A losing game for Labor – an update

Thursday, 22 October 2009 

Unless Stephen Smith has gone rogue, it appears the government has, quite sensibly, shifted away from Rudd’s Howardesque moment last week. It now seems it is less we that will decide who enters the country and the manner in which they will do so, but we and Indonesia and Malaysia and anyone else whose waters they drift through on the way.

This is still in line with a government policy to have a ‘tough line on asylum seekers’, as Rudd let go in a Freudian slip yesterday, if not tougher, given reports of detention conditions in Indonesian camps. However, while Rudd’s Indonesian solution looks like Howard’s Pacific one in practice, in political terms it indicates a shift. Howard’s Pacific solution always had a unilateralist veneer. After initially being coy about it, Rudd’s use of Indonesia backs away from Howard’s lone tough guy stance.

Most of the media think Rudd’s accommodation comes from a need to placate the left in his own party. Yeah, right. One lone MP does not a faction make. Gillard has already played her role, once again and could only have done so if her goal of seeing the eclipse of factions has already come to pass. Rudd v the Labor left? Easy call. As for the pressure from dissenting unions, their current influence is well summed up by the fact that the Labor leadership is even thinking about doing without their financial support to the party.

The real pressure for Rudd to tone down the rhetoric came from reality. Namely, that the conditions that allowed Howard to pretend it was possible for any country to single-handedly stop asylum seekers reaching its borders no longer exist. It was why Rudd would have been on as much a losing strategy in aping Howard on this ‘symbol’ as on all the others.

It also means that there are no electoral benefits in the Coalition continuing to dredge up the ghosts of Howard on this. Dennis Shanahan didn’t want to suggest it, but the Coalition’s tougher line might have, if anything, sent their support backwards. The right media may think they can still make hay of it and The Australian had a go at trying to claim reluctance in Indonesia after talking to someone in the Indonesian Navy, an immigration official and the guy who runs the ice cream stall in Jakarta harbour. The Liberals were also trying to claim how awful it was that Australia was getting help from its Indonesian neighbours instead of going it alone (like it never did), but they are likely to be no more successful than they have been up to now. The government looks as though it has belatedly defused the issue, but once again, the way out increases its reliance on favourable international factors.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 22 October 2009.

Filed under International relations

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Comments

4 responses to “A losing game for Labor – an update”

  1. From lone ranger Howard to gang leader Rudd | Opinions.com.au on 22nd October 2009 2:56 pm

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  2. JimmyD on 22nd October 2009 7:10 pm

    Going on what you said about the issue surrounding asylum seekers possibly negatively affecting the Coalition’s electoral fortunes – what do you mean by this? Do you mean the small l Liberal voters in seats like those in North Sydney and Wentworth? And if so, what exactly are these socially liberal but fiscally conservative voters going to do? Vote Labor? Seems a dubious proposition.

  3. The Piping Shrike on 22nd October 2009 7:53 pm

    I’m only saying it could be a suggestion given that the Liberals have banged on about it and then went backwards a little in the latest Newspoll. Certainly I don’t think a hard line is automatically a winner as the media seemed to be suggesting.

    Having said that, now Rudd has backed off from the hardline strategy and come to some sort of arrangement with Indonesia, the coalition look more exposed. As seen with the reaction to Tuckey’s comments, to be seen playing politics when you have no real solution will go down badly.

  4. john on 23rd October 2009 10:24 am

    Dennis Shanahan can always be relied on to betray his ingrained Howard bias.
    In Friday’s Australian, he seems to be suggesting the problem for Turnbull is in not adopting completely the Howard strategy when he writes: “and it (Labor) aims for the upper hand on security and border protection, a position ceded by Turnbull’s hesitancy to identify with most of his back bench and Coalition supporters.”
    I doubt many people (always excepting gullible media reporters and commentators) will accept the Coalition claim that the interception of an asylum boat at 6.30 a.m. on Thursday and on Wednesday afternoon shows the failure of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s initial arrangement with Indonesia.
    Rudd was in Indonesia on Tuesday (20 October) and had talks with the President Yudhoyono that night when there was an agreement for Indonesia to take the 78 boat people transferred to an Australian Customs ship after an earlier rescue in international waters.
    Quite simply the two boats intercepted on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning (carrying an estimated 32 and 24 asylum seekers respectively) must have left Indonesia before Rudd and Yudhoyono met on Tuesday night.
    And, if the Howard hardliners measure these things by results, my count is that since Rudd’s interventions with the Indonesian President there have been something like 330 boat people who did not make it to Australia, compared to 56 who have.
    I think Rudd was wrong in his initial comments about asylum seekers. However, his back-pedalling since probably has more to do with a realisation that trying to be like Howard on this issue is not the way to go.

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