#45 ALL AT SEA (AGAIN)

Nowhere to go (photo: Daily Telegraph)

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has got a flaming cheek blaming Opposition leader Tony Abbott for the shemozzle  that has become Australia’s official policy on asylum seekers. Sure, Abbott’s refusal to countenance the government’s grubby deal to send new boat arrivals to Malaysia has a political dimension. But it is also principled – the notion that human beings seeking to come to Australia shouldn’t be dumped in third countries that refuse to sign international conventions designed to protect refugees.

Gillard is no longer just another failed politician but a shameless opportunist who has forfeited any claim to occupy the high ground when it comes to her dual obligations as a national leader. These are not only to protect Australia’s borders from illegal arrivals but to treat those who come here in desperate circumstances sympathetically and humanely. Surely this ought to be the hallmark of any civilised, affluent democracy, let alone a nation that prides itself on the principle of a fair go. Yet not only has this been sacrificed, the flame-haired harridan has the audacity to point the finger of blame at everyone else. Think we’re being too hard on the prime minister? Well we think harridan is the only description for Gillard’s performance in the parliament last week, as she shrilly accused Tony Abbott of “bleat, bleat, bleating” about the need to protect the rights of defenceless people.

Face of failure - Chris Bowen ( Photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

Yes, Grubsheet has a history of Gillard bashing. But when we find ourselves suddenly on the side of the Greens, the left of the Australian Labor Party and a considerable number of Conservative MPs in our consistent opposition to the so-called Malaysian Solution, we must be doing something right. In fact, we’re staggered that anyone could mount any cogent defence whatsoever about sending asylum seekers to the “Land of the Rattan”. Even ordinary Malaysians acknowledge that their country has a history of brutality towards refugees. So for Gillard and her bumbling immigration minister, Chris Bowen, to blithely accept “assurances”  that the refugees Australia sends won’t get the same treatment simply beggars belief. All the more so when these “assurances” aren’t committed to paper in any way at all. A case of “trust me, I’m a Malaysian politician”? Yeah, right.

We’re frankly staggered that so many of our fellow journalists can’t seem to see the wood from the trees in this debate, trapped – as they seem to be -in such a terminal case of Abbott-hating that it gets in the way of any rational examination of the facts. Anyone who watched the ABC’s Insiders program at the weekend can only have concluded that Tony Abbott was the bad guy in this stoush, refusing to give a (barely) elected government the right to embark on a properly concluded program of off-shore processing that was clearly in the national interest. The comments by Barrie Cassidy and Lenore Taylor, in particular, were so one-sided that The Australian’s Chris Kenny was prompted to write about a “love media”, so partisan in favour of Labor that they are blinded to the grand narrative of a bad government trying to enforce bad policy against a chorus of protest across the political spectrum. Not to mention the highest court in the land, which scuppered the Malaysian solution not because it was bad policy but because it was illegal.

Stuck in the middle

As Julia Gillard defies her critics and the judges on the High Court by trying to get the numbers in parliament to change the law, let’s get one thing straight. Malaysia isn’t an option, and not just because it hasn’t signed the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and has a long history of brutalising and beating those refugees unfortunate enough to fall into its clutches. The principle objection is that Australia – a wealthy sovereign nation – is willing to surrender control over those who are trying to seek refuge within its borders to a third party and attempting to outsource its legal and moral responsibilities.  This is utterly unconscionable, not just for the Bob Browns and Doug Camerons of the world but for anyone with a skerrick of moral fibre or national pride. Grown-ups take responsibility for their problems, an ageless principle that applies to countries as well as individuals.

Over a barrel -Tony Abott ( photo: Courier Mail)

The Coalition’s critics are mistaken to think that Tony Abbott simply wants to send asylum seekers to Nauru to make Labor drink from the poisoned chalice filled with the bile it directed at John Howard for doing the same. Of course there’s an element of truth in that. Politics is politics and Abbott is a master politician in the Howard vein, totally underestimated by his opponents until their rude awakening on the opposition benches. But more importantly, Tony Abbott knows – in glaring contrast to his opponents – that the Australian people expect to have Australian hands, not Malaysian hands, on the tiller of Australia’s refugee policy. “We will control the manner in which people will come to this country”, John Howard famously said, as he succeeded in stopping the boats with his so-called Pacific solution. Abbott is adding another line: “and we will control the manner in which people are processed once they get here”.  It’s called governing, something that Labor conspicuously doesn’t appear to grasp.

Gillard and Bowen are wheeling out every conceivable objection to Nauru. “The bureaucrats say it will no longer work in deterring new arrivals”, as if being stranded on a mid-Pacific outcrop of bird shit has suddenly become more attractive since John Howard left office. Oh, and “it’s too expensive” – a truly breathtaking proposition from a government that has wasted billions on pink batts, overpriced school halls and a level of middle class welfare that must make Australia seem world champion for the soft touch in the eyes of would-be asylum seekers. What they won’t say is the truth. That Nauru is out because Labor can’t stomach the notion that John Howard was right. The integrity of our borders is being destroyed to save Labor’s increasingly ugly face. When, inevitably, the people smugglers launch their new armada, Julia Gillard’s finger will be pointed at Tony Abbott. But Australians aren’t that stupid. And the hollow woman – and the fools who installed her – are yet another week closer to oblivion.

POSTSCRIPT: Labor MPs are starting to abandon the Gillard ship, according to the party’s celebrated “number cruncher”, Graham Richardson, who was the mainstay of keeping those of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating afloat. Richardson’s latest piece in The Australian sounds the prime minister’s death knell, saying support among Labor caucus members for bringing back Kevin Rudd has doubled in recent days. None of Labor’s big guns have yet joined the lemming rush – says Richardson – but “there is movement at the station on the leadership question” “It has begun” – says an accompanying piece by political editor, Dennis Shanahan – “the destabilisation of Julia Gillard is underway”.