Hillary Bray turns Tory paternalist.

That splendid controversialist Paddy McGuinness gives Crikey a very nice plug in his editorial “The election, government agendas and media bias” in the latest edition of Quadrant – but denounces us for our coverage of the Tampa issue. Have a squiz:
“What was patently clear during the election campaign and after was the extraordinary bias in most of the media coverage against the government and towards Labor. This was to be found even in the best of the online newsletters, Crikey (www.crikey.com.au). This publication is an interesting maverick in the mass of political comment in Australia in that it is neither ill-informed nor unthinkingly left wing. Its inspiration is, of course, the now venerable English fortnightly Private Eye. The secret of the success of that publication was in part its scurrilous and abusive approach to politics (and the media), which was effective since it had no loyalties to either side of politics. Its guiding spirit could best be described as schoolboy Tory anarchism. On top of that, however, it also carried a great deal of matter on financial and company activities which while often enough scurrilous was also frequently well-informed, and it attracted informants from within financial circles who passed on information which the respectable press would not touch. It thus became essential reading for financial markets and government. While Crikey has the same useful side, its main political comment during this election was marred by its unreasoning hatred of John Howard and its kneejerk acceptance of the liberal-progressive line (and lies) on boat people and the Tampa crisis. Far from being anarchists they looked simply like disaffected left-wing Liberals. However, at least it was a different diet from that of the mainstream media.”

Since Hillary was responsible for this, Hillary had better respond.

It’s strange to think that a conservative magazine – let alone one that, so the lumpen left like to claim, has enjoyed CIA funding – should have forgotten both the Tory dedication to duty and the cold war, for it was these two influences that inspired Hillary to oppose the Government’s handing of refugees.

Hillary opposes John Howard as Howard is no liberal. Hillary does not need to elaborate hereon how Howard is neither a social or cultural liberal, but it is also worth noting how economically illiberal he can be, too.

In last May’s Budget, for example, Howard unveiled a range of extraordinarily generous measures for older Australians. Unlike virtually every welfare measure from the early days of the Hawke government, these are not means tested. This, combined with our aging population, means that Howard has created expensive programs that will steadily increase in cost, reinforce and entitlement mentality and require steadily more political courage to wind back, let alone axe.

This was pure populism, a knee jerk response to Government’s hammering in the Ryan by-election – a by-election created by Howard’s own political ineptitude. The Government’s response to boat people and refugees has been pure populism, too, but a nastier populism with overtones of racism and a selfish mentality that shrugs off our responsibilities as a nation. On this matter John Howard is neither liberal nor conservative. He has simply embraced the solution that suits his political aims.

Crikey readers of certain age will remember the pipe-smoking Malcolm Fraser – the supposed arch-conservative and hawkish young Army Minister and proponent of the war in Vietnam.

In the wake of that war, the progressive’s god, Gough Whitlam, called its refugees “fucking Vietnamese Balts”. In contrast, Fraser recognised the duty we had to our former allies and people displaced by a war we had waged – not matter how they arrived here – sparking a chain of Indo-Chinese immigration that has reshaped our nation. A decade after white Australia had been unwound, Fraser had the skills to carry his own party with this policy and, with help from Michael Mackellar and Petro Georgiou, target ethnic communities for electoral success.

Australia fought in the Gulf War and is a participant in the current action in Afghanistan. The vast majority of refugees on the MV Tampa were Afghan, and Iraqis made up a significant number of illegal arrivals when the offending items were written.

Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock took a hard line denouncing Iraq when Parliament was recalled to debate the deployment of troops to the Gulf War in 1991:

“Yesterday at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, in a memorial service to the people in Lithuania who recently lost their lives, Cardinal Clancy said that there is perhaps only one greater obscenity than war. He described the tyranny of dictatorship, loss of freedom, oppression of individuals by force, and submission by occupation. He was, of course, describing the situation in the Baltic states, but the lesson is of general application…”

“The maimed men and women and children crippled by war in Cambodia are matched only by the horror of Pol Pot’s killing fields on his own people. The events in the Middle East are not a contest of ideas or ideals. They are not about oil or resources, even though they are incidentally related. They are about the future of human relationships in a very troubled world…”

“Some people defend [Saddam’s] regime on the basis of cultural and religious differences to which we should pay special regard. Unfortunately, little emphasis is placed upon our culture and its emphasis on the sanctity of life, freedom of choice and the individual.”

“There should be no doubt that the regime under which Hussein subjected his people and the people of Kuwait after his brutal invasion exemplifies the most flagrant violation of human rights. Amnesty International, which we in this Parliament accord a special and unique credibility, has detailed documentation of these violations, referring specifically to the continued and increasing acts of torture, arrests, summary executions, disappearances and abductions. Amongst the atrocities committed after the invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi forces tortured and executed hundreds of people, including boys as young as 15. The testimony of Kuwaiti refugees is of a horrifying picture of widespread arrests, torture under interrogation, summary executions and extrajudicial killings. One sees in this paper that I have before me case after case, detailed in the most comprehensive way, of the most barbarous acts one human being could commit on another. If I could incorporate the paper in Hansard, I would want to incorporate the methods of torture and ill treatment documented and used against the people of Kuwait- some 36 individual methods of brutality in relation to other human beings of a most excruciating character.”

“Whether it is the gouging out of eyes, the hammering of nails into hands, the piercing of skin with pins and staples or the sexual deprivation mentioned, the description is horrifying in the least. I can understand why President Bush read it and cried. Arbitrary arrest and unfair trial of political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience, continue in Iraq. Torture and the application of punishments which constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment remain widespread.”

“Even during times of war, nations should be expected to abide by international standards on the protection of civilians and allow access to war zones by representatives of humanitarian organisations, especially the International Committee of the Red Cross and its brother organisation the Red Crescent. Both have been consistently denied access by Iraq. Iraq is in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of civilians in time of war and deserves vigorous condemnation from the international community.”

“Iraq has continued to show its contempt for the rule of law internationally. Not content to hold innocent foreign nationals as hostages before the outbreak of war in direct contravention of resolution 663, Hussein continues to engage non-combatants in this conflict. I refer, of course, to the Scud missile attacks on the civilian population of Israel. Even today, he parades several prisoners of war in the most humiliating fashion before Iraqi audiences-again in contravention of Geneva conventions. The barbarism of this man rivals that of Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Cambodia’s Pol Pot. As each of them has been indicted by the international community, in victory, serious consideration needs to be given to war crimes trials and prosecution of this man Saddam Hussein…”

“The Middle East consists of regimes which could hardly be called democratic by Western standards and in which the perpetration of human rights violations is endemic…”

When we extrapolate the Howard/Ruddock view, it is reduced to this. We can fight the regimes that control Iraq and Afghanistan, we can condemn the regimes that control Iraq and Afghanistan – but we will not admit the victims of those regimes when they arrive on our doorstep. It is a view that eschews responsibilities for our actions as a nation. It completely ignores those most vital of conservative values, duty and obligation.

Those values underpinned our attitude towards refugees during the Cold War. In 1979, when the Fraser Government allowed “red bikini girl” Lillian Gasinskaya to stay in Australia, their action were considered quaint and somehow laughable – but, morally, it was absolutely right. What would happen today?

It is not at all ridiculous to argue that the circumstances in Afghanistan that enabled the rise of the Taliban were a result of Soviet aggression. Equally, it is reasonable to claim that the divide between the values of Australia and the West today and those of Iraq, Iran and militant Islam is as significant and as threatening as the divide that existed between the free world and communism at the peak of the cold war.

Here is an edited version of the first item in Crikey on the Tampa affair from August 27 last year:

Howard and Ruddock are morally adrift

Hillary Bray

Tonight, two Australians are being held captive in Afghanistan. Their alleged crime – if it can ever be called a crime – is exercising the right to worship the god they choose.

In Afghanistan, one cannot watch a video. Women cannot receive an education. Men cannot shave. The most barbaric punishments are practised.

The Taliban’s Afghanistan is at war with modernity – and virtually every right and freedom that Australians believe in.

Yet tonight, 430 asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan, face an unknown future on the freighter Tampa. John Howard, playing to the xenophobes, refuses to let them land on Australian soil…

Australia fought against Iraq 10 years ago – yet people fleeing its repulsive regime are subjected to all kinds of indignity.

Iran has been an international pariah for two decades – but people seeking to leave that land are subjected to the same degradation.

Australia, as always, needs people. The people who can escape from oppressed lands such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran are the entrepreneurial types that we have always welcome in this land.

In an age when extremists have hijacked the message of Islam, they can help spread calm. When pack rapes occur on supposedly religious and racial lines in Australian suburbs, we need people who can bring balance.

Robert Menzies welcomed refugees from the captive nations of Europe – although their names were odd.

Communism is dead – but extremism and barbarity lives.

Racists hated the reffos – but leaders like Menzies, let alone Harold Holt, when he abolished White Australia, stood strong.

John Howard and Phillip Ruddock are not leaders.

Crikey’s opposition to the Government’s response to the Tampa crisis – and the so-called “Pacific solution” that followed it – was based on one simple factor: we loudly and emotively condemned the regimes the refugees were fleeing, these regimes were based on values diametrically opposed to our own – such as the free movement of people between nations – and yet we refused to accept people who had demonstrated their support for our values by coming to our country.

John Howard, Phillip Ruddock and their apologists hid behind legalities. They concealed their moral cowardice by saying Australia would not be a “soft touch”, before launching into their own election campaign paraphrase of the famous line from Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech “f I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country.”

The 1998 essay “The Last Refuge: Hard and Soft Hansonism in contemporary Australian politics”, by Chandran Kukathas and William Maley, published by Australia’s best think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies, on their website at http://www.cis.org.au/IssueAnalysis/IA4.htm is worth examining at this point, particularly its conclusions:

Hard Hansonism has let a malevolent genie escape from its bottle, and returning it to its former resting place will be no easy task. If this is to come about, it will be necessary to address the problem of Soft Hansonism as well. At one level, this requires little more than a maturation on the part of political and bureaucratic elites, whose rhetoric as detailed in this article has all too often played irresponsibly into the hands of Hard Hansonism. Yet in our view, if Soft Hansonism is to be combated successfully, it must also be through the promulgation of a legitimating rhetoric for community change which resonates with what is best in the wider population – in order to remove the incentive for politicians to seek votes by scorning asylum seekers.

There is such a rhetoric on hand. It is the rhetoric of good neighbourliness. This was for many years a dominant rhetoric underpinning a very substantial migration program, and it was one which, much more than the rhetoric of ‘multiculturalism’, resonated powerfully with the Judeo-Christian ethic of the majority Anglo-Saxon segment of the Australian population. Things changed two decades ago when the Good Neighbour Movement was wound up: as Ann-Mari Jordens has observed, this ‘mainstream community structure which the Department of Immigration had created in 1950 but did not control, was seen as superfluous. It intended that its role in fostering the social absorption and acceptance of migrants would be taken over by ethnic organisations which the Department was now attempting to foster, sustain and control'(Jordens 1995: 87).

This of course suited the ethnic organisations, but it helped alienate parts of the mainstream population from the settlement process, and set the scene for immigration to be increasingly viewed – at least by those for whom change felt threatening and required powerful normative justification – as an elite conspiracy rather than as an opportunity to prove how hospitable Australians can be. Recovering the sense that we are all ultimately each others’ neighbours may at least help set us on the path to recover from the madness which has crept up on us.

Yet whatever strategy we adopt, it is important that we recognise that evils do not always reside in the noisiest quarter. One of the dangers of Hard Hansonism is that it threatens to distract us from real, and urgent, problems which have been with us for so long. But while Hard Hansonism is the squeaky wheel which will surely get the grease, we must not let this lead us to forget or ignore the more insidious rust of Soft Hansonism that has been eating away at the machinery for some years, and will continue to do so with destructive effect if not cut out soon.”

John Howard and Phillip Ruddock hit exactly on that rusty spot. There was no idealism in what they did. They used crude populism to crudely seek political gain.

The current issue of Quadrant also contains an item “The Protection of Our Borders” by Howard arch-apologist David Flint. In it he writes “We have heard the charge that Prime Minister Howard’s decision to draw the line was racist – “playing the race card”, as Neville Wran puts it, or “pandering to the racist and xenophobic underbelly of the nation”, as Greg Barns, the leader of the Australian Republic Movement claims. Drawing the line has of course nothing to do with racism, and everything to do with the duty of the prime minister to the nation.”

But what about the timing of when that line is drawn? When the Tampa was boarded in late August, John Howard and Phillip Ruddock did not know what Osama bin-Laden had planned for a fortnight’s time – but they knew an election was looming.

The Government’s line on boat people and the Tampa was driven by populism, not reason. Populism can not only be an irrational force, but it can also be fiercely authoritarian, too.

Populism and liberty often clash – and it is strange for a journal such as Quadrant that not only cherishes liberty and reason, but has done so much to promote them, to say opponents to a populist policy “looked simply like disaffected left-wing Liberals”.

(Hillary is happy to continue this debate over a few at the Riverview Hotel.)