As our Prime Minister and Opposition Leader continue to struggle under the weight of negative approval ratings perhaps the time has come to draw guidance from the humble hagfish.
Tomorrow is official Hagfish Day, a day to celebrate the ‘beauty of ugly’ and make the point it’s not just cute and cuddly creatures that deserve our attention.
Haikus are written, songs are sung, school kids are encouraged to learn more about the slimy deep-sea scavengers.
It’s not that our political leaders are slimy scavengers. Hang on… it’s not that our political leaders bear any physical similarities that make Hagfish Day relevant; but their pursuit of popularity does end up reinforcing all the negatives that drive our disdain with politics.
The High Court injunction to Labor’s elaborate asylum-seeker swap with Malaysia provides yet another forum to fuel, rather than soothe, community anxiety about the arrival of boats carrying asylum seekers.
This crisis has been driven by Government policy, Opposition alarmism, media sensationalism and all tied up with an ongoing sense of economic and cultural anxiety that we have lost control of our borders.
But as this week’s Essential Report shows, concerns about asylum seekers are not only informed, but are actually driven, by the myth that we are currently being flooded by new arrivals.
The concern about the level of asylum seekers arriving by boat has assumed the mantle of an Australian character trait.
It will be cold comfort for the latest batch of asylum seekers being prodded onto aircraft bound for Malaysia, but their personal journey reflects the political dead-end the Australian Government is currently confronting.
Having risked everything to find a safe haven, the Government’s plans have now been derailed by forces outside their control and now they find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Just like the asylum seekers.
As this week’s Essential Report shows, political support for the plan to trade asylum seekers for certified refugees at a rate of five to one has collapsed over the past six weeks.
A strange thing is happening to the asylum seeker debate right now. Coalition MPs are talking about human rights; media reports are focused on the plight of children; negotiations over UN treaties are no longer dismissed as irrelevant.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen may be having a tough time selling his Malaysian Solution but in the process he might be achieving something more fundamental – opening up the nation’s heart just a little.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is pushing the Nauru government to sign the UN Refugee Convention so he can put it forward as a credible alternative for processing there.
Rather than a political prize fight on turning back boats, defying UN conventions and keeping our borders strong, both sides of politics seem to be focused for once on how to meet our international obligations.
After yet another week where politics was dominated by climate change and asylum seekers an issue that many thought went out of fashion with the Cold War trumps both: the protection of Australian jobs and industries.
Despite unemployment sitting at historic low levels, this week’s Essential Report shows industry protection is the sleeping giant of the national debate, trailing only economic management and health as a voter priority.
And with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott working tirelessly to derail the carbon price; embracing industry policy could be the Government’s best bet at neutralising his scare campaign on jobs
The compelling narrative emerging from the Canberra Press Gallery is that Labor is dead, Gillard is a dud leader and the whole show should put itself out of its misery and hand power to the Coalition.
It’s a message reinforced with the release of each major opinion poll; take this week ‘Budget falls flat’, ‘Gillard on the nose’, ‘More troubles with boatpeople’.
The problem is that polls and analysis are completely different beasts and if you judge the national debate purely on the numbers, there is a very different story – a government weighed down by a major reform, stabilising in key areas.
1. Preferred Party
The Coalition has an election-winning lead, but it is two years out from the election. The polling numbers have been stable since the announcement of the carbon tax – proof that Labor requires a long game if it is to win the next election.
This week’s Essential Report actually picks up a minor bounce to Labor, exaggerated by some rounding issues, but like the other polls, Labor is behind but not miles behind.
|2PP||Election 21.8.10||4 weeks ago||2 weeks ago||Last week||This week|
First published in The Mercury, 30/4/11.
The problem of asylum seekers, and what to do with them, has been a touchstone issue in Australian politics for well over a decade.
From the Tampa debacle, the “children overboard” controversy, the awful tragedies of the Siev X and the Christmas Island boat disaster, to the Villawood riots – asylum seekers have been an ever-present source of community angst.
If political progressives want to stop the ALP from drifting to the Right, energetically backing the decision to move women and children out of immigration detention looks like a good place to start.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Immigration minister Chris Bowen took the new minority government’s first truly brave decision last week, yet all they got was a sullen acceptance from a Left still acting like jilted lovers after the disappointments of the election campaign.
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