Why I’m in favour of the PNG solution

Given my published opinions on refugees it may surprise many that I’m actually in favour of Kevin Rudd’s plan to ship boat arrivals off to PNG, as announced last week. This decision caused a ruckus. It was condemned by the liberal left (of which I’m an occasional member, minus the latte), as well as other sections of the population. It threw Tony Abbott into a spin as he couldn’t decide if he supported it or not. Regardless of anything else, it was a particularly clever political manoeuvre – a fact that many seize upon as evidence of cynicism.

I’ve no doubt that there is a large dose of political opportunism in this decision, but I also believe that it might work.

I’ve been a hardline critic of the previous policies, many of which were inhumane. Many seeking refuge in this country have been treated disgracefully, much to the shame of anyone who cares – which is very few on either side of the political fence. Regardless of what is to come, history will record this as a stain on what has been a pretty proud record. Dare I say it, the demonising of refugees seeking a better life and their treatment subsequent to it is un-Australian.

Unfortunately this is very much a political hot potato, perhaps the hottest. That’s very unfortunate, but typical of Australian politics (and many other parts of the world) that informed debate has been jettisoned in favour of sound bites and violent language. I’ve gone on about this many times before. I blame John Howard for lowering the tone of public debate. On the one hand a deliberately paternalistic attitude suggested that issues of this sort should be left for the adults to sort out – you run off and be relaxed and comfortable. On the other he was blatant in turning issues like this to political advantage, irrespective of truth or morality. He was the first of the real dog whistlers in Australian politics, and Tony Abbott has followed in his steps. That’s pretty well set the agenda for debate ever since, and weak leaders such as Gillard have been unwilling to resist it.

As a result of all this the Australian public is much less informed now than it was 10-15 years ago. The shrill tone of debate carries no substance, and with few exceptions the media have let it go unchecked (the tabloids in factt joining the scrum). The scrutiny on issues such as ‘border protection’ matched with a general ignorance of the real situation mean that Australian governments have had to be seen to be acting. Placating the ignorant redneck masses (who, nevertheless, are entitled to a vote) has led to successive Australian governments spending many more millions than necessary to implement a harsh ‘offshore’ policy. The victims in all of this have been the poor families who have travelled on a leaky boat and somehow survived it, only to be interned out of sight, out of mind in something equivalent to a concentration camp.

Now it is a complex problem, notwithstanding the politics involved. From a humane level if from no other, Australia must act to stop the boats. This morning there are reports of another 60 refugees perishing as a boat capsized somewhere between Indonesia and the west coast of Australia. These deaths are a monthly, occasionally weekly, event. Many make it to these shores to be interned, but many die along the way. This is tragedy, not properly understood by much of the populace who see numbers, not individuals. Independent of maintaining control of our borders, we must find a way to prevent these deaths.

Part of that is to capture and sentence the people smugglers, the real villains of this piece. That’s a long, hard process however, and has minimal impact. The other solution posited is deterrence. There is another, but we’ll come to that later.

The whole philosophy behind Rudd’s PNG solution is to implement an effective deterrent. It must be drastic to work – the deterrent must bite; but it is this which has so many up in arms.

His policy basically states that if you set off for Australia in a boat you’ll never get to settle here. Instead you’ll be shipped off to Papua New Guinea, a sovereign nation, but few people’s notion of a utopia, unlike Australia. In essence this policy negates all the reasons motivating refugees  to get on a boat in the past. Time will tell how effective it is, but I’m confident it will lead to a decline in illegal arrivals.

Critics of this plan have attacked it on two fronts: that it continues to be inhumane; and that the PNG cannot cope with such an influx of refugees.

In response to the first criticism, the simple answer is that this solution is many times more humane than shipping the refugees off to somewhere to Nauru, where they’ll fester for years. PNG may not be on most people’s must-see tourist destinations, but at least it exists as a place – a culture, a society, opportunities, and so on.

To the second criticism, the answer is that the idea – whether it is to be realised or not – is that PNG will not be subjected to torrents of refugees because the penny will drop, the boats will stop, and the refugees will seek other ways of getting here.

This is where we need a regional solution. A policy like this can only be part of the solution, not all of it. I think that’s understood. Underplayed in the media, but a key component, is that Indonesia will no longer let in travellers without a return ticket. Till now it has been open slather. That should brake the cycle further. More importantly, there needs to be another avenue for these people to get here.

One of the big arguments against the boat arrivals is that they’re jumping the queue. That’s roughly true. There are thousands of legitimate refugees across the world who go through proper channels in the attempt to get here. Every time someone ‘jumps the queue’ someone else misses out. This is plainly unfair.

To my way of thinking there are two things that need to be done, and perhaps a third.

Firstly, our refugee program needs to be re-considered. As I’ve said many times we’re a mighty big country with great swathes of it barely populated. I’m sure we can take more – especially to turn the conversation around so that we embrace, rather than spurn, the poor people who have endured so much. I believe in fact that we will ultimately benefit from letting these people in seeking a second chance. Thankfully the government has begun this process by increasing the number of refugees we will accept. More needs to happen.

Secondly, a regional solution must be investigated. We must work in co-operation and not, as Abbott’s policy would have it, in isolation and against the interests of others. Why not set-up processing stations across the region to review applications for immigration? Take away the need to get in a leaky boat by implementing an orderly, civilised scheme in which foreign governments work with us? Surely there is a better way?

That comes to the third proposition. Refugees tend to be either economic – seeking a better life; or political – fleeing an oppressive and violent regime. Can we do more within the region to mitigate against these oppressions? On a diplomatic level, can we not work with some of these countries to remove some of the causes of people leaving as refugees? It’s a tall order perhaps, but something that should be considered.

Unlike many I’m very sympathetic to the majority so desperate they’ll risk the lives of their family to get here. They’re people, like us, only many times less fortunate. We should be more generous, as traditionally we have been – a fair go for all is part of the Aussie way. Whilst I am sympathetic you’d have to be blind Freddie not to see that something has to change. Too many deaths, and untrammelled entry is inhumane and unreasonable. There is no easy solution, something that the liberal left has to accept. There is no happy ever after resolution. Drastic action is called for, but within the parameters we set as a civilised society. As it stands right now, this solution proposed by Rudd appears to be the most satisfactory in satisfying both criteria. It will deter, but it does not oppress.

Footnote, March 12, 2014

I’ve been meaning to write an addendum to this piece for some time. As events have transpired much of what I wrote above has proved to be a nonsense. Far from being an advocate of the so called PNG solution, I now abhor it as much as any decent Australian does.

My mistake was that I presumed that the refugees when taken to Manus Island would be treated humanely and with the decency you would expect of a civilised nation like Australia. Further to that I sincerely believed that the refugees would get an opportunity to re-settle in PNG to continue their life as citizens. As it turns out none of that has been the case.

The critical turning point was the election of the LNP in the September federal election, and the subsequent implementation of hardline, indeed harsh, refugee policies. With the election of Abbott, and the ascension of Scott Morison as immigration minister, any refugees seeking sanctuary in Australia were effectively criminalised. They were shipped off to Manus Island where they were advised that they could never be accepted into Australian society. Furthermore it was later revealed that nor would the PNG accept any of them into their population. It’s no surprise that conditions quickly deteriorated within the Manus Island camp, and that those shipped there rapidly became demoralised and angry. With the effective demonisation of these people by our government and compliant press it’s no surprise that the treatment of refugees within the camp appears largely cruel. When people are portrayed as something less than human and unworthy of our compassion then that’s how they will be treated by anyone without the strength of mind to understand different. Official policy gives a virtual carte blanche to the rough and ready treatment most of the refugees seem to have been subjected to.

All of this culminated in riots last month and the murder – by someone other than a refugee – of one of the inmates. It seems likely that poor Reza was murdered by one of the local PNG camp staff, though that has not been definitely established. Regardless this is an outrage, and a stain on our country as it is. As for Abbott and Morrison, who justify ever excess, they are a blot on our cultural history.

By no means am I a supporter of the PNG solution. I hope for a swift dismantling of it, though I don’t know how that is possible under the present regime. I yearn for a return to the values that Australia once epitomised – compassion, a fair go, sympathy for the underdog. Among the many crimes of recent governments, and the tabloid press who act as vultures, it is the subversion of those ideals and that idea of Australia I find most disturbing. My heart would break if I believed that is a permanent condition. I know there are still many decent Australians, though with little voice. They are largely unrepresented by our politicians, and sadly there appear many other Australians either on-side, ignorant of, or oblivious, of the evil policies ‘our’ government has promulgated.

The winners write the history, but I suspect that one day Abbott and Morrison will be recognised for what they are. In my heart I would hope one day there is a place they could be tried for crimes against humanity – but then we’re the ‘good guys’.

Blue versus red

As I sit here Americans are casting their vote for the next president of the United States. A close run race is predicted, with Obama likely to fall over the line.

I know I share the same sentiments as most people living outside of the States when I say that seems a very odd state of affairs. Obama is the overwhelming favourite with most living anywhere but America.

It’s easy to see why. Obama is charismatic, decent, liberal, has a sense of humour, and is not so precious that he won’t occasionally have a dig at himself. There is familiarity with many of the initiatives he has been trying to sell, being normal in most civilised western countries. There is some bewilderment at the controversy and absolute alarm these policies generate in the States (particularly when it comes to health care), and perhaps some contemptuous disparagement that so many can be so fearful of things that should be standard. It’s not socialism, it’s civilised government. And so occasionally American politics seems like a poorly run circus, with sideshows getting more than their just attention, and the main players either struggling to be heard, or apparent lightweights. I’m sure it appears awfully serious living there, but it’s a different view from outside.

From the outside looking in I think it’s fair to say that American politics has lost a lot of its shine over the last dozen years. Dubya, a decent man seemingly, dumbed down the office and subjected it to ridicule the likes it had never experienced before. The emergence of the likes of Sarah Palin and the crazies of the Tea Party further emphasised the loony extremes of American political life. Clearly they have their adherents within America, as well as their opponents. There are few outside of America who view such sideshows with anything other than an amused, and slightly worried contempt. How can this be? And what if…?

Obama at least has returned some dignity to the top job, but it’s hard when the extremists on the other side polarise opinion so much. The Tea Party and suchlike have squeezed the Republicans further to the right, just so they may appeal to the groundswell of conservative opinion. I think they’re almost meaningless now as a result, and I wouldn’t vote for them in a fit – but then, that’s my view from outside. From inside the country there are many seduced by the blatant populist sloganeering of the right, and have been led to a deep distrust of Obama and the Democrats he leads.

As it has happened here, and elsewhere, the great unthinking mob have been prodded until they respond. Dog whistling, fear mongering, has long been a part of political life, but never more so than now. Now it has descended to an inane, occasionally evil level. You listen to some of the proponents of these many theories and wonder whether they are plain dumb, or have just sold their soul? Do they believe this rubbish? Half the stuff they say, and which is then reported, is plain wrong, yet that seems hardly ever corrected. The catchy slogan sticks, and to the majority of people who never stop to think for themselves, it becomes their catchcry.

It’s a similar situation here in Oz. I complain at local politics, but I think – unbelievably – it’s in a healthier state than it is in America. We have the same dog whistlers, but fortunately, the likes of the Tea Party have no leverage here, and I wonder if they ever would. Australians are naturally more sceptical, and generally unimpressed by the smooth rhetoric that seduces so many Americans. And we’re not nearly as respectful, which has it’s good, as well as bad aspects. If anyone starts talking extremist bullshit he’s likely to be bluntly told where to go. Or I hope so at least.

Still, Australian politics is subject to many of the same corrupting forces as America. Just like the Republican party in America, the Liberals here have taken a couple of steps to the right. Partly it’s political opportunism, and partly it’s reflective of a deeply conservative – and innately un-Australian – strain of thought starting with Abbott, and sprinkled through the party. It has similarities to the American conservatism, being founded on conservative religious thought, and ticks off the standard conservative mainstays: pro-life/anti-abortion, anti gay marriage, small taxes, and the usual pot-boiling about refugees. It’s something that can thrive in a religious country like America, but I think has a definite use-by date in an obstinately secular country like Australia. That use-by date has not yet arrived, but is coming.

If we had an Obama here then there would be no contest. Abbott’s supremacy is tenuous even given a dysfunctional government. He is tolerated only because most are suspicious of what they have. Replace Gillard with Obama and there would be no contest – and the Libs, as I hope they must do soon, would be forced to act. There’s every chance they would go more moderate. I’m not sure that’s an option the Americanpolitical right are even close to being ready for.

We are different nations, even putting aside the religious angle. I was surprised how ingrained, and often how bitter, some of the political differences in the States can be. I can sit across the table from someone voting differently to me and there’s unlikely to be any issue – it’s just like barracking for a different football team. In America it often seems so much more personal, and my brief experiences of it made me think it really was a divided country, not just by red and blue states, but from house to house. Is it too much to say there are two America’s?

If there are then one half today are voting for Obama, and the other half for Romney. As I said, seems inconceivable from outside, for all the reasons I said, and because Romney appears an unimpressive character of little real conviction. If he is too win then you have to believe he’ll be captive to the right, and to their dangerous agenda. It’s America’s election, but the whole world holds it’s breath.


The quality of mercy

Watched another great episode of Mad Men last night. It’s been a season of many great episodes. Last night it was the episode where Don confronts Lane about him embezzling funds.

Like so many times watching this show it ended with me feeling invigorated, stimulated and buzzing with ideas. The best episodes cram so much into them, so much that seems both relevant and very authentic at the same time. I’m sure many people feel they have a ‘personal’ connection with their favourite TV shows. Through the nineties I used to think that Seinfeld captured the attitude we – my friends and I – lived by. We would go to work and meet socially and discuss the latest episodes with a knowing laugh, and still to this day will often find ourselves referring to scenes or using the famous phrases from the show as a kind of humorous and telling shorthand.

Mad Men is a very different show from Seinfeld, but for me it captures – somehow – so much that seems true to me now and for the last decade. I’ve written of this before, how the character of Don Draper reminds me of my father, and also how I feel sympatico to him. I feel as if a lot of the blood that runs through Don – lusty, ambitious, ruthless, compassionate, occasionally amoral, sometimes cruel – runs through me. More than anything though it’s the events that unfold through the course of the show that resonate with me. There is drama and controversy, conflict and sorrow packed tight into the program – more so than in real life perhaps, but with a ring of reality. There’s a motley collection of characters both good and ordinary and things between that reflects my experience of the world, and particularly working life. The things that happen on screen are different to what I experience in my life in the detail, but the moral perturbations and contradictions, the striving and struggling, the rampant desires and regrets, seem so true to my experience of life – as probably they do for many. That’s why I get stirred up, because I’m taking the same strife torn and uncertain path with precisely the same ambitions.

I watched last night as Don took Lane aside and got straight to the point about the money Lane had taken. Lane blustered and feigned outrage while Don remained firm and straight. I thought: that’s the way to do something like that. If something difficult must be faced it’s a lot easier approaching it face on rather than dancing around it, as so many people do. Far better for all concerned to just say it, simply and without drama, than to sidle up to it. When Don, despite Lanes desperate protestations, demanded his resignation I thought that was right too. He was not vindictive, perhaps inside he understood it in some way, and so sought to make it easy on Lane by asking him to resign, to keep the matter private, and to make up the shortfall himself. He cops a lot of flak Don, but – and this the beauty of his character – there is a strong streak of decency and justice in him. There was no getting out leaving though for Lane, it was a matter of trust as Don said, and that was that. And I felt myself agree.

I knew what was coming. I’d read something online that ruined the surprise for me, but knowing how it was to end I watched with an absorbed fascination, as if watching the moments before a disaster in slow-motion. Humiliated, disgraced, about to be unemployed, Lane hung himself on the back of his office door.

It raised for me an important philosophical question. Should we make judgement on others simply based on what they have done? Or should we consider the consequences of that judgement?*

I’ve no doubt that Don regretted his hard line with Lane, and would have recanted if he could. Does that make his original decision wrong then? Or wrong only because Lane chose to end his life because of it? Or does it remain just – a crime was committed and Don was within his rights to refer it to the law – regardless of how Lane chooses to respond to it. In other words, is justice subjective, or purely objective? Do we adjudicate on the crime, or the outcomes?

There’s a parallel to this in the news right now. About a week ago nearly a hundred refugees seeking asylum in Australia perished when the ship they were traveling in from Indonesia sunk. This has long been a contentious issue, but this tragedy re-ignited the controversy. In the newspapers, in the streets, in parliament itself there was a clamour to finally achieve some kind of satisfactory resolution – impossible, unsurprisingly, as it turns out. You would hope that in parliament, where our laws are made and supposedly the moral probity and intellectual discourse should be paramount, that some just outcome should be achieved. It wasn’t though, and rarely is. The notion of objective justice does not exist in our government, and few, if any, worldwide. What we have instead is a debate corrupted by politics, and political gain, and subjective emotions.

The question should be about what is the just treatment of the desperate refugees seeking shelter within our borders. That is the root question, the issue that demands objective judgement. While our pollies might claim that is what they debate, for the great majority that issue is not the point.

The clamour and outrage we witness now is because so many helpless people died seeking a better life while traveling on a leaky boat. It’s not surprising that there is an outcry, but in parliament the drama is less about the causes and all about the effect. Refugees have been turning up on our doorstep for years, and while it has been a running argument it has been allowed to fester unresolved, the political battleground the parties fight over. Now it has erupted, but the debate is not about people seeking a better life and how we may humanely treat them. Except for a few sprinkled around the parliamentary benches, the debate boils down to how this tiresome problem can be removed.

I have my very firm opinions on the asylum seeker debate, and it’s mostly about opening our borders and letting more in through conventional methods. In contrast the parliamentary debate is about how to stop them from ever setting out for here, thus removing the tragedies we have just witnessed and the political inconvenience they cause. My idea will achieve much the same thing, and much more humanely, but is so politically objectionable that it is not an option. We come at things from different directions, I – and many like me – seek humane justice, they desire a convenient law. Consequences – political consequences – trump humanity, and overshadow the real issue.

So, is objective justice possible? Is it desirable?

I wonder. We can all pretend to live in a pristine, ideal world, but that doesn’t exist. No-one who makes judgement lives in a vacuum. And judgement cannot be, should not be, a matter of simple arithmetic. We are human, not robots. It’s impossible I think to achieve that perfect, objective truth, but on reflection I don’t think it is something we should aim for. Objective appraisal should be the basis of justice, but there is room for a subjective qualification.

In the case of Don in his treatment of Lane he did nothing wrong, but nor would he have been wrong to temper his judgement with mercy. In the case of our government it means finding an apolitical mechanism to seek causes rather than effects, to find an objective but humane truth. I guess this goes back to that old Shakespearean aphorism, that the quality of mercy is not strain’d. How often we forget.


*A related question when it comes to criminal proceedings: do we seek to punish for the transgression, or do we seek to rehabilitate the transgressor? I think the aim is both, but it’s a tricky balance to manage.

Acting from belief

Most people when they act with any consideration do so from their beliefs. Those beliefs may be immature or well developed. They may be uninformed and ill-considered – if at all, and subject to personal prejudice; or they may be the result of reading, observation, personal experience and deep consideration.

It’s reasonable to expect that the leaders in our society fall into the second camp. In many instances I think that is true, and historically very much the case. In general this has provided us with leaders who are nuanced, humane and of an intelligence far beyond the norm. That’s as it should be.

Though I don’t question the intelligence of our leaders today, I believe we are going through an era where raw belief is secondary to shallow jingoism. The emphasis has shifted from acting from our beliefs or ideals, from some sort of moral bedrock, to a shallow, opportunistic and ultimately transient re-action to the days events.

There are different reasons for this. I think in general we have dumbed down as a society. Our attention span is shorter, our patience limited. Sound bites rather than informed discussion are now the norm. Our political leaders deal in bold and controversial statements, often with little relationship to the facts, tailored for the evening’s news, and tomorrow’s headlines. That often they have little relationship to the facts is immaterial, and barely commented on, which is symptomatic of our time. With some exceptions our media standards have radically declined. Bald misrepresentations masquerading as opinion have become the de facto standard, particularly in the tabloid press and radio. For way too many Australians these bitter and pre-digested ‘opinions’ are how they come to understand the ‘facts’. Their opinions are not theirs, but rather have been received from others – and generally those who make the biggest noise and create the biggest headlines. It’s all of a piece: sensation over consideration; slogans over discussion; abuse over civility. Even much of our advertising I’ve noticed has become tainted. I wonder where the standards are that should be controlling these excesses.

Given that this is the society today is it any wonder that our political leaders are what they are? The truth of the axiom that we get the politicians we deserve has never been more evident.

Our leaders are curious. As I said, I don’t doubt that either Gillard or Abbott are intelligent people in basic terms. The problem is, one is weak, and the other corrupt.

Gillard doesn’t strike me as an intellectual (a much derided term these days unfortunately). She appears like a woman who has given little thought to the broader canvas, more inclined as she is to calm good sense. She is a sturdy type, a strong nature even if she has been weak politically. I don’t know enough about her to know if she is a student of history or society, if she reads or doesn’t. She strikes me as an occasional reader, too practical to indulge in things of the past. With that though is a stolid lack of imagination. That is her greatest failing as a leader I think. As a deputy she is supremely competent, but from a leader you need qualities that will carry us forward, to follow, to lift us from the bitter rut we have fallen into. Foremost amongst those qualities is imagination. Because she has little imagination there are few ideals that colour her perspective. She acts, not from belief, but from narrow pragmatism.

Abbott is different. He is a reader, a writer, clearly a student of many disciplines. Though he has always been far to the right of where I sit I once quite liked him. In a junior portfolio I was able to dismiss his occasional extremism as harmless Abbott-isms; in many ways he seemed an affable character, and more thoughtful than he portrayed himself to be. His books are well written and well received. Somewhere inside him is a thoughtful man.

Perhaps that’s why I now so despise him. I called him corrupt before and I meant that in the sense that he has happily disregarded the ‘better’ parts of himself in the quest for political power. As an avowed Christian he does little, if anything, to embody Christian virtues, and no Christian charity. A smart man he has resorted in opposition to diss everything. He gives the strong impression that he would oppose initiatives even if he himself agreed with them. He is a man who has happily separated what he believes from how he acts. He is a leading contributor to the hostile political environment we are now subject to. Politics, and society, have degenerated together and if he is one cause of that it is because he has latched onto the tenor of the times. He speaks in violent shorthand, with dubious respect for the facts – the media lap it up, and he reaps the rewards.

I’m an idealist, but I’m not naive. I know being in power is much more challenging than commenting on it. I realise that there are pragmatic realities that must be bowed before, that shortcuts and compromises must be made. I’m also of the belief that occasionally the end might justify the means – but also that both the end and the means must be carefully weighed. The problem with Abbott is that the end for him is to be Prime Minister of this country, and any means will justify it.

It’s a philosophy that has infected our parliament, which has become a bitter and mean spirited place. Just yesterday, Joe Hockey, a fundamentally decent man I think, launched himself at the government with a diatribe that was disgraceful and borderline racist. There is no society in our politicians, and little civilisation.

Curious it is to consider the men standing in the wings on either side of the divide, the former leaders, Rudd and Turnbull are both thinkers, intelligent men with well-defined beliefs. Turnbull I would vote for in the blink of an eye – a reasonable, urbane politician of the old school, inclined to do the best for the national interest than his own – and with some sophistication and intelligence. Rudd had his chance and lost his nerve, but at least he stands for something. I’d vote for him ahead of Gillard.

I should finish by saying Australia is by no means unique in this regard. This is a worldwide phenomena I think. In Obama the Americans have a leader they seem to under-value from afar, a man decent, intelligent and acting from the altruistic desire to civil service. And he believes in things. Opposing him though are the ratbags, the Rupublicans in political disarray as the rabid extremism of the Tea Party raises it’s very ugly head. I have more faith in the good sense of Australians than I do that the Americans will be able to hold off the Tea Party. The Tea Party spells doom to the American state, but that’s an opinion for another time.

The comedy no-one laughs at

I caught up last night with one of my favourite shows currently on the box. The Thick of It is the TV spin-off (or possibly the inspiration for?) the movie that came out last year In The Loop. It’s sort of an updated Yes, Minister, just as cynical, but much less polite, with Peter Capaldi playing the unforgettably in your face political advisor with a potty mouth that is corrosive and hilariously inventive. He’s one of the great characters. I loved the movie. It was one of the funniest things I watched last year. The TV series is patchy-ish but just as funny at it’s best. It’s one of those few shows that makes me laugh out loud – or LOL, if you prefer.

While I’m happily tuning out watching this fictional political world the usual melancholy combination of political incompetence, terrible judgement, and insane nonsense is playing out in Australian politics. I’m politically engaged as a very general rule, but I don’t want to have a bar of what is going on here. Much as it sounds defeatist, Australian politics is just too miserable, bitter and depressingly low-brow for me to even contemplate it. Yet here I am, oh Magoo, you’ve done it again.

It really is quite hilarious to witness the depths of sheer ineptitude our elected representatives descend to. If it was TV comedy you’d tune in every week to have a laugh, grateful that real life isn’t like that. That’s the problem though: we’re now living the comedy, and no-one’s laughing.

I do try and steer clear of politics. Oh I do, really, but it keeps dragging me back. What I’d give for a sedate and sensible government, and an opposition with scruples. Foolishly idealistic, I know, but I fear I’m getting an ulcer just living in this place now, sort of by osmosis – and that’s while refusing to read or listen to the latest ridiculous report on government bloopers, the corruption, the misjudgements, the grandstanding, and, in the case of Tony Abbott, the evil. It gets me anyway. Give up H, you can’t win.

I’m hoping one day that things will improve to the point that we look back upon this era and think of it as an aberration. We have a government, well meaning I’m sure, and generally insincere, but laughingly incompetent. They’re just not up to it. It’s like we’ve elevated the council of some remote locality to govern on behalf of 20 odd million people. You shake your head more in pity than anger. What makes it even weirder is how talented they are at shooting themselves in the foot. Their aim is unerring. Had perhaps they sought to govern on principle rather than convenience I reckon they would have avoided half the shit they’ve dropped themselves in. There’s a depressing moral in that somewhere, very much like some cynical TV screenwriter might come up with. The irony: by choosing to do the wrong thing for what they believe are the right reasons (political advantage) they manage to make themselves look weak, and fuck it up anyway. Had they chosen to take the high moral ground and govern on principle (even unpopular principle) then at least they would have appeared to have some resolve, even an identity, and might even gained the respect they so desperately lack.

I’m being harsh perhaps. The carbon tax, dreadfully communicated and sold to the general public, at least has some merit – it’s good policy I think. But then we consider the backdown on the supertax in the face of ignorant general opposition, and a Liberal opposition more interested in scoring political points than doing what is right for the country. It was a weak backdown and has cost this country badly – and it did nought for the credibility of the government.

In the last few weeks we’ve had the controversy erupt about Craig Thomson’s credit card rorting (alleged). I don’t give a toss if he went to a prostitute – that’s not my business. If he’s engaged in corruption though that’s another story. Regardless of outcome it’s a dispiriting episode. You wonder how someone as clearly dumb as Thomson can get elected to parliament.

Then of course there’s the latest setback on the so-called Malaysian solution. It makes the government look like a bunch of clowns. Maybe it’s time, given the big hairy balls they so clearly lack, for the government to make a stand. Asylum seekers and refugees are not an issue. It’s fucking stupid to think that a mere 5-6,000 a year coming here on boats can cause so much controversy and angst. Let them come in! For christs sake, we possess one of the biggest land masses in the world, sparsely populated. Let’s return to the humane Australia I grew up in. Enough of demonising these pitiful people for political gain. Let’s tell it as it is: that we get a mere fraction of what half of western Europe gets for example; that no-one gets in the a leaky boat for the pleasure of it: these poor people are general fleeing from poverty, oppression, misery – why would they not seek greener pastures?; that we can easily absorb them into our community and make of them productive citizens, as has happened time and again; and that there are many more ‘western’ tourists here illegally on expired visas than ever get reach our shores as illegal immigrants. Finally, it’s time for society that these are people too, not abstract symbols as they have become. They might speak differently, look different, but they are families, parents, children, they have the same desire for a happy, safe life as we do, but their dreams are smaller because they have less. We have much to offer, much too share. Why not take in these poor people and give them the shelter and support they crave? That’s the story that should be told. A brave government might do it. This government has to begin standing for something worth believing in.

Op-Ed Columnist – Boy, Oh, Boy – NYTimes.com

The outburst was unexpected from a milquetoast Republican backbencher from South Carolina who had attracted little media attention. Now it has made him an overnight right-wing hero, inspiring “You lie!” bumper stickers and T-shirts.

via www.nytimes.com

Is this the other side of the argument I was making last week?

I'm an advocate of free speech and robust debate. While that does not mean I condone outbursts like Joe Wilsons, my first inclination is to dismiss them as an act of stupidity. I am aware also that it can be dangerous giving too much air time to incidents like this – in such a way molehills can become nasty mountains.

There is another angle though. I am not close enough to the cut and thrust of US society on a daily basis. I read a lot – more than most – and like most people in the western world am exposed to US culture through movies and TV, and the big headlines that make the daily papers. No matter how closely I read I do so from a perspective that is not American – which is both a positive and a negative.

Dowd suggests in her article that Wilson's outburst was the explosive consequence of simmering racism. I can't say yay or nay to that because I don't walk American streets, don't listen to the conversations in American bars and coffee shops, am not exposed to the nuances of the discussion there. In this case I have to bow to Dowd, a seasoned correspondent and there on the spot.

One thing Joe Wilson's outburst seems to have done is to lift the lid on some unsavoury divisions on the political stage. As I suspected it would his comments and the publicity following them seem to have brought the extremists out of the woodpile. At the same time it is being reported more commonly even here that there is a racial tinge to much of what is happening – which Down explicitly alludes to.

In the end what do you believe? I'm tending to think that opposition to Obama is not all about his politics. If that's true then it's hardly new, but is very disappointing. And if it's true then the likes of Joe Wilson should be called out. As Dowd quotes in her article, silence gives consent.

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