Why The PNG Solution is Gillard's Fault

Just when you thought Australia's race to the bottom on asylum seekers couldn't get any more hateful and hysterical, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd 2.0 announced on Friday that all asylum seekers who arrive by boat (and only those who arrive by boat) will be sent to Papua New Guinea for processing and, if their claims for asylum found to be genuine, settled there. The would never be eligible for Australian residency. Great! So the world's 12th largest economy is passing off it's legal and moral responsibilities to a nation where per capita GDP is $2532 per annum, a nation where malaria runs rampant, a nation where homosexual activity is illegal. How much are we paying them for this? What did we promise?

I wasn't the only one who had the bile rise in my throat. There were denunciations, and tears, and people tearing up their ALP membership cards (you get a card for joining the ALP? All we get in the Greens is a monochrome booklet on recycled paper). And amongst all that was a plaintive refrain: that this was all part of Kevin Rudd's egomaniacal drive to get elected; it would never have happened under Julia Gillard. Oh really? Far from thinking it never would have happened under Gillard, it is in fact all her fault.

I mean, it's all John Howard's fault, of course; he steered the nation onto a path of selfishness, cowardice and racism we may never recover from, feverishly whipping up hatred of "boat people" during his term of office. When we finally couldn't bear it any longer and turfed him out of office in 2007 - just as worldwide levels of asylum seekers were increasing - new Prime Minister Rudd  1.0 wound back several of the Howard era's harshest measures on asylum seekers, such as towing boats out of Australian waters, and the temporary protection visas which led to the deaths of 353 mostly women and children on the SIEV X. This and other issues saw Labor slip in the polls, a bit, and this and other issues led Labor to turf Rudd as leader shortly before the 2010 election. In came our sparkly new leftist, first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

And what was pretty much the first thing Gillard did? Announce we needed to have a national dialogue on asylum seekers, not to dispel the myths, but to announce how terrified and angry we all were about them. She declared that we weren't allowed to call the people banging on about "illegals" racists or rednecks; that their views were legitimate, that boat people were a bloody great problem we all had to fret about. Instead of differentiating herself as a truly progressive Prime Minister, she opened the floodgates of talkback radio to the kind of people who were always going to hate her no matter what she did, sewing the seeds of her own destruction and pouring fertiliser on the national weeds of hatred and xenophobia. Gillard could have tried to alter the tone on asylum seekers to one of truth and compassion, but didn't; the boats kept coming anyway, and now we've reached a point where shipping desperate people off to a third world country for daring to seek asylum here seems fair and just to a huge chunk of the population. (And if you want a better alternative to all this, there is one).

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