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Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Kim Beazley and the Georgiou Bills

Boy oh boy, what a week it was. DIMIA shaking on its foundations, the Kooyong rebels launching - after years of unhappiness with Howard's asylum policies - their trump card in the two Private Members' Bills, and Vanstone in the vice between Bill Farmer, incisive questioning by the Senate Estimates Committee and Petro Georgiou and friends.

After years of unhappiness? Come off it, you may say, but let me tell you, for the first time with a glimmer of personal political pride, that my own MP in Federal government, Judy Moylan, for Pearce, was the only parliamentarian to declare herself absent from Parliament when the Tampa Bills were rushed through in 2001 - because she refused to support them - and she told me that herself last year. And the Private Members Bills were predictable, because we had written to Petro Georgiou and others in February this year, and The Bulletin and The Australian (articles also on our website) one month later that Howard had been put on notice about the looming development.

This morning I emailed the Project SafeCom call to action to an estimates 15,000 folks throughout our database and to about 55 'refugee lists' around Australia, asking people to contact their local MP's, the Georgiou five, and those in the coalition most likely to consider supporting the two Bills.

But what about Big Kim and Labor? Will they support the two Bills when they make it into parliament?

I made myself rather angry this week, when beazley kept uttering political smartnesses directed at John Howard and yesterday I wrote a press release:

Beazley should stop playing politics with democracy and human suffering:
"Federal ALP leader Kim Beazley should stop playing politics in relation to the Liberal backbenchers' Private Members Bill or he will risk a similar revolt within his own backbench," WA refugee group Project SafeCom's spokesman Jack H Smit said this morning.

"Yesterday, Mr Beazley announced in The House as soon as he could and in reply to the Prime Minister's fury over the liberal backbenchers' Bill that the ALP would not allow a conscience vote, and with it, he played entirely on the Prime Minister's turf again."

"Beazley has clearly given evidence that he's more happy for a "me too" position on mandatory detention because of his fears that this atrocious policy, a creation by the ALP, comes unstuck, than that he cares to undo a very deep, very serious, and and ongoing human rights crisis in Australia. Beazley doesn't have the ticker when it matters."

"This week sees an opportunity for Beazley to join with the few in liberal ranks that use a desperate democratic process to address this serious crisis. While Beazley screams for a Royal Commission, he uses parliamentary quipping and playing ping-pong with John Howard instead of talking about the real issues."

"Beazley needs to state categorically that the ALP will support the Private Member's Bills brought by Petro Georgiou and his team, because the entire plan is in line with stated ALP policy, and in addition the facts have clearly shown that thousands of people, both those on TPVs and those in detention, are at mental and psychological risk because of John Howard's human rights abuses."

"If Beazley does not do this, he also risks a situation where dissent in his own ranks of backbenchers will grow to such an extent that Labor will just duplicate the coalition with own crisis of dissent. Beazley needs to ask himself whether people such as Carmen Lawrence, John Faulkner and others are also living as ticking time-bombs in relation to what we do to refugees."

In today's Sydney Morning Herald, readers voiced the same indignation in So now it's mandatory detention of political morals:
As an indication of how little the ALP has learnt over the years, Kim Beazley won't allow Labor MPs a conscience vote on mandatory detention ("Beazley rules out conscience vote on detention bill", Herald, May 26).

The ALP still hasn't figured out that what many people want is an alternative to the Howard Government, not just a poor imitation of it. Until the ALP finds the ticker to openly discuss and challenge the Government's positions on difficult issues facing us, it'll just stay in the detention of impotent opposition.

Paul Gittings
Russell Lea

I note that Kim Beazley and John Howard are not going to allow a conscience vote on asylum seeker amendments. Does that mean politicians from these parties vote against their conscience on these matters, or perhaps it's just coincidental when they don't? Why is it in Australia it's seen as being so treacherous for a politician to "cross the floor"? No such problem in Britain or the US, our other willing partners.

Peter Fraser

Does the refusal of both major parties to allow a conscience vote on our immigration policy confirm that both believe their policies to be unconscionable?

Tracey Carpenter

And Tim Dunlop in 'The Road to Surfdom' Blog (26 May 2005) says:
Again, though, Beazley played it badly. He was more keen to shore up what he imagines is his tough-on-illegals image than to consider the proposed changes on their merits. The fact is, we know pretty much what the bills contain. So while Beazley could've held off giving final endorsement until he'd seen the detail, there was plenty of room for him to signal a different approach and what's more, take a lead on the issue.


I truly wish it was Labor pushing through changes of this nature. It perhaps doesn't go as far as I would like, but it is a brilliantly crafted compromise. The Georgiou bill actually handed Beazley an opportunity, but he has fluffed it, making baseless taunts about conscience votes and faux-macho statements about mandatory detention. It was a disgraceful performance. As commenter tim g says:

"But what about the possibility that leadership - actual leadership, not just political strategy based on exhaustive polling - might be able to lead public opinion, even create it? We've all forgotten this fact because we've seen so little of it in recent times."

Exactly. There was no better time to take a lead on this issue and Beazley didn't. To not be willing to move on this issue is to presume the sort of low opinion of Australians that John Howard has, where he believes his continued electoral success depends on this abhorent policy, something I have argued against a few times.

So - will Beazley and the Federal ALP take this opportunity to throw Howard in detention over his inhumane policies, or will Beazley again be missing in action?


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