Arrogant ALP Declares Victory Over People Smugglers

DANGEROUS LANGUAGE from the ALP on the vexed issue of asylum seekers threatens to blow up in its face, and trigger a fresh wave of arrivals by sea; a fall in the number of boats arriving in the past month is being presented as a victory, but Labor’s haste to shut the issue down is premature.

I’m going to be a little busy over the next couple of days which may limit the amount I am able to publish, but having seen this issue bob up in today’s papers I wanted to share some thoughts with readers this morning.

A fall in the number of people arriving by boat in August to 1585 — down from 4236 the previous month — is being presented as a win over people smugglers, with Immigration minister Tony Burke saying the government has “broken the back” of people smuggling.

Readers can access two articles, carried in Murdoch papers today, here and here.

I would simply point out that with an election four days away — and the rattled, panicking ALP desperate to blow up issues around its opponents, and to shut down its own policy disasters — Labor seems too hurried in its eagerness to declare its PNG Solution a success.

After all, we’ve been down this road on asylum seeker policy with the government many times now.

And it seems — given the material covered by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph — that not only are people smugglers very much still in operation, but adapting their methods to circumvent the government’s latest suite of policies on the issue.

If anything, revelations attributed to Australian Customs and Border Protection that it is unaware of new people smuggling measures, such as speedboats to cut the travel time and risk at sea for wealthy customers, should be viewed as a source of alarm, not triumphalism.

The rate of boat arrivals in Australian waters — whilst certainly trending progressively higher since the Howard government’s Pacific Solution was abolished in 2008 — has invariably waxed and waned.

And to this end, opposition spokesman for Immigration, Scott Morrison, is probably right to point out that a number of factors — such as the weather, Ramadan, and a short-term “wait and see” approach to the announcement of the PNG Solution — could all be temporary factors at work insofar as the recent decline in arrival numbers is concerned.

An imminent touted wave of asylum seekers, originating in Syria, is likely to test Burke’s assertions as well.

I think it’s dangerous ground for the present government to tread in trying to flag “victory” over people smuggling in these circumstances.

It’s clear that the otherwise empty-handed Labor Party strategists have fixed upon the PNG Solution as offering the government some kind of “Tampa moment” reminiscent of the very issue whose occurrence in 2001 helped seal the re-election of John Howard’s government to a third term.

At the very minimum, the government could be seen to be waving the red rag at people smugglers and only adding to their incentive to continue the abominable and often tragic trade in human misery — and lives — in doing so.

And the apparent new Labor approach continues a pattern of seeking to win votes from cleaning up the very disasters it engineered, and allowed to fester, in the first place.

Kevin Rudd’s deceptive “termination” of the carbon tax — which is to be replaced with a floating price tied to European markets, and predicted to rise to roughly double the fixed price within five years — is another example of the same phenomenon.

I think this arrogant and premature declaration that the battle over asylum seekers and people smugglers has been won won’t make a tinker’s cuss of difference to Labor’s electoral fortunes; in fact, with the tide ostensibly already running against Labor, it may exacerbate the disintegration of the ALP vote even further.

In the final analysis, however, Kevin Rudd and his ministers aren’t going to carry the responsibility for dealing with this issue after Saturday.

And for that reason alone, this declaration of victory should be regarded with contempt.