The Syrian refugee crisis has become the story of the week. The images of hundreds of refugees streaming off ferries, dozens in unseaworthy vessels, and endless lines walking along rail-line tracks toward Germany in search of a new life, have flooded our television news services.
In Australia, particularly on social media, the debate is in full swing. Will we accept our responsibilities and take some of these people? How many? How quickly? How soon?
Germany has lead the world in showing its concern for these unfortunate people caught up in a bloody conflict not of their doing. Now France and the UK have announced their intentions to follow Germany’s lead.
On Tuesday, a Newspoll peaked at 44% of Australians not wanting to take any refugees at all. They would sooner see these people starve to death or whatever, than let them come here.
That live poll result began to decline, however, once a call went out over social media sites encouraging fair-minded people to visit the website and vote.
A Channel 9 news poll showed 63% not wanting any Syrian refugees taken in here. As at this morning, Wednesday, the Channel 9 poll had risen to 66% preferring we took none.
I suspect Liberal party strategists were paying close attention to these polls with a third eye on the upcoming Canning bi-election.
Tony Abbott has already tried to make it a political issue. He said, “In the first full year we took 1000 and in the second full year, the last financial year, we took 2200 from the Syrian conflict,” noting that in Labor’s last year of office they only took 98.
Even in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, politics is never far away. Labor has moved for an immediate intake of 10,000. They have played their hand without worrying about public opinion.
It remains to be seen what assistance the government will extend but only the naïve could think it would be on the basis of true compassion first and politics second.
Over the next 10 days until the people of Canning vote, I suspect there will be a good deal of internal polling in Canning to determine what the “right decision” is and I suspect the government’s final decision will be delayed as long as it takes to get a firm grasp of the feelings inside that electorate.
Based on the government’s performance thus far, one can rightly expect they are looking for a wedge. Shorten has given them one. They can go higher or lower than 10,000. How much of their decision will be based on the results of their internal polling we will probably never know.
But if we are to take the likes of Cory Bernardi’s insensitivity as a guide, it could well be lower. Time will tell. A decision is expected today but whatever the decision is, I expect that much of the government script from here on in, will need to be interpreted with Canning in mind.
Call me cynical. Maybe I’ve been watching too much of “House of Cards” and distrust Tony Abbott as much as I distrust Frank Underwood, but following politics does that to you.