Give credit where credit is due: the Australian Labor Party is not without its traditionalist element. For instance, in the lead up to the ALP 47th National Conference (July 24-26), Senator Joe Bullock has taken a sensible, non-ideological position on Israel: Australia’s immediate recognition of an Arab Palestinian state cannot be conducive to peace since it advances the cause not of Arab Palestinians but of Hamas, a Salafi jihadist (okay, terrorist) organisation that is currently in league with al-Qaeda-in-the-Sinai.
Amongst the Greens, on the other hand, apparatchik after apparatchik appears to be a foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Zionist. That said, I am going to vote Liberal at the next federal election, but preference the party of Senator Lee Rhiannon, Brezhnev apologist, over the party of Bill Shorten, opportunist extraordinaire.
At the conclusion of the article “How Boat People Brought Down Rudd and Gillard” (Quadrant, July-August 2014), I argued that any nascent Labor PM would promise to steer a “centrist” cause between the austerity of the Coalition and the radicalism of the Greens:
Some voters might reflect on the fallacy of the Golden Mean and its pertinence to the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era. Does steering a middle course between sane and rational principles [of the Coalition] and the policies of the barking mad [the Greens] lead to good governance – or simply leave us stranded in the twilight world of the half-mad?
In the category of “barking mad”, I posit Senator Sarah Hanson-Young (Greens) and her recent taxpayer-funded trip around the Mediterranean in support of irregular maritime arrivals seeking landfall in southern Europe. In one incident alone, off the coast of Libya in April this year, 400 people lost their lives when a boat overturned. But as Hanson-Young would say – and has actually said in an Australian context – “tragedies happen, accidents happen”.
To be fair to the Greens – and to justify my intention to preference them over Labor – there is some logic to the Greens policy on open borders. Former leader Bob Brown encapsulated this with his “Dear Earthlings” final address as the party leader. The Late John Lennon said much the same with this message from Utopia (or Nutopia, as the ex-Beatle called it): “Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Imagine me very rich/You-Hoo Hoo!” In other words, if there were no international borders we could all be dreamers and share the world and it would be very nice indeed. After all, when the astronauts (and cosmonauts) went into orbit in the 1960s there were no nations-states, let alone international datelines or latitudinal and longitudinal lines and other such bourgeois demarcations, to be spied. Open the borders, Earthlings, and there will be no need for a people-smuggling industry or for 1,200 souls to lose their lives on high seas as per the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era.
Except when it’s busy exchanging preferences with the Greens or forming a united front with them in the Senate or establishing a compact for coalition government with them, the ALP can be very condescending about the Greens and their penchant for eco-worship, not to mention the trashing of every traditional value and institution that has held this country in such good stead over the years. The Greens are reckless fantasists, Labor defenders sneer. The Liberal/National Parties, on the other hand, are too heartless, especially on the issue of irregular maritime arrivals. The accusation, I think, falls short on a number of counts.
Firstly, in the period 1975-79, when more than 1.3 million South Vietnamese became boat people in order to escape Communist totalitarianism, it was the Coalition government that adopted a humanitarian stance. Gough Whitlam, contrariwise, scorned this genuine humanitarian disaster. According to author Carina Hoang’s Boat People: Personal Stories from the Vietnamese Exodus, 1975-96, as many as a third of a million Vietnamese refugees drowned at sea. In response to this calamity, Whitlam is reported by none other than Clyde Cameron as saying: “I’m not having these f*****g Asian Balts coming here.”
Whitlam disparaged South Vietnamese refugees, his side of politics backed the National Liberation Front or, to be frank about it, the North Vietnamese Communists. April, 1975, when Saigon fell, was not “Black April” for the lefties of the time – it was a moment of victory. It is hard, when reading Hoang’s book, not to think of St Gough’s other famous comment on those who lost out in the Vietnam War: “Vietnamese sob stories don’t wring my withers.” Why would they? The good guys won and some of the bad guys had to hit the road – or the South China Sea as it happened. Labor now tries to co-opt Vietnamese Australians into their PC tribal nonsense, but a sizeable proportion aren’t buying. I don’t blame them. Sometimes you have to experience totalitarianism to know what freedom means.
The other reason the Coalition cannot be fairly described as heartless is because it does not have 1,200 dead boat people on its conscience. Labor is in a lose-lose situation. To adopt John Howard’s Pacific Solution or Tony Abbott’s Operation Sovereign Borders would be to admit that the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era resulted in the establishment of a deadly people-smuggling industry and and all those many deaths on the high seas. Both Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have talked about Labor’s “mistakes” in the past week, but to go any further than that at Labor’s National Conference would be dangerous territory. When the tabloids trumpeted the Opposition Leader’s intention to espouse a turn-back-the-boats “option” the whole thing had scam written all over it.
If the Coalition represents the political organisation that is actually responsible, then Labor is the party that wants to seem like it is responsible. If the Greens are the people who care, then Labor wants to be the party that seems to care. And so, as it turns out, Bill Shorten is not looking to the Nation Conference to endorse a turning-back-the-boats platform but for it to have a “blank” policy, one that neither authorises nor rules out turning back the boats in any future Labor administration. In short, a position crafted to demonstrate Bill Shorten cares as much as the Greens’ Senator Hanson-Young but is as sensible as the Liberal Party’s Scott Morrison.
Before the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd outwitted Prime Minister Howard by not only sanctioning the Pacific Solution but also approving the turning back of boats. At some point in 2008 he ditched that for a less stringent border policy. In June, 2010, Julia Gillard outfoxed Kevin Rudd, claiming that the increasing rate of irregular maritime arrivals threatened to destroy the ALP’s chances at the impending election. Rudd, in turn, outmanoeuvred Gillard before the 2013 election with his allegedly “hard-line PNG solution”. I am assuming that Shorten’s “all the options on the table” announcement this week was an attempt to outsmart Anthony Albanese, one of his rivals for leadership. Certainly Albanese promptly took the bait and castigated Shorten for floating a policy that would be “weak on humanity”.
Tanya Plibersek, the other, widely mooted candidate for Labor leadership, might be expected to back Albanese’s condemnation of Shorten, given that in March this year – according to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – Plibersek tied the execution of two Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia to the Coalition’s boat turn-back procedures. Then again, if the moment is not propitious for outflanking the under-performing Shorten, Plibersek’s moral conscience can be easily enough assuaged by the fact that the Opposition Leader’s new policy constitutes more than a “policy blank” to win back some of the ALP’s traditionalists. If not, then Bill Shorten has – as Albanese claims – been “weak on humanity” and will be out of a job. And here ends our brief sojourn into George Orwell’s world of Doublethink.
Yes, there are sensible, non-ideological people in the ALP and yet all they do is prop up bounders such as Bill Shorten, whose blather and hollowness only expedites the anti-bourgeois bohemianism of the whacky Greens: no coal, no constitutional monarchy, no budget restraint, no traditional marriage, no Israel; but fabulous new taxes on the mining industry and carbon-dioxide emissions. Pity a new Labor government won’t be able to slap a tax on a rejuvenated people-smuggling industry.
Daryl McCann blogs at darylmccann.blogspot.com.au