The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Still Stopping The Boats, Are We?


There were always going to be a few options when it came to stopping unauthorised maritime arrivals, or whatever it is we’re calling them this week. As it’s a complex problem, the solutions are also quite complex. For the sake of space and sanity, let’s divide the possible responses into two broad sets: Preventative and Punitive. And just so we don’t accidentally create a false dichotomy, let’s point out, right here at the top of the page, that each solution obviously contains elements of the other. What gives each set of responses its title is emphasis, rather than exclusivity.

Way back in the days before Australia’s somewhat ill-advised experiment with Abbottian Radicalism, we the people were presented with a clear choice. On the one hand, there was the humane, intelligent and nuanced Preventative solution, where government tried to ignore the white noise of xenophobia and make plans which would operate and effect well into the middle and long term (note the careful use of the word ‘government’ – neither Liberal nor Labor get a pass on this particular bucket of vile toxicity). And then there was the Punitive solution, where government would amplify, and in large part create, xenophobic white noise, and undertake actions which can either be seen as courageous and direct, or reactive and stupid, depending on which part of the political spectrum the describer happens to be shouting from.

With breathtaking courage, perspicacity and intelligence, we the people chose the Punitive approach. Bravely, we went forth on a program of deliberate and questionably legal cruelty in order, so we were told, to save lives. We entered into dubious agreements with dubious island governments, militarised and classified what had previously been a relatively benign border control operation and turned a sanctimoniously blind eye to the psychological abuse, beating and rape of the men, women and children we were so virtuously saving from death. All things pass, however, and after a while I think we became less enthused about the Punitive solution. The obvious moral ambiguities, as well as the shockingly increased cost, gave many of us pause. “Who would have thought,” the media said for us, “that a solution which requires significantly greater resources and involves indefinite internment would cost so much more and be so damn nasty?”

I don’t really understand how we of the Australian public, members of a nation and culture I love, could ever have rationalised this to ourselves. Perhaps we saw it as some kind of tough love? Or perhaps we, as a nation, had a momentary lapse of both generosity and courage, and decided in that moment to listen to the mean, reactionary, white supremacist fringe which exists in every Western nation, no matter how wonderful. Suffice it to say, having made this choice we are, for the moment, stuck with it.

What happened, way back in the halcyon days before Rudd Gillard Rudd OMFG ABBOTT WHY WHY WHY Turnbull, was a re-affirmation of one of the oldest principles of Australian politics. We confirmed, in no uncertain terms, that being tough on Johnny Foreigner was still a guaranteed lever for generating popularity. It’s in this context that the recent proposed lifetime ban on boat arrivals makes the most sense. The permanently outraged left is not, I think, alone in being nonplussed and infuriated by the proposal, but there really isn’t any reason for this. With a Prime Minister weakened by factional infighting, low popularity and his own apparent moral and political cowardice, it was really only a matter of time before the xenophobia button was pushed yet again. And it is merely characteristic that it’s being done in such a half-arsed, pussy-footed and tangential way. Half-arsed, pussy-footed and tangential could and probably will be carved on this government’s headstone.

Category: Asinine, Politics


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