When things get personal, you need to get personal with your Member of Parliament
When policy-specific political rhetoric becomes firmly established, clear and independent thinking suffers.
Independent thinking tends to become replaced by learnt rote and pre-agreed-on party-political claims.
On this page we reflect on some character traits, personal background factors and past statements on the part of a number of politicians to identify chasms of inconsistencies and gaping contradictions.
We take aim at just a few politicians. The intent of this page is to open up a confrontation between statements that give evidence of these politicians' heart-felt conscience claims, contrasted against other rhetorical statements that sharply contrast with the level of honesty they had previously claimed for themselves.
30 March 2008 - Labor abandons its 'small' Excision Zone and chooses John Howard's radical version - 'Refugee advocates have accused the Federal Government of abandoning its softer approach to asylum seekers after Immigration Minister Chris Evans said he was yet to decide whether Labor would reassess the status of 4600 islands 'excised' from Australian territory for the purpose of immigration law.' This page follows the debate.
27 February 2008: The Senate debates Australia's 'Excision Zone' - There's no reason in 2008 for anyone in Labor to argue that the issue of John Howard's extraordinary excision zone 'has not been discussed'. When the former government pushed through changes to that exclusion zone for refugees in 2005, Labor supported a Disallowance motion put by Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett.
It's back in my head again today - Scott Morrison's failed Tourism Australia campaign slogan "Where the Bloody Hell Are You". Who wouldn't want to yell that at politicians, when you think of how we systematically destroy the lives and mental health of asylum seekers?
According to Wikipedia, the Coalition's Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey was born in North Sydney as the youngest of four children. His father, Richard Hockey was born in Bethlehem in Palestine in the West Bank region and migrated to Australia in 1948. Hockey is of Palestinian background and Armenian from his mothers side and the family name was originally Hokeidonian before his family migrated to Australia and changed the name to Hockey.
In his 2011 book about the Politics of Fear, Panic, David Marr opens the last chapter - on Australia's treatment of asylum seekers - with the story of Jesus:
Joseph was urged [...] by an angel appearing in a dream: "Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him." Only Matthew tells this story and the details are sketchy but Christians regard the flight into Egypt as much a part of Christ's life as his birth, his teachings and his death. It's a subject of the oldest Christian art. Giotto paints the mother and child on a donkey, the father on foot, an angel hovering overhead, as the family heads south through the desert to safety.
I don't believe any of this: there were no Magi, no Christ and no flight from Herod. But it is the bedrock belief of the faithful that it was thanks to the generous refugee policies of Egypt that Christ survived to do his work on earth.
Like Joseph, Joe Hockey's dad fled with his wife as a refugee from Bethlehem, his birthplace, when Israelis armed with guns drove Palestinians out of their houses and neighbourhood when they aggressively established their State in 1948. Every year, on the 15th of May, Palestinians commemorate Nakba Day - their day of 'catastrophe'. In 1948 an estimated 700,000 Palestinians were expelled by the Israelis or fled, and hundreds of Palestinian villages were depopulated and destroyed.
No, I will not tease you by suggesting Hockey is a look-alike of the Christ child even while there are plenty of parallels. But today, I ask you, Joe Hockey: "Where the Bloody Hell Are You" while the Parliament stupidly excises the entire country from the reach of the UN Refugee Convention?
My accusatory "Where the Bloody Hell Are You" line - Scott Morrison's failed Tourism Australia slogan - is back again. In fact, like a stubborn head cold and associated fever it simply refuses to go away.
Today, we need to have a little chat about Cabramatta boy Jason Clare.
Jason Clare is a Minister who issues hundreds and hundreds of press releases - not because he's a geek or a media junkie, but because he's The Boat Arrival Herald of the Nation. He may not be a Boat Stopping Minister (and we won't call him that), but we know about all those asylum boats arriving at Christmas Island, Ashmore Reef or Cocos Island because Jason tells us all about them - without fail. Jason is the Boat Arrivals Minister. And since 13 August 2012 Jason's press releases include the stern warning that folks may be deported (oops, transferred) to a damned stinking hot tropical mosquito-infested (oops, regional) island for years of "no-advantage" punishment (oops, processing).
You may not know it, but the Honorable Jason, who is even more honorable by holding former PM Paul Keating's seat of Blaxland, got married last December. Jason didn't just marry anyone - he married in style. In perfect congruence and alignment with his portfolio, he married Louise Tran, the daughter of boat people. Jason's in-laws Mr and Mrs Tran were amongst the thousands who sailed from Vietnam following the fall of Saigon. They eventually found protection and a future in Australia.
During October 2012 Daily Telegraph journalist Gemma Jones did the honours; she interviewed Jason and told us about his upcoming wedding. Gemma's story included Jason's confession that he had "changed his mind" about boat arrivals (Mmmm, didn't we hear that same sentence from many other Gillard government "no-advantage" offshore defenders since its introduction?) Jason had changed his mind and now supported the "no advantage" asylum seeker dump on Nauru and PNG because, as he added, "hundreds of thousands" of Vietnamese asylum seekers had drowned at sea during the Vietnam war years.
Yes, Mr Clare, it has been claimed that hundreds of thousands of people drowned trying to reach safety by boat. According to Malcolm Fraser's Immigration Minister Michael MacKellar the mortality rate at sea was between 50 and 70 per cent - and MacKellar promoted these statistics confidently and widely to justify Malcolm Fraser's "boat holding policy", where the Australian government attempted to pursuade other countries to help us by "stopping the boats" from sailing to Australia. It was clever politics, which took the wind out of the sails of anti-refugee groups and deeply entrenched animosity and hostility about feared invasions by foreigners, while MacKellar and Fraser skirted around the xenophobia and white racism in Australian society.
But Michael MacKellar's mortality rate claims were built on an opportune misrepresentation. It took international correspondent and investigative reporter Michael Richardson, writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review (26 Oct. 1979), to shatter MacKellar's claims. Richardson claimed that MacKellar cranked up maritime mortality rates for political purposes, concluding that the true mortality rates were between 10 and 15 per cent. That means that Richardson reduced MacKellar's astounding mortality rate estimates between 100,000 and 200,000 to "a minimum of 28,000", and it made MacKellar into Australia's first Minister to use dead refugees for political purposes.
You wouldn't want to follow in MacKellar's footsteps, Mr Clare. Dreaming up more than 100,000 drowned refugees who did not drown to justify your "change of mind" is a pretty unsavoury practice. The first lesson in Politics 101 is that you're absolutely clear that fact is not rhetoric, and that you are absolutely crystal clear about the difference between what is hyperbole, exaggeration and trumped-up claims and what are the naked facts. So, if we ask you "Where the Bloody Hell Were You" when the Parliament stupidly passed the disgusting Excision Bill this month, we already have the answer. Indeed, you were off with the fairies. You were convinced how right you were, but you were fooled by disgusting rhetorical factual distortions about mortality rates at sea by a previous government.
On Monday June 17, 2013, a freshly picked Labor Senator - former teacher and trade unionist Sue Lines - entered the Parliament to replace WA Senator and former Immigration Minister Chris Evans. So, as a confession, we had better come clean with Chris Evans before he vanishes into the leafy Perth suburbs of Nedlands or Subiaco where many MP's appear to have their permanent residences. Because, in the ongoing fury theme series of "Where the Bloody Hell Are You" we need to pick on Senator Evans as well.
One political commentator who often advocated for asylum seekers called him "the best ever Immigration Minister" and another one wrote he was "the best one" since more than a decade. Of course, all that seemed easy after the hardline policies previously implemented under the Howard government with Philip Ruddock at the Immigration Department helm. Under West Australian Senator Chris Evans we closed Nauru, and promises were made for a full retreat from an awful Howard decade marked by an increasing criminalisation of the maritime asylum seeker voyage and by a merciless offshore dumping of asylum seekers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.
We've never been too enthousiastic; we did not applaud Chris Evans unconditionally when he closed Nauru and when Temporary Protection Visa's were phased out, because we wanted to see the Minister - by legislation - seal off any possibility of 'offshore processing' and TPV's re-entering the range of future political solutions. When we publicly congratulated Evans with Nauru's closure in the early months of 2008 on ABC Perth radio talkback where he took questions, we asked him:
"Chris Evans, when will the time come that we welcome asylum seekers, including those who come by boat?"
Evans' answer was concerning -- and it was an early indication of the deeply entrenched rhetorical 'truisms' inside the Labor party in response to the same 'truisms' amongst conservative politicians since Philip Ruddock's days as Immigration Minister. The Minister said that a positive response to the 'welcome the boats' suggestion would be a problem "because they are secondary movements". In raising the notion of 'secondary movements' to justify a 'blame position', Evans either deliberately or ignorantly omitted inclusion of an important worldwide bulletin about "secondary movements" issued by UNHCR's Geneva's office - a bulletin also brought to the attention of the Australian government seven years earlier [Note 1].
[Note 1] - UNHCR. (2001). Revised Conclusions on Article 31. Revised Summary Conclusions on Article 31 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. UNHCR and the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva: Geneva Expert Round Table. See the document here.
We concluded that Senator Evans was ignorant about the UNHCR bulletin, which had essentially declared that no asylum seeker should be penalised for temporarily fleeing and residing in other countries before applying for UN protection in a signatory country. The bulletin had effectively declared the notion of secondary movements null and void in our increasingly globalised world.
Then there was the Ministerial bullying incident on ABC Q&A. During September 2012, on the ABC Q&A broadcast of 10 September 2012, 'Seek and Ye Shall Submit'. On live television, Senator Evans successfully silenced stand-up comedian Catherine Deveny, who had just taken part in the SBS Go Back to Where You Came From program. The show host Tony Jones did not pull him up on his communication, which included topic manipulation and subtle intimidation tactics. Neither did anyone on the panel or in the audience comment on this moment.
Deveny, fired up about Australia's history in relation to mandatory detention, offshore processing and the politics of 'stopping the boats' made the point that Australia ranks 32nd in the world when it comes to generosity to asylum seekers and just 72nd for refugees.
Sitting next to her, Evans had already accused her of "your sort of grand statements" in his response before bragging that amongst the five countries in the world with an annual refugee intake quota - presented by him as the five that "settle serious numbers of refugees" - Australia "competes with Canada" for the top spot in the world ranking. While it was evident that Catherine Deveny was using "all countries in the world" as well as "refugees" and "asylum seekers" as her reference points, Chris Evans twisted the debate by changing the focus to "all countries with annual intake quotas" - a brazen attempt at manipulative salesmanship where Australia comes up trumps in its dealings with refugees - as opposed to asylum seekers.
The conversation between the Minister and Catherine Deveny might serve to remind us of the first principle of politics: a politician has a lot in common with a second-hand car salesman. A second-hand car salesman will abundantly sing the praises of the car you're eying off in his caryard, but he will not tell you about the hole in the muffler patched up with a fibreglass bandage, and he will not tell you that the top of the engine cover has a big blob of silicone affixed to its inside to silence the rattling of the timing chain because the chain's tensioner is worn out and the chain is about to fling itself through the top cover of the engine, trying to fly through the bonnet of the car.