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The illegal boat arrival vacuum

By Syd Hickman - posted Tuesday, 8 March 2016

As the people smuggling business goes broke, a 'righteous outrage' vacuum is created. It could have unexpected consequences.

As far as I can tell the number of people in Immigration Detention has dropped from a peak of around 13 000 two years ago to just over 1800 now. Of those, only about 800 arrived on people-smuggler boats. The number of children in detention has dropped from 2000 to less than 90 now. By the time of the election these numbers should be even lower.

It may be that the Government will be able to announce that detention numbers have dropped to the long-term average, mainly made up of visa-overstayers.


The situation will certainly be good enough for the Government to boast of its achievement. Labor will be pleased that an issue where it is split left and right has effectively gone away. But the big winners could be The Greens.

The Righteous will still find individual cases to be outraged about, and will shift their outrage to aboriginal recognition, or GM food, or whatever issue the media feeds up to them. (But they will continue to ignore the tens of millions of people in refugee camps around the world, presumably on the grounds that if they can't afford to fly to Indonesia and pay thousands of dollars to people smugglers they are just a pack of losers.)

Most relevantly, they will keep voting Green. They are the new rusties. so having this issue fade out should not result in lost votes.

But The Greens, led by Richard Di Natale, have a great opportunity to expand their constituency beyond the Righteous and to occupy space the ALP has abandoned or refuses to occupy. They can hide Senator Hanson-Young (the personification of Righteousness), or even better, deselect her, and start talking seriously about issues that are of interest to at least half the Australian population, though not to journalists, commentators or ALP spivs whose main aim is to prove what clever economists they are.

The ALP can be expected to keep advocating Gonski education funding levels, despite knowing these are unaffordable, and that they are so high simply to avoid the political pain of cutting funding to wealthy private schools while increasing funds to public schools. The Greens have the option of being the only party to advocate cutting the absurd waste of taxpayers money involved in giving these top schools more millions to put in the bank or spend on ever more lavish infrastructure.

Around 80% of Australians want the option of euthanasia. The Greens have been supportive and can make it a core policy. If the National Party had any brains they would be advocating this strongly as support for euthanasia is even higher among the aging population in the bush than in the cities. But there need be no fear on that score. The ALP and Liberals won't touch it for fear of the religious stormtroopers who represent a tiny minority of the population.


Around seven million Australians are customers of Centrelink, including people getting childcare payments. The Greens are well placed to promise a cultural shift in the organisation, from regarding all applicants as the enemy who must be made to wait, to fill in endless forms and be sent confusing messages in the hope they give up and go away, to one of serving the public by making services simple and efficient. The Liberals certainly won't advocate that and the ALP has lost interest in people who are not sufficiently aspirational.

The Greens could even take an interest in the environment again, promising to slow population growth, as most Australians want, rather than spreading cities over all the best land we have. Such a policy is only credible if there is no open-ended promise to take in a virtually infinite number of refugees. There is no competition there from other parties, and no developer donations to lose.

Even tax policy offers opportunities for The Greens.

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About the Author

Syd Hickman has worked as a school teacher, soldier, Commonwealth and State public servant, on the staff of a Premier, as chief of Staff to a Federal Minister and leader of the Opposition, and has survived for more than a decade in the small business world.

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