On 21 August, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said
I think in the immigration portfolio, you are defined by Nauru and Manus … I would love to get everybody off there tomorrow. If I could have brought them to Australia in a charter flight overnight I would have.
Admittedly this was the ‘kind, warm and fuzzy’ Dutton around the time he resigned as Turnbull’s Immigration Minister after challenging for the leadership and losing. History tells us he was going to make a second strike at the Liberal Party leadership a day or two after the first attempt and was furiously (and incorrectly) counting the numbers. History also tells us the second strike removed Turnbull but installed Scott Morrison as Prime Minister, himself a previous Immigration Minister.
By October, a number of children who are believed to be suffering extreme physical and mental health issues as a result of years of imprisonment on Nauru at the behest of the Australian Government were being repatriated to Australia for appropriate medical care following political pressure from ‘radical’ organisations such as Getup, progressive members of the Liberal Party and the Australian Medical Association. It’s not enough. As reported by Paddy Manning in The Monthly’s weekday afternoon email the next day, on 25 October federal Liberal MP Julia Banks spoke about the continued imprisonment of refugees on Nauru and
relayed the story of a little girl on Nauru who asked the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, “Why am I in prison?” When asked her name, the girl gave her number. “That little girl has a name,” said Banks yesterday. “That little girl has a life, and she’s living in child years. Let us as a country not have to apologise to that little girl and the other children on Nauru in years to come.”
As Paddy Manning went on to observe
Banks is no softie — she was the same MP who earlier this year reckoned she could live on Newstart – and arguably her speech was too little, too late.
Manning goes on to reflect on the ‘rank hypocrisy’ of the Australian Government’s apology to the victims of institutional child sexual abuse while we as a country are still committing equally disgusting and repulsive acts on children as Morrison made his apology speech (as a result of former PM Gillard’s courageous – in the correct sense of the word – Enquiry into Institutional Child Abuse) in Parliament.
That isn’t to suggest for a minute that those that were abused by members of institutions that were supposed to care for children don’t deserve an apology – they do. The people currently on Nauru also don’t deserve an indefinite jail term for the legally permitted action of seeking refugee status in a country of their choice either.
So the ‘cuddly, friendly’ Dutton in August wanted to bring all those on Nauru to Australia. Well Morrison re-appointed Dutton as Home Affairs and Immigration Minister, so he still can. Apparently it’s as simple as hiring a plane. What’s stopping him? Dutton had no trouble authorising that a couple of au pairs employed by people he knew to stay in the country (while declining the application for an Afghani translator employed by the ADF) so the precedent is there. C’mon, Pete, you can do it, hire the plane – those of us that aren’t on the extreme right wing of the Liberal Party dare ya.
The alternative is that Dutton was saying whatever he thought would give him a leg up in the popularity stakes by apportioning the blame to others. While there are others that are equally to blame here from both the red and blue teams in Parliament House, the person with the absolute power at the moment is Dutton. And he chose to use the physical and mental health of children in a vain and ultimately fruitless attempt to remake his image. It demonstrates the calibre of the man’s ethics and morals.
Even if Dutton can’t grow a backbone and hire the plane to bring everyone from Nauru to Australia he can be overruled. Morrison rolled in over the top of Dutton and took the prize (or would poison chalice be a more apt description given the opinion polls and the result of the Wentworth by-election?). We recently discussed Morrison’s attempts in looking for a marketing slogan that worksduring the period of the Wentworth by-election and noted a number of ‘policy on the run’ decisions as well as a few backflips. Eminent Liberals such as John Hewson have argued that Morrison’s best chance for re-election was to be brave and completely reset the policy agenda (rather than resetting the messaging of the current policies) for the Coalition government and this could include issues such as refugee policy, addressing climate change, integrity and so on. The ABC’s Laura Tingle wrote about the same issues the week after the Wentworth humiliation and now Morrison’s even annoying the IPA.
But then again, to change policies to appeal to a broader cross section of Australians would take considerable backbone, something Morrison has yet to demonstrate he has with his constant kowtowing to the alt-right rump in the Liberal and National Parties. Morrison may not get past the next election, but what a legacy if he was to order the release of everyone Australia has imprisoned on Nauru and really did some ‘fair dinkum’ work on reducing emissions through a trading scheme. He really doesn’t have much to lose but potentially a lot to gain by attracting moderates back to the Liberal Party. As Dutton said, getting people off Nauru is as easy as chartering a plane (and presumably terminating an agreement). So if Dutton doesn’t have the backbone to do it – how ‘bout you, Scomo – we double dare ya.
What do you think?
This article was originally published on The Political Sword
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