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Vulnerable are victims of the federal game of thrones


Skull lies in post-apocalyptic wasteland. Black birds flock aboveIt is hard to imagine anything seriously surprising, any dramatic change of pace, emerging from the election campaign. If the last three years have been like the first three years of the First World War — with continuous mud, shelling, poison gas met by poison gas, unburied bodies, and vast human resources sacrificed for small gains — then now is the time for a final blitzkrieg, with the foot soldiers of both sides regularly going over the top, propaganda sheets running hot off the presses and the generals meditating victory.

It is also hard to imagine a victory to either side that will bring great benefit to Australia. The last weeks have revealed the lengths to which both parties will go to bring misery to vulnerable, unpopular groups of people who call out for help. The PNG solution is trumped by tent cities on Nauru and Manus Island, soon to be overtrumped by further brutalities. The columns of refugees who fled from the battlefields of Europe were usually strafed by only one of the combatants. In Australia both sides fly sorties around the clock.

The treatment of people who seek protection in Australia is not simply one of many election issues. It is a measure of how far each political party will go, how much damage each will be prepared to do to Australia's honour, reputation, economic interests and relationships in order to gain and hold power. Who can doubt that, if it is electorally advantageous to target other such unpopular groups in Australia and people who are unemployed, homeless and belong to minority ethnic or religious groups, our political parties will be prepared to do so?

And who could believe the claims of either party that it will deliver good economic management, when both are willing to spend billions of dollars on measures whose practical effect will be to blight the lives of innocent people and damage Australia's international reputation without gain other than at the ballot box?

An election campaign that has begun with such intense focus on the political interests of both major parties and their leaders will no doubt continue in the same way. It will understandably be about politics as politics, not about politics as the art of good government in the national interest. Policies will be reduced to slogans, deliberation to being on message, character to media persona and wisdom to avoiding gaffes. And one leader will emerge victorious and will need to think about governing.

We should focus our attention on that point rather than on the games that will be played during the election campaign. There are many opportunities and risks facing Australia over the coming years which will require wise and ethically principled government. Elections are about the short-term. Our thinking should be correspondingly long-term. That will have the fringe benefit of helping to endure the longueurs of the coming month.

A few of the larger questions that will shape Australia are an ageing population and the need for immigration, the effects of globalisation on Australia's revenue base and on the industries that provide employment for Australians, the kind of education that will encourage the reflectiveness and provide the skills in languages and computers that foster creativity and trust in business, the encouragement of thoughtful communications, ways of responding to the harsher climatic conditions that seem inevitable, and how to ensure transparency in the management of security.

For a month we shall endure an election campaign for which the well has been poisoned. But there will come a time when pure water will be necessary. We should keep our minds and hearts clear so that we shall recognise pure water when we see it.


Andrew Hamilton headshotAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Skull image from Shutterstock

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Election 2013, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott



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"If writers leave the business of making pictures of the world to politicians, it will be one of history's greatest and most abject abdications." -Salman Rushdie. We, the people of Australia, can write on our ballot papers. We can write to politicians. We can write to newspapers. We can even write on blogs. This is powerful stuff.

Pam | 05 August 2013  

The "billions of dollars on measures" designed to stop asylum seekers if spent in their "countries of origin" could well help to stem the flow just as effectively as the cruel and harsh "measures" being planned.

Anthony | 05 August 2013  

I couldn't agree more but who is listening? I really don't understand why we don't regard asylum seekers as opportunities for Australia rather than as problems. If we encourage and support them to settle here and contribute and build their lives, we can only benefit as out history has demonstrated. Better that than having to eventually support people broken and damaged by the system after spending inordinate time in detention.

john bartlett | 05 August 2013  

Does anyone understand that these two parties are trading human beings to the neighbours and the media are too lazy to call it what it is?

Marilyn | 05 August 2013  

It never ceases to amaze me that the media always focus on the two major parties? If more sit time/print space was given to the Greens and members of the media did their research rather than relying on what is fed to them, the general population may appreciate a party that is progressive, compassionate and believes in an economy founded in social justice!

Zerin | 05 August 2013  

Well said. This is the kind of incisive article we need - calling a spade a spade. I supported KR after he was deposed and when he finally returned to PM, but he lost my support over this issue - I can't allow myself to be associated with the nastiness of these two parties. It amazes me how many people are hoodwinked by the fear campaign against asylum seekers, otherwise good and educated people. I am lucky to live in Andrew Wilkie's electorate and so have a choice of a candidate who has a better attitude on this issue (and others). The Greens will get my second preference and it will be very hard to apportion the others.

Vivienne | 05 August 2013  

Andrew, the elections are about people who live here in Australia and we are the people of primary concern who support all issues - Australian. Then come the other issues.

shirley McHugh | 05 August 2013  

@ Anthony. Do you really think that the Sunnis in Pakistan could be persuaded to stop killing the Shias, if we pay them money? I venture to suggest that we are neither responsible for nor able to stop all evil in this world.

Dominic Egan | 05 August 2013  

have been a reader of eurekastreet for at least 3 years, why is has the font so faint?

Christopher Develin | 05 August 2013  

Thank you for the consistent tenor of E.S. articles. They give support to my heart and spirit! Writing to one's local member and party leaders apparently makes no difference... Margaret

Margaret Ryan | 05 August 2013  

But Shirley, neither of the 'old parties' is addressing what you call the 'Australian issues' any more than they are addressing 'the other issues'.

Ginger Meggs | 05 August 2013  

Andrew thank you for articulating our very sorry and vey dishevelled selves. Perhaps our best response is to hold up our arms like Moses did and wait for the few good women and men to relieve our miserable state. Anne

Anne Nolan | 06 August 2013  

So Australia has finally caught up with the rest of the world in creating mean, pragmatic, self-centered(to the politician) policies. That's what Frank Brenna means by "un-Australian" - it means we are no longer the just, fair country we thought we once were.

AURELIUS | 06 August 2013  

Hmm, yes, well, I know this piece is not put up just for the sake of style criticism, Andrew, and I see the point you're making, and probably agree on a personal level, but opinion (anyone's) is merely that. I've no doubt the propaganda that surrounds the election campaign will be shallow and disposable, as reflection of the intellectual contempt the parties hold the populace in. Unfortunately it's a stereotype richly deserved. But I think one does have to be a bit careful being quite so effusive with the "brutality" line being thrown about with reckless abandon by those who quite obviously have not made sufficient time to read any report from DIAC. These reports have nothing to do with politics per se, and everything to do with the practicalities and realities of the refugee situation as it stands. Having read them myself, I've gained an appreciation for why both major political parties have taken the stand they have for the present. It is, given the current circumstances and option, not brutal, nor inhumane. In fact it is probably the most compassionate we can do given the requirements of the short term. If someone can study the relevant documents - all available on the DIAC website, and then make a reasoned arguement about why we are being uncompassionate or any other such sensationalist fodder, then I'd be interested to read it. Otherwise, to be publicly reactionary without being so informed is just as damaging to the country as the inevitable pre-digested tripe we're about to have to ingest before the election. Best regards.

Bruce | 07 August 2013  

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