“Fate Keeps On Happening”: Australia, Boat People, And The Repressed Immigration Issue
Australia`s leftish Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has
displayed a fairly formidable range of literary
awareness, running the gamut from free market economist
F. A. Hayek (whom he
resents) to theologian
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whom he
reveres). This daunting curriculum, though, appears
never to have included
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
pity. Because Rudd`s current political plight calls to
mind the maxim of that novel`s intrepid but pragmatic
heroine Lorelei Lee:
"Fate Keeps On
question is the 2001 national election, which should
have been a disaster for conservative John Howard, head
of Australia`s government since 1996. Opinion polls for
most of 2001 had Howard well behind.
Then two things happened to save Howard`s career.
9/11 helped frighten the electorate into having
doubts about the advisability of changing horses in
mid-stream. But even before that, in August 2001, there
MV Tampa affair.
MV Tampa was a
Norwegian cargo ship carrying more than 430 (exact
numbers are variously given)
Third World asylum seekers, mostly Afghans. Howard—fearful
of an anti-immigration backlash led by
Pauline Hanson, then at the height of her
fame—refused to permit the
decision, of course, inspired
profuse moaning from the commentariat, international
as well as local, about Howard`s
Such moaning increased in its intensity when he
will decide who comes to this country, and the
circumstances in which they come."
Election Day, the opposition didn`t have a prayer.
Howard returned to office with an increased majority,
the first of his country`s Prime Ministers to manage
this feat since
Harold Holt in 1966.
adult Australian, least of all in Rudd`s Labor Party,
has forgotten the humiliation of this defeat. It has
burnt its way into Labor`s collective soul, in a way
that other, still more severe Labor losses (such as
Gough Whitlam`s landslide routs in
1977) failed to do.
Consequently immigration hardly figured in the 2004
election campaign. Labor`s leader that year, Mark
spectacularly erratic in many respects. But on a few
themes he possessed a certain native horse sense. He
compelled his party to accept a policy of
for people-smugglers and for those who overstayed
temporary visas. No way was Latham about to tolerate
accusations by Howard of being soft on illegals.
Suitably impressed by the resultant bipartisan front
against illegals getting special privileges, most
people-smugglers ceased attempting to ply their noisome
trade in Australia`s vicinity.
2009, an exclamation by the late Heather O`Rourke in
newly appropriate to describe the advance of boat
April 16, a fishing boat containing Afghan illegals
caught fire, killing five people—not three, as
originally reported—and injuring 40 more, many of whom
taken to Royal Perth Hospital. (For footage of the
the aftermath of this tragedy, the Rudd Government has
been left looking much more rattled than at any time
since it stormed to victory at the 2007 election. (At
that election, it had deprived Howard not only of the
Prime Ministry but of
his own parliamentary seat in Sydney. Not
coincidentally, Howard had not raised the immigration
"conservative" Liberal Party opposition, led by
Malcolm Turnbull—a prize instance of the
pseudo-Catholic pro-abort pol with whom
Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, and John Kerry have made
depressingly familiar—has the scent of blood in its
nostrils, for the first time since 2007. Turnbull is
accusing Rudd and his cabinet ministers of covering up
information about the explosion and its aftermath.
"They know full
well what`s happened",
"They`ve known for some time. They should tell the
truth. That`s all we`re asking them to do."
Braces For More Boat People,
By David McLennan,
The Canberra Times, April 21, 2009]
Turnbull`s critique is purely technical, however. He has
specifically repudiated the Howard era`s border
protection policies, which alone, if re-established,
might have some chance of restoring the situation to the
2001-2007 status quo. In essence, he is emulating John
shunning of the issue that
hurt McCain so badly with the
This is a
problem, because while no-one in authority will confirm
as yet whether the explosion occurred deliberately or
accidentally, what remains indisputable is Prime
Minister Rudd`s personal anger at people-smugglers.
Such anger makes a conspicuous contrast with his usual
public persona (periodically likened to
Harry Potter) of cherubic blandness. But he recently
"the vilest form
of human life" and hoped that they would
"rot in hell".
Whereas in 2001 it was Labor which found itself trapped
in a "damned if
it does, damned if it doesn`t" vise apropos
illegals, now this unenviable victim status is firmly
maintained by Turnbull`s Liberal-National coalition.
Turnbull`s natural aggression means that he cannot be
seen to agree with Rudd`s policies regarding the
illegals, or anything else. This aggression has made him
publicly hated without being even remotely respected, a
fatal combination in politics, as Machiavelli long ago
Meanwhile, opinion polls (carried out, admittedly,
before April 16) had Rudd coasting along on a
74 per cent popularity rating. Those who preferred
to see Turnbull take over from Rudd as Prime Minister
constituted a grand total of 24 per cent.
same polls found that the usual mid-term blues had
simply failed to occur. Rudd`s own party has been not
just unscathed but, rather, strengthened. Labor
led the Liberal-National coalition by 58 per cent to 42
per cent. That was actually six points better than
the result with which it won office two years ago. (A
subsequent poll, reported on May 4, showed a slight
decline in Rudd`s popularity. Still, 64 per cent of
respondents continued to prefer Rudd over Turnbull.)
present trends, Rudd is unlikely to lose the next
election, due no later than 2010. Besides, incumbency
gives a much greater advantage to first-term Australian
Prime Ministers than it does to first-term American
find an Australian national leader who lost office after
a single term, à
la Jimmy Carter or George H. W. Bush, we must go
back to the hapless
James Scullin, flung out of the Prime Ministry in
1931, during the Great Depression`s depths. (For
newsreel footage of Scullin, see
here.) Even Whitlam, chaotic administrator though he
secured for himself a second term, in 1974.
the boat people issue continues for long enough to do
Rudd serious damage, Australia`s conservatives might
have a chance at winning power. Or, who knows, they
might even raise the issue of legal immigration,
effectively kept out of politics by the usual bipartisan
consensus since Hanson`s implosion.
like the GOP in the U.S., they will opt to play the
political game in the approved way—and lose.
R. J. Stove [send
him mail] lives in Melbourne, Australia.