“We Will Decide” Howard
At the time I was incandescent with rage against what the Howard government was doing (though full of admiration for people like Bruce Baird in that government). I still am. Blind Freddy knew we and the asylum seekers were being manipulated in the most blatant way. There is a page on my blogs that preserves a version of my rage, although modified in the since disappointed hope that the current government would be a hell of a lot better. It looked for a while as if they might, but cowardice or calculation seem to have triumphed in the end.
Here, just for the record, are some extracts from posts of the time.
13 December 2001: Great letter…but the Australian government will ignore it
I have a page on my website devoted to the recent twistings and turnings of the Australian government on refugees and immigration. The tragicomedy rolls on. Like tiger repellent in the Australian desert (very effective, as you never see tigers there), our fearless Ruddock’s "Pacific solution" and "border protection" have kept the millions of Afghan refugees from leaping into boats and swamping our shores. Nauru (24 square kilometres isn’t it?) has accepted another payout and will take more asylum seekers. Do they outnumber the Nauruan population yet? The cost of all this–well, not really 500 million dollars salted away from three different government departments–oh no; maybe just 100 million dollars, said Ruddock yesterday.
Born in pre-election vote-catching expediency, morally vacuous, patently absurd, ad-hoc management–what else can you say about it? This perhaps:
A letter to the Prime Minister
We write to you as a group of Australian citizens currently living overseas, who share a common concern with regard to recent events in Australia that have attracted significant international criticism.
We are proud that Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. Immigrants have made a profound contribution to Australia’s unique national character. Although our history is not perfect in this regard, we have succeeded in creating a common identity through tolerance and open-mindedness towards those who join our community.
In this light, we are disturbed and disappointed by the Federal Government’s actions in relation to the desperate plight of refugees. We are deeply concerned that Australia’s international standing as an open and tolerant nation has been compromised. As ambassadors for our country, we have found it difficult to justify to our overseas colleagues the Australian Government’s recent decisions in this regard.
Furthermore, we strongly object to the Government’s use of language that dehumanises and vilifies refugees trying to escape persecution. We feel that, as Prime Minister, you have a responsibility to encourage Australian citizens to overcome their fears and uncertainties about the significant changes that are currently taking place in the international sphere. Instead, we believe that your Government has framed the debate in a way that gives legitimacy to intolerance in the general community. We ask you to move beyond populism and to conduct Australia’s affairs in a way that reflects our status as a forward-thinking nation.
We call on the Australian Government to comply with its international treaty obligations with respect to refugees, and to meet its responsibilities as an international citizen in responding to humanitarian disasters.
We call on the Australian Government to respond to the current refugee crisis (as it did for East Timor) by increasing the number of available places in the humanitarian program for the refugees currently fleeing Central Asia and the Middle East.
We call on the Australian Government to put an end to mandatory detention and to inhumane treatment of asylum seekers.
We care deeply about Australia’s role and future direction, and strongly entreat you to re-visit these issues.
Dr Bryan Gaensler, Cambridge MA, USA, Clay Fellow, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Harvard University, 1999 Young Australian of the Year. And others.
That appeared in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald, but to the government and the true elites around here (you know them, always slagging genuinely liberal views as "elite") it won’t make a blind bit of difference. Just another soft-headed set of chattering class chardonnay swilling pointy headed politically correct crypto-socialist bleeding hearts after all: not real Aussies at all, not real patriots.
"Liberal Senator George Brandis does not deny routinely referring to the Prime Minister as "the rodent". He does, however, deny ever calling the Prime Minister "a lying rodent". He believes John Howard is a truthful rodent. Actually, we should clarify that further, for Brandis is a barrister, with a barrister’s capacity for fine distinction. He would only ever call Howard the rodent; never a rodent, because the former is a nickname, whereas the latter would be a pejorative term. And, it must be said, in all the times this correspondent has heard Brandis use the r-word it has always been preceded by "the", not "a"…" The Sydney Morning Herald.
01 September 2004: I couldn’t pass by that memorable phrase as this entry’s title. Wherever the truth lies (bleeding, probably) in the war of the stat decs, I am sure "lying rodent" will pass into memory as a particularly apt descriptor of a Prime Minister who sacrificed whatever moral authority he may have had on the eve of the last election.
"Anyone but Howard" as many a footpath in Surry Hills now proclaims, that being taken in turn from one of Howard’s many disaffected co-conservatives. Consider the 7.30 Report two nights ago:
KERRY O’BRIEN: There is argument about whether it was originally meant in the best sense or said sarcastically, but you were once, a long time ago, calledHonest John. You say that this election is about trust, which implies honesty. In terms of your own personal integrity, are you still entitled to be called Honest John?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, it is not a description that I have used myself, Kerry, others did. Like everybody else, I value my reputation. I tell the truth. I try to be honest with people. I’ve been accused of other things by my political opponents, I accept that. In the end, the Australian people will make a judgment about that.When I say this election is about trust, I mean that in the broad sense of the word.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Not in the personal sense as well?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, of course. The broad includes the specific, doesn’t it? And includes it in every sense of the word. It goes beyond personal integrity. (Observe the following logical slide – a veritable glissando!) It also includes capacity, focus and experience and the ability to deal with difficult issues in a fast changing environment and we live in a world where that capacity is required of a national leader.
KERRY O’BRIEN: You say that Australians are sick of kids overboard and dismiss it as an issue that was there for three days of the last campaign. It was there for more than three days, but I suspect there are a number of indefinable Australians who do want to know whether you lied about kids overboard during the last election to boost your prospects.
JOHN HOWARD: Kerry, I didn’t lie about it. The original statement was based on firm information. That wasn’t the debate. Nobody is suggesting that we weren’t originally told. The debate was about the extent of the communication of the reverse side of the story.
Look, what I’m saying is that people remember of that period that I stopped the boats. They will always remember that and they will always remember the Government was strong on border protection and the Labor Party was weak.
I don’t believe the last election was determined on kids overboard, but what I’m saying is that this election is about the next 10 years, not about the last three days of the last election campaign and I believe very strongly that the overwhelming majority of the Australian people see it that way. But in the end, like everything else, this will be determined by the Australian people. It will be resolved by the Australian people when the election takes place.
KERRY O’BRIEN: In the interim, these issues will continue to be debated. In Mike Scrafton, you have a former senior Defence official who says he made clear to you at at the time that no children were thrown overboard. He is backed up by two senior Defence officers, a serving major-general and Navy commander and also another senior Defence official.
They say he told them all at the time that you knew that you had been told that no children had been thrown overboard and yet you continued to tell Australian voters the opposite. What do their accounts and recollections say about your honesty?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, they’re not direct evidence. There are only two people had that conversation and I dispute his recollection. This is all known. People know that I dispute that recollection and I continue to dispute it, but there is really nothing I can add to that and my recollection is consistent with the recollections of my staff, but in the end, people will make a judgment about that.
I don’t seek to denigrate Mr Scrafton. I’m sure he believes what he is saying.
I am simply saying my recall is different and I’m also saying that what people remember about that issue is that we stopped the boats. We were very strong on border protection and the Labor Party was weak.
KERRY O’BRIEN: The issue that I’m raising, Mr Howard, is not border protection because the kids overboard case didn’t alter your border protection policies one way or the other. The issue I’m raising is about integrity, morality, ethical behaviour.
I know that you reject that this proposition applies to you, but I’m curious to know whether you feel that a man who deliberately and irresponsibly whips up public emotions and prejudice against a boatload of asylum seekers for political gain deserves to be prime minister.
JOHN HOWARD: Well, I believe I deserve to be prime minister for a whole range of reasons. I reject the claim that I deliberately whipped it up.
It was based on proper advice, I repeat that and I remind your viewers about that. The point I’m making about the boats is that the dominant concern of people in relation to border protection was the stopping of the boats, not the issue of whether children had been throw overboard.
Look, we can go on all night and perhaps you might want to.
Would you buy a used car from this person?…
Manipulative little swine, isn’t he?
…it is true that such liberal values are very much threatened.
But then so is good journalism by the likes of Akerman. His grasp of Church History and Western Intellectual History is little better than his grasp of Islam. The trouble is, people will think I am a smart-arse and Akerman is a good bloke, as ignorance tends to go down well with the mob. Ask any commercial radio talkback jock or station owner. The more meretricious the product the more likely it is to attract the ratings, and advertising dollars just come rolling in.
… Now for a shock: Ninglun says something nice about the Australian government: I agree entirely with the Education Minister ("Don’t push students, says Nelson ") in what he says about expecting all 17 and 18-year-old students to do the HSC.
On the other hand, the Immigration Minister, while impressing some with his toughness, is driving me to fresh waves of nausea each time I see him. (There is an article by Professor David Flint in the latest Quadrant where Howard and Ruddock are ably defended, and yet Flint does not convince me. More perhaps later.) I reproduce one letter from today’s Sydney Morning Herald without joy, but believing it to be a profoundly important letter:
Ruddock’s concentration camps for kids
If children were in the care of a parent who left them exposed to violence and did not provide adequate education or a place for safe play and development, we would remove those children and consider prosecuting the guardian. This is the condition of children in the Woomera Detention Centre.
The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, is the guardian of about 50 unaccompanied children there. The remaining 240 children in Woomera who have a parent with them are little better off.
Mr Ruddock’s policies make adequate parenting in immigration detention impossible. The harsh, dehumanising environment and the prolonged time in limbo undermines even the most resourceful. Asylum-seekers are already vulnerable and traumatised. Does any other country lock children and families behind walls of razor wire in the desert?
We recently visited children and families in Woomera and Villawood Detention Centres and saw their conditions of detention and the effects of these on children first-hand. At Woomera, people were introduced to us by number rather than their name. There was evidence of violence and despair in the filthy and blood-stained toilets the detainees use. There was not shade or a blade of grass in the compound, except the administration building. Younger children asked us why there are no flowers in Australia. Keeping children in conditions akin to concentration camps is medically and morally wrong.
Dr Michael Dudley, Chair, Suicide Prevention Australia,
Dr Sarah Mares, Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, RANZCP,
Dr Fran Gale,
Truth Overboard (2002) by Chris Sidoti.
This site can now only be reached via the WayBack Machine:
Last night vindicated most of what is there.
The next entry will look more closely at the documentary and Q&A.