Gillard’s kingdom of misrule

Policy Failure by any means possible – the government unravels further 

Carl von Clausewitz claimed that war was the continuation of policy by other means. With the sinking of the ill-fated HMAS Malaysian Solution by the High Court, the Gillard government must surely now be regarded as a continuation of the maladministration, spin and miserable failures of the Rudd government by other means. Both Rudd & Gillard have amassed a staggering record of unaccomplishments and inachievements that are the envy of the progressive and enlightened world. 

One can only wonder in astonishment at how Gillard has managed this latest unsuccess. Surely Rudd’s crippling humiliation over the Oceanic Viking, described in US embassy cables as “heavy-handed and awkward” – think the Bay of Pigs debacle – would have served as a timely reminder of how to unmake astute foreign policy decisions. Rather, it seems to have set the precedent. Less than eight months after the Viking, Julia Gillard unagreed with the prime minister of East Timor to use the micro-nation as a desperate political distraction during a diabolically mediocre election campaign. This token sop to the progressive Left was instantly stillborn, although it took almost a year to be officially pronounced dead. But Gillard was saving the best for last. 

Not even in their wildest dreams could refugee advocates imagine her next, stellar unperformance. Not only was the Gillard government planning on reinvigorating one of the pillars of the Pacific Solution – the lonely PNG outpost of Manus Island – but she was simultaneously seeking to ensure that asylum seekers were never sent to the non-UNHCR signatory nation of Nauru, by sending them to, well, another non-UNHCR signatory nation. Except that Nauru signed the UN Refugee Convention on June 16. What a masterstroke! In one fell swoop, Gillard’s plan – variously described on government websites as bold, daring and innovative – was assured the full fury of the legal profession and voters of both a left and right hue. 

Despite the unanticipated problems anticipated by everyone else except Gillard and Chris Bowen, the multimillion dollar Malaysian thought bubble got off to a promising start. Immigration minister Bowen spent several weeks flatly contradicting everything he had ever said about sending children to non-UNHCR signatory countries, and made the same sort of rash, tough, ineffectual promises to far-distant people smugglers that he had made earlier in the year to rioters on Christmas Island and at Villawood. It would be a curious thing indeed to compare the punitive outcomes of these rioters with those of the recent British experience. But I digress. 

Bowen’s wide, Cheshire cat-like grin when signing the Malaysian deal on July 25 belies the fact that the deal was announced on May 7; that Gillard and Bowen announced that the next 800 arrivals would be sent to Malaysia; that 567 asylum seekers arrived between May 7 and July 25; and that none of those 567 asylum seekers were subsequently sent to Malaysia, and now never will be. Mere details. 

The Gillard governments’ failures around the asylum seeker space are a continuation of Rudd’s equally disastrous initiatives – initiatives which were based on Julia Gillard’s policy paper of 2002, written when she was the shadow minister for population and immigration. Curiously, policies such as the following never came to fruition:

“Labor will seek to protect Australia from future boat arrivals by having the world adopt one processing system for refugee claims.” Bob Brown couldn’t have said it better: one world government making decisions on behalf of the planet’s entire population. I wonder how that policy bubble turned out, Julia? 

The calendar year after Howard introduced the Pacific Solution suite of deterrents – 2002 – one asylum seeker arrived. One asylum seeker, on one boat. Nothing symbolises more the (still) accumulating failures of Labor Mark I and Mark II since 2007 than the continuing surge of arrivals by boat. After the Oceanic Viking – the boats increased. After the freeze on the processing of claims by Afghans and Sri Lankans – the boats increased. After the announcement of the East Timor thought bubble – more boats. I could go on, but you probably get the picture by now. 

The border protection and asylum seeker debacles – loosely described as policies by the more generous and sympathetic – have been a study in maladministration, and represent the most comprehensive policy failures in Australia’s short history. Given the lethargic and totally incomprehensible nature of this government, this is hardly surprising. 

What is surprising is just how comprehensive these failures are. They represent the wreckage of several federal departments, strewn across the ocean like so much debris. Department of Immigration – overpaid social workers. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – humiliated. Department of Defence – fed up. Department of Customs and Border Protection – a glorified taxi service. 

And so we are left with Nauru. Like the last man standing, it is inevitable that Nauru will be reopened. Less than four years after Labor came to power, closed Nauru and dismantled one of the most successful programs in recent history, it has come to this. And do you know what the real beauty of this inevitable humiliation is? It will not achieve a thing.

Without TPVs – Temporary Protection Visas – Australia will continue to be a beacon to the hungry, persecuted masses, who will continue to travel through four or more countries of safe haven to reach the promised land; the land of astronomical refugee acceptance rates and eternal social security. 

Not even the United States can offer this double whammy. 

You see, without the abolition of mass secondary sponsorships, of family union and ‘unaccompanied minors’ exporting whole communities lock, stock and smoking gun barrel, and with the prospect of no social security payments for five years – payments used to provide people smugglers with ever more clients – Australia will continue to act as a magnet for those from countries thousands of miles away. 

Meanwhile, strange rumblings are afoot. Apparently Gillard and Labor want to totally reshape Australia’s economic and social landscape in the name of a colourless, odourless gas, spending hundreds of billions in the process. Well, I guess we could probably trust them with something so minor. After all, look how much has been spent on border protection in the last three years ……….

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