of their misery, and give the country the election for which it is so desperately crying out.
What do people think?