Talking about refugees

The Liberal Party has reminded me in no uncertain terms why I (at least) voted it out at the last election. John Howard was a competent leader, and his government can take the credit for several good deeds. However, these cannot make up for an (almost) complete lack of conscience regarding refugee policy. I can accept that the Liberal Party, by its nature, is given to supporting a free-market approach to things, including privatisation, individual workplace agreements, etc. In many cases I don’t agree with this philosophy (particularly where it disadvantages the poor, and asks the private sector to maintain infrastructure and services that are not commercially viable), but I do respect it at some academic level as an alternate perspective. Refugee intake, on the other hand, is a humanitarian issue that must surely transcend squabbles over how much control the government should exercise over the economy. You don’t screw around with humanitarian issues, unless you’re John Howard and your (re-)election depends on the irrational fear of outsiders. It’s not just wrong – it’s obscene.

This is a deficiency that the Liberals’ time in opposition has clearly not remedied. Evidentially the lull in hysteria since the “children overboard” and Tampa scandals was not the product of enlightenment, but merely a truce. Ideologically-aligned elements of the media are now helping Turnbull in making bizarre leaps of logic and claims of a government conspiracy. But this time, the facts – the ones that we actually know – seem to be making a greater impression. The government, as far as anyone can legitimately tell, is doing precisely what it should be doing, given the latest grisly incident. Meanwhile, those who do possess – simultaneously – a brain, a conscience and a sense of perspective are speaking out* in defence of some of the most vulnerable people we will ever hear about. The few Liberals who do so deserve a great deal of respect.

* Some articles you might peruse on the subject:

The “S” word

The circus surrounding the word “sorry” in Australia is, I think, part of the fine legacy of John Howard’s very special brand of politics. By adamantly refusing to say it he only helped to entrench it as a symbol of what was missing from his worldview. The argument of course was that “we” weren’t responsible because it was previous generations who took Aboriginal kids away from their parents, creating the Stolen Generation. The argument appeals to conservatives here because (one gets the impression) they’d rather wash their hands of the whole thing, and attribute the current socioeconomic status of many Aborigines to some unspoken racial inferiority.

So Howard took a lot of time and energy explaining precisely why he didn’t have to say sorry. He expressed regret, of course, but you can’t interpret that to mean “sorry” if the person explicitly says it isn’t. He even managed to say that he apologised, while still arguing that this technically wasn’t the same thing as being “sorry”. At that point most people realised that the game was up, but Howard’s stubbornness had created momentum in the reconciliation movement. Now, in the first term of the Rudd government, the “S” word simply has to be said. There’s no way around it. I’m not one for symbols, generally speaking, and there are lots of practical things to be done to help achieve equality, but in Howard’s reign this one symbol has become so important in so many people’s eyes that it could easily drive a wedge into attempts at reconciliation.

Rudd, I assume, knows this. You’ll notice he hasn’t come out and just said “sorry”. No, he had to pick a date for it to be said (February 13, in case you missed it), as though it were an occult incantation that only works when certain astronomical bodies are properly aligned. He wants people to Know that the Word has been Said. It has to be stage managed. And he probably wouldn’t mind if his audience was mentally prepared to give him a standing ovation for it, which might not happen if it just popped out in a press conference.

At least by saying it the word itself should cease to be an issue, and we can perhaps endeavour to do something to improve Aboriginal health and education, for instance.

What matters in this election?

There’s an online poll on the ABC’s 4 Corners website regarding the election. The first question asks “In the last two weeks of the campaign what do you see as the SINGLE most important issue?” You are given a choice between “Economy/Interest rates”, “Climate change”, “Industrial relations”, “Education” and “Health”.

Important for whom? Us or the politicians?

But what’s really missing from this picture? After the intervention in the Northern Territory to impose the Libs’ ideals of capitalism and individualism by force on the Aboriginal people, after the ongoing mandatory detention of people whose only “crime” is trying to escape their wartorn homelands for a better life in Australia, after the “Pacific solution” in which these people suddenly became so unimaginably dangerous that they were not even allowed to set foot on Australian soil, after our continuing support for the catastrophic war in Iraq, after the two-faced bribery of Saddam Hussein to the tune of $300 million, after the detention and even deportation of Australian citizens for being unable to produce a passport, after the introduction of terrorism legislation that bulldozes some of our most basic legal rights, after witnessing the opacity and unaccountability of ASIO and the AFP in their roles under that legislation, after the introduction of “control orders” to bypass the legal system and impose sanctions on people for whom there is no evidence of guilt…

Can we not, just once, put aside the ridiculous charade of deciding who can manage the economy better and focus on the real world?