It is silly season in Canberra politics – usually we see puff pieces about the DPM running around doing something. I remember when it was Gillard being the “first female PM”, even if it was just acting. However, now we have the constant threat style of journalism – this “24/7 News Cycle” (which is nothing of the sort – it’s mostly just repeats of the same one hour of news, 24 times, with added pontification from Paul Murray) – Chris Bowen pops up with his own style of silly season Christmas Cracker joke. The one where the ALP turn their back on their own policy platform and their history to suggest Nauru as a possible place for asylum seeker processing.
This is where we see the Australian, 2GB and the rest recant their “Bob Brown is the REAL Prime Minister of Australia”, isn’t it? Cause this ain’t a Green solution in any way. It’s a classic wedge formation. I don’t believe for a minute that Chris Bowen, factional operator of the right and man with a decent knowledge of media spin, is serious about processing asylum seekers in Nauru. He wants to suggest it as a “compromise”, in order for Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison to repeat their answer of No. Albanese’s “Noalition” repeating its mantra. To wedge them into a position whereby each sinking boat can be sheeted home to Abbott. Abbott, of course, will speak of the LNP policies of temporary protection visas (TPVs) and towing the boats back to Indonesia in order to justify his no.
The difficulty for Abbott in this situation would arise if the Canberra press gallery were to pursue him on two main points about TPVs and the towing back of boats. They should research the history of TPVs and ask Abbott whether he was aware that TPVs were responsible in part for the increase of women and children on boats. Whether he knows that these risks were taken because of the nature of TPVs – that once asylum seekers gained a TPV, they couldn’t apply for family members to come to Australia as well. That this caused these asylum seekers to take the risk of bringing family members. This point is almost never made in the coverage of the asylum seeker issue.
The other main point is about Abbott’s “tow back” policy. In Howard’s day, the Indonesian government allowed that to occur. No-one seems to have asked whether the Indonesian government would be equally keen these days to accept responsibility for what is essentially our “problem”. In addition, the people smugglers in question have taken to deliberately sinking boats being towed back. Therefore, if journalists pursued this, they could find another hole in Abbott’s rhetoric. As with TPVs, I’m not holding my breath for any insightful questions along those lines. Instead we will get “what do you think…” “what would Kevin do…”, et cetera.
If those reasons were probed and analysed properly, they would logically collapse. This would leave Abbott, ironically, with the upper moral hand – that the Malaysia Solution is cruel and harsh. That the Coalition is softer and friendlier towards asylum seekers than those nasty Labor Party people. Not that you’d read it reported that way by Simon Benson and Gemma Jones in the Sydney Sun (otherwise known as the Telegraph). They would find some way of portraying Abbott as an Action Man.
The Left of the ALP have, quite curiously, been more silent on asylum seekers than they were on uranium sales to India. We can expect some colour and movement from Doug Cameron, but the main numbers people of the left will remain silent, as they always have. That seems to be because the parliamentary party seems to be desirous to call upon the expertise of DIAC and its head, Andrew Metcalfe, who argued for a scheme that would actively deter people smugglers. It could well be DIAC – along with DFAT – who came up with the Malaysia idea. I can’t picture the member for McMahon waking up one night, Xerxes style, from a dream featuring Malaysian asylum seeker camps. There seems to be a great deal of support from DIAC behind the idea, with Metcalfe saying that the defeat of the Malaysia Solution has caused the increase of boats. This is also why I think that Bowen isn’t serious about Nauru, considering that Metcalfe believes Nauru would make little difference to asylum seeker numbers.
The wedge has been suggested for a little while now, with Bowen reportedly suggesting such a “Nauru compromise” during one of the urgent cabinet meetings in the wake of the High Court’s rejection of the Malaysia solution. That was laughed away at the time – but I suspect the recent tragedy in Indonesia has just provided Bowen with the extra ammunition for his suggestion.
Ultimately, this action by Bowen is pure politics, in service of a government department who appear to have offered a hard headed solution to what is a difficult situation. The moral perspective is another element altogether. Adopting such a philosophy would be very expensive, financially and politically. If the government were at all serious about onshore processing and adopting the Greens platform of compassionate care for asylum seekers, DIAC would be expanded in order to process claims more quickly, as would ASIO in order to process security checks. Massively expanded. And imagine the backlash to that little move. Therefore, we have what we have. Bowen and his wedge. It is overly cynical politics to be playing in the lead up to Christmas. The only Canberra input we should have is a bottle of Black Rod Sparkling Shiraz from Capital Wines with the turkey, followed by a Boxing Day sitting by the television, choc wedges in hand, watching Ed Cowan’s test debut.
That is what I will be doing – sort of. I am taking a Christmas break in Marvellous Melbourne. In the meantime, the blog will be doing something borderline insane. I will be listing my favourite classical music works of the Twentieth Century, Number 100 to 1, over the ten days I will be gone. I hope you enjoy.