Tag Archives: Migration Act

On-shore processing rules so suck it up and play nice

14 Oct

It was a grim-faced PM who held a press conference yesterday evening to announce her decision to withdraw proposed amendments to the Migration Act that would enable the government to send asylum seekers to Malaysia.

Since the High Court re- interpreted our understanding of the Migration Act, a surly and humiliated PM declared, and until Opposition Leader Tony Abbott comes to his senses (if he’s got any) and throws his support behind the bill, the government is forced to continue with on-shore processing and there’ll be boats. There will be boats! And every boat will be on Tony Abbott’s sense-less head!

Though of course, Abbott insists it’s all Gillard’s fault and any increase in boat arrivals is entirely down to her.

That a good result comes from such prolonged bitching, moaning, carping and politicking with the lives of human beings by both major parties is something to give us all hope. No matter how hard they’ve tried, neither party has been able to reintroduce off-shore processing, and to add icing to the cake, they’ve nobody to blame but themselves.

Not that I’m complaining. It’s been a circuitous journey, expensive, cruel, duplicitous and xenophobic and it’s ended in a much more decent outcome than either leader ever wanted. The dark side lost the battle all by itself.

This ought to be another valuable lesson to both Abbott and Gillard on the futility of allowing politics and personal animosity to dominate policy. There’s no explanation for Gillard persisting with the bill, given it had no hope of passing the Senate, unless she saw it as a tactical victory over Abbott if the bill was passed in the Lower House. Another thwarted miscalculation inspired by personal feeling?

In the event that more asylum seekers arrive than we have room for in detention centres, the overflow will be given community detention with work privileges. Surely now it is only a matter of time before mandatory detention of practical necessity is restricted, and we join other countries in humanely allowing asylum seekers to live in the community while their claims are assessed. The cost benefit is enormous: it costs us 90 per cent less to have refugees in the community than it does to keep them in detention.

Gillard’s attempt to snatch right-wing asylum seeker policies away from the Coalition is a spectacular failure. It’s given the Opposition the opportunity to paint themselves humane, and Gillard as lacking in compassion and heart. It’s incensed many Labor supporters who’ve had to watch as the party’s moved further and further away from their platform on refugees. Gillard made a fool of herself from the outset with the very silly and alarmingly premature East Timor proposition, and it’s gone down hill from there.

The PM is now faced with enacting a policy that is more lenient and humane than it was before she negotiated the doomed Malaysia “solution.” The 4,000 refugees we agreed to accept from Malaysia in return for the 800 we planned to send there, will be absorbed into our usual humanitarian intake. If the Gillard government wants to give more people a better chance of a good life in Australia, they could start by increasing that intake.

A regional processing centre is still a realistic goal, not hurriedly cobbled together in a politically-driven “Malaysian solution” that was at best short term, but a centre created in conjunction with others in the region and the UN.

Gillard and Abbott have been dragged kicking and screaming into maintaining on-shore processing. No doubt if we ever see an Abbott-led government the whole thing will start again and he’ll bring back Nauru, but for one brief shining moment we have something of a respite in this running, ulcerated sore that is Australia’s asylum seeker policy. The sustained collision of dark with dark resulted in a large crack, and the light got in. For this relief, much thanks.


The Rudd affair: there’s a lesson in this for everyone

12 Sep

Today’s Neilsen poll in the Sydney Morning Herald shows that Labor would win an election now if they sacked Julia Gillard as their leader and brought back Kevin Rudd. 44 percent of those polled prefer Rudd, while only 19 per cent support Gillard.

Seven out of ten Australians are unhappy with the manner in which Gillard achieved leadership, and there’s a widespread perception that Rudd was our “elected” and therefore legitimate PM, overthrown without public consultation and replaced by a leader who has never been popularly accepted as legitimate.

There’s a lesson in this for political parties in government. No matter how difficult your leader, if it’s his first term and if the public are unaware of or unbothered by his annoying managerial practices it is most unwise to unseat him overnight without first informing the voters that you have a problem with him, and testing the waters for indicators of possible reactions to change.

While in reality we all know we don’t elect our PMs, and that our political parties are entitled to change leaders whenever they feel they need to, the Rudd experience ought to have demonstrated to every politician that reality means little in the face of outraged public feeling. The public’s narrative is that faceless men took our PM before he’d even got through his first term, for no good reason, and replaced him with someone we didn’t choose. That someone would have had to be superlative in every way to be accepted by a disgruntled electorate, many of whom felt themselves to be disenfranchised by Rudd’s sacking.

It is never a good idea to create among the voters a sense of their being out of control of their fate. No amount of academic discussion about the Westminster system was ever going to address the emotional indignation many voters felt and continue to feel about having their “chosen” PM axed, without so much as a focus group first. While the move adhered to the black letter of the Westminster system, in terms of voter consciousness that clearly counts for almost naught.

What the ALP apparently forgot is that they are not a law unto themselves when in government. Sacking a leader of the opposition is a very different matter from sacking a PM. There’s a widespread public feeling that we have a far higher stake in the matter when the party is in government. While strictly speaking this isn’t the case, emotionally and psychologically it is. Australians apparently live in a state of cognitive dissonance in which on a rational level we know political parties are responsible for choosing their leaders, but emotionally voters feel and behave as if we are electing a president. While the reality is that only the PM’s electorate has any influence, reality isn’t the determinant. The fantasy that we choose our leader is far more powerful.

This fantasy was fed by the ALP’s campaign against John Howard and the Coalition. It was a presidential style campaign, with Rudd at its heart. They chose to run a campaign built on the presidential fantasy. They used Rudd to win government, and then they kicked the voters in the guts by chucking him out and claiming their right to do that under our Westminster system. They had it both ways. The public quite rightly felt duped and betrayed when we woke up to find Kevin 07 replaced by Gillard. We hadn’t signed up for Gillard. We’d signed up for Kevin 07 and no amount of telling us we don’t elect our PM was going to soothe our indignation and our sense of having been exploited by among others, a sizeable contingent of the unelected.

Gillard’s on-going refusal to reveal the circumstances surrounding her ascension only serves to stoke the public’s outrage at being treated like mushrooms by the PM and her party. If you take down a PM it’s everybody’s business. You aren’t just replacing a party leader, you’re replacing the country’s leader, especially if you’ve got there in the first place on the strength of that leader’s public appeal.

Rudd’s replacement would have had to be superhuman in every way to get the voters through their angst at losing “their” PM. Gillard didn’t stand a chance. The chalice was poisoned. What is staggering in retrospect is that those behind the coup apparently had no insight into the psychology of the electorate, and no understanding of the difference in the emotional attachment voters feel for a Prime Minister as opposed to an opposition leader. Thwarting voters’ irrational beliefs profoundly soured Gillard’s leadership potential. It’s astounding that nobody apparently took this x factor into account.

The lesson is: deprive people of their fantasies at your peril. As a good therapist knows, you dismantle treasured fantasies with great care, over time and in an atmosphere of mutual engagement. Pull out the rug in one authoritarian fell swoop and you’ll likely be dealing with rage, resentment, and loss of trust for a long time to come.

The Nielsen Poll also revealed that 54 per cent of Australians prefer on-shore processing of asylum seekers as opposed to 25 per cent still arguing for an off-shore solution. The Gillard government is out of step with the public on this issue as well. Regardless of this, the government is likely to attempt to amend the Migration Act to enable non- country specific off-shore processing of asylum claims, at the sole discretion of the Minister for Immigration.


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