Bor­der pol­icy shows good sense; now for cli­mate change


La­bor’s pre­tence at foot-print­ing the gov­ern­ment’s tough and suc­cess­ful bor­der pro­tec­tion regime has been ex­posed

In this col­umn last week I ar­gued that “the rules must change” for the se­lec­tion of the Lib­eral Party’s par­lia­men­tary lead­er­ship.

The pro­posal to give party mem­bers a vote on the lead­er­ship won’t be con­sid­ered un­til af­ter the elec­tion but it may have been made re­dun­dant by Scott Mor­ri­son’s two-thirds rule an­nounced on Mon­day night.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s in­ter­ven­tion was a sim­ple, timely and con­vinc­ing re­form that will end the lead­er­ship churn, at least in gov­ern­ment, where it counts most. The deeper mean­ing here is the de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to cut back on pol­i­tick­ing in favour of gov­ern­ing.

This dis­mal decade has been char­ac­terised by the tri­umph of po­lit­i­cal games over real lead­er­ship, with Newspoll trump­ing sta­bil­ity and pop­ulism swamp­ing ra­tio­nal­ity. In a week when Mor­ri­son’s pre­de­ces­sor was tak­ing bit­ter, in­ter­nal pol­i­tick­ing to a new nadir, the Prime Min­is­ter was act­ing to guar­an­tee lead­er­ship sta­bil­ity.

This change will pro­vide some re­as­sur­ance for vot­ers at the next elec­tion — it just makes sense. The greater test for the Coali­tion is whether it can do much more to el­e­vate gov­ern­ing and di­min­ish pol­i­tick­ing in what will be a volatile pre­lude to the May elec­tion.

It has al­ways been a chal­lenge for politi­cians to re­sist pop­ulism, ig­nore the me­dia zeit­geist and fo­cus on the right out­comes rather than polling trends or fo­cus group re­ac­tions — af­ter all, they al­ways have to have a nose for win­ning votes.

But there is lit­tle doubt that the 24/7 po­lit­i­cal news cy­cle, dig­i­tal im­me­di­acy and so­cial me­dia have el­e­vated the de­gree of dif­fi­culty.

This must be part of the rea­son for the fail­ures of the past decade. But given the an­ti­dote to these pres­sures is strong lead­er­ship, con­vic­tion and sta­bil­ity, they must have been miss­ing too.

Cli­mate change and bor­der pro­tec­tion are two is­sues that have dom­i­nated na­tional pol­i­tics for more than a decade and have been par­tic­u­larly no­table for the way emo­tion­al­ism and pol­i­tick­ing have over­whelmed ra­tio­nal ap­proaches. We have seen this play out this week in a way that high­lights the Coali­tion’s core strength, at least on bor­ders.

The gov­ern­ment has been suck­ered by the pol­i­tics of cli­mate change but re­mains sto­ically com­mit­ted to a sen­si­ble ap­proach on bor­der pro­tec­tion, while La­bor, once again, has shown its virtues­ig­nalling weak­ness on the is­sue. It could be a piv­otal mo­ment.

La­bor’s pre­tence at foot-print­ing the gov­ern­ment’s tough and suc­cess­ful bor­der pro­tec­tion regime has been ex­posed.

Led by at­ten­tion-seek­ing in­de­pen­dents and the Greens, it ex­posed its soft un­der­belly. Bor­der pro­tec­tion has al­ways been a po­ten­tial weak­ness for Bill Shorten and a weighty pol­icy con­cern for the na­tion but, es­pe­cially un­der Mal­colm Turn­bull, the Coali­tion seemed squea­mish about mak­ing this point.

La­bor’s in­ter­ven­tion this week, along with in­de­pen­dents Ker­ryn Phelps and Tim Storer, the Greens and oth­ers, has ex­posed for all to see its des­per­a­tion to pa­rade its com­pas­sion by weak­en­ing bor­der poli­cies, thereby risk­ing a re­turn to chaos, trauma and tragedy.

To try to pa­rade your com­pas­sion for chil­dren in de­ten­tion when none are held in de­ten­tion cen­tres, only six are still con­fined to Nauru and you were the party that put more than 50,000 peo­ple in­clud­ing thou­sands of chil­dren into de­ten­tion by rekin­dling an il­le­gal peo­ple-smug­gling trade that lured at least 1200 peo­ple to their deaths is the height of hypocrisy.

It is trans­par­ently about play­ing to the po­lit­i­cal Left, in­dulging in games to try to em­bar­rass the gov­ern­ment and look­ing for af­fir­ma­tion from the gallery and so­cial me­dia. It is not about se­ri­ous pol­icy im­ple­men­ta­tion.

It is a clas­sic case of pol­i­tick­ing over sub­stance; emo­tion over ra­tio­nal­ity.

Much of the me­dia/po­lit­i­cal class (es­pe­cially the ABC) have been wrong on this is­sue at every turn for al­most two decades. They down­played the peo­ple-smug­gling prob­lem, de­nounced mea­sures aimed at stop­ping it, blamed the surge on push fac­tors, spread lies about Aus­tralia’s treat­ment of refugees and even pro­claimed that the dilemma could never be re­solved.

The Coali­tion’s suc­cess has saved lives. It also has hu­mil­i­ated the crit­ics who con­tinue to mis­rep­re­sent the is­sue and now have lured La­bor into a pol­icy push that can help very few, if any, refugees but could se­ri­ously un­der­mine the strong bor­der pro­tec­tion regime.

Aus­tralia al­ways has pro­vided ex­cel­lent med­i­cal care to refugees while they have been held off­shore and has evac­u­ated peo­ple for ad­di­tional care when re­quired.

An ABC 7.30 item this week

de­tailed how au­thor­i­ties ex­am­ined ar­range­ments to send refugees from Nauru to Port Moresby or Taiwan for med­i­cal at­ten­tion. But the re­port didn’t make any men­tion of why au­thor­i­ties would pre­fer to do this rather than bring refugees to Aus­tralia.

Of the 494 peo­ple brought from Manus Is­land and Nauru to Aus­tralia for med­i­cal treat­ment, 460 re­main here — they usu­ally take the op­por­tu­nity to ap­peal to our courts and re­main. Med­i­cal trans­fers are used as a tac­tic to de­feat the sys­tem. De­spite its ex­ten­sive cov­er­age of refugee is­sues, the ABC tends to cen­sor many of these rel­e­vant facts.

Any changes to laws or prac­tices that in­dulge these tac­tics can only weaken the regime and there­fore in­crease the risk of more chaos and tragedy un­fold­ing in the fu­ture. Politi­cians need to dis­play re­solve rather than at­tempt to dis­play their virtue.

Hav­ing stopped the boats as im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter, Mor­ri­son has enor­mous cred­i­bil­ity on this is­sue and can high­light the risk of La­bor. In the 2016 elec­tion the Turn­bull cam­paign did noth­ing to warn of the risk La­bor would pose on bor­ders, or any­thing else.

Me­dia cov­er­age and ac­tivist cam­paigns about refugee is­sues are al­most al­ways ill-in­formed — de­lib­er­ately or oth­er­wise — and in Can­berra re­porters tend to fo­cus al­most en­tirely on the pol­i­tics of the is­sue rather than the out­comes.

That cam­paign­ers, politi­cians and com­men­ta­tors can sug­gest that bring­ing refugees from off­shore de­ten­tion to re­set­tle in Aus­tralia can be done without any down­side shows an as­ton­ish­ing ig­no­rance or dis­re­gard for what we have learned through the years.

Many com­men­ta­tors who echoed La­bor’s claims a few years ago that asy­lum-seeker boats could not be turned back now en­dorse La­bor’s new claim that all you need is turn­backs.

This is a level of gorm­less­ness and reck­less par­ti­san­ship that is dif­fi­cult to fathom.

On cli­mate change, how­ever, the id­iocy is bi­par­ti­san. The ram­pant emo­tion­al­ism char­ac­terised by thou­sands of school­child­ren tak­ing to the streets to “save the planet” is not strongly coun­tered with ra­tio­nal ar­gu­ments by ei­ther ma­jor party.

The naivety of the stu­dents was un­sur­pris­ing — es­pe­cially given the diet of un­bri­dled alarmism they are fed through schools, uni- ver­si­ties and me­dia. Sadly, some politi­cians, par­ents and teach­ers ap­plauded the abu­sive tone of the chants and plac­ards.

Still, what about the facts? The stu­dents were de­mand­ing ac­tion on cli­mate change and were cheered on by jour­nal­ists, com­men­ta­tors and politi­cians for do­ing so.

Few, if any, were asked: what ac­tion? For what re­sult? And at what cost?

The prospect that the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment could do any­thing that could change the global en­vi­ron­ment was too ab­surd to be en­ter­tained by adults, but there it was. They might have been bet­ter served and demon­strated a greater un­der­stand­ing if they took their protest to the Chi­nese em­bassy.

The lat­est cli­mate sum­mit in Poland has been told global emis­sions growth has moved be­yond 2 per cent an­nu­ally and will go close to 3 per cent next year. In other words, the an­nual global growth in car­bon diox­ide emis­sions is now about dou­ble Aus­tralia’s to­tal emis­sions.

If we shut down this coun­try en­tirely and aban­doned our con­ti­nent to­mor­row, the mi­nus­cule re­duc­tion in global emis­sions would be usurped by emis­sions growth else­where within six months. Yet both ma­jor par­ties pre­tend that our costly cli­mate mea­sures de­liver en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits. They are kid­ding us.

No one seems to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for ex­plain­ing this re­al­ity to the protest­ing stu­dents or to vot­ers.

No one dares call out the non­sense of call­ing for more ac­tion here when Aus­tralia is one of few coun­tries that met its Ky­oto tar­gets and is com­mit­ted to de­liver real cuts un­der the Paris Agree­ment.

So when stu­dents call for “ac­tion” they mean they want ad­di­tional ac­tion: on top of the Ky­oto tar­gets, Paris com­mit­ments, the re­new­able en­ergy tar­get, so­lar sub­si­dies, bat­tery sub­si­dies, light globe laws, re­new­able en­ergy grants, Snowy Hy­dro 2.0 and di­rec­tion ac­tion projects. When they protest in the streets their teach­ers, par­ents and many politi­cians cheer them rather than in­form them.

In in­ter­views this week I asked a pro­tester’s par­ent and Richard Den­niss of green-left think tank the Aus­tralia In­sti­tute if they could name a coun­try that was do­ing more on cli­mate ac­tion at greater eco­nomic cost than Aus­tralia. Nei­ther gave me an an­swer.

And the telling point is that all of this ac­tion — which has el­e­vated our en­ergy costs and con­trib­uted to job losses and eco­nomic dis­lo­ca­tion — has de­liv­ered no en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit be­cause global emis­sions con­tinue to rise sub­stan­tially.

If the Coali­tion can de­rive a po­lit­i­cal ben­e­fit from es­chew­ing emo­tion­al­ism and stick­ing to the facts on bor­der pro­tec­tion, per­haps it ought to at­tempt a sim­i­lar ap­proach on cli­mate change and en­ergy.

It should aban­don the cur­rent com­pet­i­tive fu­til­ity and openly ad­vo­cate a cau­tious ap­proach. Vot­ers de­serve facts over spin from some­one.

Both ma­jor par­ties pre­tend that our costly cli­mate mea­sures de­liver en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits. They are kid­ding us

Clock­wise from main pic­ture, Scott Mor­ri­son and Bill Shorten on Tues­day; in­de­pen­dent Ker­ryn Phelps; stu­dents at Syd­ney’s Mar­tin Place de­mand politi­cians act on cli­mate change; Mal­colm Turn­bull ad­dresses the NSW Smart En­ergy Sum­mit on Tues­day

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