Kids overboard all over again?

The human suffering that lead to the recent boat people making a run for Australia and the physical and psychological trauma many of them have suffered in the explosion off Ashmore Reef, sadly is now being overshadowed by the politicisation of the event with predictable divisive effects in our community.

We’ve been all through this before, the Tampa, Kids overboard, the Pacific Solution, Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs), harsh and prolonged detention, and so on.  Do we need to go through it all again? [more]

The coalition thinks so.  Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone was quick to lay blame for the deaths squarely on Labor, citing ‘softening’ of immigration policy which gave the ‘green light’ to people smugglers that Australian was again ‘open for business’.  “You can't slash funds, you can't take your eye off the ball, you can't announce a softer policy and then expect people not to lose their lives through people-smuggling," she insisted.

Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus, who has made the running on this tragedy, asked her to withdraw her comments, saying "The last time people tried to make politics in an incident like this we had a most unpleasant circumstance in Australian national life.”  He insisted that the Rudd Government was not going to be playing politics with such incidents.  And so far it hasn’t.  Kevin Rudd’s has voiced strong condemnation today of people smugglers and promised a tough response.

Initially Malcolm Turnbull took the high ground, expressing sympathy to the victims and their families, but refraining from sheeting home blame to Labor, saying he did not want to make political points over the tragedy.  He sounded statesmanlike. 

Then Colin Barnett, WA Liberal Premier said he’d received information from up-the-line that the explosion and fire had been deliberately lit.  Shades of the demonizing of asylum seekers we’ve heard before.  He was joined by former immigration minister Kevin Andrews in blaming Labor.

Last night on Lateline Sharman Stone confirmed her view that the Rudd Government changes had resulted in more people smuggling, more boats arriving off Australian shores, and the tragedy off Ashmore Reef.  The changes of which she speaks comprise discontinuance of the Pacific Solution and TPVs, a new maritime arrangement for surveillance of Australia’s northern shores – the Border Protection Command – and reduced funding.  Asked whether the Coalition would reintroduce the Pacific Solution or TPVs, Stone said no to the former, ‘because we now have Christmas Island’, but did not address TPVs.

This morning on AM Malcolm Turnbull had a testy interview with Tony Eastley in which he took a more assertive approach than yesterday, talking over Eastley to make his point, that of Stone, that ‘softer’ Government policies had resulted in more boat arrivals, and all the dangers that involved.  When Eastley reminded him that Debus had said, and also the UNHCR is saying, that worldwide there has been something like a 12% increase in the number of people seeking asylum, and an Afghan refugee and former detainee had told the ABC it is not government policy but the increase in fighting against the Taliban that is forcing people out of Afghanistan at the moment, Turnbull retorted "Well, Tony that is the position. The position of the Rudd Government which you've just faithfully recited there …" to which Eastley responded "Well I am not reciting there. I am telling you what the facts are that we know from the UNHCR and a refugee."  Turnbull continued to insist that Australia's laws do have an effect on the level of unauthorised boat arrivals, and that recent changes had encouraged more of them.  David Manne of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre is just as adamant that Australian Government policy bears no relationship to boat arrivals.  To put boat arrivals into perspective, of the people in immigration detention on 30 June last year, around 400, only 1% were boat arrivals. 7% were illegal fishermen, and almost 90% arrived by air or overstayed visas.

Of course it’s impossible to be certain about which of the multiple factors resulting in more boat arrivals carries the most weight.  For the Coalition to single out one cause ‘the Rudd Government policy softening’, and discount a myriad of others, points to politics points-scoring as its primary motivation, rather than a desire to have a balanced debate on the subject, although Turnbull has today offered ‘bipartisanship’ so that both sides of politics in Australia can ‘agree on a tough line on people smuggling’.  That’s not going to happen now that the Coalition is so far down the partisan track.

Columnists have taken varying viewpoints some leaning one way, others leaning the other, but generally reasonably balanced.   Andrew Bolt has gone to the extreme in condemning Rudd’s policy.  You’ll have to find his piece in today’s Sun Herald to read what Crikey’s editor described as ‘witless and contemptible’.

So much for the facts, which are to be found in abundance in the media.  Let’s ask how Turnbull is now in a politically dangerous adversarial position he might have avoided.  Clearly the Government is avoiding politicising the issue, so how did it come to this? 

What follows is speculation, but based on observations over the last 24 hours.  At first Turnbull sounded conciliatory and indeed is still saying that the Government is not responsible for the deaths and injuries at Ashmore Reef, unlike Stone.  My view is that it was Stone, not Turnbull, who set the pattern and pace of the Coalition response.  It seems as if Turnbull has been dragged by her comments into a more aggressive and condemnatory position than he had intended.  Add to that the comments of Barnett and Andrews, and this morning of Barnaby Joyce who, not unexpectedly, took a hard line, and Turnbull finds himself trapped, with no obvious escape route.  The only contrary voice on the Coalition side has been Russell Broadbent who was so outspoken against Howard Government policies on immigration.

But is Turnbull’s position politically dangerous?  Ardent supporters of the Coalition are probably applauding it.  Supporters of the Howard approach are bound to be pleased to hear similar rhetoric from Turnbull today.  But what will the electorate think?  The Coalition will be hoping that this event has opened up a chink in Rudd’s armour that will reflect against him, and for the Coalition in the polls.  Judging by the talkback this morning, an old wound in the Australian psyche had been re-opened, with many passionate comments coming from both sides.  What a shame it’s on again, because the opposing strongly held views seem as irreconcilable as ever.

Whether the Coalition will gain advantage from this event will depend on how the Government responds, how it strikes an acceptable balance between sensible border protection and humanitarian concern for those displaced, dispossessed and damaged by civil unrest and war.  My impression is that this nation has moved on from the Howard days and the events that characterized them.  Although Howard’s ‘we will decide who comes to this country and the manner of their coming’, helped him win an election, although the ‘kids overboard’ event probably did the same, the public, having discovered post-election that it had been duped about the latter, and attracted to the more compassionate approach of the Rudd Government, is nowhere near the position it took in the Howard years. 

Turnbull may find that public sympathy is not with him and the Coalition’s hard line response to yesterday's tragedy, and that once again he has misjudged the politics, aided and abetted by some of his impetuous and imprudent colleagues eager to score a point at any cost.

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Sir Ian Crisp

17/04/2009Ad Astra, it is like a Tampa redux. How racist is this present government. I’m ashamed to call myself Australian. We thought we tossed one bunch of racists out in November 2007 but lo and behold we have Mr Rude’s Christmas Island solution. These desperate people are deposited on that island like yesterday’s rubbish. Mr Rude said today that people smugglers are the “scum of the earth and they should rot in jail.” He displays a complete lack of understanding regarding the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. On the subject of a person seeking asylum the convention says: "... is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”. The Member for Griffith is showing all the signs of a lackwit. Australia may play host to one or more of these detestable people smugglers. If one of them grows rich from this vile trade he may hop on one of those leaky boats and make the journey to Australia. He will be entitled to the protections of the 1951 convention and far from ‘rotting in jail’ he might even buy a house in a Brisbane suburb. That would hardly be a satisfactory outcome and one I’m sure Mr Rude would find deplorable. And why has Mr Rude departed from the diplomatic profile? He sounds like one of the canaille.


17/04/2009Mr. Crisp, your response as to the substance of the article is bizarre at best, and the way you describe the PM means probably no-one will respond to you beyond this. Sad little creature.


18/04/2009Aristotle wrote a brilliant piece about this, to which I will link if Ad Astra doesn't mind ...

Bushfire Bill

18/04/2009I was at work yesterday and the discussion turned, ever so briefly, to the explosion on the boat, and its political significance. One chap said [i]we[/i] should have blown up their boat. That would teach them. We didn't want foreigners in Australia. He is a native-born New Zealander, a foreigner, working over here because the pay is so high. Another said, calmly (because he's a very calm, considered type of guy, generally a sweet, gentle person) that "these people" should come in the front door, not the back door. He is the grandson of a Vietnamese boat person who risked his life to come to Australia with his family in the late 1970s. A third, a woman, said they just come here and bludge off the public tit. This is a woman whose proudest boast is that she has not submitted a tax return in five years and that if she keep her wits about her she may be able to return to - you guessed it - Britain, without having to pay any Australian (or British) tax at all. All three were also against the $950 stimpac one-off payment. The drug addicts and spongers, poker machine players and white trash in the Western suburbs of Sydney would have a field day with this undeserved cash splurge. The first two, however, have indicated that they will keep [i]their[/i]stimpac payments. I mean, if that idiot Rudd is mad enough to give them money, they may as well spend it. Because they [i]do[/i] deserve it, I guess. The third, the woman, was briefly wistful that she had not lodged those five tax returns, because then [i]she[/i] would have been entitled to the $950. On the whole, though, she reasoned she was well-ahead, bludgeing off the public tit (although she didn't quite put it that way.... [i]I did[/i]... which kinda made me unpopular in the workplace for five minutes). This is what we are up against: the Great Australian Wowserism. To me, "wowser" is not just a synonym for "prude". To me it means someone who thinks they are better than others, are entitled to all the perks, and who take joy in the riff-raff being denied them, for moral reasons. There are a lot of wowsers out there.

Ad astra reply

18/04/2009Sir Ian, I was about to write that even if a white dove descended from heaven and alighted on Kevin Rudd’s shoulder with a message from the Almighty anointing him as the chosen one, the enlightened one, the only hope for mankind, you would still berate him, still call him a ‘lackwit’ – although my dictionary doesn’t have the word, I can guess you mean. Then the penny dropped and I realized you were enjoying yourself having a piece of us all. You know, as does every thinking person, that the people smugglers are not the impoverished fishermen dragooned into transporting asylum seekers on their decrepit boats for what I imagine is a pitifully small fee; they are the ‘Mr Bigs’ in Indonesia who pocket the large sums extracted from those escaping persecution. They are the ones who are condemned so vehemently by Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull. They won’t be coming here, certainly not on leaky boats they know full well are dangerous. They will not be out to invoke any part of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. While such a lucrative trade exists, until Indonesian authorities convict them of people smuggling they will likely remain residents of affluent Indonesian suburbs. With all the strife and all the displaced people around the world, that will be a long while.

Ad astra reply

18/04/2009Monica, As I said in my response to Sir Ian, I think he’s having us on. He couldn’t have been serious when he wrote what he did. Ebenezer, Judi Moylan has joined Russell Broadbent, so there are now two who won’t support Malcolm Turnbull; maybe more will come out of the woodwork. Of course John Howard had the same dissent, but with his authoritarian approach to party room politics he was better able to control it. One of Turnbull’s problems is that he’s not calling the shots. Before he could moderate the party’s response to the tragedy, Sharman Stone had kicked off ‘let’s blame Labor for this’, followed by Colin Barnett, Kevin Andrews and Barnaby Joyce all stirring the xenophobic pot. Turnbull was left trying to accommodate their views, with which I suspect he did not entirely agree or wish to express, while trying to be dignified and moderate. He had to ramp up his rhetoric, but it turned out to be no match for Kevin Rudd’s. Until he can instil more discipline about public pronouncements into his party, he’s going to be confronted time and again with similar circumstances. In today’s [i]Weekend Australian[/i] Lenore Taylor reports that Stone was a contributor to a parliamentary committee report that welcomed Labor's detention policy changes, saying they would usher in a "fairer and more humane system for asylum-seekers and others who are detained in immigration custody". But this week she tried to define her message “around the claim that Labor had bungled its communication of the detention changes, allowing them to be portrayed by people smugglers as a signal that the path to Australia was easy now or, as she put it, that the Australian Government was in fact saying: "Come on down." Which shows how political opportunism overwhelms the need to be circumspect or consistent. Today’s papers seem to be taking a moderate and balanced approach, but I note the [i]Daily Telegraph[/i] is touting a vague story about the AFP having warned the Government about the possibility of more boat arrivals after the change in policy. No details are given. How far that will run only time will tell. The impression I get is that there is a lot more empathy around now for asylum seekers, and lingering shame about what we did to them during the Howard years. I doubt if there would be much support for a return to that era. Bushfire Bill, Your skilfully written account of the attitude of your office colleagues to the boat tragedy shows though that there are still hardliners out there who would want to revert to the harshness of the Howard approach, or worse. While written with humour, it’s a sad account of prevailing attitudes. If they were to represent the popular view in the community, we’d begin to wonder what sort of a country this has become. Rx, Thank you for the link to the Aristotle piece – beautiful satire.

Sir Ian Crisp

18/04/2009Ali Cetin, an Australian citizen who spent five months in the Port Hedland immigration detention centre, has admitted that on August 21 he was at Jakarta's Hotel Menteng 2, where people who were on the boat say they paid him a total of about $US20,000 ($28,000) to arrange their trip. The man, Mehmet Seriban, 39, was expected to plead guilty to charges relating to the arrival of five illegal boats last week. He has spent 18 months in jail awaiting trial. AAP General News (Australia) ; February 14, 2000 ; 97 words ...Australia) 02-14-2000 WA: Two Indonesian teenagers have made a brief appearance in the Perth Children's Court today on people smuggling charges. The youths, aged 16 and 18, have pleaded guilty... AAP General News (Australia) ; July 7, 1999 ; 209 words ...News (Australia) 07-07-1999 Qld: Four in court on people smuggling charges. WILLIAM WAH, 41, HUNG YUNG TRAN, 26, and THI DO TRAN, 45, appeared ... AAP General News (Australia) January 20, 2000: Sydney chicken filleter Xin Chen was found guilty of conspiring to bring illegal immigrants into Australia… May 19, 2000: Indonesian fisherman Wira Cita, 27, who pleaded guilty to bringing 282 people into Australia illegally Ad Astra, people smugglers might be selling kebabs at Paddy’s Market this weekend. The guy out the back washing the lettuce might be in on the caper as well. Hell, maybe your local chicken shop has a part-time chicken filleter and part-time people smuggler. Not exactly Mr Bigs are they? They won’t be coming here you say. Are you sure? I was under the impression that Mossman was in Sydney. Do you sometimes channel Bob Debus? Ad Astra, the only thing missing in your piece is the appearance of Rear Admiral and Maritime Expert Tony Kevin to expand on his theory that every naval mishap between here and Indonesia is the fault of the Australian government. Here’s something you won’t find at Crikey… lackwit : Completely without wit, witless. The lowest level of wit. While Eric was a halfwit, and Buffy was a dimwit, Charles was a complete lackwit, and had no clue about anything.


19/04/2009I don't agree with you Ad astra that SIC is 'having us on'. I think he is a person who sees himself as perfection personnified and judges others to be beneath him. He is 'SIR Ian Crisp' but he is possibly also 'Mr Rude' and a 'lackwit' himself. Bushfire Bill, I have noticed that those who refer to assylum seekers and boat people as 'foreigners' etc, are those who were fortunate enough to have been given assylum or gained entry to our shores as immigrants. I wonder, sometimes, whether they are afraid that others who desperately seek a new home country will somehow lessen their own good fortune? I've been reading Jack the Insider's blog and note that a number of the commenters there who are pro Howard's Pacific Solution, are either migrants or those whose parents came here as migrants in the recent past. Actually, if we are all honest with ourselves, we are a nation of migrants and only our indigenous population can claim they are not so. I find the attitude of Australians who seek to vilify those seeking assylum sickening in the extreme.

Ad astra reply

19/04/2009janice, You may be right about Sir Ian; I just seemed to me that the arguments he made in his post seemed so improbable as to be satirical rather than serious. But from his last post he does seem serious about his contention that people smugglers have gained access to Australia and in some cases citizenship. I’ll reply to him separately. I too have noticed that some immigrants, even recent ones who have arrived in similar circumstances to boat arrivals, are the ones who seem harshest in their comments about their arriving counterparts. It’s almost as if having gained access to the Australian ‘club’ they are not so keen to share the privileges of membership. It's sad.

Ad astra reply

19/04/2009Sir Ian, Your first post condemned the Rudd Government as ‘racist’ because it was using Christmas Island, which is a facility to check the identity, security risk and the health of boat arrivals, who arrive without visas unlike most who arrive by air. For any of the latter arriving without a visa, Villawood is used. These facilities are used only as a temporary staging place; those asylum seekers who pass muster are promptly released into the community while their residency applications are processed. I can’t see how that makes the Government racist. It seems to combine diligent border security with a humane attitude. You then castigated Kevin Rudd for not understanding the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, said he was showing signs of being a ‘lackwit’, and that Australia might “play host to one or more of these detestable people smugglers”. Your comments seemed more satirical than serious, and that you were having a little fun with us. But it seems from your last post this was not the case. My reply was to make the point that the significant people smugglers don’t come here on leaky boats, but luxuriate in the spoils of their trade elsewhere. You insisted that people smugglers had come to Australia; the references and links in your second post documented the trials of people smugglers in Australia. You seem to have a special interest in this subject and access to relevant information. I’ve added HighBeam Research to my Favourites. I note that all these cases occurred during the Howard era, that all seem to have been through the judicial process and penalized before gaining access to Australian society. Most, but perhaps not all Australians would accept that they have paid the price for their misdemeanour. It seems as if semantics may be confusing the debate. Those to whom you refer have been labelled people smugglers, but they pale when set against the Mr Bigs who run this racket big time. I note on the same HighBeam page a June 2007 item [i]Indon police nab "Mr Big of people smuggling"[/i]. When I think of people smugglers, I think of the Mr Bigs who live in safe luxury repeatedly exploiting desperate people in tragic circumstances, collecting exorbitant sums of money from them with a promise of a better life, even if getting to it involves great danger. It is these people that deserve the strongest of condemnation, such as dished out by Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull. Having said all that, I presume your point is that some who might be labelled ‘people smugglers’ have got themselves into Australia, and indeed might be filleting chicken at a local restaurant. Where that is so, they seem to have paid a heavy price for this privilege. My point is that we are not going to have much impact on people smuggling by convicting these relatively small fry operators. It is the ‘Mr Bigs’ who live elsewhere that need stamping out, and it seems as if Indonesia is now more determined than it has been in the past to do so, with assistance from Australia. My suspicion about the meaning of ‘lackwit’ was confirmed by reference to the Urban Dictionary to which you pointed me, which too I’ve added to Favourites, so that if you use other demeaning terms I don’t know I’ll be able to quickly check what you mean. But don’t you think it’s presumptuous to apply the term ‘lackwit’ to a man acknowledged to be highly intelligent, and if one can judge from the success to date of his prime ministership and his record popularity with the electorate, highly astute. You may not share his views, his philosophy, or his way of doing his job, but that does not warrant the label ‘lackwit’. I don’t want this blog site to go down the track of sites like those of Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman. Let’s have debate about the issues, as we two have had about people smugglers, but let’s avoid personal invective. I might be old-fashioned, but that’s how I would prefer this blog to operate.

Ad astra reply

19/04/2009UPDATE 19-04-09 When Sharman Stone said [quote]“You can't slash funds, you can't take your eye off the ball, you can't announce a softer policy and then expect people not to lose their lives through people-smuggling"[/quote], I took her reference to ‘slashing funds’ to be factual. Since then the Government has several times insisted that it is spending more on border security than any previous Government. There’s a mismatch here. If any visitor to this site can resolve this, please do. Of course a lot less is being spent since the Pacific Solution and detention on TPVs were discontinued; is that what Stone means by slashing funds? How could she; she was a member of the parliamentary committee that welcomed Labor's detention policy changes, agreeing with the committee that they would usher in a [quote]"fairer and more humane system for asylum-seekers and others who are detained in immigration custody"[/quote]. On [i]Insiders[/i] this morning David Marr insisted that Stone has been reciting her theme since August, with the media taking little notice, so as soon as the explosion occurred she reflexly regurgitated her well-rehearsed lines with alacrity to a now-receptive media. Also what does she mean when she says the Government has ‘taken its eyes off the ball’? She may be referring to a boat recently stranded on a reef for four days, but detecting every floating object in vast expanses of ocean with the resources available has not been perfected, as John Howard found out to his annoyance when a boat almost reached the shores of northwest Australia. Does anyone know what Stone means? What does she really mean by ‘softer’ policy? Eliminating the Pacific Solution and TPVs? She applauded this initially, and neither she nor the Opposition have suggested these be re-introduced. Which leads to the question: “What is the Opposition’s policy” other than simply opposing the Government’s? That this matter has stirred up the old divisions in Australian society is a pity. Blog sites abound with argument and counter-argument, invective and counter-invective, and this morning’s [i]Insiders[/i] was the most rowdy for a long time with David Marr and Piers Akerman, well-known antagonists on this subject, repeatedly talking over each other. The Government seems determined, despite assertive and at times irritated probing by TV journalists, to make sure that this episode is not ‘Kids overboard all over again’. It is resolute in its intention to release statements only when it has all the facts. The media, hungry for a scoop, are now accusing the Government of a ‘cover-up’, notwithstanding the criticism it heaped on the Howard Government when it realized that it had been prematurely fed incorrect information about kids overboard. Unfortunately, however successful the Government is in avoiding another ‘Kids overboard’, the ugly and at times xenophobic debate about asylum seekers that occurred during the Howard years is set to be once again a divisive influence in Australia’s public life.

Sir Ian Crisp

19/04/2009Ad Astra, I’d like you to make it quite clear that I did not call on you to ask others to temper their ‘personal invective’. I enjoy the cut and thrust of exchanges. I don’t care about others who vilipend me, and I don’t care for two very good reasons. The first is that their views are no more valid than mine and the second reason is that they should find someone who cares about their views because I certainly don’t. How on earth could I be offended by an amateur psychologist and someone else who thinks I am a claquer for right wing scribes. Remember those benchmarks Ad Astra? They’re back to haunt you. Good online journalism should: Be intellectually honest Draw readers in and hold them to the end The moment your article mentioned professional clown Bob Debus you had no chance to hold your readers to the end. Bob Debus, the man in charge of Homeland Security, the man you said was making the running on the issue. Maybe he should attend a WA Premier’s press conference before he has his own press conference. He hardly inspires confidence considering his very crucial and important portfolio. Consider this: Mr Rude has made good on his promise to deliver computers to Yr 9 – 12 school kids so that they can get instant access to the world. All well and good. But we have a Homeland Security minister who doesn’t know what is happening in his own backyard. Maybe Mr Rude should make sure professional clown Debus gets his own laptop.

Bushfire Bill

20/04/2009There is this mayth the media is trying to establish that somehow or other Bob Debus looked "shambolic" (I think this was one of the words used) because he didn't know what had happened on the boat. In fact "shambolic" was used in an article which defended Debus for not knowing what happened on the boat that exploded. Other journalists with an axe to grind against the government were less kind. Sir Ian, Debus [i]didn't know[/i] what had gone on. He was trying to avoid another Children Overboard fiasco. It now transpires that Barnett was mosty likely [i]wrong[/i] in his "report" of what happened. Barnett was not cautious. Debus was. There is the difference. It is not better to be (as Clinton put it) "wrong and strong". It is better to be right, or to say "I don't know" when that is the true situation. This happened thousands of kilometres away from Debus, at sea. Even the Navy boat was distant from the ship when it brewed up. How [i]could/[i] anyone [i]know[/i] (as opposed to guessing) what happened with any certainty? If you expect politicians to be somehow omniscient (and let's throw in telepathic, too) and to have all the facts all the time at their fingertips, then you may as well go the whole hog and abolish the coronial system and, for that matter, the courts. They just get in the way of your precious "right" to know everything, even if it's made up, like Barnett's statement was. the is not [i]Law and Order[/i], or [i]Boston Legal[/i], where the crime and its prosecution are neatly sewn up in two half-hours by a couple of clever detectives working alone with only their hunches to get them through the say, and a pair of prosecuting attorneys who spend more time moralising to juries than doing legal work. This is real life and sometimes we don't know what happened until all the facts are in. It is [i]always[/i] best to wait for the facts and, if necessary, due process before politicians start spouting off at the mouth and interfering in the judicial and investigative process.

Ad astra reply

20/04/2009Sir Ian, My request was for all who contribute to [i]The Political Sword[/i] to avoid personal invective. Anyway, it’s good manners to do so. I am conscious of the benchmarks of good online journalism that I described in another piece. They don’t haunt me; but they keep me on my toes. You highlight: [quote]‘Draw readers in and hold them to the end’[/quote], and go on to say [quote]”The moment your article mentioned professional clown Bob Debus you had no chance to hold your readers to the end.”[/quote] That presupposes that all or most or many readers would also regard Bob Debus as a ‘professional clown’. I don’t, and I trust most readers would not either. The ironic twist is that when you use that derogatory term, directed at the person rather than what he did or said, you fall into the very same trap of risking losing your readers. Bushfire Bill has said all that needs to be said regarding Debus’ performance. I don’t need to add to it.

Ad astra reply

20/04/2009UPDATE 20-04-09 Today Malcolm Turnbull is pressing the theme that the Rudd Government policies on people smuggling have failed. The use of ‘failed’ is not surprising; he believes almost everything else Labor has done has failed. But he’s not advocating bringing back the Pacific Solution. News bulletin headings announce that he's advocating reinstating temporary protection visas. Yet the words out of his mouth say only: ‘The reintroduction of temporary protection visas should be high on the [Government] agenda.” Certainly he believes he’s on a good thing with this theme. I presume he must have some evidence to show that TPVs did inhibit boat arrivals, and that removal of them encouraged them. The only evidence he has so far advanced is that boat arrivals have increased after removal of TPVs from a low to significant arrivals now. He appears to be saying that there is a direct cause-effect relationship between TPVs and boat arrivals. Possessed of the intellect of a Rhodes scholar, he would know that assertion is simplistic. With so many variables operating in the complex issue of asylum seeker movement, it would be difficult to dissect out the effect of TPVs. He freely admits that push factors are operating, but insists the elimination of TPVs is a powerful pull factor in increased boat arrivals. In contrast, Labor insists TPVs were ineffective in discouraging boat arrivals, and that all they did was to inflict a lot of misery on asylum seekers. They remind us that the Coalition backed the legislation that discontinued TPVs. I suppose we need to accept that this debate is not a logical one based on verifiable facts and sound reasoning. It is a political debate and therefore impervious to the strictures of fact and reason. Although each side ought to reveal the factual basis of its argument, that is unlikely even if it were possible. So we see political opportunism at work once more. How well the arguments on both sides will play out will be revealed eventually via the opinion polls and the supplementary questions that often accompany them. There’s Essential Research Report to come this afternoon and Newspoll tomorrow.

Ad astra reply

20/04/2009Essential Research has come in just now at 60/40 compared with 61/39 last week. No questions on asylum seekers, but there is no indication the matter has changed the result significantly. The additional questions show strong support for the NBN. There's also some interesting data on the stimulus package. Take a look:

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21/04/2009Yesterday Essential Research showed the TPP at 60/40 compared with 61/39 the week before. There were no questions on the asylum seeker issue. Today’s Newspoll does address them. The TPP is the same as the last one, 58/42, the PPM is 67/19, Kevin Rudd steady, Malcolm Turnbull up one point. Both men have a six percentage point change in satisfaction/dissatisfaction – for Rudd there is now a 41 point positive gap; for Turnbull a nine point negative gap, compared with a three point negative gap a fortnight ago. Both Newspoll and the Essential Research poll have Turnbull in negative territory, and getting worse. That this has happened while he has been strongly criticising Rudd and the Government about its handling of asylum seekers is testimony to how little traction he has achieved. He’s not just spinning his wheels; he’s sliding backwards. The hill seems too steep. On the question of the Government’s handling of asylum seekers, 37% rate it good, 40% bad, with 17% uncommitted. Asked what party would best handle the issue it was pretty even – Labor 27%, Coalition 26%. 6% said someone else, 8% said neither, and 33% were uncommitted. Asked whether tighter immigration laws would reduce the numbers arriving, 36% said yes, 57% no, and 7% were uncommitted. So what do we make of all this in the context of last week’s boat crisis, during which the poll was taken? Acknowledging that the effects of the incident may take some time to play out, there has been no change to date in polling intentions, and virtually no change in the PPM stakes. Both Rudd and Turnbull have taken a six point hit in their satisfaction/dissatisfaction ratings. Rudd remains high in positive territory; Turnbull is sliding further into negative territory. So while Rudd appears to have taken a hit over this matter, Turnbull has not benefitted and has himself taken a similar hit. On the specific questions, while a few more rate the Government’s handling of the asylum seeker issue as bad rather than good, both parties are rated even, albeit lowly, on which is best able to handle the issue. A solid majority believe tighter immigration laws would not reduce boat arrivals. The poll data show the issue has not benefitted the Government, although the Government’s stand on not tightening immigration laws has been supported by a good majority. Neither party is seen as superior or able to do a great job. But the Government has not lost ground over the issue, nor has the Coalition gained ground. The most worrisome feature for the Coalition is the continued slide in Turnbull’s satisfaction and dissatisfaction ratings. Those polled seem to have low confidence in him, and despite having the chance to diminish the Government over this incident, he seems to have missed or fluffed it, and has slid further behind. If there was a plausible alternative leader, as there was when Brendon Nelson was similarly floundering, there would be great unrest in the party. Now that Turnbull has been forced to back away from his TPV rhetoric because of contrary opinions in his party room, his chance to gain traction has slipped even further. The Government will be pleased that it has not to date suffered in the polls as a result of this issue; the Coalition is entitled to feel frustrated it has gained nothing despite its widely publicised efforts. Perhaps Turnbull and the Coalition need to review asylum seeker policy, speak with one voice, and transmit a message that resonates with the voters. Finally, although it’s after 3 pm, contrary to what usually happens, I haven’t heard one word on ABC radio about the Newspoll result, which in view of its supplementary questions, is germane to the hype we’ve had from the media ever since last Thursday. Curious.
T-w-o take away o-n-e equals?