Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"When the polls go down, the vileness goes up."

It’s been a while (over a year, in fact) since I’ve added anything to this so-called blog, but this morning I watched the video linked below and felt the need to respond.

The simple response is this: “Yes! This! What Adam Bandt said!”

A more considered response is this: I have a grudging respect for John Howard, not because I agreed with his policies or cheered when he led us into a complex, deadly and endless war in the Middle East, but because of a political shrewdness that allowed him to hold the top job for eleven years. The very best example of this shrewdness came during the “children overboard" affair of October, 2001, when Peter Reith and John Howard, in the lead-up to a tight federal election, alleged that asylum seekers on boats had threatened to throw their children overboard in order to secure safe passage to Australia. This very quickly spiralled into reports that the asylum seekers had done precisely that. However, when it emerged that this was untrue, John Howard showed what a clever politician he really was by saying, “I never said that those people threw their children overboard – I simply asked if we as Australians would want to welcome the kinds of people who would throw their kids overboard.” Back covered, bullets dodged, election victory secured.

From Fairfax Media.
And now Peter Dutton, a man with all the political acumen, nous and dexterity of a fifth-grade debating alternate, suggests that some babies and children in our camps on Manus Island and Nauru might follow Baby Asha’s case and turn to self-harm in an effort to get to Australia via the world-class socialised health system that others in his party are concurrently trying to weaken. But not content with suggesting the absurd, he went on to suggest the outrageous and despicable – that Baby Asha’s mother might have deliberately thrown boiling water on her baby in order to circumvent the harsh no-settlement-for-boat-people policy shamefully adopted by both major parties. Refugee advocates have told us that the mother was repeatedly asked whether she had been "coached" by advocates to burn Asha. 

There are two things I need to say about this. First, to even make such a suggestion is disgraceful, even with the convenient Howard-Reith “I was speaking in hypotheticals” caveat that is certain to come. All I can hope is that when Dutton’s statement is related back to Asha’s mother, some of the disgusting innuendo is lost in translation, just for her sake. Second, if it were to emerge that parents were harming their kids in order to get them into Australian hospitals, as unlikely as that might be, I would hope that rather than allowing that to be seen as some kind of xenophobic reflection on their worth as people and parents, we might recognise it as a symptom of the absolute desperation of these men, women, children and babies held in prison for a period without an end in sight. But to be completely clear, I would be very surprised if this turned out to be the case.

It was infuriating to hear Dutton say yesterday that refugee advocates have used the Baby Asha case to “raise their own media profile, which is disgraceful”. No, what is disgraceful is finding a way to turn this thing around to reflect badly on the good and kind people who are standing up in representation of voiceless people. And speaking of voiceless, it was revealed three nights ago that Asha's mother was not allowed to make or receive phone calls or meet advocates, on the orders of Serco staff. To put it another way, the distraught and frightened parent of a burned infant was treated like a common criminal and denied basic rights of communication, not by police or correctional officers, but by private contractors hired by our government. Just let that sink in.

Finally, note the timing – all this is happening just in time for what is sure to be a closely-fought election campaign. As Adam Bandt said, with the L/NP brand of politics, when the polls go down, the vileness goes up.