Saturday, 15 October 2011

Falling backwards into (almost) good policy...

It has been a strange few weeks in Federal politics in Australia. 

Almost good ones for our hapless government.  Sort of.  And they might almost get three in a row with the Queen's upcoming visit!

Talk fests

Last week, two talk fests - on tax reform and jobs - were widely reported as good press for the besieged Government. 

They might have made it look to some as if the Government was finally attempting to actually govern.  Yet they are surely destined to go no where.  Labor has had more than enough problems getting its mining and carbon taxes through; the prospect of a government with no political capital left whatsoever doing anything more in this area is laughable.  And the chances of anything more than a few tokenistic measures aimed at propping up (yet again) the manufacturing sector? Don't hold your breath.

Mind you, that's no bad thing - the lure of tax reform may keep an army of lobbyists on behalf of vested interests in jobs, but constantly fiddling with somethng that isn't actually broken is counter-productive to the wider economy.  And trying to prop up our manufacturing sector with stopgaps - we've been there and done that and it doesn't work.

Carbon reform

Then this week, the Carbon Tax was finally passed - and unlike the (policy-wise superior) Rudd Emissions Trading Scheme, actually has the support of the Greens and so faces no obstacle in the Senate.  In the end, the overall package looks like reasonable policy (assuming of course that one accepts that some precautionary action in this area is justified), involving some genuine tax reform via the compensation package

And refugees...

The biggest policy change of all though, is surely the Government's decision to revert to 'onshore' processing of refugees and use bridging visas to allow those who have completed preliminary clearances to live in the community.

The media are portraying it as a humiliating defeat for the Government, given its promise to overturn the High Court's decision to stop the proposed Malaysian refugee swap.  And from the point of view of being unable to implement its stated policy, that's true.

But the reality is that the final outcome is actually a sensible one, that we should get behind and support.

I personally thought the Malaysian deal wasn't a bad one.  Despite the neo-colonialist cultural imperialism implicit in the liberal hysteria about Malaysia's use of corporal punishment (surely not an alien system to many of the refugees concerned), the deal would have had a deterrent effect on the boats (at least until all the places in the scheme had been used up), potentially saving lives at risk on leaky boats.  It would have benefited the 4,000 refugees who would otherwise have been in indefinite limbo in Malaysia. 

Still it was only ever a stop-gap due to the limited number of refugees Malaysia agreed to accept.

It could have been Nauru...

And the outcome could have been a lot worse, particularly given reports today that the Immigration Minister and other members of the Labor Right actually argued for sending refugees to Nauru for processing.

Nauru was always a much worse solution in my view than onshore processing (or the Malaysia deal). 

As the Immigration Department has previously pointed out, it has no deterrent effect, given that anyone sent there and found to be a refugee would inevitably end up in Australia in the end. 

The refugees would have been in detention, not living in the community (such as that it is - Nauru is not exactly well endowed with infrastructure and opportunities). 

And, as the last round of processing on Nauru demonstrated, it would have been enormously expensive.

In fact the only arguments in favour of Nauru are political (putting pressure on Opposition Leader Abbott) and practical: last time around, Nauru's isolation made it much easier to restrict access to the refugees, and thus hide what was actually happening to them from the eyes of media and refugee advocates.  And given Immigration's continuing appalling mismanagement of refugee detention centres in Australia, one can see why the Department would be in favour of options that reduce the scrutiny on them.

So the strange combination of Abbott's determination to say no to anything put forward by the Government regardless of policy merit, and Prime Minister Gillard's repeated tendency to dig herself holes to fall into ('I'll never support Nauru') has actually led to an outcome that is perhaps the best of a set of bad options....

And needless to say, not even being stuck in Rome has prevented our bishops from taking the opportunity to put out a press release welcoming the decision.

Now of course, we must await the serious revamp of administration necessary to give effect to the new refugee policy - instead of relying on use of defense bases as a stopgap to house refugees, Immigration will (presumably) have to find some actual properties of its own.  It will have to set up systems to monitor and assist refugees living in the community. 

Can we expect the change in mindset and concrete action necessary to make it happen quickly and efficiently?  I wouldn't bet on it...


A Canberra Observer said...

re the Carbon Tax - I fail to see how good policy can apply when 19 bills (6 inches thick of legislation) pass through with virtually no debate.

This government 'governs' with a Milne-stone around its neck.

Is the alternative better? I don't know but at least it doesn't have gay marriage as a pressing issue for legislative change.

Robert said...

Kate refers to "Malaysia's use of corporal punishment (surely not an alien system to many of the refugees concerned)."

That's a useful point which I hadn't seen made by anybody elsewhere. And not corporal punishment alone, of course. During the sole time I was ever in Malaysia, the international airport had signs everywhere about the country having not only corporal punishment but also - for drug mules - capital punishment. A few years before my 1988 visit, two more than usually moronic Australian tourists, Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, had paid with their lives on a Kuala Lumpur gallows. For a week or so the resultant Australian media commotion resembled French outcries during the Dreyfus Case, with the crucial difference that Barlow and Chambers had been guilty as hell of the crimes for which they were charged.

Re A Canberra Observer's remark, I have no hard statistical evidence to contradict it; but occasional conversations with various Liberal Party supporters have suggested to me that so-called "gay marriage" now has as strong a following within the Libs' ranks as (if a less noisy one than) within the ranks of the other lot.

A Canberra Observer said...

Robert, yes I fear that the libs also might cave to this new social cancer. For a politician, to stand against this supreme political correctness will soon require very significant moral fibre. The nationals and the dlp may be the only safe representatives on this issue.