Blowing up in his face

Friday, 17 April 2009 

Those crazy refugees, what are they like?!! So desperate are they to get to Australia to provide a better life for their kids that, er, they can’t stop throwing them overboard or blowing them up.

When news arrives of human behaviour that doesn’t make any sense, it’s best to wait for the evidence. A lot of people didn’t when there were reports of children being thrown overboard seven years ago, hardly anyone did when indigenous parents were accused of fiddling with their kids en masse two years ago, but some in the coalition were starting to look a little lonely jumping too early to conclusions yesterday.

The media have been hyping up the explosion on board the refugee boat as a ‘risky issue’ for the Government and a ‘political hot spot’ in the electorate.

It’s probably not. Certainly the media must then be wondering why the WA Premier was issuing ‘clarifications’ by the afternoon about his earlier claims that the refugees blew themselves up and why the opposition spokesman, in a wonderfully wriggling performance on Lateline last night, was not only distancing herself from Barnett, but even backing off from her earlier attempt to try to link the episode to the government’s immigration policy.

The media has missed that it is not the illegal refugees that is the issue as much as the international context in which it is happening. The Tampa became a hot issue in 2001 for a similar reason that that loveable Socialist Gerry Hand felt compelled to introduce mandatory detention camps a few years earlier under Keating: illegal refugees became the way the post-Cold War drift in international relations impacted on the Australian body politic.

Greg Sheridan in The Australian got closest to the point, in his own skewed way, that the issue inevitably becomes about Australia’s relations with Indonesia, and on what basis it can be relied on to patrol Australia’s borders. Without a framework for that relationship, as happened with the end of the Cold War, there seemed to be nothing to stop a flood of refugees. Ironically, when that issue hit its height in 2001 it coincided with the start of that broader question being resolved, with the arrival of a new framework based on the War on Terror.

Given that the War on Terror has faded could the old worries come back? At a guess, no. Barnett was probably trying to grasp one issue that could make him the Liberal he is struggling to be, but even Turnbull realises the political danger of seeming like a humanitarian louse when there is no context to back it up. Besides, the ‘drift’ in international affairs this time has the potential to be much more serious, less about the loss of US leadership than the economic crisis turning it into US decline. The recent fretting about China in the political class suggests the political grappling of this issue is likely to be of a different order altogether.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 17 April 2009.

Filed under International relations

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3 responses to “Blowing up in his face”

  1. James on 17th April 2009 10:59 am

    Again, the Coalition’s handling of this issue evidences a party looking backwards to find a future. Its motivation is surely based on wanting a bounce in the polls and political traction. It will be interesting to see how its handling of the issue impacts on the internal wars the Liberals are having. I suspect it will make them even more fragmented rather than return them to ‘the glory’ of the Howard years.

  2. DM on 17th April 2009 4:26 pm

    It’s amazing how the times have changed!Here we have another tampa-like incident in the high seas, involving ‘misbehaving’ refugees and people smugglers, yet no Liberal was willing to do a I-don’t-want-people-like-that-in-Australia. The Howard era is receding fast, I just wonder whether Labor gets it.

  3. Ric on 17th April 2009 9:41 pm

    I watched that film Good Night and Good Luck in full for the first time this Easter. The takes of Senator McCarthy are real.

    What you can see in his face and language even though over 50 years ago – its the same stuff we are getting from Piers, Bolt, and co in the USA like Coulter etc.

    The same stuff – overuse of the words traitor and patriot, the need for the ‘other’ and to reinforce social distance etc. I can’t help but wonder that the collapse of the Berlin Wall left a whole generation with nothing left to hate, but to find a new target for their hate. You can’t imagine the whole hatred apparatus just folded away because the Sovs had packed up and gone home.

    Not trying to sound conspiracy either, just that human nature suggests the belligerents would not have gone quietly.

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