This, by the way, is one of the old cranes on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour. This one reminded me of nothing so much as a Transformer movie figure. Standing below it, it is angular and harsh and very industrial. But then, it is all of those things!
More on Cockatoo Island in a later post.
Australia's refugee policy is a gift that keeps on giving. In previous discussion, I made the point that regardless of the arguments for or against the approach, the way that it was structured was high risk to the Government in terms of the probability of things going wrong. I also made the point that, with given objectives and rules, there was still a question of humanity in approach.
The last week has illustrated both points.
First we had the PNG Supreme Court Ruling that the Manus Detention Centre was illegal, followed by the PNG Government's decision that it must close. The Govrnment's first response was to wash its hands of matter. According to the Courier Mail, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton: stated
responsibility for the regional processing centre on Manus Island lay with PNG, saying the Supreme Court decision bound the PNG government, not the Australian government.
“We want to see people off Manus and off Nauru but they won’t be coming to Australia,” he said.Even as the Manus Island solution was unraveling, the case of a Nauru rape victim was before the Australian courts. The evidence of Immigration official David Nockels is quite extraordinary, displaying an inhumanity in process that I find hard to comprehend.
Even as the rape case was before the court we had the self immolation and subsequent death of the Nauruan detainee known as Omid. Today we have a report that Prime Minister Turnbull had again rejected an offer from New Zealand to take 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres saying: “Settlement in a country like New Zealand would be used by the people smugglers as a marketing opportunity.”.
Think about that for a moment. There is a certain inconsistency between Minister Dutton's position that the Manus problem is a matter for PNG and Mr Turnbull's stance. If those centres are matters for the PNG and Nauruan Governments, how can Australia reject a resettlement offer? It's not an Australian decision.
The PNG Government seems clearly of the view that the Manus detainees are Australia's responsibility and, in the end, that will be the case. Meantime, this editorial in the Melbourne Herald Sun shows the confusion even among those who support the Abbott policy.
It is true that, as the Herald Sun suggests, that Labor leader Shorten has been struggling to hold divisions within his Party as the bib and bub concensus between Coalition and Labor starts to break down. Whether a break down in that concenus would hurt Labor is far from clear notwithstanding the Herald Sun.
I don't have a crystal ball. I suspect that the Abbott/Turnbull position is a bit like that crane, still impressive but rusting.
The Government has a problem now with PNG and what to do about the detainees. It has problems on Nauru. Whichever way you cut it, there is plenty of scope for things to go wrong yet again.
One of the sideshows in all this is the electoral competition in New England.
Barnaby Joyce as Deputy Prime Minister has loyally locked himself into support for the Government's position, while opponent Tony Windsor has made refugee treatment one of the three key issues of his campaign. Those who support the Government position on the issue are already in Mr Joyce's camp,.those who oppose are more likely to be in Mr Windsor's camp. It's the ones in the middle who count.
Normally, I would have said that refugee matters would not be important at the end of the day because other issues were seen as more important. Now I don't know.
Many things can happen between now and the election. I do know that there are many who may support the Government's general stance but are concerned about the results of the policy. Unless the Government can resolve or reduce the inhumanities, unless further shocks can be avoided, their votes may shift.
My view here is based upon my knowledge of the structure of country communities, of the way they interact. There is not time tonight to explore this properly, but it comes back to community activism and the way people interact across broader social and political divides. My feeling is that it may lead to a 1% or 2% shift in votes, and that would be enough for Mr Windsor to win if the current polls are to be believed.