In 1930s Washington DC, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was apparently confronted by a group lobbying for a particular outcome. At length he said, "OK, you've convinced me. Now go out and put pressure on me".
I'm tempted to say that the Prime Minister has done something similar with this. There is scant evidence that she has been so wily in the past. Then again, she's learning on the job, in a job where the previous occupants tear up the manual as they go.
It isn't having it both ways to honour the deal with Malaysia. I still think that the regional dialogue I went on about here is important and it would have been impossible had the Malaysians disgraced themselves by agreeing to drop it. Also impossible would have been articles like this without the focus on refugees in Malaysia. This is the start of something big and important in regional engagement, hopefully not limited to refugees. If nothing else, it's a bit more proactive than sitting back and waiting for the next boat to come over the horizon.
So, we're going to have more people coming here. Where should they go?
Where they should not go is to be dumped into high-unemployment areas of capital cities, where they arouse resentment from bogans and apathy from the rest of the community, and have the apathetic come to confuse the voice of the resentful as the voice of Australia.
They should not go to mining areas because almost all of them are already areas of high unemployment, and because it is a myth that mining companies need vast numbers of proletarian workers who will just labour all day without complaint. No part of the economy that used to need workers in vast numbers - not industry, not construction, not retail or even the defence forces - now has such a need.
The best I could think of was to those rural communities which supposedly let foodstuffs rot because the fleeing or apathetic locals, backpackers and grey nomads who happen to be there at harvest time aren't sufficient in numbers or remuneration to get the job done. It also conflicts with Pacific Islander communities who could do such work on a fly-in-fly-out basis.
Dumping people in communities with few options might not be clever, notwithstanding their potential to prop up infrastructure that might otherwise fall into disuse. You also fall into a trap of positing rural communities as The Real Australia, having people learn English by reading Adam Lindsay Gordon or whatever. Maybe they will just flock to the cities when there's nothing stopping them from doing so. Maybe they will have to in order to exploit training opportunities that are unavailable in the mighty Bush.
I'm trying, and it's heartening that the government too is trying to deal with a complex issue with other policy tools than press releases. One guy who's trying way too hard is The Situation, a man who has painted himself into a corner with his own blood. He's frantic, because he knows he has nothing to show for all that ferocity: it's only worth it if the slow and steady achievements of the past week or so never happened, and weren't seen to have happened. Yes, the government was forced into the position it has now taken - but there is nothing so becoming of a government than the ability to make lemonade when handed lemons. That was John Howard's real skill - his fans call it humility, but even his opponents agree it was a contrast from the approaches of his two Labor predecessors, which was more in the vein of "Oi! Who put these fucking lemons here?".
Abbott could get his photo taken squeezing lemons but you know he hates the taste and nobody wants to drink anything prepared by a smarmy git who despises them. The smarm has gone with all this blood-oath, eating-out-a-carcass stuff, and we're beginning to see them as they are. Abbott is redoubling his efforts, which only moves him from ferocious to frantic. Even his most loyal lags in the press gallery must now accept that Abbott is becoming a figure of ridicule, that the can't-do-anything-right tag that applied to the government a month or so ago now rightfully belongs on him.
What Abbott and his chroniclers can't bear to face is what all the great comics knew: that frantic is funny. Think about Harold Lloyd hanging off that clock, Harpo Marx's charades, John Cleese in "the right room for an argument", or Lucille Ball berating people Mirabella-style while being led into a surprise party. The more calm government we get, steering the nation through the storms and past the shoals, the crazier the Opposition we'll get too; it will get to a point where only journos will give a damn about the fraught but comparatively functional Gillard-Rudd relationship. How quickly things turn: but that's politics for ya.
Back to Washington, and it was Roosevelt's predecessor Abraham Lincoln who said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power”. After this week the government realises that it has the power, and that by standing up to Abbott it accrues power rather than losing it. It will be interesting to see how it rises to a challenge that Kevin Rudd has already failed, and which Abbott is watching slip away from him too.