I’ve been struggling to write about politics for the last week. It’s all been so overwhelmingly stupid and pointless. The issue of asylum seekers coming by boat is so utterly over-rated by the media and the politicians of this country that I wonder if the cup of stupid political comment runneth over ever greater on this topic than any other.
We have journalists of pretty high standing like Paul Kelly suggesting it “defies common sense” to argue that the changes in the immigration laws haven’t caused the increase in asylum seekers. And yet he offers no proof of this – just his belief. He doesn’t acknowledge what even The Sunday Telegraph knows to be fact:
EVERY day, at least 13 asylum-seekers enter Australia through airports, representing 30 times the number of boat people that are supposedly "flooding" across our maritime borders.
A total of 4768 "plane people" - more than 96 per cent of applicants for refugee status - arrived by aircraft in 2008 on legitimate tourist, business and other visas compared with 161 who arrived by boat during the same period. … And plane people are much less likely than boat people to be genuine refugees, with only about 40-60 per cent granted protection visas, compared with 85-90 per cent of boat people who are found to be genuine refugees.
Exact plane-people figures for 2009 are not yet available, but an Immigration Department spokesman said the figure was likely to have increased at a similar rate to that of boat arrivals, which grew from 161 to 1799 since last year, in response to increased pressures within the region, including the end of civil war in Sri Lanka, which has seen many ethnic Tamils fleeing persecution.
When The Sunday Telegraph is sprouting more sense than the Editor-at-large of The Australian, you know things are a bit upside down.
But such a state is par for the course with this issue. Kevin Rudd goes over the top with his protestations of “making no apologies for being tough on people smugglers” (or whatever topic any journalist is asking him about), and Malcolm Turnbull goes over the top when he accuses Rudd of being soft of asylum seekers and causing the flood on boat people.
It’s all confected bullshit.
The ALP’s policy is much the same as the Liberal Party’s policy (if they had one). Turnbull doesn’t want the “Pacific solution” back. And yet both sides feel some pathetic need to prove to the other (and I guess the voters) that they care more about stopping boat people than the other.
Sure, when polled on the whether or not they are concerned about illegal immigrants people may say “yes”. But how many people do you know would change their vote over the issue?
I’m going to make a big guess at zero.
If you favour a stronger border protection than currently exists I’m pretty sure you’re already a Liberal voter. If you want a softer line taken (and you believe Rudd is being too Howard like), I’m betting you already vote the ALP or Greens, and will do so at the next election.
So, what’s the rumpus?
The real issue of the moment is the Emissions Trading Scheme – that is one that will actually affect voters’ lives. And yet here again the war is phoney. It looks pretty likely the ALP will accept a couple of the Libs’ amendments, and after some hairy-chested talk in the Liberal Party-room, the Libs will vote for it out of fear of triggering a double dissolution. Because, while Rudd going to an early election would put the Senate out of whack and mean another election in 2012, on current polling the Liberal Party would get absolutely slaughtered. Absolutely. Completely. Totally.
On current polling the ALP would get about a 5% swing which would see it winning around 109 seats and would leave the Libs and Nationals with 38 seats… But get this, all the ALP needs is a 1.5% swing (i.e a final result of about 54.2% of the vote) for it to win 99 seats. That would leave the LNP with 48 seats. Yep, the ALP would have a 51 seat majority. That my friends is an embarrassingly large victory.
So forget any Liberal MP or Senator saying they don’t fear a double dissolution; they’re petrified.
Who isn’t? Well that would be Julie Bishop. Here she was on Insiders a couple week’s back:
JULIE BISHOP: Well I'm certainly not afraid of an election. I'm not afraid to face Mr Rudd at any time.
The amount of roses that could be fertilised with the manure contained in that one sentence is almost incalculable. But then it is Julie Bishop, so we need to take into account that she might not understand what she is saying.
Bishop at least has stayed true to form on the asylum issue. On Friday, while being interviewed by Fran Kelly, she compared Wilson Tuckey’s suggestion that it was short odds that terrorists would be among the asylum seekers with those made by ALP back bencher Michael Danby in a speech in June. Now first off, Tuckey is a fool, and not whom many would think is particularly level headed on this issue, and Danby was the MP who told off Kevin Rudd for calling asylum seekers “illegal immigrants”. Most people would ponder that point before trying to draw the long bow of comparison. Not so Bishop. Here’s what she said:
JULIE BISHOP: And he [Danby] said that if people seek to evade our border protection system then we run the security risk of having potential terrorists in Australia. They were the words of a Labor backbencher...
FRAN KELLY: Just on that, Michael Danby says he's taken in the wrong context there. He said he wasn't talking about border protection regulation. He was talking about an immigration change to the sort of disclosure of information gathered from asylum seekers.
JULIE BISHOP: Oh Fran, I've read the speech. He used the phrase border protection, asylum seekers, potential terrorists.
Now Wilson Tuckey might not have been as articulate but he was expressing the same view.
OK Julie, let’s read the speech as well. In June, Danby, was debating the MIGRATION AMENDMENT (PROTECTION OF IDENTIFYING INFORMATION) BILL 2009, which was a Bill (as Danby described it) designed to create a system that better serves the needs of Australia’s society and Australia’s economy while treating migrants and those who wish to come to this country with fairness and dignity.
Here’s what the Bill actually proposed to do (it’s a bit boring and legal, but it is important to get the context right):
The problem that has arisen is that there is a technical incompatibility between the 2004 act and some other pieces of legislation, which means that it is not as clear as it should be that all personal information collected from people dealing with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is fully protected regardless of who actually collects the data or whether it is collected inside or outside Australia. In order to redress this problem, to ensure that the rights and privacy of such people are protected under the act and to assure our international partners that the data they provide us will be given this protection, it is necessary to make sure that all personal information collected by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for these purposes is covered by the same statutory regime—namely, part 4A of the act. This bill will bring the definition of identifying information in the act into line with the original policy intention of 2004 that all personal data obtained by, or on behalf of, the department is protected by part 4A of the act.
So this Bill was not about boat people and terrorists, it was about a law (which the Howard Govt brought in) that had a loophole in it regarding the protection of personal data collected by the Department of Immigration.
OK, let’s see Danby’s reference to “border protection, asylum seekers and potential terrorists”:
Any loophole in our law can be exploited by criminal elements who may want to evade or subvert our border protection system. They include identity thieves, people smugglers, potential terrorists, drug runners and those who traffic in illegal sex workers. Any such loopholes must be closed as quickly as possible.
And here I want to give some context to these measures. This is not seen by the current government as some hysterical problem that we have to react to as a result of vast numbers of boat people. To hear the opposition talk over the last few months, one would have thought not that 350 people had arrived by boat to be dealt with by Australian immigration authorities but that there had been 350 boats full of people who were unauthorised arrivals. We have measured and considered immigration policy. This government is not hysterical, as the previous government was, about unauthorised arrivals, and the current minister has obviously taken a measured and intelligent way of responding to the few boats that have arrived.
So he is specifically not referring to boat people, he actually made the point in his speech that he is not doing so! Did Bishop read the sentence after he mentioned “potential terrorists”? I doubt it, but then you would at least hope her staff did. Perhaps they are as equally incompetent as she?
Well that is harsh, I doubt anyone could be “equally” incompetent.
Bishop after committing this stupidity to air, was then asked by Fran Kelly about comments made by Liberal Senator David Johnston, who suggested asylum seekers could spread diseases. Instead of dismissing his remarks, she decided to support them, despite – as Fran Kelly pointed out repeatedly – the health and security checks that Johnston had said needed to be in place, already are in place:
FRAN KELLY: … there are security check and health checks made on these people…
JULIE BISHOP: He was merely stating the obvious, that that is what we do need. We need quarantine..
FRAN KELLY: But we have quarantine and health checks. We have that.
JULIE BISHOP: Well… to take the reverse of what David Johnston was saying are you suggesting that we don’t need those kind of health checks?
[Let’s take the opposite??]
FRAN KELLY: No no, I’m saying we’ve got them in place so why do we need to be worried about it?
JULIE BISHOP: Well David was making the point that when people arrive unauthorised without identify papers with no way of knowing where they come from, and they land on Christmas Island and there’s a lot of traffic between Christmas Island and Australia or on Ashmore Reef then it’s vital that we have vigorous security and health checks. Now, I think the Australian population would think that that is a very sensible course to take.
FRAN KELLY: But it is the course that is taken already isn’t it?
JULIE BISHOP: Well the point we’ve been making…
[This should be good – Bishop trying to make a point…]
FRAN KELLY: But that’s true isn’t it?
JULIE BISHOP: Well these health checks and security check are absolutely vital…
[Great point Julie, health and security checks that are in place, and are not about to be changed are vital. Stunning insight.]
FRAN KELLY: Yes but they do take place now, that’s all I’m asking you.
JULIE BISHOP: And there’s nothing wrong with the Coalition reminding the Government that it must maintain the most vigorous security and health checks because the boats are arriving now almost on a daily basis …
Well thanks for the reminder Julie, where would the Government be with out you?
And thanks as well for reminding us all that while the asylum seeker issue may highlight the worst in Australian politics, it also highlights the most stupid aspects as well.