The PM’s Politics of Principle

Most Australians would welcome the about-face by the Gillard Government in respect to offshore processing of illegal arrivals. However, it also highlights just how morally bankrupt and out of touch both the government and our Prime Minister are.

Julia Gillard spent years in opposition punching out the slogan ‘another boat, another policy failure’. In the final year of the Howard Government she got to say it only four times as the policies introduced brought the people smuggling trade to a virtual halt.

Labor’s ascension into government saw Gillard then systematically dismantle the proven policy solutions on purely ideological grounds spuriously masquerading as compassion and fiscal responsibility.

Parliament House Hansard records Julia Gillard in opposition as saying “Labor will end the so-called Pacific solution – the processing and detaining of asylum seekers on Pacific islands – because it is costly, unsustainable and wrong as a matter of principle.” (13 May 2003)

Since then, despite her supposedly principled decision, the armada of illegal vessels her policy changes have unleashed has seen her unsuccessfully try to negotiate offshore processing with PNG, announce a deal with East Timor (despite not even having spoken to the government there) and floated a dodgy people swap deal with Malaysia.

Our Prime Minister’s consistent adherence to principle even extends to turning back the boats.

In 2002 she thought it was a good idea, claiming at a press conference:

The Navy has turned back four boats to Indonesia. They were in sea-worthy shape and arrived in Indonesia. It has made a very big difference to people-smuggling that that happened…And we think turning boats around that are seaworthy, that can make the return journey, and are in international waters, fits in with that.”

However, in government she dismissed turning back the boats as “a shallow slogan. It is nonsense” – before endorsing a “virtual turnaround of boats” this week.

It’s not difficult to understand why so many of our citizenry have little faith in the veracity of the Prime Minister’s utterings.

She has similarly flip-flopped on temporary protection visas, sending asylum seekers to countries that haven’t signed the United Nations’ Refugee Convention and the expansion of onshore detention centres.

Her prognostications have been dutifully repeated by the zombified parliamentary members of the Labor Party who appear ever more listless in their defence of the worst prime minister in this country’s history. And who can blame them? Her track record on protecting Australia’s borders has left a terrible stain on all those who refused to accept the reality of the consequences of Gillard’s decisions.

It is a dreadful record. A total of 386 boats have ferried more than 22,500 illegal arrivals to our shores causing a $4.7 billion asylum budget blowout. However, the real horror is the number of people who tried but never made it to our shores; those that died at sea.

The true death toll will likely never be known but it must be in the multiple hundreds if not the thousands. They are the souls enticed into using people smugglers by the pull factors the Gillard Labor Government have steadfastly maintained never existed. They are the corpses that too many in Labor (and their fringe-dwelling alliance partners the Greens) have ignored or denied are a consequence of putting the people smugglers back in business.

These are the hidden human costs of the Gillard Government’s policies. Costs and consequences which many now suggest we shouldn’t be reminding people of because it is ‘just political point scoring’. Perhaps if more people actually kept score of the deaths, departures and deliveries of asylum seekers that can be attributed to government policy, things would never have gotten this bad.

Personally I think the Prime Minister’s position is now untenable. She owes an apology to the Australian people, not simply for being wrong, but for the consequences of her egregious errors of judgment.

Indeed, under the spirit and principle of the Westminster tradition she should resign her office or at the very least call an election. Unfortunately for all of us, I suspect her ‘adherence to principle’ will see her do neither.

That speaks volumes about the character of the person leading our government; something that will not be lost on the Australian people when they next get to have their say at the ballot box.

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