Asylum seekers

Twirling towards freedom

Fun and Games

The final minutes of yesterday’s Question Time perfectly summed up the week in politics. Christopher Pyne asked the Prime Minister for her comments on a Sydney Morning Herald article in which an anonymous whistleblower told Fairfax that a detainee has been released into the community, just weeks after threatening staff at a detention centre. Gillard called the question a stunt, played out for the benefit of the press gallery. She launched into Pyne for citing an anonymous source in a newspaper clipping as the basis for his question; soon she’d be asked questions based on the ramblings of “kooks and cranks on the internet.” The opposition’s foreign policy, she went on to argue, is “driven by slogan and spin” – before being cut off by Tony Abbott’s peals of laughter.

“The leader of the opposition is laughing now. He’s laughing. It’s just a game to you, isn’t it?” asked an incredulous Gillard, ignoring her own team's performance.

It’s been playing out all week like this. It kicked off on Monday with Julie Bishop telling the Guardian that high-ranking Indonesian ministers privately told her that they would cooperate with a Coalition government policy to turn back refugee boats. The Indonesian ambassador to Australia said precisely the opposite just last week. Bishop, however, insists that, “Professional diplomats are paid to present particular views but what goes on behind the scenes can be quite different – what people say privately can be different to what they say publicly.”

To Foreign Minister Bob Carr, it was “an astonishing diplomatic blunder" by Bishop, to say she has received this message from Indonesia.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Bishop has either seen fit to embarrass herself by making this up, or decided that it is appropriate for her to embarrass Indonesia. Neither is a good option.

Later in the week, Abbott vowed that the LNP will stop the boats “within the first term” of being elected. The commitment is one that was echoed by immigration minister Scott Morrison. But as ever, Abbott has evaded explaining just how, precisely, this will be accomplished.

When Gillard was moved to say “We’ve heard so much nonsense from the opposition, they have no solutions on border security, just a campaign of fear where the facts never matter,” in yesterday’s Question Time, Abbott’s laugh was a victorious one. His party has coasted through its election campaign with nothing more than a slogan and as the polls indicate, it’s worked. Game on.

Three years ago, when Kevin Rudd softened Labor’s stance on asylum seekers, he used a different athletic analogy. He warned that he would not participate in a “race to the bottom” with Tony Abbott.

With less than 100 days to go until the election, the finish line is in clear sight. 

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.

@michaelamcguire

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