Tag Archives: East Timor

Woman up, Ms Gillard!

20 Sep

 

We shall not be moved

As soon as she took office, Julia Gillard signalled that she intended to take a hard line on the off shore processing of asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. The new Prime Minister announced a processing centre (sounds a bit like a fish canning enterprise) in East Timor without, it subsequently emerged, first having properly consulted with that country as to its willingness to partner with Australia in the venture.

As we know, the East Timor proposition came to nought, and served to position the new Prime Minister as a woman who perhaps spoke too soon, and incautiously. This cast early doubt on her capacity for tough. She’s had to work hard to dispel this initial doubt because everyone knows a woman who seeks high political office has to be twice as tough, twice as hard and twice as mean as any man. Unless she wants stay on the backbench for her entire career and be of no interest to anyone other than her electorate.

The Malaysian “solution” has also thus far come to nought, not because that country declined to co-operate with Gillard’s tough plans to expel boat arrivals including unaccompanied children, a new benchmark in tough that left me gob smacked and tearful, how female of me, but because the High Court of Australia found the current Migration Act incompatible with the government’s tough policy. In a

After having petulantly (unwise choice, petulance erodes tough) attacked the full bench as activist judges who were missing an opportunity to stop the boats (an ignorant response from a lawyer: as if it is the High Court’s job to stop the boats) Gillard has now proposed amendments to the Act that will grant an immigration minister unfettered control over the expulsion of asylum seekers to any country he or she decides is suitable, should he or she deem that to be in the national interest. The amendment will ensure there can be no further legal challenges to such a ministerial declaration.

Never underestimate the power of a woman.

Theoretically, this amendment could lead to asylum seekers being refouled, that is sent back to the countries from which they have fled. The UN Refugee Convention proscribes this course of action. The Convention does allow us to relocate asylum seekers to a third country for assessment, however that third country ideally would also be a signatory, and certainly would offer protection of asylum seekers’ human rights, including non refoulement.

We have now strayed so far from the Convention that the only reasons for us to continue as signatories are that we would look like very bad (if tough) international citizens if we withdrew, and withdrawal would undoubtedly put the kybosh on our aspirations to a seat on the UN Security Council. So we will maintain our status as signatories, whilst abandoning pretence to anything other than minimal observance of the Convention. Amending the Migration Act will legitimise our hypocrisy. Not only has a woman proved she is better at tough than the men, she’s also surpassed them in the hypocrisy stakes.

Qué viva liberación de la mujer!

I just love how that sounds in Spanish.

I am woman hear me roar

The fact that Gillard chose to announce her East Timor “solution” hours after taking office indicates that she was determined to position herself from the start as a woman who is capable of great tough, especially on asylum seekers, that hapless and motley collection of human vulnerability who, one could be forgiven for concluding, exist primarily for Australian politicians to use as a yardstick for their implacability capability. Tough implacability apparently being the sole measure of strength in this brutalized country’s brutalized politics, formerly epitomized by Liberals John Howard, Philip Ruddock, Peter Reith, Alexander Downer, et al.

In a bold and successful tilt at gender equality, Gillard has now proved beyond question that a woman can be much better at tough than a man. We have the extraordinary vision of Abbott refusing to co-operate with Gillard’s proposed amendment on the grounds that it strips asylum seekers of all human rights protections, including those written into the Act by his predecessor John Howard who we thought was tough at the time, but who now looks like a little bitty pussycat.

In other words, Abbott has voluntarily relinquished his inherited title of sovereign head of the continent of Tough to Gillard, because worrying about asylum seekers’ human rights is so not tough that he might find he’s stranded himself off shore in the very leaky boat of mercurial public opinion. It could viciously turn, public opinion could, and drive Tony, soon to be despised as a bleeding heart if he’s not careful, past the shores of need to the reefs of greed, through the squalls of hate.* Who knows where he might make landfall? Maybe Malaysia.

Who would ever have thought it?

Gillard’s off shore processing stance was adopted in response to focus groups who want rid of boat arrivals like a good householder wants rid of rats and cockroaches, having learned from Pauline Hanson and John Howard that asylum seekers are a threat to the very fabric of the Australian way of life, and quite likely terrorists to boot. Focus groups aren’t going to put their weight behind any politician who can’t show them some tough, and kick the bastard refugees out as soon as they disembark from their bastard cobbled-together boats. If they sink and die it serves the importunate bastards right, is pretty much the attitude of focus groups the government consults.

The people of the focus groups found their natural leader in Gillard. She, like Pauline Hanson, validated them and gave them a voice. You aren’t racists, she told them. If you worry about border security and our nation’s sovereignty you are not racists, and their hearts swelled with gratitude at this Prime Ministerial liberation from the burdensome slur of bogan racism laid upon them by middle class tosser academics, soy milk latte sipping left wing inner city über cool arty farty wankers, and maybe that nerdy egg head Kevin Rudd as well, even if he did try to hide it. Julia speaks their language, she has the right accent; she makes it OK to hate boat arrivals and call it border protection, and she’s tough. What more could a focus group want?

 A victory for women

Julia Gillard is unquestionably the mistress of the politics of tough, and the blokes she’s bulldozed in her single-minded pursuit of the title can only lie trashed and spent in the gutter, marvelling at her prodigious talent.  In the patriarchal culture of hegemonic masculinity Gillard has proved herself to be more skilled and adept than any bloke. Suck it up, chaps. You should have tried harder to keep us pregnant and barefoot.

Julia is a role model for our female young, demonstrating how a woman can indeed be harder, more mean, and infinitely more tough than a man by honing her skills on powerless asylum seekers. There’s no issue in Australian politics that comes anywhere near providing the same opportunities for the performance of tough. Climate change you might protest, but that doesn’t yet have the human element essential to modelling first class tough. Derogatory remarks about the legitimacy of a photograph of one polar bear looking desperate on a melting ice floe can’t compare with the opportunity to send unaccompanied minors to a country where they might get caned, just for being in it.

Here’s the rub

However. Here’s the rub. If it was your desire to see a change in the monotonous political culture of “how thoroughly can I trash somebody to show how tough hard and mean I am,” if it was your hope that women might introduce an alternative to the tough, hard and mean meme that can only ever be maintained at the expense of others because it is founded on being tough hard and mean to somebody, you’re likely to be feeling a bit disillusioned.

If women in high political office are going to be the same as men and worse, why do we want them there, you might be asking? Why do we need anymore mean tough and hard politicians, and especially why do we need women politicians who think they have to up the stakes and be even meaner, tougher and harder than the men?

Why do we value and reward the mean, the tough and the hard in politics above all other characteristics in the first place, whether they manifest in a man or a woman?

Julia Gillard is living proof that the qualities required for political office in Australia are un-gendered. She is the living proof that women can do anything a man can do and more, in that world. She’s living proof that women are capable of the same oppressive and repressive patriarchal attitudes and behaviours that in other contexts feminists have vigorously protested and fought to liberate us from for decades, only to have our first female leader head right back into the brutal bloodied heart of the patriarchy’s savaging body, and prove that not only can we equal them in their dark arts, we can outdo them.

Woman up, Ms Gillard, and stop copying the blokes. It’s not yet too late. Things can’t get much worse for you, so if you’re going down, do it in a blaze of female glory by being tough enough to change your mind, because very soon Tony Abbott’s going to start looking better at pretending to be humane than you are, and that’s just going to mess with everybody’s heads, possibly terminally. Then you’ll find yourself and your party cast into the wilderness for a good few decades, while the rest of us have to find ways of staying alive under a coalition government led by a failed seminarian who likes going round mostly naked, and has a bad and unreconstructed attitude to women.

From one woman to another this heartfelt plea: have mercy, Julia. Have mercy.

*Leonard Cohen, Democracy.

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Dear Julia: when supping with the devil use a long spoon

6 Sep

Julia Gillard this afternoon invited Tony Abbott to a briefing tomorrow on the legal implications of the High Court’s decision last week on the Malaysia solution. Abbott has accepted.

It’s looking increasingly likely that the two will join forces in amending the Migration Act to stop any possible legal disputes preventing off-shore processing of asylum seeker claims.

Common sense and decency have long since fled this debate. It defies rationality that the major parties are willing and eager to continue spending billions on off-shore processing and mandatory detention.

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect is that last time we used Nauru as a dumping ground for asylum seekers who arrived by boat, almost every one of them was found to be a refugee, and sent to Australia where they now live. As the majority of boat arrivals are granted refugee status, we can only anticipate that this will continue to be the case. Unless of course, Ms Gillard has it in mind to indefinitely detain genuine refugees in Nauru or some other off-shore prison, until she can persuade another country to grant them sanctuary.

So exactly how will this “stop the boats?”

Just when we thought Gillard’s judgement couldn’t get any worse, it does.

In her final abandonment of the Labor platform on refugees, Gillard appears to have entered into an ego-driven game of one-up-man-ship with the High Court. Her ill-disguised pique with Chief Justice French adds personal prime ministerial face-saving to an off-shore processing policy that is already populist, right-wing and economically insane.

The mental and physical damage the Gillard government will continue to inflict upon asylum seekers and their children by subjecting them to mandatory detention and off-shore processing is of no consequence to Gillard. In spite of mounting evidence and protests from just about everyone involved in the detention system about the damage sustained by both detainees and those who work in these grim places,Gillard continues to pursue a policy that she is fully aware seriously harms many, and she does it for personal and political gain.

An alliance with Tony Abbott on asylum seeker policy is but the latest Gillard political misjudgment and it ought to be the last. As Philip Adams wrote today, resign Julia, resign.

The High Court decision gave the ALP a golden opportunity to extricate themselves from a disgraceful and shaming policy without losing too much face.

While Gillard was perfectly entitled to criticize the decision, her opinions were wrong. She’s been shooting off her mouth on the asylum seeker issue since day one, when she announced that we’d be expelling boat arrivals to East Timor without first properly negotiating her plan with that country. Things have gone downhill from there.

If there is such an animal as the national psyche, government and opposition policies on boat arrivals are doing it nothing but damage, as willful misrepresentation, weasel language, outright lies, complete lack of compassion and political and personal selfishness over-rule every other consideration, such as our responsibilities to the region in which we stand out as the wealthiest country, our voluntarily incurred responsibilities to the UN Refugee Convention, and our right to behave humanely and generously towards those in need. Julia Gillard is denying us that right. Julia Gillard is shriveling our national heart and soul. Julia Gillard is turning this country into a land of hard hearts and closed minds.

I wonder if she’ll have the sense to get anything Tony says in writing.

Related articles

Gillard’s premature enunciations

17 Jun

The Gillard government’s announcement of its plan to spend 12 million taxpayer dollars on an advertising campaign to sell the carbon tax  beggars belief.

The carbon tax is by no means a done deal. The multi party committee on climate change may not arrive at a consensus. The proposed carbon tax may not progress to the legislative process. The Independents without whom Gillard cannot function are enraged, both by the proposed advertising campaign, and the presumption of their compliance upon which it is based.

Informing these key players just one hour prior to making the plan public would seem to be yet another unwisely arrogant move. While in itself it will probably not affect the Independents’ committment to the negotiations, the move does imply a degree of government contempt for the process, and an assumption that the decision is already in the bag.

Perhaps one of the motives behind this bizarre campaign to sell something that does not yet exist, is a hope that if the public can somehow be convinced by the mere announcement of this campaign that it’s a certainty, the multi party committee will be forced by public opinion to reach the consensus the government wants. Independent Tony Windsor said the advertising decision bordered ”on asking us to endorse publicly funded propaganda”.

This type of tortured magical thinking is quite characteristic of the Gillard government, from the day twelve months ago when it became the Gillard government up until now. Think the East Timor solution, the Malaysia solution, and the carbon tax Gillard was never going to introduce till she changed her mind about it.

Gillard’s assumption that the carbon tax outcome is so certain that the government can already commit 12 million dollars to explaining it is mind-boggling, anyway you look at it, and everyone is scrabbling to find a rational explanation for the move.

Gillard has acquired a reputation for putting the cart before the horse. She did not consult with East Timor before assuming their willingness to take our cast off refugees. The Malaysian solution was announced way before those negotiations were settled, indeed they are on going, and we have no idea what that outcome will be. Now she wants to sell a carbon tax that does not yet exist. Isn’t that false advertising?

Although Gillard appears outwardly calm and in control, her consistently premature and inappropriate announcements reveal an underlying profound anxiety and lack of control. She continues to indulge in premature enunciations that leave everyone embarrassed and unsatisfied.

Gillard may not believe in God, but she seems to believe in some kind of supernatural force, because from day one, her government appears to have operated on a type of blind faith in itself that has no connection with reality. The arrogant assumptions as to the outcome of the multi party climate change committee negotiations is yet one more example of this excess of self belief, now looking increasingly more desperate in spite of Gillard’s outward efforts to appear calm while the boat lurches sickeningly yet again.

In circumstances such as this, Gillard’s much remarked inability to express appropriate affect becomes a positive advantage.

Magical thinking was intrinsic in the overthrow of Kevin Rudd: who else but those with their heads in fairyland would have believed for one moment that Rudd would just go away?  Instead he’s been a fierce and constant thorn in their side, and will continue to be so, publicly undermining, destabilizing and dividing just by his very existence.

Polls reveal he is considered a better contender for PM than is the woman who deposed him. Anybody could have seen that coming, but not, it appears, those who chucked him out. Actions have consequences, and frequently they aren’t the consequences you hope for. Any first year psychology student could have predicted the consequences of that coup.

“I have taken control” Gillard brayed 12 months ago when she ousted Rudd, claiming that the government under  his control had “lost its way.”

If this is an example of taking control, if this is a government that’s now found its way, beam me up Scotty.

The government’s motives in announcing this ad campaign are unfathomable. The use of public money to fund a campaign about something that does not yet exist is nothing more than a cynical exercise in propaganda. It will backfire, as has much else this government has done so far.

Chris Bowen outdoes Philip Ruddock: who would have thought?

3 Jun

The opposition is quite within its rights to call for marching in the streets as a reaction to the Gillard government’s deal in progress with Malaysia to send boat arrivals to camps in that country.

What we know, however, is that the opposition doesn’t give anymore of a stuff about the well-being of boat arrivals than does the government. It’s just an opportunity to score points. The calls for demonstrations against the Malaysia plans are hollow and hypocritical. I can’t imagine why any one of the opposition would think the punters actually believe they care, except perhaps those who’ve forgotten the children overboard saga, and Woomera, and the sinking of the Siev X.

I’m not sure how much more sickening this whole thing can get. The human capacity for vile behaviour never ceases to amaze me, and that’s probably more a comment on my inability to to acknowledge that the triumph of hope over experience is far more common than the other way round.

What has to be accepted, it seems, is the reality that fear and xenophobia are setting the political agenda in this country. Emotion and irrationality have won the day.

Emotion and irrationality are never a good foundation for deciding anything. Yet the whole asylum seeker debate is driven and dominated by nothing more substantial than the xenophobic emotions of focus groups. People who’ve never seen an asylum seeker  and likely never will, are in charge of making refugee policy.

When they’ve managed to stop the boats, these people will begin to notice that their lives are no better for it. It wasn’t the asylum seekers that were causing their misery after all. Their misery comes from the inside, and nothing is going to make it go away.

Focus Groups

The policies of both major parties are held hostage by a demographic that lift its leg and pisses on the UN Conventions to which we are signatory. This demographic doesn’t give  a flying f**ck about Australia as part of a global community, and the responsibilities that come with that. They have no awareness of the origins of white settlement in this country and could care less, or of how our presence here counts for less than a nanosecond in deep time. They just don’t want boat people here. They just don’t like them.

It would have been quite something to have a government that was capable of standing up to these bullies,  instead taking a principled stand on boat arrivals in keeping with the Conventions to which we are signatories, and our domestic laws. But that ship has long since sailed.

It remains to be seen how much Chris Bowen will capitulate to Malaysian demands. We are quite likely already the laughing stock in our region. Our neighbours must be enjoying having us by the short and curlies. Rudd’s farcical “solution” with Indonesia and the Oceanic Viking. Gillard’s premature announcement of her plans for a detention centre in East Timor. Nauru just begging us to come back. And now, Malaysia having us dance to their tune. If we aren’t ashamed of the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, we ought to be cringing at how demeaned we are by our humiliating begging for someone, anyone (except Nauru) to make this all go away.

Julia Gillard: our First Hollow Woman.

3 Apr

by Debbi Long via flickr

I’ve been in denial about Julia Gillard‘s prime ministership since her first day on the job. I’ve only just decided I’d better examine this unhealthy emotional defense, and my resistance to doing even that is strong.

The most common form my denial takes is whenever I see or hear Gillard I struggle to block her right out of my awareness. I don’t just “switch off,” I wish it was that easy, no, I have to actively deny her entry into my consciousness, rather like a metaphysical turning of not just my back, but my whole being.

If I’m not quick enough, and she gets in despite my lack of hospitality, I find myself swearing without either finesse or coherence, as well as making the medieval hand gesture used to ward off the devil, that one like the “call me” sign but with the first and pinky fingers and facing the other way, usually directed towards the enemy’s third eye.

I used this against John Howard as well, I’m not partisan.

The thought that generally accompanies this bit of theatre is “She’s not really our Prime Minister, someone else is, she’s just a pretend one till the real one comes along, so I don’t need to listen to anything she says, she’s a usurper.”

It isn’t just  question of not believing a word she says. I didn’t like how she acquired the top job. I didn’t like the maternalistic undercurrents revealed in what she told us when she took over, along the lines of: “the government has lost it’s way and I’m here now to get it back on track.” Tickets on herself, is what I thought, an understandable assessment when we recall that hardly anybody in the general population knew what was going on in federal Labor at the time.

I didn’t like her rush to placate the Australian Christian Lobby‘s fears that gay marriage might be legalized. I didn’t like her rush to console xenophobic focus groups with promises of off shore asylum seeker processing in East Timor. These very early comments, when most of us were still in shock and had other things on our minds, signaled that her primary concern was pleasing interest groups the ALP perceived as pivotal to them staying in power, rather than any wider concern for the country.

I didn’t like the “real and realler” Julia idiocy, and instinctively felt that anyone who has to tell the world they’re going to be real now when they weren’t before is probably permanently untrustworthy, and terminally lacking in credibility. I wonder to this day how any self-respecting woman could think it was OK to make such coyly precious announcements about herself, while simultaneously appearing in an airbrushed and highly glamourised state in the Women’s Weekly. I wonder as well, what it says about that woman if she secretly thought the real/unreal Julia thing was crap, but did it anyway because the faceless men told her she should.

I railed vigorously about this at the time and some of my friends told me to shut TF up, anything was allowed because we had to stop Tony Abbott. I didn’t talk to them for a while, on account of what looked to me like their dodgy means to an end morality.

I still can’t get a sense of the “real” Julia. I don’t know who she is or what she stands for, and if she has any wisdom and vision, it’s not apparent to me. Julia Gillard is, as far as I can tell, entirely a product of the ALP machine, and she will do whatever it takes to keep that machine functioning and in power, like all good middle managers should.

It isn’t the country she cares about. It’s the ALP running the country that is her primary concern. In this, Julia Gillard is our First Hollow Woman.

I thought this morning that my emotions on this matter (as opposed to my rational thoughts) are rather like those of the adolescent who suddenly acquires a step-parent. The individual concerned has been around for a while as Mum or Dad’s love interest, and you’ve coped with them because they haven’t actually moved in. But suddenly there’s a marriage, or a move into de facto status, and they’re in the family, taking the place of the real parent who left or died.

You hate the interloper. You can’t help it, they’re not who you want to be there and they wield power you feel they have no right to have. Your life’s mission becomes getting rid of them. In your opinion, they have no authority, moral or otherwise. They got the position because they either pushed the real parent out, or leapt in when there was a sudden vacancy you didn’t have any control over. It’s not fair, you aren’t going to accept it, and anybody who thinks you’ll eventually come round has rocks in their head.

Which is not to say I’m pining for Kevin, because I’m not. I just want somebody I can look up to: it’s lonely when there’s no one at the top to admire.

Gillard is only PM because of those pesky Independents, she doesn’t have a mandate. It is extremely unfair, in my opinion, that we should have been faced with a choice between her and Tony Abbott, no country deserves that fate, although there are those who argue that we get the governments and leaders we deserve.

Taking a step back from my adolescent-like prejudices against the PM, and looking at it woman to woman, I find I still don’t see Gillard as having wisdom and vision. Were I to encounter her in the workplace I would watch my back, keep my distance, and never go for an after work drink with her because she’s not the type who’d consider anything off the record, and watching my mouth when I’m trying to relax is counter productive. She’s a political woman through and through, and she’d give them her life and yours.

To be fair, wisdom is a quality that is sadly lacking across the board in our politics. It seems to have become negatively associated with the ageing process, although some claim to find wisdom in the eyes of the newborn. Either way, it doesn’t have much attraction for the masters and mistresses of our political universe. Wisdom is unfashionable. A choice was made between wisdom and focus groups and the latter won hands down. Common sense was collateral damage.

As for their vision, well, that seems to be entirely restricted to their vision of their own potential power. That has quite possibly always been the case with politicians. I’m scared to posit a past when leaders were really leaders, and the people who elected them were far more deserving of quality and wisdom than are we.

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