Thursday, June 16, 2011

On the QT: No majority; no policy worthy of it

The ending of the nice, short three day week of Parliament began with the Green’s MP Adam Bandt moving this motion:

That this House:

(1) condemns the Gillard Government’s deal with Malaysia that would see 800 asylum seekers intercepted in Australian waters and sent to Malaysia; and

(2) calls on the Government to immediately abandon this proposal,

The motion passed 72-70 with the Libs voting with the Greens and of the independents MPs, Katter and Wilkie voted for and Oakeshott and Windsor voted against.

The motion of course has no legal weight, and was little more than a symbolic statement from the Greens (the Government has yet to lose a vote on a legislative matter in this hung parliament). It was embarrassing for the Government to lose this vote, but given the Government is pursuing the Malaysian policy in the first place, I don’t think embarrassment is something they are worried about. The bigger issue will be when the Green’s Bill which would require Parliament to approve to any deal involving the expulsion of asylum seekers to a third country comes up for a vote (the Libs however might ponder the consequences of that Bill on their own Nauru plans and vote against it).

But when we arrived at Question Time, lo did the heavens open and what we discovered is that this very day in Australia, democracy was destroyed and we had in fact become a Third World dictatorship.image

Question Time consisted of a mere five questions. Now in Question Time quantity often can have a strong inverse correlation with quality, but this lack of number did not sadly result in much that was of much worth.

There was some mirth though, so it had that going for it.

Abbott opened with this delivery:

My question is to the Prime Minister and it follows up on my previous question. Can the Prime Minister confirm that never before in Australia's parliamentary history have both houses of this parliament condemned a government policy, and can she confirm that the government now intends to defy the express will of both houses of this parliament?

Well yeah, I guess it is a first, but I guess as well it has been a while since there was a minority Government…

After a supplementary, another question from Abbott and one from Julie Bishop, Abbott rose and took everyone by surprise and moved a motion to suspend standing orders. The surprise being not that he moved this, but that he did it at 2:25pm and not 2:52 (which I had in the suspension of standing orders sweep).

If nothing else this motion showed that Tony Abbott was not suffering a hangover from the Press Gallery Mid-Winter Ball held the night before, because he turned up the volume and shouted hither and thither in a manner that would have had many a tender headed MP or journo reaching for the aspirin:

Now I have no problems with those arguing the Malaysian deal is a dud policy, but the problem for Abbott is that when he (or others such as Scott Morrison) rise to attack it, they find themselves in the same swimming pool of hypocrisy in which they accuse the the ALP of floating – maybe at different ends, but the same pool nonetheless.

For we see Tony Abbott say this:

The parliament and the people of Australia are sending a very clear message to this government and to this Prime Minister: this Malaysian people swap is just not on. It is just not on because it is cruel, it is costly and it will be ineffective.

Now I always thought the point of the Liberal’s Pacific Solution was to be cruel to be kind? Isn’t the whole point that the result is a deterrent? It seems not. For hear now as Tony Abbott talks about Nauru:

I have seen where boat people will be accommodated—and well accommodated. I have seen where boat people's children will be educated—and well educated. I have seen the police headquarters which will deal with security issues involving boat people in Nauru. And I can tell you this, Mr Speaker: there are no rattans in Nauru and there are no whipping posts in Nauru.

Well accommodated? Well educated? A new police station? How will that deter anyone who has been living through hell, persecuted, starving and desperate for a new life? Here was Tony Abbott last year when the Government opened the Inverbrackie army barracks as a detention centre:

"Bringing asylum seekers to a place like this is hardly sending the right message to the tens of thousands of potential boat people in our region," he said. "[It] is basically saying to the people smugglers and their customers that the welcome mat is out, that the red-carpet treatment is available.

"You do not send idyllic picture postcards from Australia to the people smugglers and their customers."

No I guess what you do is say they’ll be going to a place where they will be well accommodated, their kids well educated and where the police will be responsible… you know, like Australia.

This is always the big logical fail aspect of this debate. We go from wanting to be cruel (you know – to be kind), but when one side (bizarrely in this case, the ALP) is too cruel, the other side starts talking about being kind. Well then why are we bothering with being kind in Nauru when we can be kinder and do it for less cost here in Australia?

Nauru won’t work as a deterrent anymore because everyone knows that if you are a genuine refugee, Nauru does not severely limit your chances of ending up on Australia (or New Zealand), and Abbott is now going to such lengths to say how great the place is that it may actually seem pretty great to asylum seekers!

Oh mother, how did we get here?

I think the ALP’s regional solution is worth chasing, but there are so many factors that need to fall into place for it to work that it is something you don’t want to do on the fly – which this policy smacks of.

My concern is that the Malaysian solution might just work – which means that any hope of decency on this issue will be gone for good (OK it’s probably gone already and has been for a while now).

imageJulie Bishop also rose to speak on the suspension motion. She decided not to bother the thesaurus too much and instead referred to Julia Gillard as “this arrogant Prime Minister” three time before she drew a breath (she used arrogant 10 times in her 5 minute speech – it was a bit of a theme). She then got slightly carried away:

This is the type of behaviour we see in Third World dictatorships. This is the kind of behaviour, overriding the majority of both houses of parliament, overriding the will of the parliament, overriding the views of the majority of the elected members to this place.

Third World dictators generally don’t allow members of the opposition to stand in Parliament, while broadcast on free TV, and criticise and abuse them. But hey, maybe Third World dictatorships, like conditions on Nauru, have recently become kinder and gentler.

When Anthony Albanese rose to speak against the motion he revealed not only the core problem with the whole farce of a debate about the Government defying the parliament, but also the core problem with the asylum seeker debate itself. For not only did the Parliament vote against the ALP’s Malaysian policy it voted last year against the LNP’s Nauru policy. Back on 28 October 2010 Scott Morrison moved a plethora of motions relating to the Liberal’s asylum seeker policy. Among them was:

That this house:
(3) calls for the introduction of proven policies proposed by the Coalition to address unprecedented irregular maritime arrivals to Australia, including:

(a) the application of temporary visas for all persons who have arrived illegally in Australia;
(b) the reopening of a third country processing centre in Nauru for irregular maritime arrivals to Australia;

The vote on that motion was lost 72-73 – Katter voted for it. Oakeshott, Windsor, Bandt and Wilkie voted against.

So we have a wonderful situation where neither side, if it had to, would be able to pass legislation  to introduce its asylum seeker policies.

Which to me, given the two policies on offer, feels like a correct result.


The other news today was that Greg Combet announced there would be a $15 million advertising/information campaign on the carbon tax. That this would happen eventually is not a shock given it was in the budget. But to announce it before an agreement has been reached and without bothering to get the independents and the Greens to sign off on it (as members of the Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change) is, to put it mildly, dopey.

David Speers on Sky News revealed that the story of the advertising campaign was going to be revealed tomorrow and so Combet announced it today to beat the story. Why they are even bothering to tender at this point for a firm to do the marketing is yet to be explained. 

Little wonder Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor were criticising the decision. And yes I know the $12m is squillions less than what the Howard Govt spent on advertising for Work Choices and for the Private Health Policy and on the GST. The point, however, is that once again the ALP finds itself looking like it has moved ahead without ensuring all the i’s have been dotted and t’s crossed.

The basics, guys. Geez, get the basics right.


paddybts said...

Good summary Greg.
I have to say, that the thing that struck me hardest about today's farnarkaling in Canberra, was the obvious anger displayed by Windsor and Oakeshott. The Govt jumping the gun and anouncing the PR blitz for the carbon tax looked particularly stupid and did them no favours at all.

Mr Tiedt said...

I'm never sure what to make of all this QT stuff. Does Tony think that Joe average follows QT that closely? Or is he speaking to journos so that they will write stories about a "government in crisis"?

Odd behavior.

Gordicans said...

Thanks for the summary Greg. Strange days indeed. We've got Abbott saying stop the boats stop the boats, the government brings in policy to affect that end and now the opposition are crying it's cruel it's cruel. By the oppositions own definition the policy has to be cruel to stop the boats. Gillard has effectively 'seen them and raised them' thus tactically nullifying Abbott's strongest weapon.

Not that I agree with the policy. It is appalling. Gillard has really surprised me and I increasingly get a scary impression of her. Brian Toohey's comments re Gillard and General Petraeus on Late Night Live on Tuesday night were very interesting indeed.

Jaeger said...

"And I can tell you this, Mr Speaker: there are no rattans in Nauru and there are no whipping posts in Nauru."

I Googled for "nauru rattan", and was amused to find the following advertised on Rattan Land:
Nauru Lounger Conveys Your Arresting Taste

You can't make this stuff up. :-D

Anonymous said...

Australian couldn't be considered a third-world dictatorship... maybe a first-world dictatorship - no that's not right either. Let's just call it an Incompetocracy.

The government's carbon tax advertising campaign (which I hope includes sufficient offsets to be carbon neutral itself) was announced at the time best placed to cause damage to Labour.

As it was announced by Labour, and given the history of the current ALP in shooting itself in the foot through timid and overeager announcements, I think we need to consider whether the party has developed a self-harm ilness.

If a teenager kept stabbing themselves with any implement left lying around we would send them to counselling and offer support. I think now is the time we need to offer the same support to the ALP as they are constantly impaling themselves on any policies left in their sight.

The self-harm is clearly a result of an abusive leadership figure and constant public teasing from bullies like the media, Liberals and most of the public.

If we don't enure the ALP gets help soon we may need to establish a suicide watch (though some appear to already be discussing this step).

Anonymous said...

Apologies for the speling mistakes in that last comment. The dangers of writing a long comment on an iPhone!

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

Something interesting, Grog, which you may not have have come across in this debate about the effect of the Coalition's Asylum Seeker policy vs the ALP Regional Solution, was winkled out of Scott Morrison in a debate on The Drum with Steve Cannane early this week after the Dire Duo of Abbott and Morrison had come back from going to Church for the cameras(such good Christians, not), in Nauru.
Anyway, Cannane put it to Morrison that, even if the ASs do end up in Nauru under a future Coalition government(God forbid), then won't they just have a nice little extended holiday in nice, little ol' Nauru(as described by Tony), and then end up in Australia yet again?
To which, Morrison was forced to explain to Cannane the little known fact, up to that point, that the Asylum Seekers will no longer be Australia's problem to deal with because they are going to be made Nauruan Visa Holders!!! Completely absolving Australia of any legal responsibility for them once they have been dumped there on Nauru.
All I can think then is that is going to cost an Abbott/Morrison government a hell of a lot of money to pay for their upkeep as new citizens of Nauru.
No wonder Nauru is welcoming Abbott and the fat wallets of a future Abbott government with open arms.
Things that make you go, 'Hmm'.

Sonia said...

It was a strange day indeed. Kattar and Wilkie, Bandt and the coalition , Oakshot and Windsor. Who let these indies off the leash? It certainly was a full moon. Yesterday was a day where if I was the government I would have been tempted to say to Abbott Ok you have a go and see how you deal with these people. But of course the minute that happens he calls an election and wins pretty easily you would think. Never a dull day on parliment

Anonymous said...

I love the way the lazy arrogant colonial boat people like Abbott and Gillard think they can invade other nations and shove away our "problem" and ignore our laws in the process.

Judi Moylan said in February.

The fact is that once an asylum seeker reaches our shores we have a legal, social and moral obligation to assess the claim and then provide asylum. This obligation must be separated from our voluntary commitment to offshore resettlement programs.
The contention that temporary protection visas and mandatory detention will in some way stop the boats is not supported by history. Mandatory detention was introduced as a deterrent by the Labor government in 1992, when a small number of people arrived by boat. Ten years later, there had been 5,000 boat arrivals. In the five years prior to temporary protection visas being introduced, there were 3,103 boat arrivals. In the five years following the introduction of temporary protection visas, there were over 11,000 arrivals.
If we are serious about stemming the flow of refugees, we must desist from punitive policies and join with our regional neighbours and the international community to prevent the tyranny, genocide and war which cause people to flee from their homeland.

Anonymous said...

And the jerk Bowen said this.

Posted August 10, 2006
Mr BOWEN (Prospect) (10.17 a.m.)?In 1951 the United Nations convention for the protection of refugees came into force. The world realised the mistakes of the 1930s, when many Western nations turned their backs on Jews fleeing persecution in Germany. Collectively, we said, ?Never again.? I am sure that all of us involved in public life would like to think that we would have done the right thing in those circumstances and stood up for those facing the worst of circumstances, regardless of whether it was popular or unpopular. If the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006 passes the parliament today, it will be the day that Australia turned its back on the refugee convention and on refugees escaping circumstances that most of us can only imagine. This is a bad bill with no redeeming features. It is a hypocritical and illogical bill. If it is passed today, it will be a stain on our national character. The people who will be disadvantaged by this bill are in fear of their lives, and we should never turn our back on them. They are people who could make a real contribution to Australia"

Now Andrew Metcalfe is a menace and always has been - his belief is that asylum seekers are criminals and he has long been on the record for that.

He is relying on the ancient Tampa laws, but the high court said as late as November that they are invalid.

Sceptic said...

Let me get this straight. Boat people are illegal entrants because they bypass countries where they could could gain asylum such as Malaysia. One of the problems with the Malaysian solution is that it would send refugees to Malaysia where they are likely to be treated inhumanely. The other problem is that the policy would see five times as many refugees removed from the hell that is Malaysia to Australia and this is not fair. Have I got it right?

Andrew Elder said...

"Boat people are illegal entrants because they bypass countries where they could could gain asylum" - show me the law that says that, S(c)eptic.

That said, you do have a point - other countries in the region have a role to play in dealing with displaced persons. The Malaysia deal seems to be the start of such a regional solution, in a way that the pea-and-thimble game of Nauru doesn't.

What you'll also see is greater scrutiny of what goes on in Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries toward asylum seekers.

Anonymous said...

Malaysia is not a regional solution. It is Australia pushing back a few hundred refugees as punishment for daring to ask for our help.

It it not even remotely legal or sensible to suggest that we can or should sacrifice 800 random people into the jaws of Malaysia's non system to send a message to non-existent people smugglers.

Australia ratified a protocol in 2004 that forbids punishment of asylum seekers who have to pay someone to help them across borders, we are now using it to punish them with permanent exile.

Which part of Judi Moylan's speech didn't you people read? The bit where it says that the off shore resettlement is voluntary and does not replace our legal obligations?

And it makes not a jot of difference if refugees transit other nations because thoss nations don't protect refugees.

Anonymous said...

This government continues to set new standards in incompetence.

Wonder when the adds for the Malaysian Solution will be announced?

Gordicans said...

Paul Barratt (former secretary of Dept of Defence and Primary Industry) tweeted interestingly (as he always does) a few days ago "Gillard seems unaware that underpinning effective Cabinet processes are detailed interactions between senior officials and briefing of Mins" and
"If Malaysia solution & live cattle ban are products of an effective Cabinet process I will give the proverbial bag of chaff to the hospital."

PB said...

"The basics, guys. Geez, get the basics right. "

Yeah. That's the thing isn't it. Objectively, in terms of actually getting policies out there, they've actually done pretty well. Got us through the GFC with barely a scratch, MRRT on the way, will soon get something going on CO2, sorted out the tobacco companies, getting something sorted on health... Even the purported failures (pink bats, BER) actually weren't.

I suppose they do have to face a relentlessly partisan press in News Ltd and if I hear the 6.00 A.M ABC news lead with "The Opposition Leader Mr Abbott said..." I'll throw my clock radio against the wall.

But most of their difficulties do seem to be self-inflicted - as you said, not getting the basics right.

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

It was fascinating to see Piers Ackermann (Insiders) seemingly attempt to imply that Dame Elisabeth Murdoch was too old to understand that she was being "used" by others in adding her name, and the weight of her opinion, to those who wrote a letter to the newspapers this week on the carbon debate.
Piers went dangerously close to implying that Dame Elisabeth, because of her age and presumably "senile", did not fully understand what she was doing.

I'd like to see Piers trying to get away with such contemptuous nonsense in front of Dame Elisabeth who is incredibly sharp and can recognise a fool like him for what he is.

It was insulting in the extreme and I hope he is taken to task for this attempt to suggest that she was senile - she is anything but and would run rings around him.