The times they have changed. And changed for the better.
Today news came that a boat carrying 49 asylum seekers, being towed to Christmas Island exploded, killing 3. So did the Australian Government use this to push some bogus political line? Did it try and pre-empt any investigation of the event and instead push a story that suits its political agenda? Nope and nope.
Here's Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus:
"It's a sad day and on behalf of the Australian Government I extend my sympathy to the victims and their families. The first priority is the safety of life at sea."
Of course you can always count on the Liberal Party to keep thinking it is 2001. Here's Liberal WA Premier Colin Burnett:
"It's understood that persons on the boat spread petrol and that ignited causing an explosion."
How does Debus respond to that? Does he try to whip up outrage? Does he try to use the deaths of people to further the Government's political line? Does he run with this "story" and hope that he'll be able to persuade the Australian military to lie for him? Again no:
"If the Premier of Western Australia chooses to speculate without having the kind of evidence that we think will be necessary to draw a final conclusion that is up to him. It is clearly a possibility that that is what occurred but we are not in a position to finally confirm that is so or not. What border protection is saying is they want to complete their investigation before they talk in detail about what occurred."
My God, if the difference between the two political parties in this country isn't made starkly obvious with Debus's response. Makes me proud of my vote at the last election - a reasoned, calm response to a tragedy. Just what you should expect from a Government.
The federal Liberal Party however, like the WA branch still dreams it is 2001 and that everyone is asleep. Here's Malcolm Turnbull, once again saying something he no doubt does not believe, but is saying purely to keep his leadership alive:
"The Rudd Government has made changes to the rules and procedures dealing with unlawful asylum-seekers ... and people smuggling. There is no doubt the impression had been created that we are more accommodating, or taking a less hard line on people smuggling than we have in the past. There has been a significant increase in people smuggling. That is a very bad thing.''
Once again it is perception that is the problem. Turnbull doesn't actually state which of the rules and procedures he thinks should be changed, he just thinks the wrong perception has been given.
He also states that there has been a significant increase in people smuggling, and suggests it is because of the Government's policies. Which, to be frank, is bullshit.
In today's The Australian, Mike Steketee, rather presciently wrote an article on illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. He notes that most asylum seekers come by air and not boats:
The latest report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says asylum applications in Australia increased by 19 per cent last year, from 3980 to 4750. How many came by boat? Actually, 179 or fewer than 4 per cent.
This year the number of boat people is already higher, at 221. But it still is tiny compared with those coming by air. And total refugee flows to Australia are much smaller than those experienced by other countries.
And so is the "significant increase" that Turnbull utters anything to do with the ALP's policy?
The UNHCR statistics show the Australian increase is part of a global trend. Refugee numbers started rising again in 2007 and last year total asylum applications in industrialised countries went up by 12 per cent. The increase for Australia of 19 per cent was above the average but much smaller than Finland's 181 per cent.
There is no mystery about the reason for the increase. The world is becoming less safe. Richard Towle, UNHCR regional representative for Australia, says: "The places traditionally looked to for refuge such as Pakistan are becoming increasingly unstable and people quite rapidly are having to look elsewhere."
So the increase in refugee numbers coming to Australia was slightly above the world average - but not surprising given our proximity to Pakistan and Afghanistan - those two areas which in the last 12 months have became basket cases.
Steketee also gives us a little history lesson about the refugees who came by boat in 2000-2001:
Every person who arrived by boat during the boom years a decade ago was checked by ASIO and not one was found to be a security risk, as though terrorists would come in leaky boats anyway. Many fled war in Iraq and Afghanistan; wars in which Australia joined against their persecutors and then turned around and punished the victims.
Ninety per cent of those who came by boat during that period were assessed as refugees, on the basis that they would face the real prospect of death or persecution if they returned home. That compares with an average of fewer than half of those who arrive by air. The first thought of most people who risk their lives on the high seas is not that Australia may be a soft touch but that they they fear for their lives.
But hey, never let the facts get in the way of a Liberal Party statement. Here's that shining light of the Liberal Party, Shadow Immigration Spokesperson, Sharman Stone:
"You can't announce a soft policy and then expect people not to loose their lives through people smuggling efforts. We (Australia) were literally inviting a new surge to occur, that's what we've seen. Perhaps we are going to see more of these tragedies in the coming weeks and months."
Really Sharman? Literally inviting?? So did Rudd sign these invites himself? Are they themed like kids' birthday party invites? Dora the Explorer perhaps? Do the refugees need to RSVP?
Pathetic, but then you wouldn't expect much more from a person who when she was opposition Arts spokesperson put out a media release suggesting that the Disney-Pixar film Finding Nemo was an Australian production (in fact a shining light of the Australian film industry).
Then again things aren't going too well all round in the Liberal Party at the moment. Today Peter Dutton on ABC2 Breakfast said this of Kevin Rudd:
"He's been described lately as the Barry Humphries of politics; he's up on top of those stairs hopping into the VIP flight overseas waving like Dame Edna Everage. Once he's on board he turns into Barry Humphries, he turns into the pig of Australian politics; this is a bloke who we have only just scratched the surface on."
Now first off, Dutton seems to have got Dame Edna confused with Les Patterson; but secondly, as Possum Pollytics points out, Rudd's approval rating is at 68% - he's more popular than any PM has ever been. And yet Dutton thinks telling the Australian public that the man they like is a pig will win votes.
I bet Dutton goes to weddings and calls the bride a skank.
Keep it up Peter.