I’m about to make observations that could be attacked as gender biased if you were on the lookout for that kind of transgression.
As soon as she took office, Julia Gillard signalled that she intended to take a hard line on the offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat. The new Prime Minister announced a processing centre (sounds a bit like a fish canning enterprise) in East Timor without, it subsequently emerged, first having properly consulted with that country as to its willingness to partner with Australia in the venture.
As we know, the East Timor proposition came to nought, and served to position the new Prime Minister as a woman who perhaps spoke too soon, and incautiously. This cast early doubt on her capacity for tough. She’s had to work hard to dispel this initial doubt because everyone knows a woman who seeks high political office has to be twice as tough, twice as hard and twice as mean as any man. Unless she wants to stay on the backbench for her entire career and be of no interest to anyone other than her electorate.
The Malaysian ‘solution’ has also thus far come to nought, not because that country declined to co-operate with Gillard’s tough plans to expel boat arrivals including unaccompanied children, a new benchmark in tough that left me gob smacked and tearful (how female of me) but because the High Court of Australia found the current Migration Act incompatible with the government’s tough policy.
In a majority of 6-1 the High Court ruled that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen could not declare Malaysia a suitable destination for asylum seekers because that country doesn’t offer a standard of humanitarian care compatible with ours or with the requirements of the U.N. Refugee Convention. Furthermore, that country is not a signatory to the Convention.
After having petulantly (unwise choice, petulance erodes tough) attacked the full bench as activist judges who were missing an opportunity to stop the boats (an ignorant response from a lawyer, as if it is the High Court’s job to stop the boats) Gillard has now proposed amendments to the Act that will grant an immigration minister unfettered control over the expulsion of asylum seekers to any country he or she decides is suitable, should he or she deem that to be in the national interest. The amendment will ensure there can be no further legal challenges to such a ministerial declaration. Never underestimate the power of a woman.
Theoretically, this amendment could lead to asylum seekers being refouled, that is sent back to the countries from which they have fled. The U.N. Refugee Convention proscribes this course of action. The Convention does allow us to relocate asylum seekers to a third country for assessment, however that third country ideally would also be a signatory, and certainly would offer protection of asylum seekers’ human rights, including non refoulement.
We have now strayed so far from the Refugee Convention that the only reasons for us to continue as signatories are that we would look like very bad (if tough) international citizens if we withdrew, and withdrawal would undoubtedly put the kybosh on our aspirations to a seat on the U.N. Security Council. So we will maintain our status as signatories, whilst abandoning pretence to anything other than minimal observance of the Convention. Amending the Migration Act will legitimise our hypocrisy. Not only has a woman proved she is better at tough than the men, she’s also surpassed them in the hypocrisy stakes. Qué viva liberación de la mujer! I just love how that sounds in Spanish.
I am woman hear me roar
The fact that Gillard chose to announce her East Timor ‘solution’ hours after taking office indicates that she was determined to position herself from the start as a woman who is capable of great tough, especially on asylum seekers, that hapless and motley collection of human vulnerability who, one could be forgiven for concluding, exist primarily for Australian politicians to use as a yardstick for their implacability capability. Tough implacability apparently being the sole measure of strength in this brutalised country’s brutalised politics formerly epitomised by Liberals John Howard, Philip Ruddock, Peter Reith, Alexander Downer, et al.
In a bold and successful tilt at gender equality, Gillard has now proved beyond question that a woman can be much better at tough than a man. We have the extraordinary vision of Abbott refusing to co-operate with Gillard’s proposed amendment on the grounds that it strips asylum seekers of all human rights protections, including those written into the Act by his predecessor John Howard who we thought was tough at the time, but who now looks like a little bitty pussycat.
In other words, Abbott has voluntarily relinquished his inherited title of sovereign head of the continent of Tough to Gillard, because worrying about asylum seekers’ human rights is so not tough that he might find he’s stranded himself offshore in the very leaky boat of mercurial public opinion. It could viciously turn, public opinion could, and drive Tony, soon to be despised as a bleeding heart if he’s not careful, past the shores of need to the reefs of greed, through the squalls of hate. Who knows where he might make landfall? Maybe Malaysia. Who would have thought?
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