President Obama is a proponent of leading from behind. Though it is putting a twist on his meaning, he is right in an important sense. With fighting diffused and sharpshooters around, leading from the front would be impossible at one level and short-lived at another.
Leaders need lieutenants to take the fight to the enemy. What do lieutenants need? They need someone at their backs. Sure, someone who sets the objectives and ground rules and gives the orders, but, vitally, someone who will remain resolute and take the heat if things go wrong.
Personally, I nearly threw up when Scott Morrison expounded that he’d stopped the boats and would, with the same resolve, repair the budget. National leaders come around very infrequently. Lighting seldom strikes twice at the same time and place, therefore Morrison ain’t likely to be one of them; nor is Malcolm Turnbull. Usually we get time-servers. And usually, fortunately, this is survivable because existential threats are comparatively rare.
Australia was facing an existential threat with uncontrolled immigration; and the threat remains very much alive and ready to strike again with greatly increased ferocity at any sign of weakness. Is that an exaggeration? Have a look at infertile, enfeebled Europe in its death throes, being overwhelmed by fertile fervent Muslim interlopers.
Around 50,000 so-called asylum seekers arrived uninvited by boat during the Rudd-Gillard years. This was the tip of a potential ice berg. Australia has all of the attributes that people from dysfunctional societies want. And there is an inexhaustible supply of them in the here and now and in the fecund pipeline.
The number of fleeing people is only going to grow as populations expand unabated in some of the poorest countries in Africa and radical Muslims wreak havoc in North Africa and the Middle East. According to some estimates the current world population of seven billion will grow to eleven billion, perhaps beyond, before stabilizing. And the extra 4 billion are not sophisticates. The UN (Population Fund) estimated that between 2013 and 2100 the populations of the 35 least-developed countries could triple or more. Among them, the populations of Burundi, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia are projected to increase at least fivefold by 2100.
‘Desperate’ asylum seekers eschew most countries. They will, in fact, travel thousands of miles to reach a spot they deem worthy and then demand to be let in. They have a list of country must-haves. It goes like this. Must be prosperous, have first-world services, a welfare state, multicultural values to exploit, candlelight wailers to welcome them and national self-loathing lawyers to represent them. Asylum seekers are nothing if not choosy. You can talk endlessly about diplomatic solutions and foreign aid, the problem won’t be solved.
Australian residency is a honey pot (or a sugar pot, to partly adopt Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s apt description). We needed to shut the door. Enter a true leader, Anthony John Abbott, to shut the door.
It’s silly to compare Tony Abbott with Winston Churchill. It is a complete stretch. He would be embarrassed at the comparison. Yet, that ability and fortitude to go against the tide of conventional wisdom, buttressed as it always is by hordes of time serving minnows, is a sign of leadership that Abbott shares with other leaders of greater renown. He did what his colleagues, including the backstabbers, could never have done.
It is laughable to think that ABC darling Turnbull could have ever have done what Abbott did. Tony Jones and Q&A audiences would not have been impressed. Whether he can do the easier job of maintaining Abbott’s legacy remains to be seen. And Morrison was simply an able lieutenant. This is not to be downplayed — if only Abbott had chosen as carefully in the budgetary sphere — but he has clearly let this secondary role go to his head.
Be on the watch for the door to start opening with Turnbull as “leader”. Ministers Morrison and then Dutton knew that Abbott had their backs, General Angus Campbell (head of Operation Sovereign Borders) and now General Andrew Bottrell knew that the minister at the time had their backs. The captains on board RAN ships knew that their commanders had their backs.
Like a fish rotting from the head, any vacillation at the top will quickly transmit itself down the chain of command. Put yourself in the position of a navy captain turning a boat around or putting people in inflatable lifeboats. What the heck happens if something goes wrong and people drown? Why take a chance on people drowning if you sense any fading resolution and think you might be hung out to dry. The weather was too bad. The situation of the people was too parlous.
And once Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island are full and the pressure builds for onshore processing, welcome to the European problem. Abbott had his flaws, as all leaders do — it probably goes with the territory — it’s simply a pity that a majority of the population and a majority of his colleagues did not appreciate that this had to be worked around because, make no mistake, keeping a lid on this existential problem is the only solution. This requires a leader with strong enough character to withstand the barbs of the usual suspects, day in and day out. Abbott had the character. Does Turnbull?