Asylum Seeker debate ratchets up the rhetoric

A sampling of what’s around the papers this morning:

The Australian:
Abbott to exploit split on boats

Last week Ms Gillard tried to defuse asylum-seekers as a key election battleground, saying there were “emerging points of agreement” between the two sides of politics. Ms Gillard was responding to Labor fears that Mr Abbott was gaining traction on the issue among voters in marginal seats.

But Mr Abbott said yesterday there were big differences between Labor and the Coalition policies, indicating he would exploit them. He claimed the Prime Minister was desperately trying to say “me too” on the divisive issue.

The Daily Telegraph: 2010 on track to break number of asylum seeker arrivals

With no sign of a slowdown in the boats, Australia can expect by year’s end to have accepted more than 7000 irregular maritime arrivals in 150 boats, easily outstripping the previous all-time highs of 2001.

SMH: Australia can have stronger borders and a bigger heart

Many politicians now believe any rhetoric or policy that ”gets tough on asylum seekers” will deliver an electoral dividend. Personally, I believe such a link is overstated. Even if it does exist, it is dangerously unpredictable and a difficult issue to control. It is a genie that once released is not easily re-bottled.

Moreover, an election fought on such an issue is likely to tear at the very fabric of Australia’s egalitarian psyche and take us back to the very worst of the race debate that fostered the rise of Pauline Hanson and One Nation.


The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has asked the Australian government to explain why the number of Afghan asylum seekers it has accepted as refugees has plunged since 2009.


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8 comments on “Asylum Seeker debate ratchets up the rhetoric
  1. Joe says:

    Why this issue is difficult to understand for the wife-basher-wearing sports-loving semi-urbanite and his spouse is that on the one hand the population– in the context of fighting wars in Muslim countries– has been sensibilised to fear Muslims. I mean we have to kill these people, right?!! Especially, when you think about the fact, that there’s still no really clear reason as to why we started a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, cutting through all the BS, we’re really only there because, our friends in America are there. It’s a kind of boyish 3-Musketeer’s attitude, “One for all and …”

    And then this passive aggression is compounded by Muslim refugees landing uninvited on our shores. [The Howard construct of international mafia-like people smugglers being the conduit for their arrival certainly hasn’t helped.] I mean, I don’t think this story’s just about Xenophobia and foreigners taking Australian’s jobs. Think about the Vietnamese boat-people post Vietnam War. Labor, both Left and Right has to get off the proto-Nazi message and link the refugees to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq etc. But of course that’s very difficult, because they don’t have a strong message as to why we’re involved in these wars. And, to my mind, that the heart of the issue.

  2. Peter Kemp says:

    Why can’t the ALP just try to educate the electorate on how small the “problem” in Oz is compared to say, the rest of the world FFS?

  3. wbb says:

    Why can’t the ALP educate the electorate?

    Coz there’d be a backlash against them for talking down at folks.
    Enlightenment has to come from the bottom up and takes years and years. Within the limits of an election cycle, the best you can do on issues of primal emotion is to neutralise.

  4. Brian says:

    Peter, a public education program takes longer than 5 weeks during an election campaign, FFS. She’s booted the ball into touch, which was about all she could do in the circumstances. Where she really stands, we’ll have to wait and see, but I think Chris Evans is clearly preferable on these issues to any view that might come out of the COALition.

    If she’s looking for a genuinely regional solution that satisfies the UNHCR it’s bound to be better than Abbott’s mob, which isn’t saying as much as one would want, but there we are.

    You might also think about something Elise said on another thread. If you are going to change views, you’d best start with acknowledging concerns that lie beneath them. Standing off and shouting may make you feel better but won’t actually achieve anything.

  5. Peter Kemp says:

    I agree Brian not in 5 weeks, I should have re-phrased– they’ve been in government nearly 3 years–coulda woulda shoulda but didn’t. If Howard thought he could sell Shitworkchoices, (a hard sell at the best of times), how much easier to sell “1000-3000 (whatever) boat people a year is no threat” by comparison.

    Fair point wbb, but does the Right have a monopoly of dressing up wolves in sheep’s clothing/ “pigs” with lipstick? 🙂 “Poor impoverished miners” in Oz, “Teh evil socialist health care” in the US?
    (and getting away with it most of the time it seems)

    The last dude who pulled a swifty btw (in the best possible way) in this field was Arthur Caldwell–one of the first boatloads of post WW2 immigrants were rather white skinned Balts as I read somewhere. After that it was easy to sell the immigration policy.

    [Imagine dressing some of those boat people women in bikinis, Joe Sixpack would drool oops sorry, sexist, my bad, but what a great Chaser spoof that could be, would have the male rednecks so confused when the brain switches off and they are forced to think only with the conundrums]

  6. ossie says:


    What would Labor educate us about? Looking over most of the Labor caucus, they would complete fools of themselves, as a great many of them are very ignorant people.

    I think you might also have the wrong end of the stick about what Labor really thinks of ‘boat people.’ Overall, they are not big fans. You will not see any more ALP presumptions to ‘educate the electorate’ until the name ‘Paul Keating’ becomes a distant curiosity.

    The real educating typical of modern Australian politics is the electorate educating the politicians. 😉

  7. Brian says:

    ossie, clearly there is a spectrum of opinion in the Labor caucus, but we’ve been over that elsewhere.

  8. ossie says:


    Not really a “spectrum.” The views of the ALP caucus are pretty heavily skewed towards ambivalence to irrelevance. My point is that those with very strong pro-‘boat people’ sentiments should not be looking to the ALP for support. There is nothing in Labor’s ideology or history that suggests otherwise.

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