Yes, we have had a gutful.

The government’s expert panel on asylum seekers, headed by Angus Houston, is making its report public right now. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen had this to say on the report:

“We’ll be progressing this through the Parliament. We’ll be taking their recommendations very seriously because the Australian people have had a gutful of this and they want it sorted.”

We have indeed had a gutful of policy problems and backflips on asylum seekers, and we’ve had a gutful of seeing vulnerable people treated as political fodder.

But more than that, we’ve had a gutful of the naked political opportunism and point scoring that has arguably infected all parties in this period of minority government. We have had a gutful of games, of empty chest-thumping with an eye to the polls and the front page. We saw plenty of that in June, when the Parliament failed to act on asylum seekers as people drowned. The result suited almost no one.

What many of us would like to see more of in Australian politics is policy. Some genuine, thought-out, costed policy options. Genuine policy debate — and not just on asylum seekers. How about on the tax system, the health system, indigenous affairs, the NDIS?

A better policy framework on asylum seekers would take a circuit-breaker. It requires politicians to turn away from the politics and look at the evidence, the arguments, the options. It requires politicians to be prepared to compromise. Even — shock horror — to compromise in a way that does not immediately boost them in the opinion polls. This is the challenge to politicians as they take their seats in Parliament this week.

But then again, that’s why we’ve put them there. Not to rise to the top of the opinion polls, but to govern. And we’ve had a gutful of everything else.

*The expert panel is holding its media conference as we go to press; Bernard Keane will be filing on the report for Crikey this afternoon on our website.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey