“Labor committed to abolishing the Pacific Solution and this was one the first things the Rudd Labor Government did on taking office. It was also one of my greatest pleasures in politics. Neither humane nor fair, the Pacific Solution was also ineffective and wasteful.”
Chris Evans, Parramatta Town Hall, 17 November 2008.
Labor came out with all guns blazing last week, in a mutual cacophony of despair and rage, anxious to place ownership of the failed Malaysia solution at Tony Abbott’s feet.
The arrival of two more boats galvanised the lethargic and underwhelming Labor team, reinvigorating their already febrile imaginations. According to the Home Affairs minister, Brendan O’Connor, Tony Abbott is now the “best friend” of people smugglers; Julia Gillard claims that Tony Abbott is “responsible” for all future boat arrivals.
Apparently, Abbott had singlehandedly masterminded the plot to revoke the government’s ability to process asylum seekers offshore. Implicit in this feigned animosity and condemnation is the erroneous impression that the government processes asylum seekers offshore already.
Let’s be clear about this. Labor does not and has never processed asylum seekers offshore. In fact, they secured government in 2007 on the premise that they would end offshore processing. That’s right; four short years ago, Labor went to an election promising to end all offshore processing, and that platform played a large part in securing votes, and ultimately, government. And yet now they claim that Abbott is singlehandedly preventing them from doing that which they never even attempted. In doing so, he is denying the government’s attempt to do what it swore it would never do, and what it has previously described as an expensive, inhumane and cynical failure.
That Gillard, O’Connor, and Albanese should employ this embarrassing tactic is predictable. If Labor can link even a fraction of their legion of failures to Abbott, taking him down with them, they will have scored a minor victory.
Julia Gillard was just as quick to sheet home blame on Chief Justice Robert French following the High Court’s predictable decision to reject Labor’s plan to swap 800 asylum seekers on Christmas Island with 4000 refugees from Malaysia. Curiously, about the only person she hasn’t publicly blamed for her self-inflicted woes is the lawyer who instituted the proceedings in the High Court, David Manne. One would have thought that this miscreant is at the root of the government’s current predicament; that is, unless you consider the Commonwealth Solicitor General, upon whose advice the solution was based.
What does not appear to have figured in the reckoning to date is the performance of the prime minister in two areas that she should absolutely and definitively own. What should be of serious concern for Labor is not that Gillard’s performance since replacing Kevin Rudd has been disastrous – she is just continuing where Kevin left off – but that border protection and migration law should be the prime minister’s forte.
Julia Gillard was the shadow minister for Population and Immigration from 2001 to 2003. She is the author of Labor’s policy on asylum seekers and refugees, “Protecting Australia and Protecting the Australian Way”, released December 2002. She was present in parliament during the Tampa and Children Overboard incidents in 2001, and the subsequent creation of the Pacific Solution.
When Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as the 27th prime minister of Australia, one of the first issues she promised to address was that of asylum seekers. Given that she was responsible for Labor’s policies in the first place, this should have been a case of merely cleaning up her own mess.
So how has it come to pass that a former shadow minister for immigration, who is also a lawyer, did not see the inherent legal weaknesses in the Malaysia solution? Regardless of David Manne’s challenge, there almost certainly would have been some form of legal action if any recently returned asylum seeker was hurt or killed in Malaysia. Remember Cornelia Rau, Dr Haneef and Vivian Alvarez Solon? Just one controversial incident may have killed the Malaysia solution anyway. This may still be the case. And now we have advice from John Dowd QC, the head of the International Commission of Jurists in Australia, that the 800 asylum seekers allocated under the Malaysia solution will be exhausted within six to 12 months. This is in addition to the Department of Immigration’s secretary confirming that the figure of 800 “was just conjecture”.
Which leaves us with an uncomfortable concept. Perhaps Julia Gillard really isn’t up to the job.
We can all laugh at her mispronunciation of words like hyperbole, negotiate and tenet (although again these basic mistakes are concerning from an ex-lawyer), but consider for a moment the two prime ministers prior to Kevin Rudd; John Howard and Paul Keating. Both spent time as either treasurer or opposition leader. John Howard spent considerable time as both. Keating and Howard were MPs for 22 years before becoming PM. Julia Gillard has never spent time as either the leader of the opposition or as Treasurer, and was an MP for just 12 years before becoming prime minister. With the departure of Howard, a parliamentarian with 33 years experience replaced by an ABC journalist with exactly zero years experience, Kevin Rudd was elected with 12 years as an MP (like Gillard), 11 months as opposition leader and no experience as Treasurer. This is the new “paradigm” we find ourselves trapped in. Politicians whose rapid ascent is style over zero substance.
Hence the reason why Tony Abbott appears decisive, articulate and in control compared to Julia Gillard. Hence the reason why the government has put all future responsibility for border security policy on the leader of the Opposition. Hence the reason why Australian politics, and the Australian economy, is paralysed with inertia and indecision.