Dutton’s comments divide in an effort to conquer

Why on an issue as sensitive as refugees do Coalition ministers seek out differences rather than emphasis unity?

Malcolm Turnbull praised Peter Dutton

Why on an issue as sensitive as refugees do Coalition ministers seek out differences rather than emphasise unity? Is it because they would – for base political purposes – prefer the issue to consensus? Barrie Cassidy writes.

Deliberately creating anxiety about refugees has been a staple of Australian politics for almost two decades.

The accepted wisdom has been that it works. Whenever the Coalition stokes it up, while ever it’s the topic du jour, Labor loses ground; not because their policy is different but because somehow they don’t seem as ruthlessly committed to the cause.

And the party once had a different policy from the one they now hold.

No matter that the party’s key policy making forum – the national conference – backed Bill Shorten on the issue, however reluctantly, when he signed up to the argument that without turn-backs, and without offshore detention, and without sufficient deterrence, the boats would start up again and people would drown.

The reluctance surely is understandable. The consequence of the policy is that genuine refugees will suffer for years. So many Labor politicians grieve, as Malcolm Turnbull once said he does, for the “mental anguish” that the refugees endure.

And surely within that framework – of bipartisan acceptance of turn-backs and offshore detention – there are Coalition MPs who also wish it was otherwise; that the helpless victims of persecution and worse have to languish for years on Manus Island and Nauru to the point where abuse is rife and men, women and children – many of them – are losing their minds.

Or do they share the views of broadcasters like Ray Hadley who told Immigration Minister Peter Dutton yesterday of a recent night out with friends?

Two of his mates, George and Dennis…

…leant across the table and said, “More Peter Dutton. More Peter Dutton, that’s what we want” … the vast bulk of people in the community want a bit more of this.

They want a bit more strength and a bit more leadership, and what you prompted the Prime Minister to do over the past 36 hours is show some leadership, and thank you for doing it.

“Well Ray,” said Dutton, “I think his leadership is there, and he was rock solid yesterday.”

Rock solid behind what?

That most refugees are illiterate and innumerate and they both take the jobs of Australians and join the dole queues? Is that right?

Dutton’s own department doesn’t think so.

The department stated in a 2011 report that “the overwhelming picture … is one of considerable achievement and contribution.”

It went on:

Humanitarian entrants (refugees) help meet labour shortages, including in low skill and low paid occupations. They display strong entrepreneurial qualities compared with other migrant groups, with a higher than average proportion engaging in small and medium business enterprises.

In addition they make significant contributions through volunteering in both the wider community and within their own community groups.

Why, then, are refugees – for that’s what most of them are – deliberately denigrated? Why, given the sensitivity and the difficulty of the issue, does the Coalition refuse to accept bipartisanship even when it is offered?

It is true that many Labor candidates and MPs have expressed reservations about both turn-backs and offshore detention. But Shorten has not, and he is the leader. And he has the backing of the party’s national conference.

There may be a cigarette paper of difference between the two parties; certainly a difference in emphasis as we’ve seen over the past couple of days.

But it’s reasonable to ask the question: why on an issue like this do Coalition ministers seek out differences rather than emphasise the unity? Why go in search of a cigarette paper of difference when the issue is national security? Is it because they would – for base political purposes – prefer the issue, to consensus?

It works politically. That’s why it keeps coming up. Nothing, it seems, is beyond politics.

This time however, it seemed somehow different; just how different is difficult to judge.

But this time many people who in the past brushed it off, took offence. This time it seemed the remarks were more broad ranging; an attack on all immigrants and their families; those who started out with humble beginnings, and yes even those who were initially uneducated and unable to speak English.

And the other element that was different this time was Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull praised Dutton as an “outstanding” minister, just as Tony Abbott would have done. But he then gushed about the great achievements of a multicultural Australia. Would Abbott have done that in the circumstances of Dutton’s remarks, or would he have left out the “sentimentality” for fear it would blunt the message?

Somehow the issue didn’t radiate comfortably around Turnbull.

Perhaps he worries – while some of those around him clearly don’t – that political opportunism is not for him.

When Turnbull first won the leadership he shot up in the polls. That happened because of support from the centre of Australian politics.

He lost a lot of that support as he drifted away from his previous climate change policies and lost enthusiasm for issues like same-sex marriage and the republic.

Some of the relief – and the enthusiasm – that stirred the country when he replaced Abbott diminished in time.

Positivity gave way to negativity. The slogans returned.

Had he signed up – unequivocally and without the heavy qualifications – to Dutton’s heavy handed approach then that may well have been the complete transformation.

Barrie Cassidy is the presenter of the ABC TV program Insiders.

Article Via: radioaustralia


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