Insecurities to the fore!

Friday, 9 July 2010 

In recent days I have discussed with President Ramos Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing irregular entrants to the region

J Gillard Lowy Institute 6 July 2010

I agree with the Prime Minister that people who express concerns about asylum seekers are not rednecks

Helpful ALP cheat-sheet sent to Labor MPs

OK. Let’s see if we have this right. Australia, one of the richest and largest countries in the world, is asking East Timor, one of the poorest and smallest countries in the world, to give residence to its asylum seekers. The 7.30 Report reports that understandably East Timorese are perplexed as to why Australia is making such a bizarre request to a war-ravaged country which is only just starting to gets its own people re-housed after the Indonesian militia had destroyed about 80% of its buildings. Goodness sakes! Don’t they know it’s because the Prime Minister of said rich country is afraid that voters in her party’s core seats in western Sydney and Melbourne might not vote for her if we took them in?

Except it seems we didn’t ask them. Gillard had apparently talked about it with the President of East Timor but not the actual government. So we would have had someone to cut the ribbon on the new detention centre, but not yet someone to allow us to build it. Now, we are not sure whether we were going to ask them anyway. Maybe raising a detention centre with the President was just Gillard’s way of making conversation. For East Timor’s part, the Deputy PM is rejecting it but the PM might think about it.

The international obliviousness of Australia’s conduct in the East Timor fiasco is a prime example of how the ALP’s self absorption that lay behind the change in leadership is now translating to the world stage. Only a few days ago, the media was all over Gillard’s brilliant ploy to make a big deal of the asylum issue. It was supposed to have cleverly pulled the rug from Abbott by taking over one of his core planks in his agenda.

However, such an assessment is based on the very dodgy premise that Abbott knew where it was happening in the first place. This might even be news for some of the Liberals who backed Abbott for the leadership last December. The reason why the party dumped Turnbull and turned to their most unpopular alternative they could find, was not to win an election. The Liberals were worried Turnbull’s tactics were damaging the party’s ‘brand’ and were using what was a highly unpopular global warming sceptic position as a rallying cry. In reality, behind the ideas was a power struggle of the party’s old leadership re-taking control, but as Australia’s last political party it took the form of a political issue and the party split over Turnbull v Abbott roughly on political lines.

When a similar thing happened in the ALP, however, there was no such political divide. Both left and right powerbrokers were in agreement and there wasn’t even any need for a vote, let alone a political debate. Now that Gillard is in, however, dumping a leader because the faction power brokers didn’t like him or the polls weren’t that wonderful doesn’t look that good, so a political justification and a new direction must be found. Where to look?

At the beginning of this year, as Rudd began losing control of the party and the government floundered, there were some in the media who took this as a sign that maybe Abbott’s agenda was electorally viable after all. But as Abbott’s polling went nowhere, even the toughest cultural warriors were having their doubts and the media’s love affair with Abbott faded along with his polling. The media’s confusion stemmed from its acceptance of the narrative of the Howard years that somehow Howard succeeded in tapping into the mindset of the real Australia, especially when it came to issues such as race. This was supposed to not only make Howard’s refusal to apologise to the Stolen Generation a smart move, but also his tough line on asylum seekers.

The demographic this was supposed to work with were called the ‘Howard Battlers’. Howard talking about making inroads into natural Labor supporters was really a way of playing with the head of a party obsessed with losing its social base after having lost its agenda. There may have been some truth in the increasing irrelevance of the ALP with many working people, but the idea that they were forging new ties with the Liberals was a delusion. The 2001 election was when this myth really took off, but any objective reading of the polls of that time would have exposed the reality that it was 9/11, not Tampa that changed the landscape.

Nevertheless the idea that the Coalition was making inroads with its cultural war suits both sides. For the Coalition, it allows them to pretend they are creating a new social base, for Labor it gives an excuse of why they are losing theirs. The idea that Labor is losing because of racist bogans, is not only comforting because it makes themselves feel relatively enlightened by contrast, but avoids the more awkward questions raised by the exhaustion of its agenda.

We had a re-run of the dynamics of this only last month. So the Penrith by-election disaster was really about Rudd’s softness on asylum seekers rather than, say, about a decomposing state Labor government typified by the corrupt Labor member who held the seat. Again concern about asylum seeker being the reason for losing the seat is far more comforting for the some of the NSW Right than what is happening in NSW really says about their future.

Such insecurities and delusions are fine in the corridors of Sussex St, but now, with the way Gillard has taken the leadership, they have not only come to the national stage but taken an absurd international form over the East Timor debacle. The cack handed dealing with this may be explained by Gillard’s inexperience in foreign affairs, but more likely is driven by internal needs to present a new change in direction, which in turn is based more on the insecurities of the power brokers that put her in than the reality of the world they operate in. The East Timor political class may have its problems, but compared to ours they are now looking cool enough to leave it swinging in the breeze.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 9 July 2010.

Filed under Media analysis, State of the parties

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16 responses to “Insecurities to the fore!”

  1. Larry Buttrose on 9th July 2010 8:44 am

    Terrific incisive analysis Shrike. Not only is the “solution” policy objectionable, but the entire East Timor idea has been very amateurishly mishandled. Kevin Rudd, of course, would have consulted properly with a foreign government before floating a plan to send thousands of refugees to their shores. But then, he would never have proposed such a thing anyway.

  2. The Piping Shrike on 9th July 2010 9:05 am

    Rudd at least got screwed around by a major regional power, Indonesia, over the Oceanic Viking. But to get screwed around by what is supposed to be an obedient client state (even if now funded by the Chinese), well, really!

  3. MG on 9th July 2010 11:58 am

    Just wondering if the kingmakers in the Labor party are having second thoughts now. How is that with the Cabinet process fully restored under Julia Gillard, she was not given the correct advice by the Foreign Minister?

  4. Paul of Berwick on 9th July 2010 12:24 pm

    Based on a recent interview with Stephen Smith, the correct protocol in dealing with Timor-Leste in this matter was to approach the President first.

    So, a minor correction.

    Plus, all this blather whilst disregarding the words “possibility of establishing…”


  5. john on 9th July 2010 1:06 pm

    But who really believes Stephen Smith was running our foreign relations when Kev was the Prime Minister? I would be willing to bet that he only had to make sure the ambassadors got their pay.

  6. The Piping Shrike on 9th July 2010 5:04 pm

    Maybe protocol was followed, although having government leaders equivocal on an Australian initiative does not look like a diplomatic success to me.

    To be honest, though, I don’t really care about diplomatic niceties. The main point I was making was how pathetic Australia looks trying to dump a problem on one of the poorest countries in the world because its government is so insecure of its support.

  7. Avalon Dave on 10th July 2010 9:12 am

    I am just so disgusted that this debate is happening at all.

    Why the hell is ANYONE in this country worried about a minority of Asylum Seekers arriving by boat.

    I am a proud Australian, but at the moment I feel deeply deeply ashamed.

  8. Jovial Monk on 10th July 2010 12:15 pm

    The policy will end the people taking to the sea in leaky old boats and the Timorese will gain a valuable source of revenue, jobs, infrastructure built etc.

    Fucks sake, Rudd is gone as PM.

  9. The Piping Shrike on 10th July 2010 6:32 pm

    Setting up camps outside Australia goes back to Fraser, it doesn’t stop the boats. It didn’t in Fraser’s day or Howard’s, nor will it in Gillard’s. This is a political solution, not a practical one, just like Howard’s Pacific solution was. There is no practical one for a country with a 16,000 km coastline to stop all boats approaching it. It’s just absurd.

    But this is not about Gillard v Rudd. I have been equally critical about Rudd when he shows the same insecurities.

    From emails I have been getting I think there is some misinterpretation of my posts after Rudd’s dumping. I found Rudd interesting for one reason only; his attack on the old political system. Given he was leading it, that was a pretty contradictory position and now it’s worked its way through. I actually found Gillard interesting for the same reason, but the way she has taken power has compromised that position.

    The old political system is hollowing out. Both parties are losing/have lost their social base. They have no clue what people are thinking outside opinion polls and focus groups. They might think asylum seekers are a major issue in the electorate, but whether it is a vote changer they can only point to one election a decade ago, and that is by distorting what that election was about. In my view, asylum seekers is more a touchstone issue for the Labor party as to how they understand that loss of base, not a real vote changing concern because 1) a few hundred people coming in does not change people’s lives and 2) they know there is nothing really either party can do about it.

    As for the ‘benefits’ of this program for East Timor, I’m sure they will be compensated handsomely. Either that or they can just continue taking their money from the Chinese who simply want their energy resources and aren’t playing out this stupid political game.

  10. Michael on 10th July 2010 11:11 pm

    The whole Asylum Seekers farce highlights how bankrupt politics in Australia is. Can anyone with a brain really think this is Australia’s most pressing issue? I guess it’s not going on only in Australia, head scarfs are what get the Europeans all in a lather. Imagine if climate change could get a tenth of the media attention this issue gets. The interesting question is when is the lack of a social base for the two major parties going to allow a third party to share power?

  11. Thomas Paine on 12th July 2010 12:46 am

    [The policy will end the people taking to the sea in leaky old boats and the Timorese will gain a valuable source of revenue, jobs, infrastructure built etc.]

    Silly comment really. Nothing will stop the boats and it displays some ignorance to think changing things this end will stop things the other end. People leave on their boats because they have little choice. Until people realise this we will still get ignorant Pacific type solutions that JGillard incompetently handed up.

    And ET should just roll over on its back because we say so, and we will pay them for the privileged. I think this is the same logic the US used for many decades on smaller countries.

    Get over it – JGillard made a power grab for herself with the net result now being polls on different and probably worse than Rudd would have got.

    Now if JGillard dishes up her CC policy the same amateurish way she did the AS issue then Labor will have some other headaches, especially if the Libs under a different leader come up with the agreed to ETS. That would really put the cat among the pigeons.

  12. Paul of Berwick on 12th July 2010 4:56 pm

    IMHO – at last a journalist who can glimpse what is happening.

    Quoting Phil Coorey…

    “The election contest is starting to resemble Seinfeld, the show about nothing. It is hard to recall a time this close to an election when both major parties had no defined agenda, or anything else that could be remotely described as a vision”


  13. The Piping Shrike on 12th July 2010 6:13 pm

    Some of it was interesting (including your quote) but like often with Coorey’s articles, it goes off track. Think he was wrong about Howard arriving in 1996 with an agenda. He made it up as he went along until 9/11. This problem is a long time coming.

  14. The Piping Shrike on 12th July 2010 8:38 pm

    Actually reading it again, I had forgotten there are some very good bits in it. His description of the dynamics in the government are very good, and eerily familiar.

  15. john Willoughby on 12th July 2010 10:33 pm

    The libs (Peter Slippery) no doubt at the rodents bidding
    were saying that it was a small step from a refugee boat to
    the cockpit of a 747 in an attempt (apparently successful) to link the Tampa to 911. The serial imbiber is still in the parliament.
    Howards Battlers seem to be first generation migrants and their families.

  16. An election to fill the gap :The Piping Shrike on 13th July 2010 5:02 pm

    […] Insecurities to the fore! […]

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