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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

a step backwards? « Previous | |Next »
September 2, 2011

The conventional wisdom in Canberra about how to respond to asylum seekers arriving by boat is that the only viable public policy is one of ever increasing toughness and hostility. Toughness for the ALP is mandatory detention, offshore processing and harsh treatment of refugees; or, for the right wing faction in the ALP, simply adopting the Coalition's policy hollis bollus.


The common ground between both the major sides of politics is to keep a cordon sanitaire around Australia against asylum seekers to keep them out. At Inside Story Peter Browne usefully reminds us about the significance of 'Fortress Australia' in the conservative political imaginary, or the collective repertoire of collective forms---mythological, rhetorical, narrative etc of the nation state.

He says that:

it’s important to remember that the issue as it’s currently framed belongs to Coalition. John Howard invested enormous energy and vast amounts of public money in his quest to transform a relatively small number of boat arrivals – most of them eventually found to be refugees – into an existential threat...The hardening of Labor’s position since then hasn’t created a sense that Labor is just as tough as the Coalition; it has created a sense that Labor thinks the Coalition was right all along.

Browne's argument is that Labor has let the Coalition set the terms of the debate. He adds:
the [Gillard] government has been trying to match the Howard government’s reputation for “toughness.” This is a dead end for Labor: the opposition will always find shortcomings in its measures, regardless of how harsh they are, and the government will constantly be on the defensive. And for what electoral gain?

This creates a problem for the Gillard Government: where do they go now that the High Court has vetoed the Malaysian Solution? Swallow a bitter pill and adopt the Coalition's policy, even though the entire offshore processing system might have seen its last days?

Or remember that a regional approach to an assessment centre for asylum seekers within a regional cooperation framework is the right option that it was working towards adopting the Malaysian solution. On this model refugee protection needs to be part of a regional response to irregular movement and asylum seekers in three key areas: processing and case management, resettlement and burden sharing, and repatriation of persons not in need of international protection.

An effective regional protection framework would be one which ensures that all asylum seekers in the region have access to fair procedures for determining their protection claims, obtain a durable solution within a reasonable time frame if found to be in need of international protection, and receive treatment that complies with human rights standards in the meantime.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:40 PM | | Comments (19)


We have an electorate that is deeply suspicious of the law-breaking queue jumper, a constant feature of anti-immigration rhetoric.They see boat arrivals as mere queue jumpers, who pose a potential security threat to Australia.

The 'political imaginary' is a topographic term, describing a visual political field, a landscape of power. The three central strands or forms of the political imaginary: the common enemy, the political collective, and the sovereign agency that wages war in its name.

They should start onshore processing to deal with the backlog and set up some kind of processing at embassies or whatever else we've got going in Indonesia to put the people smugglers out of business. Instead of paying people smugglers, asylum seekers could use their money to pay the airfare.

Or they could treat it as the trivial issue it is, stop making ginormously brilliant new announcements about how they had solved the non-existent problem, and demonstrate leadership by turning the national conversation to other matters.

Heh yes silly idea, this is the Labor Party we are talking about. The party that lost its self-belief in 2001 and never got it back. I get the feeling these days they've even given up looking for it.

Yes... it's a race to the bottom. But I think we hit the bottom quite some time ago. What is there left to do? Maybe use some of those frightfully expensive submarines to torpedo a few boats? I'm sure that would be very popular with the knuckle-draggers and rednecks.

Seriously... what will the pollies pull out of the hat next... just to secure those elusive swinging votes?

He who rides the tiger...

Tasmania would be a good place to process them.

mars08 says
"what will the pollies pull out of the hat next... just to secure those elusive swinging votes?"

They are talking about dumping Gillard. Is that the Murdoch Press or some members of the ALP?

The commentators in Murdoch Press claims that the destabilisation of Julia Gillard's leadership has begun within the Labor government itself, but no names are mentioned. They canvas the possibilities

Don't the mainstream commentators in the Canberra Press Gallery love leadership speculation.

What the ALP needs is not a change of leader---it needs a change of policy. Even if it changed leaders now it would still need to change its policy on asylum seekers.

While there are another 50,000 visa violators in Australia each year the 1350 boat arrivals are insignificant.

Some protestors in Darwin were assessed as genuine refugees in June 2010, why are they still imprisoned at an average cost of $171,000 per annum when community housing costs $10,000.

A measured and reasonable approach like a regional processing centre doesn't strike the same xenophobic cord with rednecks who are struggling with fewer hours of work or being branded "dole bludgers" despite their best efforts to find work.

My response to the refugee issue is resolved by my response to the pictures of the Christmas Island detention centre. It is a jail, innocent people are shut away from normal society for years with no judicial oversight of their case, no hope of release. The facility is run by provate operators so the politicians can wipe their hands of all responsibility. It's like the loss of civil rights endured by people locked in mental institutions up until the 1970s.

If the government was confident of the "rightfulness" of their case they wouldn't use "Serco" to build and operate these remote area prisons away for the public gaze.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that public resistance to the idea of boat people is a lot less than it was, and the Gillard Govt. is therefore fighting yesterday's war. They could set up onshore processing centres tomorrow at little real political cost.

Why have attitudes changed? The short answer is the two-speed economy. I think there is a growing feeling among those who form public opinion (including those who control the media) that only population growth is keeping most of the Australian economy from falling into recession. More people! More people!

Why have attitudes changed...?

Maybe it's because the Prime Minister of Australia is not stirring up the xenophobic rabble at every opportunity!

How quickly we've forgotten our grubby former prime miniture's part in transforming the boats into a major "issue"... just for political gain.

It is slowly dawning on the political class that, given the High Court's decision, it may be impossible to resurrect the Howard government's asylum seeker detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru under current laws.

They could amend the Migration Act

gordon says:
"Christmas Island detention centre... is a jail, innocent people are shut away from normal society for years with no judicial oversight of their case, no hope of release".

It is a privatised detention complex run by SERCO who are making lots of money from maltreating prisoners.

THe ALP needs to get on with governing- passing its carbon tax.

"They could amend the Migration Act"

Good to see that the pollies are focused on cracking the BIG questions facing the nation... F@&king clowns... all of them.

It was billie who said that, not me.

apologies for that.