It’s fair to say that supporters of the centre-left can not plausibly be heartened by the actions of Julia Gillard’s actions since her coup d’état. As Michelle Grattan points out in the Sydney Morning Herald today, the rumblings we are hearing from the Gillard Government on asylum seekers are much less dog whistles than wolf howls. This is naked electioneering at its most breathtaking. It is not just that the East Timor Solution is effectively a carbon copy (admittedly with a bit of spit and polish) of the Howard Government’s own maligned offshore processing regime. It’s not just a question of whether the government is leaning self-consciously to the right, it’s becoming a question of good policy-making and good governance. With an election pending, issue neutralisation in the shortest time possible has been the order of the day for the past two weeks for Julia Gillard’s team. Political fixes to get the government to what it feels to be a defendable position in the outer suburbs before the election have been the focus, at the clear expense of well-thought out, well-planned policy solutions. Suddenly, it would seem, both major federal parties have succumbed to the lure of thought bubble, “back of a beer coaster” politics.
No formal deal appears to have been brokered or serious talks undertaken with the governments of East Timor or New Zealand regarding the approach that the government wishes to take to their supposedly collaborative asylum processing solution. It has been reported that President Jose-Ramos Horta was only contacted in relation to the proposal a matter of hours before it was announced. Meanwhile, as two of Labor’s most senior and most widely respected policy champions make haste to abandon ship, I wonder just how many Labor supporters out there are wondering what on Earth is going on? And I wonder how many non-aligned voters in outer suburban swing seats are starting to think that what Julia Gillard really does stand for is even less apparent than what Kevin Rudd stood for?
If the trend of recent weeks continues, Federal Labor will have created a very stark contrast between its dissembling leadership team and Tony Abbott, whose opinions on a wide range of issues are comparatively rigid and consistent and firmly held, even if they are controversial and /or abhorrent. And Federal Labor still has a little problem called the Senate that it doesn’t seem to have been putting too much thought into. A prolonged, damaging debate on the cut-down resource tax and asylum seeker issues seems practically guaranteed for the next couple of years, with the current proposals unlikely to attract the support of either the Greens or the Coalition without significant amendment.