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One cheer for Costello

August 24th, 2004

Peter Costello has obliquely answered the question I asked last week, in relation to the government’s brutal mistreatment of refugees in general and children in particular. He now looks forward to the end of child detention, which obviously presupposes the end of Howard’s Prime Ministership and the repudiation of his signature policy. As Tim Dunlop points out, this is a major (though unacknowledged) shift in Costello’s position. Whatever the motivation, it is welcome.

While I’m on the topic I’d like to express, yet again, my disgust at those who have endlessly parsed government lies about “children overboard” seeking to make them true by arguing that actions “morally equivalent” to throwing children overboard took place on occasions other than the one to which the lies refer. These people should never be allowed to forget that the policy these lies were used to defend is one of locking innocent children behind razor wire, in desert camps and remote islands, under inhuman conditions deliberately designed to discourage others. I can think of plenty of things to which this is morally equivalent, and they are all shameful.

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  1. John Quiggin
    August 25th, 2004 at 11:50 | #1

    Tom, I’m not saying that the link was legitimate, but it was made by Howard and many other defenders of the government’s policy. In the absence of specific disclaimers, defences of Howard on the “children overboard” lies can be assumed to imply support for the associated refugee policy.

    There may exist people who condemn the government’s refugee policy but defend its truthfulness on this matter, but I’m not aware of any.

  2. Tom Davies
    August 25th, 2004 at 12:57 | #2

    John, I wasn’t implying that you thought the link was legitimate — just that perhaps attacking the link is more important than attacking the specific CO lie — from a point of view of refugee policy if not short term political tactics.

  3. RoD
    August 25th, 2004 at 14:34 | #3

    Getting back to the Costello question.
    I think its a major shift for him to establish himself as his own man. Howard is clearly preening Abbott to be Howard Mk2 and shaft Costello in the inheritance stakes.

    So Costello is now the small ‘l’ liberal alternative – for the Liberals who are growing uncomfortable with the neo-cons currently in charge. Its pitiful, its cosmetic, its almost certainly doomed to fail – but he could well be Leader of the Opposition in 2 years’ time if Abbott is a terrible LotO.

  4. August 27th, 2004 at 16:28 | #4

    tom is right, the policy is far more important than whether or not they lied…

    their actions were morally equivalent, and i havent heard anyone suggest that this means howard didnt lie.

    the left have to separate these two issues in their head. one is how bad is lieing? two is what do we do about asylum seekers?

    i want quiggin to put his money where his mouth is, and suggest a better policy.

    perhaps we shouldnt detain children…but being behind razor wire isnt traumatic unless your parents are sewing their lips closed or starving themselves or some such protestation…

    i have no problem with people being detained in relative comfort until they are processed (they should be processed as expediently as possible naturally. these people are not being beat up, they are not being tortured, they are not being harrassed, they are being fed…

    they are behind razor wire so the loony left dont climb in, and so they dont climb out, which if they are legitimate refugees they have no reason to…

    inhuman conditions? show me the inhuman conditions?

  5. August 29th, 2004 at 06:29 | #5

    and suggest a better policy.

    I did a journal entry on this a couple of years ago on kuro5hin.org; IIRC the pacific solution cost 48 million to put refugees on Nauru and PNG. IIRC also the the number of refugees increased by 1000. That is a cost of $48,000 per refugee. It is cheaper to let them come into the country and try to find work while they are waiting to be processed. At the absolute worst they will be on the dole, which they could do for 5 years and still be cheaper than the pacific solutions’ costs.

    My personal opinion is let them come, Australian immigration should be increased from one hundred thousand a year to a million a year. That number of immigratns makes ten thousand refugees look like a spit in the ocean. We also can sustain that for twenty years or so. Sydney may burst but if big US style highways are built leading out from Sydney, new regional towns will populate quickly and form their own economies outside of Sydney.

  6. August 29th, 2004 at 14:03 | #6

    That’ll go over well with Bob Brown & co; Australia’s water supply can barely keep up with the current population’s rate of growth. Unless you want to make nuclear power readily available (the only marginally feasable and economic way to salinate) or drastically reduce living standards- I’m sure the eastern suburb luvvies would be chuffed at that prospect.

  7. August 30th, 2004 at 02:53 | #7

    Australia’s water supply can barely keep up with the current population’s rate of growth.

    Though 67% of the consumption is from agriculture. I was in Phoenix, Arizona a couple of years ago, which gets all its water from the Colorado river. Most of the houses had desert/rock/catcus gardens, but the occasional one had a bright green well watered lawn. It looked obscene. It probably requires a cultural change, since 44% of the domestic consumption of water went to gardens, washing cars and filling pools.

    Unless you want to make nuclear power readily available

    Have you heard of James Lovelock’s innovative idea for dealing with the real need for nuclear power and nuclear waste? He advocates dumping the waste in area’s that are to be conserved. Since man is so destructive to environments simply by his presence, nuclear waste dumping is an effective way of keeping man out. Cheaper than fences. The habitat is undisturbed for long periods, and nature deals with the radioactivity through natural selection.

  8. August 24th, 2004 at 23:46 | #8

    I’m not so sure that it signalled a shift in our future PMs policy – only of its presentation.

    The mechanism by which there would be no children in detention in future would be that, in future, there would be no “illegal entrants” to put into detention. Reading (listening?) between the lines, if families of refugees do continue to come to Australia (in defiance of Australian government policy) children will continue to be put into detention, and it will continue to be their own fault.

  9. August 24th, 2004 at 23:55 | #9

    You conveniently ignore that detention is voluntary- all detaintees are free to leave at any time as voluntary deportees (taxpayers fund the airfares)- I think your disgust is ill-informed and poorly aimed. I have had first-hand experience over a lengthy period with asylum seekers; have you? Do you honestly think that personnel who deal with these people are heartless nazis? Reason and rule of law has to be regarded with the respect they deserve.
    If you truly believe in a one-world open border policy, why is Australian academia so protective about overseas qualifications?
    Geopolitics are hideous- do you really think I would rather be arresting some poor sod who jumped ship from an Iranian bulk carrier during the Iran/Iraq war, who claimed he would be used to clear mines if put back on the ship, or trying to find narcotics- my primary duty; I don’t know if it was true, but that is the sort of emotional pressure put on people involved in this ugly part of humanity.
    When you’ve been in that situation, tell me about the horrors of immigration detention.
    Until then, you are nothing but lame dialletentes.
    I am not ashamed of anything I have done in my previous life, as are no other professionals doing a job none of you would have the spine for.

  10. August 25th, 2004 at 01:38 | #10

    Paul, are you saying you’d rather not have had to be enforcing these policies of detention but did them because it was your admittedly difficult job or that the detention policies were the right/only thing to do? That we aren’t allowed to fairly assess claims by other parties involved in detention centres, including, obviously, the detainees themselves?

    Stay in the detention centre or go back to being a mine clearer (for example) is a free choice?

  11. zoot
    August 25th, 2004 at 02:00 | #11

    I have had first-hand experience over a lengthy period with asylum seekers; have you? Yes.
    Do you honestly think that personnel who deal with these people are heartless nazis? Some of them.
    If you truly believe in a one-world open border policy… I don’t. But I do believe in treating asylum seekers with compassion. Why are you proposing the false dichotomy of draconian detention centres versus totally open borders? There are many alternatives.

  12. August 25th, 2004 at 02:23 | #12

    Why don’t you list some of the alternatives then?

  13. Luna Latham
    August 25th, 2004 at 02:48 | #13

    John
    Someone with your sensitive nature, surely can enlighten a person like me, who believes that all people have free will, on the following issues.
    So on a gradient from 1 to 10,
    Where would you put a person who sinks a ship with their children on board?
    Where would you put a person who threw their children overboard?
    Where would you put people who are so mesmerised by the chance of getting their hands on Infidels wealth, that they recklessly take their children on unseaworthy ships, like the Siev X?
    I know it can be explained because I hear so many “intelligent” people trying to tell me that the difference can be nuanced.
    Me, I can’t, it all the same 7th Century thinking to me.
    So how do we accommodate people catapulted from 600AD to the present day?
    It’s like as if we were catapulted into the year 3400AD.
    Wouldn’t that be strange.
    And I doubt that anyone then, would attack their own society, because they found the “catapulters” strange and hard to fathom on a rational basis.

  14. observa
    August 25th, 2004 at 03:08 | #14

    Yes Zoot there were many soft alternatives that were clearly found wanting in stemming the increasing flow of boat people. One of the clear outcomes of not deterring that flow, was to be complicit in the drowning or death by shark attack, of 353 individuals on at least one boat that we know of. In that sense our detention centre facilities are much the lesser of two evils. There is also the implicit assumption by the critics of detention, that many boat arrivals are not taking the places of refugees in more horrible circumstances than these fare payers. As well there has been the shameful encouragement of detainees to burn and damage those facilities while awaiting hearing their refugee claims. Further they have been encouraged to destroy documents and delay and frustrate attempts to accurately assess their claims, by those who have indulged in the politics of the lie and the smear. Big lies like, talking to the Indonesians will stop the people smugglers, and Howard and the navy were responsible for drownings, have also been perpetrated shamelessly. All the way to zero arrivals, the opponents of deterrence have lied and smeared their way to some perceived high moral ground in this matter. Now they hide behind a Labor for Refugees lettered Latham and shout liar, liar at Howard with all the hypocrisy and self-righteusness that entails. Pardon some of us for questioning their motives and sense of proportion here.

    Could I envisage Keating or Latham as PM, responding to a Tampa in much the same way as Howard? Try bipartisan policy now for your answer.

  15. August 25th, 2004 at 08:58 | #15

    Luna, why is it an assumption that a refugee’s (all? some?) motivation is to get “their hands on Infidels wealth”? And that the the risks that are posed by such a dangerous journey, are fully understood by the people undertaking the journey at the beginning? And what of the question that these ‘catapulters’ are running away from a larger (in their eyes, certain) risk to their lives? Where would you place that on a scale of 1 to 10.

    Observa, the “big lies” like “talking to”, i.e. co-operating and engaging with, the Indonesians has actually stopped the people smugglers – federal police action in co-operation with Indonesian authorities has managed to break apart most of the large scale people smuggling operations — the real criminals in this sordid little tale. Why is that that insisting on locking up the victims of that crime is wrong a “lie and a smear”.

    That is in fact a perfect inversion of reality. A very typical GOP-style of undermining reasonable debate. The reality, th really real reality on display here is that the current Government will do anything to stay in power and if that means telling LIES and using an undercover dirt unit to smear its critics and opponents with as much of its own foul, dishonest stench as possible.

    Speculating on Keating or Latham’s imagined response is no counter argument to the fact that it is Howard who carried the policy out and Howard who is the liar.

    It seems that Tories and their apologists are quick to use moral relativisms in their arguments after all those years of railing against the very thing.

  16. August 25th, 2004 at 10:08 | #16

    It’s a little hard to believe that access to welfare/medicare etc is not a motivation wen people transit five or six countries before landing here and lodging a claim.

  17. Paul Norton
    August 25th, 2004 at 10:25 | #17

    Getting back to the Howard/Costello succession debate, it seems to me that pivotal to Howard’s (and therefore the Federal Liberals’) electoral success until now has been his personal capacity to act as a bridge between the dominant neo-conservative and religious Right currents in Anglophone right-of centre politics, and the non-ideological, existential conservatism of much of the Australian electorate.

    Therefore, one probable consequence of Howard’s retirement is that sooner or later the dominant public faces of the Liberal Party and its allies could be unalloyed New Right ideologues without Howard’s intuition for what the Australian people will stand, and with no conception of how the electorate will respond to the radical elements of their agenda. If Labor wins this year’s election, and if Costello is unable to steer the Liberals back into familiar liberal-conservative territory, we could be looking at a long period of marginalisation for right-of-centre politics in Australia.

  18. Tom Davies
    August 25th, 2004 at 11:31 | #18

    Why was “children overboard” (or equivalent acts) able to be “… used to defend … locking innocent children behind razor wire …”?

    Challenging the truth of a particular “children overboard” incident but not explicitly challenging that link seems to me to invite using “morally equivalent” incidents to justify the policy. The overwhelming focus on the truth of that incident might send the message “Detention of children is wrong because their parents didn’t throw them overboard” — leaving the implication that it might have been right if they had.

    There are really two issues — lying by politicians, and refugee policy. Arguing that a politician lied isn’t the same as arguing against their refugee policy.

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