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Rudd lacks consistency

October 19, 2009

SMH : Unconvincing acts on asylum seekers
Phillip Coorey, 19 October 2009

One of the stranger moments of the US presidential election campaign in 2004 came when the Democrat candidate, John Kerry, shot a goose.

Stung by the perception he was lacking in the manhood department, the senator and decorated Vietnam veteran, dressed in camouflage fatigues, disappeared behind a thicket in the swing state of Ohio and blew away a goose with a 12-gauge shotgun.

His then adviser Mike McCurry said the hunt was designed to give voters ”a better sense of John Kerry, the guy”. The guy, however, took the stunt only so far. He refused to carry the goose out of the thicket for a stroll past the waiting cameras. That task fell to an adviser.

One was reminded of this madness last week as Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull engaged in their own he-man contest over asylum seekers.

Apart from the stuff about people smugglers being vile vermin and so forth, the hard language aimed at the asylum seekers themselves sounded unconvincing from both men.

For all his insistence that Rudd’s abolition of temporary protection visas and the Pacific solution was responsible for the recent influx of boats, Turnbull shied away from demanding the immediate reintroduction of either policy. He called instead for an inquiry. More

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  1. Australians for Tamil Justice permalink*
    October 19, 2009 11:42 am

    SMH : Unconvincing acts on asylum seekers
    Phillip Coorey, 19 October 2009

    One of the stranger moments of the US presidential election campaign in 2004 came when the Democrat candidate, John Kerry, shot a goose.

    Stung by the perception he was lacking in the manhood department, the senator and decorated Vietnam veteran, dressed in camouflage fatigues, disappeared behind a thicket in the swing state of Ohio and blew away a goose with a 12-gauge shotgun.

    His then adviser Mike McCurry said the hunt was designed to give voters ”a better sense of John Kerry, the guy”. The guy, however, took the stunt only so far. He refused to carry the goose out of the thicket for a stroll past the waiting cameras. That task fell to an adviser.

    One was reminded of this madness last week as Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull engaged in their own he-man contest over asylum seekers.

    Apart from the stuff about people smugglers being vile vermin and so forth, the hard language aimed at the asylum seekers themselves sounded unconvincing from both men.

    For all his insistence that Rudd’s abolition of temporary protection visas and the Pacific solution was responsible for the recent influx of boats, Turnbull shied away from demanding the immediate reintroduction of either policy. He called instead for an inquiry.

    This, in part, reflects that the Coalition has its own inner demons on the issue and is not at one on its own policy direction.

    Nonetheless, border protection is a political strength for the Coalition. From that perspective, an embattled Turnbull can hardly be blamed for grasping the issue, especially as the focus on climate change and his leadership sharpens.

    Rudd knows he is in a situation he cannot win because asylum seekers are a problem without one solution.

    At best, he can manage the issue politically by stating repeatedly the push factors such as war and conflict he says are causing the boats to come, and putting it in context by citing the small percentage of illegal arrivals that the boat people constitute.

    At this stage, the Government believes it is prevailing. Internal feedback shows that the issue, so far, has none of the heat that it had in 2001.

    However, there is an awareness within the Government that political conditions are developing for a policy arms race to the bottom and this will grow as more boats arrive. Working with Indonesia, Malaysia and other transit countries is going to become more important if domestic policy changes are to be avoided.

    Rudd will visit Asia twice this week. Late today, he is scheduled to fly to Jakarta to attend tomorrow’s inauguration of the recently re-elected President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He will be back in time for Parliament on Wednesday.

    On Saturday, Rudd will fly to Thailand for the East Asia Summit. He will be home late on Sunday or in the wee hours of Monday.

    The trip to Jakarta has been planned for several weeks. Only yesterday, however, was it confirmed that Rudd will hold a bilateral discussion with Yudhoyono who, upon Rudd’s phone call 10 days ago, had the boat of 260 Sri Lankans turned around. Bilateral talks with other leaders are also being set up for Thailand.

    Illegal immigration will feature heavily in the talks, especially those with Yudhoyono.

    Rudd campaigned on a theme of greater compassion and believes now that, on border protection, the balance between the hardline and the humane is right.

    He needs to be careful with the rhetoric if he is not to confuse this message and alienate the Labor base, as well as other voters, as Labor has done before.

    When the Tampa hove into view in mid-2001, Kim Beazley opposed Howard’s most draconian measures, primarily the introduction on August 29 of the Border Protection Bill, which was the harbinger of laws to come.

    The bill was drafted in a matter of hours, the Opposition had 40 minutes to peruse it, and then Howard demanded a vote, all in the febrile atmosphere of the Tampa anchored off the Australian coast.

    Labor opposed the bill on principle but thereafter maintained the tough rhetoric. At the election, its base walked away anyway, and the swing voters flocked to Howard. The other political leader to do well in 2001 was the Greens’ Bob Brown, because he took a consistent approach.

    The balancing act was underscored on Thursday when Julia Gillard played the tough card and said the 260 Tamils were ”Indonesia’s responsibility”. This earned her a tongue-lashing from the Refugee Action Coalition.

    Rudd enjoys enormous political capital. If he takes a consistent line on both policy and rhetoric, he may just be rewarded for it.

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