A few weeks ago at a Sydney bar, the girl next to me started talking about how her new job came with a $10,000 clothing allowance. I’m not sure what the point of the conversation was, except for her to brag, because no one else was really talking about their job, but she eventually unleashed the punch line: a few nights previous, before realizing she had the clothing allowance, she drunkenly spent $3,000 on clothes online. What a laugh! And here I was, thinking myself luxurious for not ordering the cheapest draught on tap.
Eventually, we approached my favourite subject to discuss with drunk Aussies: boat people. I said I didn’t think much about it—that the issue was given too much airplay, that they’re a minority of asylum applicants, standard, boring, responses. She looked me right in the eyes and asked me with an Andrew Bolt level of seriousness: What about Fairness? If they’re so legitimate, why are they jumping the queue? I was a bit surprised. I didn’t think this was a viewpoint held by actual flesh and blood human beings, just participants of media “fear mongering.”
The week after at work my boss Cameron said something about the PNG debacle that made sense, “The lefties don’t realise that this is what Australians want.” And isn’t that sort of true? Rudd isn’t mentally ill – he’s only doing things to win the election. Maybe he is fear mongering. Maybe it’s working.
As far back as 2010, a Nielsen poll reported that only 42 percent of Australians thought Labor would best handle the asylum issue while 44 percent thought Liberals would do a better job. The numbers were catastrophic for Labor in July of this year—only 34 percent wanted Labor in charge of the issue. Labor is never favored to handle asylum seekers well. A poll for the Australian in 2011 revealed only 12 percent thought Labor could handle it, slightly up to 18 percent a year later. In July 2013 only 10 percent of people reported to Essential Report that Labor should keep their current asylum seeker policies; 51 percent of Labor voters wanted a change in policies.
Despite small numbers—4 million people enter Australia every year; the tiny minority of this that are disenfranchised boat people are not going to fuck up your clothing allowance—51 percent respondents to a Lowy poll are “very” concerned about boat people, with a total of 74 percent of people concerned about boat folk in some way. And it might be true that Australians don’t like them: 60 percent of respondents said they would want police and neighbours to be informed if boat people move in next door.
Whether or not we want to say that they’re a real issue or not, we’ve made it a real concern, and it’s something that Rudd and Abbott have to navigate if they want to slide into power. On July 16th, a Morgan poll put the Liberals ahead on the question of, “Which party would do a better job handling the arrival of asylum seekers by boat?” with Labor trailing at 46 percent to the Liberals 54; as of July 22nd, 2013, after the PNG announcement, Labor went up 4.5 percent to 50.5 percent to overtake the Liberals, who went down to 49.5.
Being considered a bunch of pussies has long been Labor’s problem when dealing with the boats. When Howard began the public discourse by framing himself as a sort of Aussie Battler strongman, it was inevitable that the left were going to look like wieners. Abbot’s initial response to the PNG solution—basically not knowing what to say—suggests that Rudd’s balls out tactic had paid off.
It’s understandable that you’d want to protect your cricket bats and goofy Crocodile Dundee hats. I remember growing up and there was only one kid on the block with a Sega Genesis and he totally got to decide who were his friends and I have no idea what went into that decision making process. Porno mags? Candy? Firecrackers? He’d only let one kid into his apartment at a time, so as to protect the veneer of uniqueness; in the land of meat pie, utes, bogans, apocalyptic stretches of dry land and record breaking years of drought, you best make sure you protect your valuables. All I know is that I never got a chance to play Mortal Kombat until much, much later in life.
We’re past the point where Rudd’s tactics should be a surprising maneuver, or where we’re surprised that polling figures are the only relevant political philosophy. It’s not cynicism anymore to expect our politicians to only have power in mind. The grand tradition now seems to be get into power, tread water, and when you retire, do as Malcolm Fraser recently did and say what’s on your mind: “I don’t support Australia bypassing its own responsibilities under the refugee convention. If people coming by boats were white farmers from Zimbabwe there’d be no fuss would there? That says it all.”
Follow Adnan on Twitter: @whotookadnan
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