1. Political follies
To me the most staggering political event of the past week was PM Scott Morrison’s announcement that he had ordered the re-opening of the Christmas Island detention facility. What for? Does he expect that suddenly the navy will be unable to intercept and turn back boats? The facility is quite large:
Christmas Island Shire CEO Gordon Thomson told Patricia Karvelas the announcement was stunning and made no practical sense. The centre was already on 72-hour standby.
Thomson heard about it the same time as everybody else – there was no consultation. The centre only has a 6-bed hospital, with no facility for operations, so transferring sick people there made no sense.
Morrison says he is going to undertake direct advertising in Indonesia and elsewhere to dissuade people from getting into boats and heading our way. I recall in secondary boarding school the headmaster assembling all the newbies during the first week and ranting at them for over an hour about what they must not do. In effect he was telling everyone what the form was.
There can be no advantage in moving people from Manus and Nauru to Christmas Island. Look at the map:
So ScoMo is telling us that we are safe, the people smugglers will not get through him, but the chance of them succeeding is so strong that he has to take Christmas Island out of standby and open it before they put a boat to sea. Also, has someone explained to him that Christmas Island as an external territory is part of Australia?
Katherine Murphy has two good articles:
She also has an illuminating article Nine facts about the medical evacuation bill. Home affairs advice on whether people smugglers will be reactivated is quite nuanced. Bottom line:
- … PIIs [Potential Illegal Immigrants] will probably remain sceptical of smuggler marketing and await proof that such a pathway is viable, or that an actual change of policy has occurred, before committing to ventures.”
Peter Lewis looks at what Essential Report polling says, and there is little doubt Morrison has the easier political road. Some 37% supported the notion that we should close the detention centre on Nauru and transfer all the remaining asylum seekers to Australia, as against 42% who opposed. That was last October.
However, Shorten has done a principled deal, which is a long way from closing the centre and which may benefit him politically in less direct ways, being seen as a man of compassion, and also able to negotiate with diverse interests to get things done. A further point picked up by Laura Tingle was that Shorten has found a way of working with “Albo” and drawing him back into Labor’s inner circle, from which he has been excluded since Shorten took over the leadership.
Although Albanese has no portfolio responsibilities in immigration matters, it was Albo who explained Labor’s principles to the media, then worked hand in glove with manager of Opposition business Tony Burke in the chamber on Tuesday afternoon to get the legislation through, then it was Albo who was out front of a media blitz on Wednesday explaining Labor’s position, giving no less than seven interviews on the day.
Shorten seemed very happy for him to do it.
Meanwhile in a poll taken before all this happened Essential found Labor in the lead 55-45 (see poll here), reflecting if anything the Hayne banking inquiry fallout. Newspoll tomorrow should be interesting.
2. Brexit may blow UK political system up
Jeremy Corbyn is not running the UK so what is he doing going to Europe to hold Brexit talks with Barnier and Verhofstadt, the EU’s top Brexit negotiators?
Theresa May, who is PM but isn’t running the UK either, has just lost yet another Brexit vote in parliament. This time she didn’t even show up for the vote.
Seems that significant numbers in the Conservative Party actually want a no-deal Brexit, so that they can run their own trade policy. May has only two ways forward:
- 1. Do a deal with Labour which would pass the Commons and be accepted by the EU.
- 2. Continue to deny reality which will default to a No Deal Brexit.
According to The Guardian:
- Labour is seeking a permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union, a close alignment with the single market and protection for standards and workers’ rights.
Corbyn also wants commitments on participation in EU agencies, funding programmes and security arrangements, such as the European arrest warrant, written into the deal.
It looks as though some Tories may split from May and do a deal directly with Labour, under May’s nose (or over her head).
At HuffPost there is an article Why A No-Deal Brexit Is Now Theresa May’s Fallback Plan To Save Her Party – And Herself. (Unless you want a lot of detail, I’d suggest just reading the headline.)
Someone at the BBC thinks Labour rebels could split to form a new party.
If we have a No Deal Brexit, the Scots could split from the Union, followed by the Irish and the Welsh.
I’m hoping the Corbyn will save the day, and the no-deal Tories can relocate to Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party.
Julie Nathan, Research Director for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, warns us:
- Little more than a year ago, far-right activists in Australia could reasonably accurately be divided into three ideological groupings: civic patriots, nationalists and racialists. Whatever they might be said to have in common, these groups differed fundamentally in their beliefs about race, religion and citizenship. But now, something far more sinister is going on. There has been a move further to the right by the civic patriots and nationalists, and a general convergence around the racialist myth of “White Replacement.”
In 2019, the far right began its activities with a rally on St. Kilda beach in Melbourne, protesting so-called “African crime.” The “Reclaim St. Kilda” rally was organised by two well-known far-right figures, Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson ― both Hitler-admirers and anti-Muslim campaigners. Some of those at the rally were openly neo-Nazi, displaying Hitler salutes and flaunting a Nazi SS helmet. The rally was addressed by Senator Fraser Anning, who has stated he would bar Muslims from migrating to Australia. However, the participants were not all white supremacists. In attendance were also some Vietnamese-Australians who had been violently attacked by Sudanese-Australian youth.
- What is new is the concept of “White Replacement” (sometimes called “White Genocide”) which claims that there is a global Jewish plot to “import” non-Europeans ― especially Africans, Asians and Arabs ― into Europe, North America and Australasia for the express purpose of “destroying” European culture, and subjugating and decimating those of European ethnicity.
She says a new group, calling itself Identity Australia, emerged in October 2018, intent on opposing non-European immigration and promoting the myth of “White Replacement”, but has shorn off:
open support for Nazism and for the extermination of Jews and homosexuals, as espoused by Antipodean Resistance, is a turn-off for most people. Identity Australia instead seeks to appeal more broadly to the ordinary “white Aussie.” Its discourse is shorn of Nazi ideology and imagery, and aims to appeal simply to “white” xenophobic nationalism, all the while concealing the antisemitism at its core.
- Ominously, many in the far right are claiming that 2019 will be the year that Australia is “taken back” are openly talking about sparking a “Race War.”
Nathan does not think Australians will respond to calls for overt violence. However, she asks the question:
Will political and civil society leaders adhere to the standards of zero-tolerance for racism, and incitement to violence, in actions as well as words? Time will tell.
Elsewhere on the ABC Tim Soutphommasane talks with Phillip Adams about his new book On Hate which “explores how hatred has seeped quietly and insidiously into our society in recent years and infected our politics.”
4. Health Reform Commission
Arguably the most important happening in politics this week has been Labor’s Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare Catherine King outlining the proposal at the National Press Club address. Speech here.
King said the Health Reform Commission would be an independent, legislated body “comparable to the Productivity Commission”.
It would, she said, seek to break the “boom and bust” cycle of national health policy where big, structural reform is “repeatedly undermined by the short-term and combative nature of our political system”.
In early responses, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) Chief Executive Alison Verhoeven said the proposed Commission would take “the politics and finger-pointing out of health” in order to deliver a better health system for the nation.
The Consumers Health Forum also welcomed the proposal as “a timely step towards improvement and innovation of Australia’s health system”, while the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) said such a body “was long overdue and would be a welcome addition to the sector if implemented”.
Ms King said Australia’s healthcare system faced challenges including “growing barriers to care” such as “high costs, long wait times and workforce shortages”, along with “persistent inequalities” of access to care in disadvantaged communities.
“These challenges have been understood for years and in some cases decades,” she said.
“But the big, structural reform that’s so clearly needed has been repeatedly undermined by the short-term and combative nature of our political system.”
For example, she cited then health minister Peter Dutton’s decision to scrap Medicare Locals in 2014, replacing them with a smaller number of primary health networks, health reform efforts being hampered by “constant blame and cost-shifting” between the Commonwealth and the states, and ongoing disputes over hospital funding.