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The right of the Coalition needs to be doused

By Fotis Kapetopoulos - posted Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The gut-wrenching scenes of the nine-year-old boy weeping at the funeral of his father - one of the victims of the Christmas Island asylum boat sinking - will be hard to forget. His mother and siblings were lost at sea and that little boy waits daily at the gates of Christmas Island detention centre for their return. They will never return.

Thankfully, the Federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen agreed to allow the boy to be united with his cousins in Sydney, rather than be subjected to the indignity of detention on Christmas Island. It should be remembered that there was significant pressure for him to do so, and that there are an additional 1500 children in detention - this is an appalling situation!

In an attempt to harness racist fears of refugees and Muslims, the Coalition Shadow Immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, questioned the Federal Government paying for the flights of the bereaved from Christmas Island to Sydney to attend the funerals of their families.


Opposition leader Tony Abbott and Senator Barnaby Joyce also questioned the cost of flying those relatives to the funeral. But, Morrison quickly understood that Australians, regardless of their political allegiances, are not inhuman so he began a sorry retreat, apologizing for his 'insensitive' comments.  Shadow Minister Joe Hockey, stood against his own colleague on the issue revealing the fissures between the right and left of the Coalition.

Abbott, sensing the wave of popular disapproval, tried to present Morrison as some one with the 'guts' to admit he was insensitive. But there is nothing even remotely gutsy in admitting such an appalling lack of humanity.

Things got even worse for the Federal Opposition when internal leaks revealed that Morrison, in a Shadow Cabinet meeting some months ago, wanted anti-Islamic sentiment to be exploited for electoral gain. Finally, Andrew Robb, the Coalition's architect of the Howard year's wedge politics, clumsily tried to qualify Morrison's alleged anti-Islamic position by saying that the leaks did not reveal the strategic context of the comments.

The One Nation party, like the political scavenger it is, was quick to leverage from the mess by emphasizing that the Coalition has been stealing their policies. And it is here that the problem lies with the Opposition and, up until last Tuesday's multicultural policy announcement, with the Labor Government.

The fear of Howard 'battlers' has, since 1996, facilitated disastrous dog whistling on race among the Coalition and hand-sitting by the Labor party. It should be noted that the asylum seeker detention centres were Labor Government policy developed by Gerry Hand as Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in the Hawke and Keating Ministries. But, their transformation into major political tools was a Howard event. 

Currently, the callousness and racism of Morrison and Abbott were reminiscent of the Howard Government's darker moments during the Children Overboard crisis. Peter Reith, the then Defence Minister, lied about asylum seekers throwing their children overboard to be saved by the navy. By lying he compromised the integrity of the Australian Defence Forces for political gain.


Last week the levy may have broke on wedge politics when the Government’s Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced his support for multiculturalism as policy. In doing so, he referenced the bipartisan support for multiculturalism since the Whitlam/Fraser/Hawke/Keating years. In response, Nicholas Kotsiras, the Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs, came out in support of the Federal Minister's announcement – (albeit he cheekily tried to take some credit for having a multicultural policy before the federal government).

As  importantly, another Coalition wet, backbencher Judi Moylan stood up in parliament and rejected a new attempt by Morrison to make asylum seekers an issue, by arguing that Temporary Visas should be limited to asylum seekers who enter Australia illegally.

For Tony Abbott the time has come to understand that Australia's multiculturalism is a positive and unique policy, and one to be sold to the public in the spirit of bipartisanship.

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About the Author

Fotis Kapetopoulos heads Kape Communications Pty Ltd a cultural communications consultancy. He was Multicultural Media Adviser to Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu and former editor of Neos Kosmos English Edition. He lectures in communication and marketing at various academic institutions and will be undertaking a PhD at the University of Canberra.

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