Thursday, February 17, 2011

Two halves of the asylum seeker debate

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.image

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”

imageSo he wasn’t there, and even then he doesn’t actually say he knows that Morrison didn’t say such a thing, merely that he has known Morrison for ages etc etc. The other MP was Steve Ciobo:

“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”.

On what?

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.

Fight the fights worth fighting. imageAnd this one certainly is worth it.

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. image

Bowen then went on the 7:30 Report and announced thattwo 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).


vp said...


I'm sure you have seen the triptych Bushfire Bill posted on Poll Bludger (sorry, no ref). Can you promulgate it?

Thirdborn said...

Spot on Grog, for the first time in a while I have felt the spark, that hope, that connection with the politicians. I hope they stand proud on this one because I am certain there are plenty out there just looking for some hope that things are going to be great in the future. Its about time these coalition thugs are held up to the light and seen for what they are.

Colin Campbell said...

Finally some straight talking to expose these dog whistlers.

thefactis said...

Knew it had to some time the Liberals would crack. Also, agree with you that Labor has finally show what they stand for. 'Bout time! The 6pm interview was enjoyable and informative, Negus and Bowen both had a great performance. The show has found its groove and much better than 7 & 9 (which had the lead story of the Brian McFadden drama).

Anonymous said...

Grog, re the first part of your post, I get the sense that TA has lost control of his shadow cabinet.

re the 2nd part, it is good to see some some strategic rockets for good being launched, & good on Bowen for both his speech too.

Gordicans said...

The labour party for the first time in a long while is gaining the ascendency and dominating the coalition. Two issues 1) the liberals don't have a replacement for Abbott, excepting of course Turnbull, but that would require a complete u turn on climate change and balance of their front bench 2) Gillard will never be the real deal whilst she continues to act as an American asset via the Julian Assange issue. Interestingly, this an issue the coalition can't take advantage of.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bowen has delivered today. He is committed to removing the eight-year-old with his family off Christmas Island. He has inferred that a home will be found for them near existing family.

He has also stated that other children in the same position will also be removed.

I can only hope that the two fathers of the children buried are not far behind in joining their families.

I would love to know who made the decision, which was obviously was revoke that the refugees would not have access to families while in Sydney.

I also give credit to the Labor Party for creating the climate that allowed these humane actions to proceed.

Greg Jericho said...

vp - I haven't - will go searching for it (unless BB wants to post the link himself).

tredlgt said...

It's exciting to hear multiculturalism talked about as something to be cherished rather than some evil plot.
howard the toad has finally left the building.
murdochs people will wet their pants with rage but the speech was made and now can't be ignored . A very pleasant day .Thank you Labor Party.

Pip said...

When the Baktiari children became famous they were considered to be troublemakers for the Howard government, and eventually they had to go, I believe, to make a point.
This time around that is thankfully not going to happen despite the best/worst efforts of Mr. Morrison. What a pleasnat change a pleasant change.

Pip said...

and also a pleasant change:}

Coldsnacks said...

Gotta love the contrast. A week or so ago we had British PM Cameron saying that multiculturalism in Britain was a failure. Contrast that with Bowen lauding the triumph of multiculturalism within Australia.

One wonders what the difference between the two approaches is.

stephenm said...

To put this into historical context, you should go read Hansard for 25 August 1988. The then PM, Bob Hawke, moved a motion affirming that no Australian government would have a discriminatory immigration policy. This motion was opposed by John Howard and the Liberals voted against it... Apart from three that crossed the floor: Ian Macphee, Steele Hall, and, yep, Philip Ruddock.

Ruddock was actually quite progressive before he was appointed to Cabinet by Howard in 1996. He was probably the only "wet" that wasn't purged or sidelined during the early 90s, but this was at the cost of him suspending any compassion he might have felt. I guess now that he's now a backbencher, he's allowed to exercise his conscience again.

Victoria said...

I am proud to be a member of the Labor Party today. I joined after Howard's loathsome response to the Asylum Seekers on the Tampa in 2001. I have been waiting a long time for Labor to throw off the spectre of Tampa and the long shadow it cast over the nation. Today and last night Chris Bowen has done that.
I wonder if Peter Martin will sneer at him anymore?
Anyway, Chris' Dad is my FEC President, and next time I see him I'm going to give him a big hug for bringing up such a sterling individual.

Doug said...

Very refreshing to see a Labor Minister resetting the agenda after it had been surrendered for so long. No doubt the Nuts and Bolts will go for him but I hope he and his colleagues will stand firm on this and other issues. So long as they pander to the Nuts and Bolts they stand for nothing. There is no reasoning or compromise with the Nuts and Bolts, so you either surrender or take them head on. If you don't go in hard, you might as well go home because all will be lost.
Funny - last week Abbott said Gillard had a tin ear. From the timing of events, I'd agree with you that Gillard put a bomb under DIAC re Seena. Maybe her new Chief of Staff has made the difference. The tin ear is Abbott's - for not realising the damage done by his immigration hobbit from the Shire.

Anonymous said...

It's about time someone talked about the economic benefits of immigration.

But they don't, presumably because they aren't familiar with what is considered the more 'heterodox' economics of entrepreneurship and innovation. Which would, btw, justify the NBN convincingly. Cost benefit analyses be damned.

Doug said...

As I was saying two blogs above: is in The Age today (18 Feb)

Time for Labor to reset the agenda. When I did a Media Skills course with Paul Lyneham back in the mid-90s, his message was clear. "You don't need to answer the question. A question is just an opportunity you use to get your own message across."

The so-called Beazley Black Hole and then the Tampa both spooked Labor because Howard (and Costello) turned them to their advantage by spin, subterfuge and outright falsehoods. If Labor still believes it has a message, it needs to spell it out. Just ignore the Opposition and spell out what you are going to do and why. When told the insulation thing caused four deaths, say it was regrettable that those houses were wired incorrectly, which is why we need proper regulation of shonky builders. Everyone has dealt with shonky tradespeople (A Current Affair makes a living from them) so will understand and sympathise. Control the narrative, set the agenda, stop being reactive to Abbott's agenda because then you will always be on the back foot.

Anonymous said...

they also need to reclaim the economic narrative and by doing something similar to bowens speech.start from first principles and educate the electorate rather than always being seen to look defensive by answering the coalitions predictable criticisms.

Brett Donald said...

So things are moving in the right direction, and that's great. The question in my mind, though, is that if almost all the people who arrive by boat are genuine refugees, should we not find a way to get them here without them having to pay vast sums of money to travel in dodgy little boats?

BennO said...

You know, so far I have been really impressed with Chris Bowen as immigration minister. I would hate to do that job in Australia. The level of feeling surrounding asylum seekers who arrive by sea is so ridiculous that it drives me nuts.

I do not accuse the Liberal Party of this but I am tired of members of the community playing the "compassion" card to mask their racism. You see it pretty transparently in blog comments in the MS press. This co-opting of the idea by One Nation types is quite disturbing. As I say, I don't think the Liberal Party in general is guilty of this. Elements of it, sure maybe, but generally I don't think they are doing that.

So I was very impressed by Bowen when he took the portfolio after the election. I think it was on Q&A where I got the impression he was in for the long haul, not short term expediency. If a regional processing centre can come off it will be a great outcome I think. And Bowen has shown solid committment to this.

Then the speech yesterday about multiculturalism. Great stuff. I certainly support the idea of it but I'm most pleased with a minister arguing strongly, thoughtfully and with a bit of nuance rather than responding to the soundbyte rubbish of someone like Allan Jones, Andrew Bolt or whoever else. This is an issue for which the shock jocks have set the agenda for a long time. It's great to see a calm and rational contribution to it.

Nuance has been sorely missing in Australian political debate for some time. I do hope it is making a come back.

Rhiannon Saxon said...

@Doug - COMPLETELY agree with you about the need to set the agenda and make your point CLEARLY instead of accepting some kind of blame for things outside the control of the government - WORD THINGS better.
I always was stunned that when the Howard government was bent on scrapping the 'unfair dismissal laws', the word 'unfair' and 'laws' became conflated in people's minds...and if Labor had just reworded it to 'Laws against unfair dismissal'when speaking of it, they may have convinced a few more people. Anyway. Great comments.
And thanks again for a terrific post Grog!

Anonymous said...

We should never forget which radio station gave the floor to Grott Morrison to make his loathsome comments ...

Their ABC.

Apathy said...

Grog – Over a large glass of Chablis last night, I got creative so here’s a bit of a cheeky, light hearted tale from the week’s events.

I had to have a bit of a giggle to myself listening to Andrew Bolt’s reaction to the Mark Riley’s gotcha moment on Insiders last Sunday. Firstly Andrew said and I quote “it’s an absolute disgrace, a travesty of journalism, it’s dishonest.” Yes I know I had to have a second and even a third take on that one too and my wife was not happy that I nearly spilled my cornflakes all over the new lounge which still hasn’t been scotch guarded and the dog continuously licks instead of the windows. He then went on to say that it was a “sacking offence.” Did I hear that right? Was Andrew suggesting that if a journalist was dishonest that they should be sacked? Well now, I have never read the Herald Sun before but I will be from now on. Hopefully they will publish the email which usually goes around when a so called organisational restructures happens which normally reads:

“It’s with great sadness that Andrew has decided to leave us to take up an exciting new position with another company. His resignation is effective immediately and we ask that you please respect his privacy by not making any contact with him in the future. Can you also please ensure that you don’t get in the way of the guards who have kindly offered to assist Andrew in removing his belonging from the building this morning.

On a brighter note, management have found a replacement for Andrew’s position and they start tomorrow. Please make them feel welcome.”

I am probably being too optimistic about receiving such correspondence because one suspects that the words “Journalist” and “Andrew Bolt” are probably not uttered in the same sentence too often around Melbourne’s Southbank due to the fact that setting such high expectations always leads to disappointment.

He then tried to defend Tony by saying that he already had responded to the question and he shouldn’t have to repeat himself. Well I didn’t realise that when a Cornflake comes back up through the nose, it can be a bit difficult to dislodge but if you pick hard enough you can get it out and rest assured, the dog will still woof it down with all the vigour of a Labrador’s last supper. Andrew’s logic had me a bit puzzled and I suspect Annabelle too, because if Tony doesn’t have a problem repeating “Stop the Boats” and “Great Big New Tax” a gazillion times a day then why would repeating his response again to Mark another couple of times be such a difficult concept to grasp.

Anyhow, whatever, that wasn’t the funniest thing that Andrew said. When he accused Mark Riley of “malevolence” that was pretty close to being a Wankley and a Cornflake moment. Now I had a fair idea what the word meant but just to make sure I wasn’t committing any travesties or being dishonest, I went to and here’s what it said:

“wishing evil or harm to another or others; showing ill will; ill-disposed; malicious.”

Is anyone else seeing a problem here? By this stage I was confused. I asked my Cornflakes whether he was talking about Mark or himself, which seems a bit odd now that I have reflected on it but I guess at the time nothing else was making sense and I suspected that because my Cornflakes had special survival skills, it was quite conceivable that they may also have a higher intelligence. They were unsure who the comment was directed at, but they did mention that the milk had got a bit warm which was in breach of Workplace Health and Safety Guidelines and that according to Nicola Roxon, drinking 4 beers the night before makes me a bit of a binge drinker.

So I am still none the wiser, the dog hangs around me every time I pick my nose and Andrew still lives on. It really has been a strange week. Have a lovely weekend everyone. ;-)

Sam Sunshine said...

From Friday's SMH
''I wouldn't normally comment on shadow cabinet but I can confirm Scott did talk about the strong feelings in the general community about Muslim immigration and he said that we as a party had to engage with that sentiment'' Mr Robb said.
So we have confirmation of Morrison discussing the matter of Muslim immigration in a Shadow Cabinet meeting. Lenore Taylor's article is vindicated by someone who was there.
Abbott now must either act on terminating Morrison's shadow portfolio or by doing nothing he indicates his support for what Morrison has done.

Helen said...

Re the Inverbrackie photo - Tony doesn't have to worry about the place being a "pull factor" now that the place has been photographed with him in it.

firstkitten said...

thanks for the excerpts from the speech grog, i tracked down the rest of it on the net and was so very pleased with bowen's words.

i do hope this presages something really good, it seems like such a long time since a politicial got up and spoke about the value to my country of all those who come here.

Anonymous said...

I really don't want to be a party pooper but I'll only believe that the ALP has developed a spine if they keep this positive attitude about multiculturism and asylum seekers when the fear mongering starts again. They have had negative publicity about one ten year old boy and they have responded. There is nothing there that to me suggests that they will continue to hold the high moral ground at all. The next time that it is easier for them to cave in to the racist elements of this country I still expect them to blow it. Sorry

Chris Grealy said...

Thanks for another well written article. My wife asked, " do they (the Libs) want violence in the streets?". Yes, they do, if they think it might bring them to power. Nothing else is important to Abbott, nothing.
I've never had much time for Bishop, Ruddock or Hockey, but good on them for speaking up against racism, even in private.

Greg Jericho said...

Anon - you're right. The ALP needs to hold to this and show it;s not just a one off