In Bob Carr’s Machiavellian world, you require a thick hide and a boundless capacity to ignore any troublesome facts or figures.
The Foreign Minister lacks neither, which made him the ideal “go-to” man when the Rudd Government began its unashamed assault on asylum seekers last month.
Within a couple of hours of Rudd defeating Julia Gillard in the leadership ballot, Carr was off and running on Lateline, giving the first indications of the Government’s harsh new policy.
Contradicting all the evidence before him, Carr made the staggering claim that all asylum seekers were economic migrants and, therefore, not in need of protection in this country
When it was pointed out to him that the Immigration Department figures (pdf) show that more than 90 per cent of asylum seekers are judged under our review system to be genuinely fleeing persecution, his response was to talk about the need to change the review system.
On Sydney radio station 2GB on 3 July it was suggested to him that it would be difficult to know much about the most recent arrivals because 22,600 asylum claims had been banked up for 11 months, waiting for assessment. He had no proper response. He also said in the same interview that he had no desire to pre-judge any asylum claims, which is precisely what he’s been doing ever since he launched his attack.
There has been no stepping back, not even a partial withdrawal. Indeed, Carr was at it again on Sunday two days after Rudd announced that all asylum seekers arriving by boat would be taken to Papua New Guinea and those assessed as genuine refugees resettled there.
He told Sky News that many people recently arriving on boats had confirmed they were not fleeing persecution. Again there were no proper facts to substantiate his claim. Just the same slogans about “economic migrants” and “people smugglers”.
Some people in public life would find it difficult to keep on defending such behaviour. They might worry about being seen to be misrepresenting the facts. They might even put out a qualifying statement.
Carr isn’t the worrying kind. He takes it all in his stride, as his track record shows.
In an interview on Four Corners in March about the expelled Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid, Carr, a former NSW premier, was at pains to distance himself from Obeid. He said he had been wary of Obeid from the outset when, in fact, he had voted for Obeid to join his first cabinet in 1999. As Ben Eltham wrote in New Matilda:
“He’s conveniently ignoring the truth about Labor factions and his own debt to Obeid. It’s part of an ongoing campaign to downplay his relationship with Obeid and his faction in Carr’s NSW Government.”
Carr’s best form of defence is attack, as he showed during a visit to Sri Lanka last December when he announced the Federal Government’s controversial decision to upgrade its engagement with the Sri Lankan government, which has been accused of war crimes in a UN-commissioned report and of persecution of Tamils by human rights’ organisations.
He was under pressure to defend the Government’s decision to send home hundreds of Tamil asylum seekers. Carr told ABC Radio on 16 December that he was very happy with Sri Lankan government assurances that returned Tamils were safe. He also “warned” that human rights groups could become “zealous” about an issue that doesn’t exist.
Yet, only six weeks earlier at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, Australia called on Sri Lanka to “take action to reduce and eliminate all cases of abductions and disappearances, abuse, torture or mistreatment by police and security”.
Carr was questioned about this apparent discrepancy by Greens’ senator, Lee Rhiannon, in a senate estimates hearing on 14 February. “You would not have put that – nobody would write that – unless it was occurring. One month later, you say you are absolutely ‘happy’ with the assurances you are getting from the Sri Lankan government. How do you reconcile those two positions?” Rhiannon asked.
Carr answered: “They are two separate issues. The first one is a reference to general civil rights, human rights, concerns across the country. The second one was a reference I made to the treatment of returnees.”
To many observers these issues would appear inextricably linked but to Carr they are easy to separate.
As Rudd’s “go-to” man on refugees, his mission is to facilitate policy objectives and he’s got the thick skin and enough unashamed disregard for inconvenient truths to get it done.
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