Another Howard bubble finally bursts

Monday, 26 October 2009 

I think these are deeply divisive, disgusting remarks and they do not belong in any mainstream political party.

K Rudd

Unless, of course, you happen to be leading it. Poor old Wilson was doing no more than repeating the link Howard made between asylum seekers and terrorism before the 2001 election. It was that link that clinched the asylum seeker debate and turned the debate from what would work, to an imperative that anything must be done. Indeed, Ruddock reminded us last week that security checks had been put in for that purpose (come to think of it, if the suggestion that asylum seekers could be terrorists is so disgusting, why are they still being checked? Never mind, move on.) Tuckey has proven that what was politically possible straight after 9/11 and the launch of Bush’s global War on Terror is no longer.

It’s perhaps understandable that Tuckey isn’t sure what year it is, but why isn’t the media as well? A lousy episode of Insiders yesterday typified the way the press can on one hand recognise that what was acceptable for a PM a few years ago is no longer acceptable now – and then promptly forget it while they wait for the issue to explode like it did in 2001.

One of the strangest features of political commentary in Australia is the way international factors are simply air-brushed out of history. So we are left with an impression that Howard resonated deeply with the Australian electorate instead of someone who led a government that floundered against an exhausted opposition even in its first term, who by 2001 was posting record polling lows for a coalition government, and whose survival only came (and went) with the passing of international developments. To the media the War on Terror is simply treated as a side issue. Just as 2004 became in the media’s collective memory about nothing more than Latham’s hand-shake and interest rates, so the refugee debate in 2001 was purely about Howard tapping into some deep psychosis in the Australian electorate.

It is easy to see the appeal for the right that Howard’s success was purely a domestic affair. They can delude themselves that they had an agenda that resonated with Australian electorate, while the left can be consoled when they didn’t. However, it’s not very flattering for the rest of us. It is especially not flattering for the ‘blue collar’ voters that the Insiders panel think are so susceptible to this, the mythical ‘Howard battlers’. Where on earth were these Liberal-voting working class electorates?

Over the last week, the comforting view of the power of the asylum seeker issue has been upset. Rudd’s Indonesian solution is a no better deal for asylum seekers and in reality is just a continuation of the arrangements Howard was making to compensate for the failure of the Pacific solution. Yet in presentation, Rudd has overturned the principle of “we will decide” that was supposed to be so hard to argue against because it was so sensible and such a vote winner, when in practice pretending you can decide who approaches your border is just plain silly.

While the previous week was a bad faux Howard moment, last week was the classic Rudd one-two. One: internationalise the problem and turn it into a regional responsibility rather than just the Australian government’s. Two: come home and accuse everyone of playing political games. Insiders seemed to regard Rudd’s attack on Tuckey as a moment of madness but in reality he was calling the bluff that Turnbull and the Liberals had been playing, namely that Howard had a real policy that they could return to rather than a political game whose time had passed. In doing so, he not only stripped away one of the last charades the Liberals had been playing, but laid to rest the excuses comforting his own side for a decade of failure, and reconfirmed why he is ascendant not only against the opposition but against his own party as well. No wonder he was looking positively serene by the end of the week.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 26 October 2009.

Filed under Tactics

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5 responses to “Another Howard bubble finally bursts”

  1. Chris Chappell on 26th October 2009 7:03 am

    An excellent analysis (and thank god you’re right!!)

  2. Persse on 26th October 2009 7:36 am

    Yes, it is possible that Tamil Tigers flee Sri Lanka – why would they not.

    People must have their fate determined on a case by case basis.

    We give enormous sums of money to our intelligence services(resisting the urge to put intelligence in quotes) – it is their job to sort out sheep from the goats, if that is necessary.

  3. kymbos on 26th October 2009 3:36 pm

    What enrages me about the media in general and Sunday’s Insiders program in particular is the media’s complete abrogation of their own responsibility to reserach and inform.

    When the Tampa thing happened, the media completely ignored the facts to ‘report’ on the political savvy that was the dog-whistle bastardisation of our political system, failing to report the realities of asylum seeking.

    Where was the critical analysis of the proportion of boat people who are found to be genuine refugees? Where was the critical analysis of the proportion of asylum-seekers who arrive by boat as opposed to by plane? The exploration of push factors v pull factors?

    These facts, which show the previous Government’s dog-whistle racism for what it was, were never explored in the mainstream media when the Tampa issue was alive. The media completely failed to inform the broader public of the actual issues of the day.

    And now, they calmly sit there on the Insiders couch ‘revealing’ these facts now that they’re confident of a welcome audience and a supportive Government.

    I remember 2001. I remember the disgrace of the previous Government, the complicity of the Labor opposition, and the abject failure that called itself the ‘media’ at the time.

    The statistics they calmly trot out now are accurate, but they were accurate 8 years ago.

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  5. The Piping Shrike on 26th October 2009 5:02 pm

    Absolutely agree with you Kymbos. But they can’t even get the retrospective right. The unflattering re-writing of 2001 is everywhere.

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