Game On!

With Julia Gillard about to announce her new climate change policy (which I am sure will have to be better than the opposition’s!)—after last weekend setting a date for the next Australian election on August the 21st—I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the upcoming Australian election here, and Julia’s performance so far. If I could sum up her style of politics in one word, I would call it “pragmatic”. Unlike Kevin Rudd, she certainly isn’t over promising, which I think was his downfall: I still believe he was sincere in his stated intent, but when circumstances didn’t allow him to deliver on some of his promises, he was perceived as dishonest. Julia certainly isn’t falling into that trap—she has been very cautious indeed with her promises.

July 23 update: Well Julia has just announced her climate change policy, and while it certainly is better than the opposition’s, I think she’s taken the pragmatism a little too far this time, to the point where it looks like a bit of a cop-out. I’d really like to see her work together with the Greens (who will no doubt hold the balance of power after the election) to take decisive action on climate change.

Many people have dismissed Julia’s pragmatism as “backing down” and “not standing for anything”, but quite frankly, I think it is a good thing. This is politics after all: deals have to be struck and compromises have to be made to get anything done at all. As I’ve said here before, I often feel left wing/progressive voters are too idealistic—unless our leaders do a perfect job, we often don’t vote for them. But we have to face the reality that the nature of politics makes this virtually impossible. And it opens the way for conservative politicians to get into power, as conservative voters usually aren’t critical at all: they just believe what they want to believe (the facts be damned), and believe their politicians deliver on it, seemingly no matter what. We have to accept less than ideal solutions in the short term, so that more ideal solutions can be arrived at later. Otherwise, we are simply allowing the conservatives to turn back the clock.

The two most obvious examples of Julia’s pragmatism are her deal with the big mining companies on the government’s proposed new mining tax, and her new regional, offshore processing policy on asylum seekers. Yes, she did significantly decrease the level of the new tax to get it through, but at least she did get it through—which will still give Australia billions of dollars of extra tax revenue. As for her policy on asylum seekers, it has been dismissed as a return to the policies of John Howard, which many humanitarians were very critical of—including me. In reality though, this is only a very superficial assessment of the new policy, which is crucially different from Howard’s in a few very important respects. It is actually more of a return to the policies of the Fraser government in the 1970′s, which resulted in the resettlement of thousands of Vietnamese in Australia—something I am very grateful for every time I go to my favourite Vietnamese restaurant, or laugh at their jokes. :-)

For one thing, Howard’s “Pacific solution” was cobbled together as a means of avoiding Australia’s obligations under international law, by shipping asylum seekers off to a country that wasn’t a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention (Nauru). Gillard’s policy, on the other hand, stipulates that all countries involved in the processing of asylum seekers in our region have to be signatories to the Refugee Convention. This is why she is so far refusing to consider Nauru, even though they already have a processing centre and want to use it. The other problem with Nauru is its remoteness: a major part of her policy is trying to stop asylum seekers from undertaking dangerous boat journeys, which obviously wouldn’t be the case if they had to sail to Nauru! Her preferred choice of processing country is East Timor, which is not only a signatory to the Refugee Convention, but is also right next to the country all the asylum seekers go through to get a boat to Australia (Indonesia). This would obviously make the boat journey to Australia completely unnecessary.

Another crucial difference between her policy and Howard’s is that she won’t be inhumanely and illegally turning boats back, which basically forces the asylum seekers to destroy their boat, leading to an obviously very dangerous situation. She also won’t be reintroducing Howard’s temporary protection visas, which also violated our obligations under international law, and were—like every aspect of Howard’s refugee policy—both cruel and inhumane. But Howard didn’t care about how many people his refugee policy literally killed, and all the suffering it caused—he only cared about winning elections, which very sadly, demonising asylum seekers allowed him to do with ease. And incredibly, the opposition now wants to not only reinstate Howard’s refugee policy, but make it even more cruel and draconian, by refusing to process asylum seekers who have lost or destroyed their papers. Even the Howard government rejected this policy, as they knew that asylum seekers often had to do this to escape their countries safely. But like their former leader, the current opposition knows this issue is hot enough to make a lot of working class people ignore their own welfare, and determine their vote on the basis of what is really a very minor issue.

Still, given that this is such a minor issue, why has Julia Gillard made this such a major part of her election platform? Quite simply, because she has to. You can be sure that if the opposition and the media didn’t keep making such a big deal out of this issue, it wouldn’t even be an issue in this election campaign, just as it wasn’t before a desperate John Howard decided to make it one. And knowing a winner when they see one, the conservatives have decided to keep it that way. Many on the left have criticised Julia for pandering to this issue, but what could she do? If she loses the election over this, we would have the opposition’s policy. At least Julia’s policy is still fundamentally humane. But cleverly and pragmatically, it also keeps asylum seekers offshore until they’ve been processed, which (hopefully) should be good enough for neutralise all the paranoia over this issue. And once this issue is neutralised, perhaps Australia can finally put this sorry episode behind it.

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After Timor knocked her back Gillard is now trying to shift to Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the UN convention. She is starting to look like Rudd, which makes me wonder if Kevin wasn’t just an unlucky fall guy.

  
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@Steve Tulley – I believe the negotiations with East Timor are ongoing, and Labor isn’t planning to have a processing centre in Indonesia – they are merely seeking the co-operation of the Indonesian government in dealing with people smugglers, so as to make Gillard’s plan a truly regional solution.

  
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Abbott and Gillard. Two very uninspiring leaders. Both driven by the flavour of the day that the opinion poll is telling them. Who to vote for, I don’t know?

According to an article by Laurie Oakes it was Gillard that told Rudd he should shelve the ETS. That seemed to work well to her advantage.

I think the business community should be concerned if the Greens are going to be in control of the purse strings especially the miners.

I’m assuming Labor will win. At least they will be able to control the policy.

  
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Originally Posted By David
Abbott and Gillard. Two very uninspiring leaders. Both driven by the flavour of the day that the opinion poll is telling them. Who to vote for, I don’t know?

As I’ve said here before in relation to the US elections, it’s not so much who to vote for, as who to vote against – a conservative Christian extremist like Abbot would be a disaster as Prime Minister.

  
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I don’t think he would be a disaster as PM. It’s not like he is telling anyone to go to church. Even if he did as if Australians would listen.

Besides Kevy used have heaps of media conferences outside the front of his church.

I don’t think religion really matters in Australia like it seems to in America. I could imagine Julia saying she was an atheist in America would takes some points off her.

Besides, both Hawke and Keating were both atheists. I didn’t really seem such a big deal here.

  
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The difference between Abbott and everyone else is that he has openly stated that his beliefs form his politics – for example, his banning of RU486 when he was health minister under Howard. He is now trying to pretend they don’t, but that’s clearly because – as he says – he has an election to win.

  
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