“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
.

A
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
Happening"
.

The
"fate" in
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. 
Most spectacularly,
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
was the

MV Tampa affair
.

The
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 Tampa to enter
Australian waters.

This
decision, of course, inspired

profuse moaning from the commentariat
, international
as well as local, about Howard`s
"xenophobia”.
Such moaning increased in its intensity when he
proclaimed: "We
will decide who comes to this country, and the
circumstances in which they come
."

On
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
.

No
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

1975
and

1977
) failed to do.

Consequently immigration hardly figured in the 2004
election campaign. Labor`s leader that year, Mark
Latham, was

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

increased penalties

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. 

Until now.

In
2009, an exclamation by the late Heather O`Rourke in
Poltergeist II
is
newly appropriate to describe the advance of boat
people: "They`re
baaack
!"

On
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
were

taken to Royal Perth Hospital
. (For footage of the
fire, see

here
.)

In
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
issue again.

The
post-Howard
"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
Americans
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"
,
Turnbull insists.
"They`ve known for some time. They should tell the
truth. That`s all we`re asking them to do."


[
Rudd
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
McCain`s

shunning of the issue
that
hurt McCain so badly
with the

Republican base.

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

called people-smugglers

"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

explained
.

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.

The
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.)

So on
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
Presidents. 

To
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
was,

secured for himself a second term,
in 1974.

If
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.

But probably,
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.