How do I feel about Labor adopting Abbott’s turn back the boats policy? I will try to explain using a football analogy.
On Sunday I attended the Showdown and was exposed to the most outrageously, offensive, fickle, disrespectful behaviour I have ever seen in the football watching public in my lifetime of watching football. For the uninitiated, the Showdown is the AFL rival clash between Port Adelaide and Adelaide. Basically there were three Port members sitting behind me and my family who decided part way through the match to start cheering for Adelaide. Because Port apparently weren’t playing well enough to ‘deserve’ their support. As a lifelong Port supporter, I don’t want this type of fickle, nasty supporter embarrassing my club by bagging their own team and switching sides at the first sign of scoreboard trouble. But as my mother pointed out to me, perhaps this is what I need to put up with if I accept that to be financially viable, my football club needs as many members as possible. And inevitably, since Port has done phenomenally well to reach 60,000 members this season, a fair chunk of the new members are going to be fickle in nature and will show their disloyal easy-come, easy-go, jump-on-the-band-wagon colours whenever Port is behind on the scoreboard. This is a disappointing reality. But it is a reality I have to accept. Even if it leaves me feeling a little dirty by being forced to pragmatically forsake the club-for-the-true-believers character of my Port Adelaide, to allow for crap supporters who bring financial gains to a previously struggling club; if my beloved club isn’t financially viable, it’s not much use to the true believers as it would soon cease to exist.
So what has this tale got to do with asylum seeker policy you may ask? I see this pragmatic reality as an analogy for what it is like being a member of the ALP and having to accept the political reality of the need to win government by appealing to sections of the electorate who don’t share the values of Labor’s true believers. Case in point is the announcement that Labor’s Shadow Immigration Minister, Richard Marles wants Labor to adopt Abbott’s reprehensible policy to turn back asylum seeker boats. This policy is totally not OK with me. In fact, the whole idea of Labor supporting this policy leaves me feeling disgusted and as a Labor member, dirty. I know for a fact that I’m not alone in this reaction. My ALP branch unanimously passed a motion asking the party not to take this path. I could leave this post at that and go and rant on Twitter about how much I hate the ALP because it has stooped to this low and how I will never vote for them again and will become a Green etc etc etc. But life isn’t as simple as that. Yes, I feel dirty and ashamed. But I also understand why Labor is tempted to take this path. Because no matter how much I hate this fact, it’s still a fact; if Labor’s asylum seeker policy results in a perception in the electorate of the likely return to boat arrivals at the scale that occurred under the Rudd and Gillard governments, Labor will likely not win the next election.
Yes, there are plenty of arguments to say that Labor should lead this policy debate in a positive direction rather than appeasing the bigoted voters who will never welcome asylum seekers with open arms. In a perfect world, Labor would have done a much better job of changing public opinion so that asylum seekers aren’t demonised and rejected by the majority of voters. But in reality, Labor have failed to shift the electorate’s support towards a humane asylum seeker policy, and so too have the Greens. So just like the reality of my football club not existing is much worse than putting up with disloyal supporters, there is far more at risk if Labor loses the next election than a bad asylum seeker policy. In the absence of this shift in the electorate, a pragmatic person would need to consider this risk carefully. This risk is one word. Abbott.
I could spend hours listing all the risks of a second Abbott term. All you need to do is read my blog posts from the previous few years and you will see plenty of evidence of the dangers of giving Abbott a second go with his wrecking ball. The thought of this happening fills me with a deep dread. And even if asylum seeker policy is the only policy you care about, and you vote based on this policy, disregarding the damage Abbott has done, and would further do to health, education, welfare, infrastructure, climate change, environmental policy and many others, alongside a vicious, petty culture war, you can’t ignore that an Abbott government’s asylum seeker policy will always be worse than Labor’s asylum seeker policy.
Before I’m accused of doing this, I’ll admit to doing this. I’m asking you to hold your nose at the dirtiness of Labor’s asylum seeker policy, with the knowledge that it’s nowhere near as dirty as Abbott’s. This argument by refugee advocate and Director of Welcome to Australia, Brad Chilcott, outlines where Labor’s policies could make a difference; such as increasing Australia’s intake of asylum seekers and improving the protections for asylum seekers in the Australian community. Anyone who has followed the changes Abbott’s government has made in this policy area will know that it’s an understatement to point out that there is much room for improvement. Labor can only make these improvements if they win government.
So bring on the abuse I will no doubt get in the comments section of this post, because I’ve heard it all before. I understand that some people can’t ‘support the lesser of two evils’ if Labor goes ahead with their plan to court the bigot vote by confirming that the turn back the boats policy will stand under a Labor government. But I’m desperate to get rid of Abbott. Desperately desperate. Just like I’m willing to accept that my football club’s membership won’t be made up of the old-school true believers anymore, so too am I willing to acknowledge that Labor needs to do whatever they can to get rid of Abbott. And I’m willing to feel very dirty in accepting this reality.