This week


For those who care about these things there was faint cause for optimism in the tabling this week of the Private Members Bills by Liberal dissidents Petro Georgiou and Judi Moylan, in the hope of bringing on a debate. Even Labor has finally committed itself to backing most of Georgiou’s amendments with some fine tuning at the edges.

‘The release into the country of vulnerable people who should not be incarcerated is a matter of principle and compassion,’ Georgiou declared. There can be no middle ground.

Thanks to Peter Nicholson

Thanks to Peter Nicholson

In spite of the attempts by arch conservatives behind the scenes to derail the campaign and reportedly heavy discussions before a Prime Ministerial log fire at Kirribilli, there was no compromise. Moral force now has to contend with the power of office, the Party Room’s apparent solidarity and John Howard’s implacable conviction that the boats have stopped coming to Australia because of long term mandatory detention.

Any hope that the Prime Minister will allow debate in the House seems certain to be dashed. To release women and children into the community, provide TPV holders who are proven refugees with residents’ visas, to abandon long term detention and create an independent review process will guarantee that the battered flotillas head in our direction again, our Prime Minister reckons.

Let’s not kid ourselves either that the media and most people are watching closely. No mainstream media led with the late morning announcement that talks with the PM had broken down and that the Bills were to be tabled. Instead, all day and into the evening the nation’s concerns were assumed to be the Commonwealth Bank’s new CEO from Air NZ, compulsory smoke alarms in NSW and Michael Jackson’s acquittal at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on all charges including that of molesting a thirteen year old boy.

Nor was there much comment about Bill Farmer’s AO in the Queens Birthday Honours. As Head of one of the most troubled Departments in the bureaucracy, he must have sought advice. The acceptance of these things is not compulsory – and you could be forgiven for thinking under the circumstances you might worry about embarrassing your Minister. It seems that Mr Farmer was assured that the government would help him stare down adverse comment. As it happens there was hardly any. Even Tony Jones was circumspect.

The ABC Lateline team has done a brilliant job during recent weeks ferreting out new evidence of bungling and mismanagement in Immigration and Foreign Affairs. Their interview this week with ‘Jamie’, the whistle-blowing immigration official, left us in no doubt that the culture has changed dramatically since Howard’s ‘We shall decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come.’

Now guilty until proven innocent, it seems certain that genuine refugees have been deported, their fate now unknown in most cases. According to ‘Jamie’, things have gone wrong with every caseload. In the 1990s caseloads were typically four or five cases per officer per month, now they each handle around twenty or more. ‘People get promoted for rejecting claims. They say things like we’ve been very efficient. That’s not the case at all. There’s only been one or two cases that have come to the media. Things have gone wrong in every caseload, particularly in the refugee and compliance areas.’

Later this week the Palmer Inquiry report is expected to provide evidence of regular mishandling and widespread abuse. The Prime Minister will do every thing in his power to minimize its impact and stifle debate. Heads are unlikely to roll. How Labor might be planning to respond is anyone’s guess.

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