I posted earlier noting New Zealand’s and the United Kingdom’s change of position relating to the Syrian Refugee crisis.
Yesterday Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia known affectionately by many as dickhead also did something unusual. He changed position from four days ago and acted in a humanitarian manner and announced that Australia would accept 12,000 Syrian refugees over four years over and above Australia’s refugee quota. Three days ago he was not budging on refugee numbers.
The latest announcement is impressive. On a per capita basis each year Australia is taking in three times as many Syrian refugees as New Zealand is. It is hard to imagine how Abbott could be so much more humanitarian than smile and wave. It makes New Zealand’s altered response look very weak.
The Australian generosity has been tempered by the selection criteria and by boorish behaviour by some Liberal politicians. Families from persecuted minorities aka Christian families will be prioritised. There was this classic put down of George Christiansen who is your typical conservative politician on the subject.
@GChristensenMP If you have a look at yourself in the mirror you'll realise how easy it is for people to pose as Christians.
— Graham Perrett (@GrahamPerrettMP) September 8, 2015
And backbencher Cory Bernardi reached peak idiocy by claiming that the refugees are arriving in Europe for “opportunistic” economic reasons rather than because they fear for their lives and that Abdullah Kurdi sent his family on a boat because he wanted dental treatment. Bernardi must rely on Cameron Slater for his information.
At the same time as the announcement that Australia will take increased numbers of refugees Abbott announced aerial bombing of ISIS in Syria. So he gets to stroke both sides of the electorate at the same time.
This appears to me to be a Crosby Textor tactic. A local example is National’s announcement in the last budget of a $25 per week increase in the benefit for beneficiary families while at the same time onerous requirements were put on solo mothers to find work. And the English backdown in relation to the Syrian refugee crisis is tempered by a refusal to accept any refugees currently in Europe or to take part in the European Union Refugee quota system that Angela Merkel is trying to establish as well as increased drone strikes on ISIS targets. And the number announced sounds more impressive but it is for the total number of refugees taken over a number of years.
Paddy Ashdown has been scathing about the English announcement. From the Guardian:
David Cameron has highly developed skills in the art of following where he should be leading. And so, after being taught an excruciating lesson in compassion, decency and leadership by Angela Merkel, and sensing himself behind opinion again, he has produced a plan to take in 20,000 refugees – over five years. Nothing better shows the PM’s tone deafness to the urgency of the situation than to announce this headline figure, and then add that it will take five years to implement.
Not only is this response calibrated more by political expediency than compassion, he has also indicated he believes the answer to the problem is more bombing. If the best part of two years of bombing with more than enough high explosive hasn’t solved this problem, how would Britain’s widow’s mite of a few extra bombs help? Military strikes against Isis are failing, not because we do not have enough high explosive, but because we do not have a diplomatic strategy on Syria that would make sense of the military action.
But let us first consider Cameron’s refugee “plan”. Not only is he offering a derisory number of places for refugees, but the prime minister chooses to help those who are already safely housed and fed in refugee camps outside Europe, rather than those who suffer (and die too) for want of these things inside Europe. Could it be that the toxic term here is not “suffering”, but “inside Europe”, because of the effect these words have on his backbench Europhobes? If so then – irony of ironies – the desperate and the destitute tramping towards us on the dusty roads of the Balkans are hostages to Cameron’s headbangers, just as he is.
The recent announcements by Abbott and Cameron could be called a win win. There is something for bleeding heart liberals like me and raw meat for those who think the best solution is to bomb away.
That portion of the electorate who are both discerning enough to understand what is happening and principled enough to be upset are very small. Basically activists on both sides of the political fence and a few political journalists. So short term the damage to the base support is minimised although the cynicism created amongst the journalist class is a problem.
There is clearly a pattern here. In Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand former positions were quickly abandoned when the focus group results were received. In Australia and the United Kingdom military strikes against ISIS were also announced to make the rabid right feel better. New Zealand is not in the same position. I guess John Key will be hoping that the flag referendum will provide a sufficient diversion.
This is interesting politics. Basically goldilocks politics where the overall position, an average of two conflicting policies, is not too hot, not too cold, and just right.
It is a sophisticated version of the compassionate conservative line that arguably won George Bush the White House in 2000. I do not think that the left has as yet figured out how to respond. As a matter of priority it needs to.