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