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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Shorten: the new Beazley

After the tumultous Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years of Labor leadership, it seemed to many ALP supporters that Bill Shorten would offer a breath of stable air for the 'workers' party. After all, Shorten is an ex-Union leader so surely should have some sense of justice for the down-trodden.

Shorten's appointment followed Labor's unsurprising defeat at the hands of the Tony Abbott led Liberal National coalition. While the defeat wasn't a surprise for most, it was the worst nightmare for many with the appointment of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. Abbott. A pugilist politician who led in Opposition with three-word slogans, belligerence and assailing any perceived weakness like a shark striking at wounded prey. Even when there was no weakness, Abbott wasn't adverse to lying or exaggeration in order to create the perception of weakness. One of his better known pieces of deception was rebranding the carbon price as a carbon tax even though the legislation clearly stated it was not a tax. But hey, why let an Act of Parliament stand in the way of an effective misinformation campaign. And then there was his incessant fear mongering about the numbers of asylum seekers coming into the country. In Opposition, he even took to the streets with bill-boards broadcasting how many arrivals there were each week. Interestingly, when Abbott took power, these numbers became state secrets as they were 'matters of national security'. The hypocrisy of the man.

Unfortunately, Australia only has two viable parties that can form a government. The ultra-conservative LNP and the ever more increasingly right-wing Labor Party. Being a workers' party, Labor's roots are entrenched deep in left wing ideology, yet their politics these days are more to the right than the Liberal Party's was only a few years ago. To compound this, Bill Shorten is a member of the right-wing faction of the Labor Party.

In 2001, then Prime Minister John Howard (Liberal Party) was facing a crushing defeat at the polls. He'd led for two terms, having ascended to national leadership in 1996. With Labor looking like it would win the election, Howard had to do something drastic. That something conveniently came in the form of the MV Tampa, a Norwegian freighter that had rescued 438 refugees from a sinking boat bound for Australia.

Howard refused to let the Tampa dock in Australia. He followed this up with the nationalistic slogan, 'We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come'. Refugees were portrayed as wanting to steal our way of life and our jobs. They were demonised as possibly being terrorists. The Tampa affair began in August 2001. By the end of August, Howard had rolled out the Border Protection Bill. Two weeks later, September 11, the largest terrorist attack on American soil occurred. This justified Howard's fear-mongering in the minds of Australians and he never looked back. He won the November 2001 election convincingly (1).

The leader of the Opposition at the time was Kim Beazley. Although he'd been enjoying a lead in the polls, the Tampa crisis and then 9/11 caught him out and he capitulated to the nationalism and the sloganeering. Beazley didn't have the fortitude to challenge Howard's hyperbole and politicisation of the issue. Instead of coming to the defence of innocent refugees fleeing persecution, Beazley folded and gave his support to the government's position and xenophobically-named 'Border Protection' Bill, leading to the implementation of the inhumane Pacific Solution.

As an aside, every single one of the asylum seekers on the Tampa was found to be a genuine refugee. Their persecution at the hands of Australia was for one reason only: political point-scoring.

Since then, asylum seekers have been the go-to for the Liberal party. A dip in the polls? Roll out another boat-load or two of refugees to demonise. Labor in charge? Invent a threat from refugees.

When Kevin Rudd led Labor to an election victory in 2007, he did so with the promise of a fairer and more humane asylum seeker policy. The LNP took advantage of this and salivated over every arrival, broadcasting every boat, whipping fear and racism in the community. Amidst a major public backlash borne out by the LNP's racist fear campaigns, Rudd reinstated Howard's Pacific Solution and opened gulags on Nauru and Manus Island.

Bill Shorten, Labor's Opposition leader is the new Kim Beazley.

He has capitulated to the government on a number of Liberal policies that should have been opposed. However, such is the desire to win elections that politicians are willing to sell their out the souls of themselves and their party. Shorten has proven to be no different. Instead of showing integrity and decency he has supported (2) the moral bankruptcy of the LNP in such issues as:
  • preventing High Court challenges against the treatment, detention and processing of asylum seekers
  • revocation of the citizenship of dual nationals suspected of terrorism (forget due process and the rule of law, forget innocent until proven guilty - just exile people based on rumour and hearsay)
  • preventing whistle-blowers reporting the abuse of asylum seekers in detention (3)
  • the ongoing abuse and indefinite detention without charge of asylum seekers in breach of UN conventions on refugees and torture
  • refouling asylum seekers back to countries in which they face imprisonment, torture, execution (e.g. Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka)
  • tow-backs of asylum seeker boats
  • incessant hyperbole conflating 'every day' Muslims with extremism and terrorism.
Where was Shorten when the LNP launched their unprecedented attacks on the independence of the Human Rights Commission? Instead of defending the Triggs report that identified systemic abuse of children in detention, Shorten was silent. Possibly because some of the abuse happened under the former Labor government.

Where is Shorten as Abbott continues attacking the independence of the ABC? Silence is complicity. Leonardi Da Vinci stated that 'nothing strengthens authority so much as silence'. Perhaps that should be 'nothing strengthens authoritarianism so much as silence'.

Yet, the lack of leadership from Shorten has resulted in his own party defending LNP policy (4)

Abbott's policies serve only to distract from the government's inability to manage the economy. Abbott invented the economic crisis when in fact, Australia's economy was the strongest in the western world. But cute little three-word slogans for those who are economically-challenged worked and he managed to hoodwink the electorate into believing that only the LNP could save us from terrorism, asylum seekers, economic ruin, 'lefty lynch mob' media and sustainable energy.

With Abbott's blatantly obvious scare campaigns and Bill Shorten acquiescing to them, is it any wonder that the popularity of both leaders has plummeted (5).

These two 'leaders' have concerned themselves only with their political careers and the rest of the country be damned. Reports have emerged that nine people died in immigration detention in the last year. Combine this with the reports from Amnesty International and the United Nations, that Australia is breaching international law. And most recently reports that the Abbott government paid people smugglers; the very same smugglers whose vessels resulted in the deaths of more than 1200 asylum seekers at sea during the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments between 2007 and 2012. The LNP boast that they are saving lives, yet asylum seekers are in record numbers while Australia turns its back. Asylum seekers may not be drowning on their way to Australia (although how would we know as it's top secret), but there have been significant increases in boats in the Mediterranean and a corresponding increase in drownings (6). It's entirely possible that these increases are the result of asylum seekers who've decided to rebuild their lives in Europe rather than subject themselves to the torture and brutality of an Australian refugee centre.

So where's the royal commission? The Liberals were quick to set up royal commissions into the pink batts affair which cost the lives of four young Australians. They were quick to set up a royal commission into alleged union corruption. Yet the federal Liberal government's blatant breaches of international laws related to refugees and torture go uninvestigated and unpunished.

It's time (as Gough once said) for Labor to return to its roots and stand up for the downtrodden. To be a true alternative to the conservative parties. To offer humanity, dignity and integrity in their policies and campaigns in contrast to the belligerence, negativity, fear-mongering and outright lies of the federal LNP.


1. ABC, Tony Jones, Sarah Clarke, Lateline, 'Liberals accused of trying to rewrite history', 21 November 2011, Accessed 30 June 2015.

2. The Guardian, Shalailah Medhora, 'Labor supports asylum bill but lambasts Coalition's partisan record on issue', 24 June 2015, Accessed 30 June 2015

3. The Guardian, 'Open letter on the Border Force Act: 'We challenge the department to prosecute'', 1 July 2015, Accessed 1 July 2015.

4. Buzzfeed News, Alex Lee, Mark Di Stefano, 'Labor’s Richard Marles Found Himself Defending Coalition Policies And It Got Worse From There', 7 July 2015. Accessed 8 July 2015.

5. Sydney Morning Herald, James Massola, 'Bill Shorten and Tony Abbott hit by popularity nosedive: Fairfax-Ipsos poll', 6 July 2015, Accessed 7 July 2015.

6. The Age, Claire Mallinson, 'Australia must turn around its attitude towards asylum seekers - stop the disgrace', 17 June 2015, Accessed 4 July 2015.

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