Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s numbers are bad. No, I don’t mean hers or Labor’s flat-lining primary vote, or her hopelessly divided party room.
In a 2010 Lowy Institute speech to announce yet another asylum seeker policy, Gillard approvingly quoted Julian Burnside to boast that under Labor’s asylum policies – for which she had also bragged to Laurie Oakes of being the “substantive author”– it would take 20 years to fill the MCG with boat people.
Since June, 2010, when Gillard dutifully put the knife into Kevin Rudd, the rate of arrivals has accelerated. More than 450 people smuggler boats have reached Australian soil, ferrying more than 28,000 asylum seekers.
With a few days yet remaining in March, the month has seen 21 illegal boats – about one a day – deliver more than 1,200 arrivals to the Gillard Government’s dysfunctional refugee program. At that rate, the MCG would be filled to capacity in just over three years.
It’s a minor miracle that so many arrive at all, the latest lethal capsizing off Christmas Island being a grim testament to the perils facing all those who put themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous human traffickers and the sea.
In an effort to win backing for Gillard’s "Malaysia Solution", yet another failed initiative, then-immigration minister Chris Bowen purportedly told Labor’s caucus that four per cent of migrants who board people smuggler boats drown at sea.
Based on Bowen’s own estimate and other information – from families of the missing and departure intelligence – the number who have perished since Gillard took power is somewhere in the vicinity of 1,200 souls – more than one for every day that Gillard has been in the Lodge.
I say "somewhere" because nobody really knows for sure. The sea does not easily give up the dead.
But two years and hundreds of boats ago, when 50 men, women and children were flung into a raging sea and dashed on the jagged limestone killing ground of Christmas Island — a destination they were encouraged to reach by Gillard’s dismantling of border-protection policies — she admitted to neither seeking nor receiving any briefing on how many boats may have simply disappeared.
When asked whether or not she had received such a briefing, Gillard replied tersely, “No, I haven’t” before scampering like a cat on a hot stove to the next question. In other words, she simply did not want to know the horrible truth. The fate of the unaccounted is best left in the Julia Triangle.
The Julia Triangle is not a Clintonesque political stratagem to at once outmanoeuvre her own Labor Left faction and the Greens, her far Left ersatz coalition partners, although she may hope it will. In fact, the Julia Triangle is a vast tract of ocean – bigger even than the mysterious seas between Bermuda and the US mainland – where boats and people simply vanish without a trace.
The area where these ramshackle vessels disappear with their human cargoes, the Australian Search and Rescue Region, Gillard has informed us, is “a very big area” – over one-tenth of the earth’s surface, actually.
The Julia Triangle is also a mysterious and impenetrable zone where briefings about, and concerns for, the welfare of people aboard boats gone missing appear to have vanished as well – until tragedy strikes in plain view, as it has once again.
It is passing strange that the leader of a government, whose party in opposition left no stone unturned to keep alive every crazy conspiracy theory about the John Howard and the ADF’s alleged complicity in the sinking of people smuggler boat SIEV X in Indonesian waters, would not have been briefed, and not wish to be briefed, about other possible sinkings.
This from a leader who gave as one reason for knifing a first-term Prime Minister the need for fresh leadership to stop the lethal flotilla of people-smuggling boats. Now, despite her own key part in fostering and furthering this ongoing tragedy, she doesn’t want to know how many lives her handiwork has claimed.
The Howard Government had almost totally ended this deadly trade. By her own admission, Gillard was the principal author of the policy that restarted it. Even by her own standards of deceit and hypocrisy, the Prime Minister’s shameless refusal to acknowledge her part in this escalating tragedy is beyond belief.
Alan R. M. Jones was an adviser in the Government of John Howard