Saturday, June 30, 2012

General media failure on ‘boats’ issue

Here’s a Fairfax failure on the ‘boats’ issue, from Michael Gordon in a column in The Age today headlined “Indonesia seems part of a solution”:

The Indonesian MPs also expressed concern that people smuggling syndicates in that country were now so big that they were moving into other areas of organised crime. Washer’s take-out was that any real and lasting solution had to involve faster processing and resettling of refugees transiting through the Indonesian archipelago.

This of course, was not among the three options considered and rejected over more than 48 hours of heartfelt but, too often, predictable debate in both houses of Parliament this week – Julia Gillard’s Malaysian people-swap, Tony Abbott’s return to the Pacific Solution, and the Greens’ opposition to offshore processing.

Thus, the Greens’ entire contribution to the parliamentary process this week is reduced to “opposition to offshore processing.”

Compare Paul Kelly today in The Australian:

On Thursday Milne put forward a series of proposals — taking the refugee and humanitarian intake to 20,000, boosting support for the UN High Commission for Refugees by $10 million and new Australia-Indonesia talks on regional co-operation. Morrison told the Greens he would accept them all, but their differences over offshore processing made any agreement impossible.

In other words, what the Greens were proposing pretty much coincides with what those Indonesian MPs were talking about.

So, kudos to News £td — albeit severely qualified, because Kelly is so hung up on the stunted political dimensions of the ‘debate’ that he failed to extend the narrative.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Stop-the-Boats ‘debate’ observed

I watched on television much of Wednesday’s proceedings in the House of Representatives on Rob Oakeshott’s ill-fated ‘Bali Process’ private member’s bill.

During the debate over an amendment proposed by the opposition, seeking to remove the government’s ‘Malaysia Solution’ from Oakeshott’s bill, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey spoke for the amendment. At times almost blubbering and choking with emotion, he loftily declared:

I will never, ever support a people swap where you can send a 13-year-old child unaccompanied to a country without supervision — never. It will be over my dead body. [Source: Hansard.]

Leaving aside that the government has ruled out sending any minors to Malaysia, it may be noted that Mr Hockey has not publicly expressed any objection to the Coalition’s proposal to tow boats back into international waters. This policy would almost certainly involve sending minors back to the point of departure in Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

Hockey went on to relate how,

I fought with the previous Prime Minister [John Howard] ... about Nauru. I opposed it until the moment he assured me ... that those most vulnerable would be protected. That was when I agreed with him. I was prepared to cross the floor in a previous government with an absolute majority in this place because I disagreed with the treatment of those most vulnerable by my Prime Minister.

We may assume, then, that Mr Hockey will cross the floor to oppose boats with children on board being towed back to open waters. If he’s successful in modifying the Coalition’s policy, then it will create an incentive for people smugglers to place more children on these unsafe boats, with real potential for more tragedy.

In fact, it’s not true that people would, under the government’s scheme, be sent to Malaysia without humanitarian protections. The government had negotiated humanitarian protections with Malaysia, such that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has expressed support for the deal. (Simon Crean had spelled all this out much earlier in the debate.) Whether those protections are in any way credible is now a question to which we’ll perhaps never know the answer. Thus, while the Malaysian Solution is a rotten deal, I’m not convinced it’s so much more rotten than dumping people on Nauru.

At some point on Wednesday, Senator Christine Milne for the Greens proposed an amendment to Oakeshott’s bill which I considered had a number of proposals for a constructive, longer-term approach to the issue of unauthorised boat arrivals (basic outline here). It’s worth noting that the Greens’ proposals would seem to some degree complementary of the bill in relation to

The Bali Process — codifying in domestic law the good bipartisan work started by the former Howard Government in 2002, which provides a border protection and humanitarian framework on people smuggling, people trafficking and related transnational crime. This process is co-chaired by Australia and Indonesia and involves nearly 50 countries, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the advisory group now being convened by the Prime Minister, to be headed by Angus Houston, proposes some very similar options, among others. But they won’t get up, of course, because they can’t be distilled into the precise three word formulation: Stop The Boats.

Of late it’s supposedly been all about “saving lives”. But Stop The Boats had political potency way before the pivotal Christmas Island tragedy of December 2010. It was crystallised in John Howard’s “We Will Decide” mantra from the 2001 Tampa election. And it didn’t shift to being about “saving lives” even after the 2001 SIEV-X tragedy with the loss of 353 lives.

“Saving lives” is a cloak of respectability for what both major parties are now agreed and resolved upon: Wiggling out of Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.

From playing Alice-in-Wonderland croquet with our “migration zone”, to a Pacific or a Malaysia ‘solution’, it is and always has been about that.

Because:- The piddling arrivals at our borders, compared to say Europe or even the US, would seem to make tough, resourceful Aussies fall apart and wee into our collective little soft cock knickers.

I’d have liked to see Oakeshott’s bill get up; but with (perhaps) the Coalition’s amendment to drown the rotten Malaysia swap deal; and with Andrew Wilkie’s ‘sunset’ clause, but for no more than 6 months rather than 12; and with some rigorous monitoring of outcomes in the interim; and with serious consideration for longer-term proposals along the lines mooted by the Greens.

Of course, that’s all with 20/20 hindsight of the last few days in the comfort of my own armchair. And unencumbered with the partisan obstruction of Abbott and (to a somewhat lesser degree) Gillard. Forget the ‘purist’ Greens, they’re not the real power here.

The Prime Minister, of course, should have known, and probably did, that Oakeshott’s unamended bill would never get up.

Because it’s clear that the Coalition was absolutely terrified that the Malaysia deal might just work, delivering the ‘deterrence value’ that Nauru (it’s been said) has lost.

As Graeme Richardson wrote on this in a column today...

It would appear, however, that no matter what she [Gillard] offered Tony Abbott, if the Malaysia Solution was still on the table, he wasn’t having a bar of it.

Abbott won’t budge, won’t compromise and won’t lose a wink of sleep over it...

All in all, a collective failure and a crying shame, but inevitable due to the partisan obstruction, particularly, of the opposition. As John Howard’s biographer, Peter van Onselen, wrote on Tuesday:

One well-placed Liberal source told The Australian that Abbott would rather see Labor continue to bleed politically with ongoing boat arrivals. If that means deaths at sea continue, he said, so be it. Perhaps Abbott thinks such tragedies reflect more badly on Labor than his own side because the government appears responsible for the mess courtesy of changing John Howard's asylum-seekers policies in the first place. [My emphasis.]

If true, then Mr Abbott deserves to sink into oblivion.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Carbon totalitarianism discerned

The following is reportedly the text of a flyer being distributed by the Opposition to butchers’ shops around the country for display in their shop windows:

The federal government estimates that the carbon tax will increase the cost of energy by 10 per cent in its first year of operation. It will also increase the cost of our suppliers. Higher electricity prices mean it will cost us more to keep our meat refrigerated.

We always strive to keep our prices at reasonable levels but because the carbon tax will make electricity more expensive, our prices will increase. We apologise for these price increases.

This is quite arguably a blatant piece of scare-mongering intended to be construed by shoppers as meaning that meat prices will increase by as much as 10 per cent within 12 months after July 1.

So there is potential there for unscrupulous operators — yep, there’s always one or two — to scare up prices and hit consumers.

But the ACCC will be wielding a big stick to discourage any such profiteering, and

... the Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury, has warned that the Liberal leader has potentially exposed shop owners to fines of up to $1 million each.

Mr Bradbury hit out at Mr Abbott, saying he was improperly giving “businesses the green light to jack up their prices” and warned that shop keepers who put up their prices without due justification were risking large fines from the ACCC of more than $1 million for each infraction.

For this blog’s esteemed Doctor Easychair, Andrew Bolt, all this becomes...

The carbon totalitarians butcher free speech

The Gillard Government, already so hostile to free speech, now threatens to bankrupt butchers who badmouth its carbon tax...

The bit of that article which Doctor Easychair omitted to quote…

Treasury has estimated the average price rise on meat and seafood in a standard shopping basket of goods as around 10 cents a week.

Similarly, an analysis on a Sydney butcher shop with a revenue of $2.1 million per year has shown that the businesses’ electricity bill of around $22, 000 per year – representing about 1 per cent of turnover – would rise by around 0.1 per cent, or $22.

The analysis found to pass on this cost increase, the butcher would have to increase the price of a $11 packet of mince meat by approximately one cent.

Our good Doctor concludes his pastiche with…

Throw these thugs out while it’s still safe to speak.

Oh, and…

(No comments after 5pm.)

Coz that’s when Bolt knocks off for the day the butchering carbon totalitarians come out !!1!!!

As noted by Jeremy at Pure Poison, “when Andrew Bolt talks about ‘free speech’, apparently he means the right of businesses to trick customers with lies.”

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

That abyssal, sinking feeling

Peter van Onselen notes some scuttlebutt one would rather hope is not true...

One well-placed Liberal source told The Australian that Abbott would rather see Labor continue to bleed politically with ongoing boat arrivals. If that means deaths at sea continue, he said, so be it. Perhaps Abbott thinks such tragedies reflect more badly on Labor than his own side because the government appears responsible for the mess courtesy of changing John Howard's asylum-seekers policies in the first place.

If true, the boat-people ‘debate’ has officially become toxic and beyond hope of resolution redemption.

Perhaps this is waxing overly nostalgic, but I’d never have thought Mr Abbott would almost have me pining for the more genteel brutality of Mr Howard.

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Surrogacy and family formation examined

An announcement last week from Attorney-General Nicola Roxon:

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon today charged the Family Law Council with examining how issues of surrogacy and family formation are dealt with by the Family Law Act 1975.

“Surrogacy within Family Law is a complex and emerging issue that needs careful consideration as an increasing number of Australian families are being formed using artificial reproductive technology.

“Our laws need to be responsive to new family situations as well as provide adequate protections for children involved.”

This came a day after a column by Gary Johns that, although supportive in-principle of marriage equality, articulated concerns of a potential “minefield for children”:

Placing to one side the ideal — natural conception within wedlock — homosexual marriage may work for children.

Heterosexual as well as homosexual marriage where IVF or surrogacy is used, however, carries the potential for donor claims during the marriage, or at its dissolution.

This may be one to watch but don’t hold your breath — the Council has until December 2013 to report back to the A-G.

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