Friday, August 16, 2013

Election 2013: Day 12 (or, this sewer has no bottom)

Today was not a good day to be an Australian voter. We were treated today as though we are a bunch of racists.

People like to say that voters are to blame for the asylum seeker policies. I don’t think that’s true, anymore than the reason we don’t have same sex marriage in this country is because voters are a bunch of homophobes.

But there are some days when our politicians treat us like it is true. Because they offer up policies that suggest that we want nothing more than to dump as much filth onto refugees as we possibly can, purely because of who they are.

Of the policies put forward by the major parties that I am ashamed of, most concern asylum seekers.

Today however was not one of those days.

The policy announced today by Scott Morrison and his second banana, Tony Abbott, has nothing to do with asylum seekers. It has to do with refugees. It is not about “stopping the boats” – to use that most contemptuously condescending phrase – it is about being cruel to people who have been granted refugee status.

Today the Liberal Party announced that the 30,000 people here already who are awaiting determination of their asylum claims will not be granted a permanent visa. They will be placed indefinitely on 3 year revolving Temporary Protection Visas. They will not be able to appeal their case to the Federal Court. They will not have the same rights as other residents – if they qualify for dole they will have to work for it in a way unlike others living here.

The policy is almost guaranteed to lose when it is challenged in the High Court – and what is more, the number of cases which will be sent to the High Court will serve only, in the words of constitutional lawyer, George Williams as reported in The Australian, to overwhelm it.

This policy will deter no one. There is no need. The ALP already has gone beyond the realms of what John Howard would have thought possible and ruled that no one coming to Australia by boat will be granted asylum here.

We have already let it be known that we’re kicking them off to Manus Island and Nauru.

But for Scott Morrison that seems to be not enough. Worried perhaps that through some kind of absurdity someone from the ALP might end up swimming lower in the sewer than he is, he dived deeper. And he came up with the retrospective policy that apparently will deter people who are already here from coming here.

As Jack the Insider noted of the policy:

[it] is a promise of retrospective deterrence – an oxymoron up there with traditional modern dance. It is an intrinsic contradiction because one cannot be retrospectively deterred from doing what one has already done.

The revolving TPVs are not a deterrent. TPVs are the one part of John Howard’s policy which clearly did not work after they were introduced in October 1999.

The policy (as is the case with Morrison and Abbott’s new version) did not allow any family reunions. So for example a father who gained refugee status could not then bring his family into the country.

So what happened is instead of just the fathers getting on the boat, whole families did. The average person per boat went from 22 in 1998-99, to 56 in 1999-2000, to 77 in 2000-01 and then to rather ludicrous 160 per boat in 2001-02.


It’s the only record regarding asylum seeker numbers that the Howard Government still holds. And it doesn’t take too much thinking things through to realise that the boats asylum seekers are on don’t get more safe with more passengers.

To get a real sense of the bastardry behind this policy though, take this exchange between the ABC’s Lyndal Curtis and Scott Morrison:

Lyndal Curtis: "If they cannot be returned to their home country, for example, the Iranians, if there is not a third country they will voluntarily go to, they remain in detention for how long?"

Scott Morrison: "Until they leave the country."

Curtis: "So potentially for a very long time?"

Morrison: "Well, that's up to them. They can leave at any time."

Note, this is for people who cannot return to their home country.


As Chris Berg wrote for The Drum in June of the idea that refugees should be denied permanent residency risks creating a permanent underclass. People who, because of their status will be unable to gain long-term employment, will mostly be reduced to working for the dole and not working for the dole in order to gain experience to get work, but purely because working for the dole is all they can get.

When you deny a section of society the right to earn a living, and importantly to be able to advance through lawful means, that section will eventually rebel and pursue illegal means of support. This policy is put forward under the overall guise of keeping our suburbs just the way they are. And yet creating a permanent underclass almost guarantees the reverse occurring.


I had a whole lot more to say on this topic – and I did write it. But I deleted it before posting because, while it might not have ventured into defamatory territory, it certainly was full of contempt for this policy and the two men who announced it, and for those who may have advised them of such a strategy.

And they really aren’t worth it.

At this point, the election has become a race to see who is less worthy of our votes.

And today was Abbott’s day to win that race.


Kevin Rudd was in Perth today. He announced something. I swear I listened to the press conference in full, but I have no idea what he said. Election 2013- Abbott announces new asylum policy - politics live blog - as it happened - World news -

I might have passed out at some stage, or perhaps I just went to my happy place that I go to when forced to sit through a dull presentation.

Malcolm Farr told me on Twitter it was “about rocks”.

I went looking for the transcript, but it’s not up yet (Rudd’s site is a lot slower at getting things up than is Tony Abbott’s). I had a look for the policy on the ALP’s website. It’s not there. And of course why would it be there?

Why on earth would you want to have a place where people can find out what you announced that day? Why would you need such a thing when they could have heard it on the 6pm news on the wireless.

For crying out loud ALP, get your act in gear. Pathetic.

Thankfully the live-blogs have it. Katharine Murphy on the Guardian:

It's all about how we transition out of the mining boom, Rudd says at this press conference. He's unveiling an oil and gas centre of excellence. We build for the future, Rudd says. They (the Coalition) "cut, cut and cut." There's $30m for a floating systems research centre. There's a reference to "big rocks, little rocks, hard rocks, soft rocks.

The ABC’s live blog:

“Today I announce we will be investing some $30 million to establish the national floating systems research centre here in Perth. We believe this is going to be a huge potential export platform for services for the future”

A $30 million plan. I’ll be honest I have no idea if it’s good or bad, because I haven’t seen any documents on it.

Today though there was a lot of talk among gallery types that the ALP is done and dusted. Some even predicting a “landslide”.

One of the problems is when you spend you days watching press conferences and looking at polls of single seats with rather large margins of error, you can get locked into thinking that what you are thinking and seeing is what the electorate is.

Rudd’s press conference have been long and dull and all over the shop. But most people don’t actually see them.

I think he does need to get more refined on his message each day. But dull press conferences doesn’t mean the electorate thinks he is dull.

But cripes he is dull.

There was this interesting titbit on the AFR live blog about Rudd’s visit to a shopping centre in Perth:

4.51pm: The good burghers of West Australia we spoke to today amidst the Rudd madness are not quite as set against him and his party as you might think.

A gentleman from Bunbury watching Rudd at the Westfield Carousel who declined to be named says Rudd most definitely had his vote.

He runs a construction cleaning company, and says he earned about $100,000 all up from the stimulus package Rudd engineered during the global financial crisis.

“He saved our lives with that stimulus package,” he says.

Vox pops on their own don’t mean anything. But it’s nice to see a newspaper actually avoid reporting the usually narrative and backing it up with a quote from someone to in some way prove their point.


I haven’t taken too much of an aim at the press gallery following around the leaders, but two examples today from those following Tony Abbott stuck out for me.

This was during the Morrison-Abbott press conference where they had just announced a policy that clearly has a few hurdles to overcome legally.

But someone asked this:

QUESTION: Are you buoyed by the fact that Labor’s approval rating in the central cost of New South Wales, in seats like Robertson and Dobell keep slipping?

Whoever asked this question should be laughed at loud and long. Asking about polls during an election campaign – a period when politicians are actually talking about policy – is bad enough. But asking such a softball, backrub one is beyond useless. It offered Abbott a chance to take a breath while the rest of the pack were asking mostly good policy related questions.

It was even more embarrassing because the next question asked was this:

QUESTION: Just in regards to your plans, especially in removing access to the Refugee Review Tribunal and under a Coalition government are you confident that it would survive a High Court challenge?

A good question that had Abbott quickly handballing it on to Morrison and which had Morrison waffling away for a minute or so.

It was a good question because later in the day Lyndal Curtis tackled Morrison on the same point and he was forced to respond:

Lyndal Curtis: Are you confident or concerned that you may not be able to remove the refugee determination process from legal challenge?

Scott Morrison: "Well, this is the task we're setting officials if we're elected to government.

"I'm just not prepared to accept the situation that we can't return to the non-statutory administrative process to end the tick and flick system that the Government has now been running for the last five years."

“Lawyers will say it can't be done, the Government will say it can't be done, everyone will say it can't be done.”

"We're not going to give up on this."

Oh well if you’re not going to give up, I guess that’ll be fine. I hear not giving up is the clinching argument in most cases before the High Court,

So send the first journalist home; or at least get them to keep quiet and let the second journalist ask another question in their place.


But look it’s not that bad. The journalist could be asking questions of Tony Abbott in the manner that Ray Hadley did today.

Here were some of Abbott’s initial responses to Hadley’s tough grilling:

TONY ABBOTT: That’s right…

RAY HADLEY: Do you understand the significance of this day, August 16?

TONY ABBOTT: Yes, I do Ray because three years ago today Julia Gillard said there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.

TONY ABBOTT: Ray, I have high hopes…

TONY ABBOTT: Exactly right, Ray.

TONY ABBOTT: Yep, that’s true.

TONY ABBOTT: Well, these are very fair points to make…

TONY ABBOTT: But I want to assure you Ray…

TONY ABBOTT: You can add that. You can add that Ray.

TONY ABBOTT: Look, Ray, thank you for that tribute…

TONY ABBOTT: Well, that is a very nice tribute….

TONY ABBOTT: Why are we writing the thing? That’s exactly right. And one of the reasons it has to be said…

TONY ABBOTT: Thank you so much, Ray.


Anonymous said...

Hi Greg, fantastic article. Unfortunately whatever programme is matching the advertising to the text chose the government's horrible ad about getting on a boat and not ending up in Australia. Not sure if there's anything you can do about that, but thought you might want a heads up!

Anonymous said...

Hi Greg
Excellent reporting as always. Just want you to know that this and First Dog on the Moon on Crikey are all that keep me interested int his farce.
Please don't stop.

Anonymous said...

There's got to be another progressive political party out there, ready to leap into existence to save us from the expert ignoring LNP, and the desperate to follow them ALP.

We've come a long way with information, election campaigns can't continue to run the way they always have. Full of BS.

VoterBentleigh said...

So true.

The Coalition's latest announcement on refugees is the product of icy hearts, but its aim was to take the increasing public focus off the Coalition's economic policy which is largely invisible in terms of detail and cost. Someone pointed out to me that the Coalition are currently in a holding pattern in the hope that they can dodge revealing the detail for the next three weeks.

Rudd's media conference deviated from the main message by mentioning the Coalition's cuts and so the focus moved away from his announcement.

Sometimes at the media conferences or doorstops, the questions are inaudible, so it is impossible to tell if the politician is answering the question. I watched one interview and all I heard was the spiel from the politician. It came across like an advertisement rather than an interview.

Joe Dore said...

Hi Greg

While I enjoyed this post, and certainly there is much to be critical of in the LNP's asylum policy, I do think you may have misrepresented one aspect.

Lyndal Curtis asked, "If they cannot be returned to their home country..."
You then refer to "people who cannot return to their home country."

There isa ctually a pretty big difference between 'be returned' and 'return' in this contect. Having checked back to the actual interview I think it's pretty clear that Lyndal Curtis and Scott Morrison are discussing is people who have failed refugee determinations and refuse to go home but who Australia is incapable of removing, not those who couldn't go if chose to go themselves.

For example, at present where an Iranian fails the Departmental test, fails the RRT test, fails at Judicial Review, and fails at Ministerial Intervention, the Australian Government still cannot return them to Iran because Iran won't accept them unless they go voluntarily. They end up on visas in Australia despite having no valid claims to persecution.

I understand that views on what should happen in those circumstances differ drastically, but your piece seems to suggest that the policy is indefinite detention of people who have no ability to return home, that does gel with what was actually said on the program.

VoterBentleigh said...

On 26 March 2013, on the ABC, the President of the Australian Iranian Community Organisation claimed that most Iranians were likely to be political refugees, not economic and this was followed by Chris Uhlmann stating: “But the demographic break down of the Iranian refugees does differ from many of the other groups of asylum seekers.”

( )

The implication being suggested by the “but” comment was that therefore the Iranians were not political refugees, which is like saying that Jews who were from the professional classes and were fleeing the Nazis' oppression must have been economic, not political, refugees. Wealth does not determine your need for asylum.

In February of 2003, The Age had an article claiming Iranians could not be returned to Iran because of the refusal of the Iranian Government to accept those who do not volunteer to return and the situation facing those people at that time. It also reported upon the treatment of Iranian asylum seekers under the Howard Government.

( )

On May 2 2003, the then director of Public Affairs in the DIMIA issued a response to an article in the Australian Financial Review, stating:

“...The facts are:
An agreement exists between the governments of Australia and Iran which provides for cooperation on a range of consular issues.
Australia and Iran have agreed that their first priority is to work together to promote the voluntary repatriation of those Iranians currently in detention in Australia. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs continues to work closely and cooperatively with the Iranian Embassy in Australia to achieve this.
The agreement with Iran provides the capacity to enforce the removal of those who do not volunteer to return.
Your article ignores the fact that the majority of Iranians in detention have failed in their claims for asylum at a number of levels of review and as such have no legal right to remain in Australia. The Department is legally obliged to arrange their removal.”

( )

So, in 2003, the DIMIA under the Howard Government defended the then Coalition's asylum practice by stating that the Government had an agreement with Iran to force asylum seekers to return, but now the Coalition claims that Iranians cannot be forcibly returned .

Anonymous said...

Somewhat off topic but if you're looking for inspiration for Monday's blog, this might provide some:

If Abbott is going to cap Direct Action spending regardless of emissions targets, why waste any money in the first place?

If the Liberals are going to rely on the decline of the manufacturing industry to meet emissions targets, why not just tax industry until enough closes down so we can meet emissions targets? This from the party which accuses the Greens of being anti-industry.


Anonymous said...

Oh Greg I do wish you were right about the voters not being responsible for these policies but they are.In a world where I literally have stopped watching TV most nights to avoid the news and the ads my info is coming from you and the conversations I cannot avoid at work. The vitriol towards and the lack of compassion for refugees absolutely gob smacks me. I work on a floor of about 80 public servants (I am a contractor) and two other colleagues and I are the only people we can find on the floor who are not loving the two parties new approach because it is "what they deserve" - the they being refugees. We talk to each other not just in despair at the policies but frustration at the relish they are greeted with by ordinary people. If this is what we are like when we avoided the GFC I shudder to think what would happen if we really do face economic difficulties.