Intractable Mess

ALP In The Middle
Pleiades sent in this link today for a quick look. It’s an article by Antony Green – famous for his election coverage and breakdown of numbers – talking about just how difficult the Asylum Seeker issue has become.

With asylum seeker boat arrivals a very live debate in the 2013 election campaign, Vote Compass asked four questions on asylum seekers and immigration issues.

The results reveal a polarised electorate, but one where Coalition and Green supporters find themselves comfortably aligned with their parties’ policy positions.

The real division was among Labor voters. Overall 48 per cent of intending Labor voters oppose the new Labor policy while 40 per cent support it. Labor has made a major policy shift to ban asylum seekers who arrive by boat from settling in Australia, but either Labor supporters have yet to adjust their position on the new policy, or just as likely, there are differing opinions on the subject within Labor’s support base.

Since 2001 the Labor Party has struggled to produce policies on asylum seekers that straddle the divide between being tough and being compassionate. This struggle is reflected in the Vote Compass data for intended Labor voters.

It’s clear that the polarisation surrounding this issue is actually making things intractable. I’ve been thinking about this very point for some time in as much as I can’t seem to find too many people who wanted to try the Malaysian solution when Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen had that project as the desired policy course. Most people I knew either wanted to go the Abbott way and send boats back forcibly, or they wanted to just let anybody in without so much as a due process.

Even ringers like Clive Palmer has a policy position on this, and his is immediate on the spot processing and if they are found to be not refugees, they get sent back immediately. Which is all very nice for Clive but the reality is that some of these people are destroying their paperwork as they get on the boats to make it harder for immigration officials.

And this sort of brings me to the next point. The people on the far left of the spectrum who vehemently criticise the also numerous other end of the spectrum don’t seem to want to have any process at all. This is sort of interesting in as much as it seems those people want to do away with the department of immigration entirely. If you listen closely to the far left, they’re saying, let anybody who comes to Australia by boat, stay. They don’t seem to understand that this massively incentivises people to get on boats; and that the people getting on the boats are counting on a sizable portion of Australians to feel pity and just let them in (“and why the hell not?” I hear them say).

All of this is surprising because Australia probably is well-served by its immigration department in most instances. Why the department and its processes don’t get the benefit of the doubt and aren’t allowed to process the asylum seekers actually escapes me.

Antony Green also goes on to point out that lack of education and income (or the lack thereof) also correlates with support or opposition to the policy. This is understandable given that they would be the most vulnerable to added competition from a sudden influx of low-skilled workers. They’re not dumb. They know it means more competition and lowering of their bargaining power. And while the term xenophobia gets bandied about readily, you’d have to give the lowly-educated low-income demographic a break for being anxious. After all, we’re living in a hollowing out economy where their jobs are more likely to be exported to ‘Chindia’ than those of the white collar demographic.

Similarly, the opposition to letting asylum seekers correlates with age as well. The older you are, the more likely you are to object – which, let’s be fair, is probably an overhang of the White Australia Policy so that one probably deserves the ‘xenophobia’ label.

In any case it’s clear that the ALP has got a real problem on its hands because  the issue sits exactly at the point where it splits the traditional blue collar voters from the varsity educated progressives. If the ALP ran on the most left-leaning policy of letting all Asylum Seekers that arrive by boats into Australia, they might feel better about themselves but the numbers say they will lose. So you can see how this necessitates the PNG solution. You wonder how the white collar ALP voter feels about this (seeing that they were the most likely Gillard supporters) on the day the ballot is cast. …or will they donkey vote? it’s 3 more weeks to wrestle with their consciences because like it or not, donkey voting will bring in Tony Abbott.


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