So we started the day with a cracker of a story by Lenore Taylor in the Sydney Morning Herald:
THE opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate's growing concerns about "Muslim immigration", "Muslims in Australia" and the "inability" of Muslim migrants to integrate.
Mr Morrison's suggestion was made at a meeting in December at which shadow ministers were asked to bring three ideas for issues on which the Coalition should concentrate its political attack during this parliamentary term.
That is a pretty blunt opening to a story. She uses quotes to described alleged statements made by Scott Morrison, and then gives us more of an account of the meeting:
The Herald has learnt several colleagues, including the deputy leader, Julie Bishop, and the former immigration minister Philip Ruddock, strongly disagreed with the suggestion, pointing out that the Coalition had long supported a non-discriminatory immigration policy and saying it was not an issue that should be pursued.
This sentence more than any other in the story makes me believe it, because who in their right mind would make up Phillip Ruddock being the voice of reason?
The fact is the Liberal shadow cabinet is leaking like a sieve, and Taylor is not a journalist known for just throwing out gossip. You can bet if she ran with it, she ran with it because at least two, and most likely three, people corroborated on it.
But let’s now go to Scott Morrison, who obviously will come out and call the story absolute lies and tell us that he never said any such thing:
"As all journalists know I don't comment on shadow cabinet here or anywhere else. All I can say is the gossip reported today does not reflect my views.”
Err, what? “Does not reflect”. What the hell is that? Can you get an any more blatant non-denial denial than that? Who cares about your views – did you say it? Did you throw it out there for discussion? Did you shoot the breeze and say, “Hey let’s run this up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes”?
Nope, no idea. His views may be that migration should be free of religious questions, but that doesn’t mean he could not have suggested the Liberal Party take the political course suggested in Taylor’s story.
But hey, no doubt Tony Abbott will leap to his defence with a strong denial of the truth of the story:
“I think that is a travesty of Scott's position, an absolute travesty of Scott's position and I just want to stress that as far as the Coalition is concerned we have always had, and we will always have, a non-discriminatory immigration policy”
Oh ok, a travesty of his position. Fine then, he doesn’t think migration should be done on the basis of religion, but Tony, did he make the suggestion in the shadow cabinet? Again, who knows, just another non-denial denial. This issue is pretty bloody hot, and if it were false, my supposition is that both Morrison and Abbott would have said “The story is false, that discussion did not take place, and at not time did Morrison/I ever make such suggestions”.
But no, and instead only two other Liberal MPs made comment on the issue. First Greg Hunt:
“Unfortunately I wasn't at the meeting, but I know Scott, and his style is deep compassion, he is deeply compassionate, he agonises around the issues of protecting people who are being lured to their deaths”
“It's great for a headline but I doubt that was actually what was said,” he said. “You don't capitalise on fears.”
He doubts it, but again he doesn’t know because he wasn’t at the meeting either, hardly a great defence.
And how bad is it that Ciobo and Hunt, two apparently moderate Liberals are the ones who have to do the defending? They must love having to throw themselves in front of the firing line to protect someone like Morrison.
Now maybe Julie Bishop and Phillip Ruddock have been out denying the story today and I just missed it, but somehow I doubt it.
Tony Abbott also gave us this pearler in his assessment of Morrison:
“There's no one who is a more decent and a more compassionate and a more sensitive person in public life."
Err, wasn’t this the guy you said yesterday had gone too far in his statements on the burial of asylum seekers? I don’t know about you, but I think I could make a list of about 50 people in public life more compassionate and sensitive than Scott Morrison without too much thought being undertaken. “No one who is a more decent… person” Really Tony? No one. Geez, your hyperbole betrays you.
For me the interesting thing is that the ALP looks like they are not going to let this one go through to the keeper for fear of annoying Alan Jones and Steve Price. Julia Gillard in New Zealand, called for Abbott to either deny the story or to sack Morrison:
"This is a big question for Mr Abbott to answer today in an act of leadership, is he saying the modern Liberal Party now stands for discrimination on the basis of religion?" she said.
"Mr Morrison, from today's reports, appears to want to go down a very grubby path in the migration debate in this country.
"Is Mr Abbott going to follow him down that path, or stop it now and get Mr Morrison to go to the back bench?"
I think the ALP sense that the community is shifting its views on the issue and that finally the time has come for it to show some backbone.
The difficulty of such a stance is not to be underestimated though. Take this article in today’s The Oz, which points out that 75 per cent of asylum seekers who are initially refused a visa get one on appeal, and that 96 per cent of asylum seekers gain a visa. Note that this is not reported as a good thing. In fact it is mentioned in the editorial as a sign of failure!
The Australian reveals today that extremely high percentages (up to 96 per cent) of asylum-seekers from Afghanistan have been classified as refugees. We also have reported previously that even assessed on Nauru under the Pacific Solution, 70 per cent of asylum-seekers won the right to settle in Australia. This underscores that the dilemma cannot be resolved by assessments; rather, the aim of our policy should be to stop the boats. Now that the Pacific Solution has been unpicked, that won't be an easy task.
OK, let’s put this in context. The Oz’s figures are based on a mere 165 appeals. And of that 165, only 75 per cent were successful, so we’re talking around 124 people. My God, how did we find room for them all?
I expect the ALP will continue to hammer Morrison on this, and any time Morrison or Abbott try and bring up the issue of asylum seekers in Parliament expect this story to be shoved back down their throat. The ALP may finally be moving back to a party of true compassion on this issue, and for that we may thank one 9 year old boy…
The other side of this debate is that of Chris Bowen and the calls for more compassion. In the past 24 hours Bowen has been pretty busy. Firstly, last night he gave a speech at the Sydney Institute on “multiculturalism”.
Yeah, it’s that thing we all used to take for granted until the word was seemingly banned from public use sometime during the Howard Government. The ALP under Rudd continued its banishment, but now, it is back, and Bowen gave it a great welcome back speech:
The genius of Australian multiculturalism
Fantastic title, couldn’t improve on it. But how’s this for an thesis to be proud of:
My argument tonight is that multiculturalism has, without a doubt, strengthened Australian society.
How about this:
In my view, the diversity of the Australian population has been unquestionably of benefit to us. It brings us economic benefits and cultural benefits.
Yep, not just better food, but “economic benefits”. No more of this bullshit about migrants taking our jobs and destroying our standard of living.
And then this absolutely stirring and fist pumping stuff:
It seems to me, if you accept the benefits of a diverse population, you then have a choice: do you respect, embrace and welcome the cultures of those you have invited to make Australia home; or do you shun them?
Do you seek to invite full participation in Australian society of those who come here, or do you treat them as guest workers and hope they integrate – while all along suspecting they won't?
Multiculturalism is about inviting every individual member of society to be everything they can be, and supporting each new arrival in overcoming whatever obstacles they face as they adjust to a new country and society and allowing them to flourish as individuals. It is a matter of liberalism.
A truly robust liberal society is a multicultural society.
To me, multiculturalism is a bit like a marriage. It has its stresses and strains. It has its misunderstandings and miscommunications. We have to remind each other occasionally that we are better off with each other. It takes nurturing; it takes care.
It is in that spirit tonight that I quite proudly proclaim that Australian multiculturalism has worked. That not only has Australia benefited from the immigration of those who come from diverse backgrounds, but we have also benefited from the cultures they have brought and sustained in this, their new homeland.
We now live in a nation shaped by migration: one with broader horizons, open and tolerant. A nation that is more confident, more vibrant and more diverse. We recognise and celebrate different cultural heritages but insist that our future is common, is shared.
This is the genius of Australia's multiculturalism.
A speech like this is part of the reason why I, and I suspect many who voted for the ALP in 2007, was glad to see Howard go – he who shunned the phrase multiculturalism. It may have taken nearly 3 1/2 years, but this ALP Government seem to be finding a soul and a backbone. And given the pathetic and shameful way it tried during the election to pander to supposed anti-immigration views of “western Sydney”, it is about bloody time.
Speeches however are not much good if deeds don’t support them, and thankfully Bowen wasn’t just busy making speeches.
The story of 9 year old orphan Seena has become a face of this whole debate. It is horrible that he has, and horrible that for some reason the public seems to need a human face before enough pressure is applied to make politicians act. As I wrote yesterday I had no problem with the Department making the checks to ensure that when Seena was released into the care of his relatives in Sydney all would be well. That to me is a pretty sensible (and actually appropriate) thing to do. My issue was the time it would take, and also why was there a need to fly Seena back to Christmas Island, when it was obvious to all he would be flown back to Sydney soon anyway.
This morning on AM Bowen explained it all thus:
CHRIS BOWEN: Very clearly he needs to be released into the community and he will be.
I've just got a few more checks to make to make sure that we have the appropriate care arrangements in place, the appropriate psychological support for him in place as we release him into the community and to make sure that the arrangements are all appropriate for his release. I envisage that happening very, very quickly.
SABRA LANE: Does it make sense to send him back and then bring him back to Sydney? You have discretionary powers. Isn't this a case where you could use them?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well in the use of my discretionary powers I need to make sure that all the appropriate arrangements have been put into place. I'm not quite yet satisfied that that's the case. But I am confident that that will be the case very shortly.
Actually he didn’t quite answer the bit about whether it make sense to send him back to Christmas Island, but there was an indication Bowen was onto this. But knowing bureaucracy as I know it, I thought it would dawdle somewhat. And then tonight Bowen went on 6pm with George Negus. I expect to hear a repeat of his interview on AM – the standard politician babble – when he came out and announced:
"He [Seena] and family who've been looking after him on Christmas Island can be released into the community, as I've been working on for several days," Mr Bowen said.
"Released to a home in Sydney, and that's the other thing - we had to find a house, accommodation to put him in not too far, hopefully, from his other relatives."
All those checks done in a day? Let me tell you that only happens when a mighty big rocket has been put under the Department from very high up. So high up that not only is the Minister letting it be known he wants it all sorted, but most likely he is speaking in a way that lets it be known the PM has also told him she wants it sorted as well. Sorted now.
I suspect there were some pretty frank instructions being given to senior offices of the Immigration Department, possibly along the lines of if you can’t get his done today we will be finding someone who can.
Bowen then went on the 7:30 Report and announced that “two other children on the island who are also survivors of the shipwreck have not received nearly as much media attention but he is equally concerned about them. He says their papers have also been fast-tracked and they will be released also”.
It is a great result, and one that inevitably and rightly brings the response of why did it take so long, and what about the other 1000 children in detention?
The website Chilout states that there are still 1040 children in “secure, locked detention facilities”. I agree that they should be instead kept in community detention, but I think we need some perspective. Those children for example who are in the Inverbrackie Detention Centre, and who are also attending local schools, are not exactly living in some hell hole. Remember only last November Abbott was deriding Inverbrackie as an “idyllic location”. I agree with him on this – it is a lovely area, and I think if you are going to have families in detention, a place like Inverbrackie is about as good as it gets. In fact I think should be the standard.
So yes, let’s continue the pressure on the Government to get the children out of detention, but I don’t think we need to condemn Bowen on a day in which he has backed up his words and acted well.
Instead the call should be: Well done, but let’s see more of the same (and know we’re watching).