There were some suggestions on the thread about Mohamed Haneef that the Labor response to wedges is for Rudd or a shadow minister to agree with the government, only to have Premiers and other state Labor figures cast doubts as the issue untangles itself. Perhaps this is smart politics when the government consistently raises issues and makes headlines without justifying properly or thinking through the consequences of policy and administrative moves? I don’t know. I’m just speculating. It is a pattern that we saw with the Indigenous Emergency and subsequent comments from WA Premier Alan Carpenter, NSW Minister Linda Burney, and a number of NT MPs. Similarly, perhaps, we can see this pattern emerging with Peter Beattie’s comments on the revocation of Haneef’s visa. This strategy might make some political sense, and it does sound like the sort of play Rudd would orchestrate, though I’d be interested in opinions as to how it does work politically, and personally, I’m very persuaded by the view also put on the other thread that there is an obligation on the opposition to stand up for the rule of law and due process if it’s being trashed by the government. As a number of commenters also remarked, it doesn’t bode terribly well for Rudd prioritising principle over opportunism if he gains office.
There is of course, another reason why Beattie might be concerned about the message that Haneef’s treatment sends, as he continually has to seek trained medical staff overseas, and often from countries such as India, where, quite rightly, no one can understand what the Australian government is up to by depriving Haneef of his liberty without benefit of judicial process.
An organisation representing doctors trained overseas says it will be harder to attract doctors to Australia because of Haneef’s case.
Four doctors in Perth also had their home searched twice by Australian Federal Police, but were yesterday cleared of any association with illegal activity.
President of the Australian Doctors Trained Overseas Association, Andrew Schwartz, says the public nature of the investigations could now make it harder for Australia to recruit overseas doctors.
“Like it or not, for at least the next 15 years Australia will be heavily dependent upon overseas trained doctors to prevent the collapse of health services,” he said.
“I really believe it will make the possibility of recruiting to people here just that much harder.
“I’d like to understand why all the publicity and why every doctor, every overseas trained doctor – whoever happened to have spoken to somebody – is now interviewed and everything is leaked to the media by the Federal Police.
“Is this a public relations exercise?”
There are a couple of other elements to this saga worthy of comment aside from the issues of terror and liberties. The first is the almost instantaneous nature of the international news cycle, where actions designed to play to a domestic political audience instantly get seen in a different frame overseas. Howard’s Obama moment earlier this year was a good illustration of how this works. The Indian government has taken an interest in the visa revocation, and the Indian press has covered the issue widely.
The second aspect is that we live in a globalised world and it’s not just our own failure to plan adequately and to educate skilled professionals that means that our needs for labour have to be increasingly supplemented from other countries. Labour markets for skilled workers and professionals are increasingly globally porous, and the effect of tried and true dog whistling tactics from the Howard government might actually impact negatively on key areas of interest to us domestically – not least our economy and the sustainability of our health sector. It’s an entirely different game from the one that Howard played by trying to deter desparately poor people or people fleeing persecution from setting out here on leaky boats in 2001. It could be argued that our long term national security is actually being put at greater risk by our own government’s contempt for the values enshrined in a liberal legal system.
Elsewhere: More from David Tiley.