25 June 2012

From rescue to recovery

The Opposition claim to have fifty fully funded and costed policies ready to go, according to this paywalled article I read via Google News. Immigration isn't one of them as you can see from another paywalled article you can access for free via Google News.

Scott Morrison believes "the time for talking is over" because he has run out of ideas. Immigration is such a contentious issue in the Liberal Party that the only way it can keep a lid on the internal debate is by reverting to the Howard government's policies, and a time when concerns about humanitarianism could be and was shunted to the margins. The fact that the Howard government was voted from office is a technicality that hasn't sunk in yet, or which can be ignored in the hope of reversing it.

The small number of votes to be had from intolerance and deterrence of asylum-seekers is easily quantifiable by mouth-breathers like Mark Textor, whereas the wider credit accrued to people like Malcolm Fraser for resolving actually exising problems in a humane way is just too hard for poll jockeys like Morrison and Abbott. Appeals to humanity and the national interests are wasted on those guys for that reason.

Morrison has no real idea about his portfolio. The only suggestions he offers are like the worst discussions of defence policy, a focus on hardware specs with "redeployment of naval assets ... and potentially expand our aerial surveillance capacity" etc. Lumping asylum-seekers in with piracy and drug-running is stupid (when a small fortune in China White goes to the bottom of the Arafura Sea, it does not need or get rescuing by the armed forces). He stumbles upon the idea of a regional solution but again focuses on military assets rather than the much-needed comprehensive involvement of governments, NGOs (including the United Nations) and private firms which have something to offer.

Nauru is not a solution because no asylum seekers start their journey to Australia from there. People would have to be taken there by Australian authorities. It is more accurate to describe this as a costly charade rather than "the Coalition's proven policies", particularly if you don't give the Coalition credit for "stopping the boats" during the time of relative peace and prosperity around 2005.

My favourite part was this:
The survey area and the frequency of surveillance must also be expanded and include the Indonesian coast, to enable vessels to be tracked more regularly, even from their point of departure. Where necessary, we should seek agreement from Indonesia for such surveillance.
But only where necessary, mind you. If we absolutely had to respect Indonesia as a sovereign nation, then Scotty can probably rustle up a bit of respect from somewhere. Seriously, which country is going to give up control over its territorial waters to that extent? You know that he hasn't even had a conversation with anyone in Jakarta about that. The insult to our neighbour is compounded by the blithe way in which he raises this: oh yeah, and we might discuss it with the foreigners if we must. And we're expected to have this guy as a minister in our government?

Now do you see why the Coalition's Asian languages announcement is a joke?

My least favourite part was the passive-aggressive way in which Morrison put his refusal to deal with his fellow Australians in the incumbent government:
  • "Sadly, this government has become the problem ..."
  • "Regrettably, I have no confidence that this government can fix this problem. Too much has happened ..."
If he can't deal with his fellow elected representatives in the Australian Parliament - if the harsh words of Judi Moylan, Russell Broadbent and Mal Washer within the Liberal Party room fall as boiling oil upon his head - then he has bugger-all chance in dealing effectively with people who come from completely different countries and have totally different priorities. Sadly. Regrettably. Pfft.

There are three major issues with the Liberal immigration policy that Morrison would need to deal with, and fast, if he faced real scrutiny from the media as well as a minister with his eye on the ball:
  • He still hasn't worked out the contradiction between his professed concern for human rights protections in Malaysia, which hasn't signed the UN refugee treaty, and his lack of concern for those same rights in Indonesia, which also hasn't signed the treaty; and
  • Morrison hasn't worked out the contradiction between the Liberals' domestic agenda (a professed concern for those with pluck and courage in business and a scorn for those who just sit back and fill out forms and want help from the government), versus his position on asylum seekers (scorn for those with pluck and courage in getting to Australia by any means necessary, and a professed concern for those who just sit back and fill out forms and want help from the government); and
  • Just what sort of deterrent is Australia supposed to put up? We're dealing with people who have been driven from their homes, families and communities by really significant disincentives. Short of machine-gunning people in the water there is no real disincentive you could put up to make refugees stop coming here. It's those darn "pull factors", Scott! If you think this country has gone to the dogs, wait until immigrants stop coming.
If Chris Bowen was not so overrated he would have torn Morrison apart over these contradictions, and in doing so revealed the Coalition as less prepared for government than Paul Kelly and others would have you believe. If journalists were exploring Morrison's lazy, muddle-headed approach to policy detail and his glib approach to serious big-picture international issues, it might actually be a bad thing for so many to be downsized.
The government should quarantine a minimum of 5000 places for the offshore special humanitarian program, in addition to the 6000 for mandated refugees through the UNHCR. The balance of the program should be available for onshore applicants. Where the quota of 13,750 permanent visas is exceeded, only temporary visas should be provided until a place under the program is available. If someone is going to wait for a permanent visa, it should not be those who are so vulnerable they cannot afford a bus ticket, let alone a plane to Jakarta and a boat to Australia.

The time for talking is over.
That paragraph is full of administrative arrangements that are eminently suitable for negotiation among people of sense and goodwill: 6000 of this and 13,750 of that and various programs and classifications, the very sort of horse-trading that pollies do all the time. The declaration that follows, at the start of Morrison's final paragraph, is just another attempt to make obstinacy look like decisiveness.

The Coalition declared that both the carbon price and the mining tax were dire threats to the economy and the nation. In a hung parliament they failed to stop either. The Coalition declared that Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper should not stay in their positions, and that Kathy Jackson and James Ashby were heroic for speaking out; they failed to remove the former and the latter have (to say the least) let them down. They can't win a trick.

In tonight's news Abbott was photographed chatting amiably with spoilt boy and convicted thug Nick D'Arcy, and was later reported to have done to a fat guy who owns the LNP something similar to what he did to Mark Riley. Peta Credlin is really losing her touch. This is the very time in the electoral cycle when deep, entrenched attitudes that can't be shifted in an election campaign take hold. No wonder Abbott wanted to fast-forward straight to election day.

Morrison was sent out to play the hits and memories of a non-policy that apparently strikes a chord. It has attracted all the votes it is going to attract. Those who are opposed are becoming less sullen and silent, as Malcolm Fraser demonstrates, and is starting to repulse those who are unsure. It also feeds into a wider narrative that Abbott is an insensitive dickhead, and that if Morrison is any example then the whole Coalition government will be like that. Imagine Morrison encountering in one of his talkback radio appearances an Australian who "cannot afford a bus ticket", and consider how far his humanitarian pose would extend.

Morrison thinks he's whacking a pi┼łata of popular support but he's really flaying a beehive, and is unprepared for what seems inevitable. Being incorrigible doesn't negate this silliness, it compounds it. There is a need for a regional agreement, but any joint command arrangements follow, not lead, such an agreement. Morrison and Julie Bishop have shown that they lack the flexibility to develop such an arrangement.

In NSW Bob Carr showed himself a past master at taking credit for what the Coalition hinted at dimly and pulling it off before they could weigh policy options with their limited skills and attention spans. Unless he's lost his touch, Carr has what it takes to carry the dead weight of Bowen with him, and give the Prime Minister another of those get-out-of-gaol-cards that she gets instead of credit.

Having declared that "enough is enough" and "The time for talking is over", it's puzzling that Morrison complains that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration haven't called him. They haven't called me either, Scott. Must be all that governing they are busy doing.

This is not to say that the Gillard government will do a great job with asylum-seeker policy (particularly under the current minister) but the Coalition definitely can't and won't.


  1. The thing I keep tripping on when think about this is that there the small proportion of asylum seekers who arrive by boat. I understand the Vietnamese people coming by sea in the 70s and early 80s.

    However, here we have a group who, with either genuine or forged documents, fly from the Middle East to Indonesia, destroy those documents, and then pay a large amount to arrive by boat. Common sense says keep the extra, or splurge on business class.

    I cannot come to any conclusion than that this small group of people have figured a way to beat the system. It's not even so much that they don't have documentation, but they deliberately obliterate theirs. It is understandable that not everyone is documented, but this is a deliberate ploy.

    I resent this because:
    a) it is destroying faith in the immigration programme, including the humanitarian intake;
    b) it rewards dishonesty; and
    c) there are crappy parts of the world in our neighbourhood, and I would rather we were more generous in this part of the world.

    All of the words and the television time devoted to this topic are generated by this small proportion of people.

    I would rather that someone put an end to that stream and concentrated our humanitarian project on our part of the world. One day, there might be a truly evil catalyst for people to come from far away, and we should deal with that then.

    Ideally, and this is beyond the scope of any one nation, we should look at how to repair those parts of the world that are misery factories. Immigration can be a wonderful thing. People feeling a _need_ to migrate is terrible. We should work toward shutting down the regimes in those misery factories so that migration is a free choice, and people feel safe in their homeland.


    1. If you were desperate and someone told you to destroy your documentation, would you? I might.

      Do they destroy their documentation deliberately, or do they have it taken from them?

      Isn't the Taliban evil enough for ya?

      Is there anything Australian forces could be doing for people in Afghanistan that they are not doing already?

    2. e-girl, it's a fallacy that refugees destroy documents to avoid identification. You don't qualify as a refugee if you cannot prove your identity, and you cannot prove your identity if you have destroyed all your documents.

    3. My father was a solder in the Danish Army that help the Danish Jews cross to Sweden, by boat.
      In that time Many Jews were told to hide their yellow stars.

    4. Of course, you can just pop down to the post office in beautiful down town Fallujah (or Kandahar) any time, fill out your form and wait 6-8 working weeks for your passport, and then apply for a visa at the Australian consulate or embassy.

    5. You can't get on to a plane to Australia unless you have a valid visa. That's why asylum seekers from places like Afghanistan and Sri Lanka come by boat.

      The people who abuse the system are often the ones who come on a tourist visa by plane and then claim asylum once they get here. They are more likely to be from places like China and, once they get here, then assert that they are members of Falun Gong. That's not to say that there aren't also legitimate asylum seekers who also come that way.

    6. I agree with E-Girl sentiments. I'm confused as to why they fly to Indonesia, when they could just as easily fly to Australia and then request asylum as a refugee, on Australian soil, sans the leaky boat.

      There are plenty of people out there who have requested refugee status and who dont have the means to buy international plane tickets. Eg, Africans sitting in camps in the desert. If we are going to have a quota for intake, those people should be at the top of the list.

      Boat people jump the queue ahead of other, more deserving, refugees. I'm in full support of sending them to Malaysia and increasing our intake quota as has been put forward by the Government.

  2. It seems strange to me that people claim to be taking a moral position when the position they take is to discourage people taking the risky ride by making their life more miserable in one way or another.

    In my view there is only one valid argument for the Malaysian solution, it does create the queue, a miserable queue, but nether less a queue.

  3. I think people like Morrison pretending the Coalition have easy solutions does reinforce to the disengaged 'anti-asylum seeker' types (of which there are many) the general preconception of 'Labor - bad, Liberal - good' which is all he's trying to do.

    Policy detail? Workable alternatives? Cooperation to achieve better outcomes? Why would Morrison want or need any of these?

  4. Well at least it's clear that for the IPA Coalition'Stop the Boats' is now officially 'Don't Stop the Boats'.

    Maybe Michelle Grattan can mention this next time she's lick-spittling That's Just Tone's boots.

  5. The 'debate' in this country about refugees ignores what's really going on under the surface:

    1. We're not a terribly compassionate nation. Our politicians pander to people's view of themselves that we are a kindly and welcoming nation, but in reality it's a minority who are. I'm not making a value judgement about compassion or otherwise, I'm making a judgement about the hypocrisy of the pretence. I'd be more comfortable about our lack of charity if people were honest about it.

    2. Deterring refugees from arriving by boat is about measured cruelty. We don't want to be welcoming because that will encourage more, we want to be mean as we can possibly can without giving away the truth of my first point. Malaysia is meant to instil horror into asylum seekers to the point of dissuading them from coming. If that isn't instituted, then the default is exile on a forsaken island like Nauru. But what if that doesn't work anymore? What other horrendous thing can we think of to frighten them away that isn't obviously cruel? If other solutions fail, it might actually confront us into actually having a genuinely compassionate policy or be honest and start sinking boats at sea.

    3. We're a nation of cowards because we don't have the guts to stand up and say 'Look, we're over the bleeding-hearted international law crap. We don't want foreigners here, especially ones that are swarthy and muslim. So we're going to walk away from the Refugee Convention and torpedo their boats at sea'. Instead, we're craven hypocrites who mouth off platitudes of concern and sympathy while then trying to get away with cruelty on the downlow.

    4. Nobody talks about the true cost benefit analysis of this. How much do asylum seekers coming to Australia actually cost the Australian tax payer if we have no mandatory detention? How much does mandatory detention cost? Are we really paying a shitload of money for no economic benefit but to simply pander to the masses terrified of being swarmed by swarthy foreigners? Surely the Liberal party with their allegiance to the free market should see this in purely economic terms. Labor conversely should be viewing it simply as a humanitarian issue.

    It amazes me that the reporting on this issue sidesteps these issues and reporters are complicit in allowing politicians to play both sides of the fence. Are reporters as afraid of telling the truth as politicians?

  6. Truly coalition has reached the pits when it refuses to agree to stripping out all human rights protections in the Migration Act so AS can be dumped back in Malaysia.

    What should be seen as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to right the wrongs done by Howard when he callously wrote the human rights protections into the Act back in 2001 is in danger of being missed. Let's hope Washer, Moylan and co can be persuasive in the party room that this is the occasion for bi-partisanship, not for incorrigibility, as you rightly so rightly term it, Andrew.

  7. This has sadly been yet another view into the world of an abbott led government. A world where there is no low point because with every opportunity he and his co-horts will take us another step further into the gutter.

    The opposition are the most despicable bunch of politicians ever to sit in the house and that they continue to receive the approval of the limited by intellect members of the presser is to the utter shame of all involved in this tawdry attempt to use untold death and misery for political advantage.

    A truly terrifying look into the future under an abbott priministership.

  8. The question that never seems to be dealt with in public discussion is WHY people arrive in boats. If they arrived by plane, they would, in theory, be treated in the same manner (ie given asylum - I'm pretty sure Customs can't put you back on the next plane if you have to claim asylum at that point, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). Why would you risk a dangerous journey on the sea when you could travel in relative safety by plane? AirAsia for example does very cheap fares from cities in Asia, and somehow I think smugglers charge a bit more than AirAsia.

    BTW, I'm not saying refugees CAN travel by plane, I just wonder why the reasons they don't are never discussed.

  9. Chris Grealy27/6/12 6:19 am

    The conservatives have consistently refused to enter any talks on refugees, while parroting "No-one has called us." However most voters don't seem to care; selfishness seems to be the order of the day, and Abbott is selfishness consumate.

  10. Scott Morrison regularly claims that Malaysia "won't work" because the deal is limited to 800 people. Nobody asks him the obvious question - what is the limit in the Coalition's Nauru solution? Nauru is a 21 square kilometre island with less than 10,000 people. It has limited fresh water and energy, which must be bought in. How many extra people are the Coalition planning on sending to Nauru? Even 1000 people will be a 10% increase in the total population!
    In addition, the Coalition will need to build an extra power station, pay for the fuel, and build and run a desalination plant. Nauru isn't looking like a "cheap" solution any more, especially as the camp built by the Howard Government is either ruinous or being used as a school.

    1. Morrison (and the opposition generally) get away with a lot because most journalists are innumerate.

  11. Joe Hockey's crocodile tears about vulnerable children made me sick.

    How dare he pretend to care about children considering the Howard government's track record?

    How dare he pretend to care about children when it's Coalition policy to turn boats around and send them back to Indonesia, a country that hasn't signed the convention? (Putting aside for one moment the little matters of both the Australian Navy and the Indonesian government rejecting this stupid policy.)

    And just why do lazy and incompetent journalists continue to let Hockey and Morrison get away with this rank and sickening hypocrisy?

  12. Sarah Hanson Youngs crocodile tears were akin to a princess throwing a tantrum

  13. I'm a nurse. I provide care for a group of patients who have a chronic illness that means I provide care for them over many years in reasonably stable groups. I use these people as my focus groups about current affair and I am continuously astonished by their reactions. This week I have stimulated discussions about the refugee problem and of course this really refer to those who come by boat from Indonesia. The patients with the wildest views surprisingly are my aboriginal patients, one of whom has seriously suggested that we should just shoot them. I am supportive of the people who arrive by boat and one of my patients removes his hearing aids so he doesn't have to listen to me and my views on these matters. Sadly only a minority understand the issues in the way they are expressed in this blog. Taking this group as representative of the majority of ordinary people in this country I believe that the majority side with the coalition's view of refugees. It is irrelevant whether this is rational or not, their emotional, gut feeling is that these people are crooks, evil and should not be allowed into the country. End of story. malcolm

  14. I agree with @cantbeeffed, this is mostly about race (by both sides of politics who have also been sucked into attacking international education, immigration, population growth, Moslems etc.) while we try to pretend that it is not, yet the numbers are so insignficant? The Turkish/Greek border alone deals with 60k illegals annually but it hardly features in their media?

    As an American/Oz friend once said, it maybe smart politics in Australia but it reeks of both racism and terrible insecurity (the latter was expressed in less polite terms).

    My reply is genrally watch this short skit from libertarian comedian Doug Stanhope http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW20EMJr6o4

  15. Lachlan Ridge2/7/12 8:05 pm

    No post from Andrew Elder since June 25. I blame the Carbon tax!