Gillard’s gamble, and the Glenn Gould Prize

30 May

The Gillard government’s decision to negotiate a one-off deal with Malaysia to trade the next 800 asylum seekers to arrive in boats for 4,000 refugees currently languishing in camps in that country, may or may not lead to a decrease in boat arrivals in Australia. It’s a gamble. If it pays off the rewards are a de-fanged opposition, and the cauterization of a decade old abscess that’s poisoned our political process to its core.

If it doesn’t pay off and boats continue to arrive, will Gillard attempt another negotiation with the Malaysians who may well up the ante, say from ten to one instead of the current five to one?

Or since East Timor gave her the flick will she use more taxpayers millions to persuade PNG or the Solomons to make it all go away?

The plan is that word will get around to potential boat arrivals that they’ll be sent to Malaysia, and this will be enough to persuade them not to undertake the journey in the first place. The deal with Malaysia has not yet come into effect, and the estimated 100 asylum seekers, including children, who’ve arrived since the announcement of the arrangement in progress are being held in detention, awaiting transfer to Malaysia.

Even if asylum seekers continue to take their chances the opposition are seriously de-fanged, as Gillard goes a step further than even they contemplated in the efforts to rid us of responsibility for those who arrive by boat.

They can now seize the high moral ground with the argument that they didn’t send anybody to be caned and mistreated in a third country.

Those who arrive by plane, on the other hand, will continue to do that without fear of being despatched to a Malaysian camp where they can expect to be flogged, fed pig swill, sent to the back of the queue, and otherwise abused.

What is immediately apparent is the government’s complete inability to maintain a credible position on boat arrivals. Not so long ago, Gillard steadfastly refused any possibility of re-opening Nauru, because that country is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. Well, neither is Malaysia.

The government also seems to be labouring under the illusion that Australia can somehow exert control over the treatment of asylum seekers we send to the Malaysian camps. This is what’s known as magical thinking if they really believe it, or cynical expediency if they don’t. It’s difficult to see how even the Malaysian government can protect a handful of asylum seekers among some 90,000 from being badly treated. Are they building special quarters with kinder guards?

As former Human Rights Commissioner  Sev Ozdowski points out, re-opening Nauru is preferable to dispatching boat arrivals to Malaysia. At least we control the conditions in Nauru. On the other hand we also have to pay for that privilege. Once asylum seekers are in Malaysia, our financial obligations are at an end.

We do assume financial responsibility for the well being of the potential 4,000 refugees, the majority of whom are thought to be Burmese, for as long as they need us to do that.

The estimated cost of this  trade in displaced humanity is some $300 million over the next 4 years.

A commenter at Club Troppo made this observation on the post “In Praise of Gillard’s Malaysia solution:”

As for Burmese refugees, I welcome them. I think they are Burmese minority peoples like Shan people, persecuted by the Burmese military. As far as I know, the Burmese are Buddhist worshipping, peace loving people, and won’t hate other religions, or commit terrorist bombings killing innocent people.

Of course, boat arrivals are all Muslim terrorists, aren’t they?

The other matter that has been apparent for some time, especially internationally, is Australia’s adolescent unwillingness to accept responsibility for our own problems. Those who arrive by boat are doing nothing more than responding to our open invitation, which we continue to extend as long as we are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention. We are responsible for continuing to issue that open invitation, and for hospitably dealing with those who accept it.

Instead, like irresponsible teenagers, we bitch and moan that we don’t want those guests, we only want the other guests, so somebody else has to take those guests off our hands and give us the ones we want. The nice Buddhists not the nasty Muslims, that is.

Anybody who thinks this tacky and likely racist manipulation has anything at all to do with preventing loss of life by discouraging boat arrivals is, as they say, dreamin’.

As long as we continue to issue an open invitation, we can’t simultaneously complain about mythical queues being jumped, not if we want any credibility in the grown up world.

But I don’t think Gillard is all that interested in being a grown up, or in leading our country into adult land. After all, it’s adolescents who swan around angsting over whether or not they’re being the “real” me. It’s the immature who’ll go to any lengths and pay any disproportionate price to avoid acknowledging, and then accepting full responsibility for their actions.

The reality that we won’t process those who arrive by boat but will send them to a third, non-signatory country makes our open invitation morally foul. This is the real abscess we urgently need to cauterize. This is the abscess that will keep on poisoning us long after the last asylum seeker’s been settled in a Malaysian camp. We are not true to our word. We’re making promises we don’t keep. Or as the man cautions:

Through the days of shame that are coming 
Through the nights of wild distress 
Though your promise count for nothing 
You must keep it nonetheless…

(L Cohen, Heart With No Companion)

Leonard Cohen was in April awarded the Ninth Glenn Gould Prize for enriching the human condition through the arts, so he knows what he’s on about. Gillard is notoriously uninterested the arts, and quite likely has no idea that they can have any influence on the human condition. And what’s the human condition,anyway and do boat arrivals have one?  Does enriching the human condition through the arts count as hard work?

Maybe Gillard should give Leonard a whirl. At least she doesn’t have any grounds to complain about his voice.

8 Responses to “Gillard’s gamble, and the Glenn Gould Prize”

  1. Catching up May 30, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    The problem with Nauru, is that most will end up in Australia.


  2. Jennifer Wilson May 30, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    This doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Coalition!


  3. gerard oosterman May 30, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    If any of the politicians could even make the slightest claim to knowing or understanding Glenn Gould or Leonard Cohen, we would be at the world’s forefront of dealing with refugees and boat people on shore.
    We would perhaps also, as shown on SBS ‘Dateline’ last night in Mexico against the drug cartels, have a poet here in Australia, leading thousands on the march against the mandatory detention of people who have done no wrong.


    • Jennifer Wilson May 30, 2011 at 11:48 am #

      Gerard, did you see how to send in a post? is the public email for npfs. Send post as a Word document, no pictures in the post please, but you can send pictures in a separate email.


  4. Jennifer Wilson May 30, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    And look what’s happened to Cate Blanchett – an artist standing up for what she believes in! Told she can’t have an opinion because she’s professionally successful and wealthy.

    So where does that leave Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd – how come they can have opinions when they’re so wealthy??? Oh, wait. Politicians can be wealthy and opinionated in this country, but artists can’t. Says everything, doesn’t it? There’s no public place here for the imagination and its expression such as there is in Mexico – and we are so much the poorer for that.

    Is Barnaby Joyce on something? Those eyes – scary.


  5. Catching up May 30, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    In America, they allow actors to become Presidents and State governors.


    • Jennifer Wilson May 31, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

      Welcome to the blog, Catching up. It’s hard to imagine the same thing in Australia – Geoffrey Rush? Cate Blanchett? Jackie Weaver? They’d all be good but probably quickly become bored.


  6. Marilyn Shepherd May 31, 2011 at 3:31 am #

    Gillard wants to trade human beings like horses and the most shocking thing is that our frigging media all think that is rational.

    Now we have pollies whining about cows and jailing kids.


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