How To Keep Asylum Seekers Keen


"Treat ’em mean, to keep ’em keen". We use this phrase so often in our day-to-day lives: in our relationships, at our jobs, in our churches. But do we really understand the full implications of this simple principle? Current events suggest perhaps not. Of course I am speaking of Julia Gillard, alleged Prime Minister of Australia.

Now if anyone should know the meaning of treating them in a mean fashion in order to maintain a state of keenness, it’s Julia Gillard. People have been treating her mean all her life, and she’s stayed as keen as ever. Even now, the media, the Liberal Party and inept impressionists continue to treat her mean, and she continues to be extremely keen. Keen to be prime minister, that is. She doesn’t seem particularly keen to do anything else, but then she never did.

What’s more, she is strong on the treatment side of the equation too: does anyone suppose that Ms Gillard doesn’t treat ’em mean? That she doesn’t make Tim cry? That she doesn’t frequently smack Wayne in the mouth? That she doesn’t, just to relieve tension, occasionally throttle a koala? Let’s be honest: we know what she’s like.

So it seems bizarre that in the area of asylum seeker policy, Gillard is completely disregarding the dangerous ground she’s treading on. She thinks she can just treat the asylum seekers mean, and all her troubles will be over. She is, I think you’ll agree, sorely mistaken. Asylum seekers are just like those girls who wouldn’t go out with you in high school and instead they went out with that complete arsehole even though you were clearly much nicer than him and you even wrote her a poem and left it secretly in her bag and didn’t sign it so she wouldn’t feel pressured but she still wouldn’t go out with you even though all her boyfriends were massive dicks and you would have been SO much better for her and you were always there for her but she didn’t seem to care and really after all you did for her why should you feel guilty for occasionally looking up her dress? Asylum seekers are … um … like that. They like it when you treat them mean.

In this context, it’s Bob Brown who is me — I mean you — and it’s Julia Gillard who’s that prick Darren. She keeps beating up on them, railing against them, assassinating their characters, calling for strong borders, locking them up, demanding she be allowed them to be shipped off to Malaysian caning-farms, probably sending them rude letters and making fun of their accents for all we know.

And she thinks this will somehow "deter" them. Yet it’s easy to see this is untrue, if only because of the quote marks I put around it. Clearly, treating asylum seekers mean only encourages them. They think, "oh she only does it because she cares" and "she only wants the best for us" and "I just walked into a door, doctor". And they just keep coming, because deep down, asylum seekers love a bad boy. Or a bad girl, or whatever Julia Gillard is. She’s definitely bad, though, and the asylum seekers love it. She could hardly be encouraging them to come here more if she rode a Harley to Indonesia and growled, "Get on, toots".

She’s heading to certain political oblivion if she continues this "treat ’em mean" policy. The boats will just keep coming, and the refugees will keep swooning at her tough, snarling attitude, and our taxes will keep going down the drain, and residents of Western Sydney will keep being murdered in their beds, as I understand is the natural consequence of boatpeople.

What she needs is a subtle approach. Something a bit more passive-aggressive. She should stand up and welcome refugees to Australia, but dress down a little. Don’t wear make-up. Do press conferences in pyjamas. And make sure they know that when they get here it won’t be a bed of roses. Gillard should say things like "I hope we get MORE asylum seekers coming on boats — that’s more people who can help me move!" Or even better — "I like refugees because they’re good listeners — I look forward to talking to them about our relationship". This’ll send them running back into the arms of their home country and/or death squads, grateful for their lucky escape.

It’s the only way, Prime Minister (if that is your REAL name). Without an about-face in your understanding of human psychology, you’re headed for political disaster.

Or … are you?

What if Gillard is smarter than any of us think (not too difficult, I know, am I right IPA? High five!)? What if she’s playing "the long game", much as Kim Beazley did when year after year he skilfully manoeuvred to keep himself unelectable in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle while also managing to keep on getting a good night’s sleep?

What if, in short, she knows full well that by treating ’em mean she is keeping ’em keen, but she doesn’t mind because that’s what she wanted all along? Just follow my train of thought for a minute here, because it’s a pretty freaky train, but once you get to the buffet car I think you’ll be like, that’s some high-quality intellectual sausage rolls, Ben.

So, think of this: Gillard is mean to asylum seekers. Asylum seekers, attracted to her muscular and sexy policy harshness, come her in droves. Asylum seekers become Australians. And they vote…


Asylum seekers vote Labor! Of course they do! Who else are they going to vote for? The Liberals, who think they smell and talk really loud and slow to them? The Nationals, who basically want to run over them in utes? The Greens, who are — and I say this with the best will in the world and no desire to cause offence or generate malice — who are, essentially, members of the Greens? The Natural Law Party, who want us to be ruled by flying yogis? Well yes that’s the most likely, but they lack the advertising budget. No, asylum seekers vote Labor, hard and with frequency. Which is why Julia Gillard, hamstrung by her current position as Australia’s least popular prime minister since the short-lived Daddo Cabinet, needs to get as many of them as possible here as quickly as possible.

So maybe she’s decided what she wants is keen asylum seekers. Perhaps she’s recognised a pressing demand for keenness, and a consequent need for extreme meanness. Maybe it’s all a brilliant scheme concocted in that cold Machiavellian brain of hers. You have to admire it, in a way. If that’s what she’s doing. Otherwise, she’s every bit as dumb and slow-witted as we already thought.

So what is it? On this could hang the next election? Voters of Australia, we need to decide. Is our PM a devious genius, or a duck-brained imbecile? Is she treating ’em mean because she just doesn’t get it, or because she actually does. We have to make up our minds, because then we can allocate our vote accordingly. If we decide she’s stupid, we can toss her out on her ear. And if we decide she’s brilliant, we can toss her out on her ear.

After all, treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.