(Tony Abbott’s) entire life in politics has been based on encouraging and fanning division within society. Whether it be climate science, windmills, school and university education, the strategy is always the same – divide and, in his mind at least, rule.
The only thing I have real regrets about during my time in the 2010-13 hung parliament is that I was unable to help resolve the issue of asylum seekers from Australia’s perspective. It was the greatest failure of that parliament, and the blame lies with all of us. What we are left with is a national shame.
There were attempts to achieve a consensus across party lines but division was too attractive to the political class. Rob Oakeshott’s effort to enhance the Bali Process – a suite of co-operative measures for the region, conceived in 2002 – did not gain support. The Angus Houston, Paris Aristotle and Michael L’Estrange committee made a valiant attempt to present options outside of politics, but failed to achieve acceptance.
With the benefit of hindsight, it was probably never going to succeed. I remember Angus Houston telling me that the strategy would fail if the totality of the recommendations were not accepted, particularly the emphasis on a regional context. Sure enough, the intransigence of the major parties and the Greens ensured failure was the outcome and led to cherrypicking the recommendations.
An attempt was also made to bypass the executive of the parties, where Steve Georganas (ALP), Judi Moylan (Liberal) and myself formed an informal backbench group with a view to achieving a common strategy across party lines. These meetings were well attended by all political persuasions, as well as representatives of refugee groups, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Defence Force and human rights advocates, including the much-maligned Gillian Triggs.
But it became obvious the Liberals weren’t particularly interested in a united approach unless it was theirs, and the Greens and Labor needed to maintain different approaches for their own purposes. Failure was ensured, the outcome of self-interest over human life.
In terms of results, the Liberals went on to win the 2013 election with their “Stop the boats” slogan. But nothing meaningful has been achieved within the region or globally. In fact, the situation is much worse.
There are legitimate questions about policy that indicate the obvious: Australia cannot solve this issue on its own. Often it is suggested that Australia should take in more displaced people as refugees. I agree, but there is a real need to have a policy approach that recognises the extremities of the debate – what if 20 million people want to come here?
But this policy problem indicates to me there are a number of things Australia should be doing.
b>Download Open Letter from doctors to The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, and Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten: