Back in May 2011, I wrote this:
"My first quick reaction to the PM's Malaysian proposal, Gillard's refugee deal, was positive as one step in a possible broader solution. That reaction is not shared by many of my blogging colleagues.
Given this, I thought that I would set out the principles/issues that underlay my reaction simply and without supporting argument:Mr Abbott's highly qualified admission that the Opposition should perhaps have supported the proposal is interesting, including the admission that a more bipartisan approach might have reduced some of the poison now infecting Australian politics. Mr Morrison's response that he did as he was told on the matter by Mr Abbott ("I acted in accordance with my leader's instructions," ) is also interesting.
Turning now to the specifics that guided my instinctive reaction:
- The Howard Government's refugee policies were part of a pattern of behaviour that, at the end, swung me against that Government. The refugee policy may have stopped the boats, but it came at a high human cost and was (as I saw it) part of a progressive dehumanisation of Government.
- The initial policies of the new Labor Government may or may not have been sensible, but they were a reaction to Howard Government policies. However, Labor then became trapped in the political get tough rhetoric. Just as Mr Howard's policies ignored key regional dynamics, so East Timor regional processing got thrown in without thought.
- The Howard policy was simple. Make things tough at this end and we stop the boats. Mr Abbott's single minded rhetoric on the issue has been effective only because of apparent failures in Labor policy, as well as Labor's failure to articulate a clear alternative approach.
- Both the Howard and, to a degree, the Rudd-Gillard approach were crafted for domestic consumption and really didn't take into account broader issues.
- The refugee problem is complex. Further, the problems that countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia face are large compared to ours in terms of numbers and resources.
I am well aware of issues associated with Malaysia's treatment of refugees. I am old enough, among other things, to remember the treatment of Vietnamese boat people. That (the issues), it seems to me, is a matter to be dealt with in negotiation."
- There is no such thing as perfection.
- For a number of reasons including politics and humanity, we have to stop the boats. We have two choices: we can go the Abbott/Howard route or an alternative. None of those attacking the Gillard proposal have really put forward an alternative. If the current opinion polls continue, Mr Abbott may well win the next election.
- The Government is, I think, reaching towards a regional framework that will provide a more sensible approach. That can only be underpinned in the end if we take more refugees.
It is, of course, very difficult to know what might have happened if another course had been followed. I doubt that it would have been worse. The poisoned chalice that is "Stop the Boats" keeps dripping, with the Greens doing their best to hold it to the Government's lips saying just another sip.
In some previous posts I have tried to explore ways of humanising current policy within the frame set by the Government's policy parameters. I don't think I was very successful.
What I can be sure of is that the current approach will lead to continuing problems. Sort Manus and Nauru remains. In the end, I am left with the depressing feeling that Nauru might become the Australian equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. Not a nice prospect. We will probably sort it out. The only question is the final cost.
These numbers seem reasonably accurate - a Manus cost of $2 billion. Later we will get all the numbers - Nauru, Manus, navy etc - and be able to make an objective judgement as to value.