Proving that whatever Peter Dutton can do, he can do worse, Barnaby Joyce last night made the most extraordinary claim yet advanced about asylum seekers, that the rise in boat arrivals was linked to Labor’s decision to halt the live export trade to Indonesia in the face of horrific, indeed sadistic, levels of abuse of animals.

Even Joyce himself was this morning insisting he had made no such link, suggesting he realised he had gone too far. His colleagues, meanwhile, deployed the same strategy they had with Peter Dutton’s vilification of refugees — insisting their colleague had said something quite different to what he had actually said.

Whether it was accidental or not, however, Joyce’s astonishing remarks illustrate how the Coalition now reflexively reaches for the boats issue no matter how vague or tenuous a connection there is to the subject at hand — just as Tony Abbott once replied to a question on the economy by claiming he’d “stopped the boats”.

The Coalition used to claim “surpluses are in our DNA”. That claim hasn’t been made for a long time, as they’ve racked up deficit after deficit with their increased spending. But it’s clear that boats are in their DNA. No matter why, no matter how absurdly, they’ll seek to drag asylum seekers into the discussion.

Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey

Choose what you pay, from $99.

Sign up now

And to think Malcolm Turnbull promised a more mature and intelligent national debate.

I subscribe to Crikey because I believe in a free, open and independent media where news and opinions can be published that I can both agree with and be challenged by.

As a Crikey subscriber I always feel more informed and able to think more critically about issues and current affairs – even when they don’t always reflect my own political viewpoint or lived experience.

Jess
Singapore

Join us and save up to 50%

Subscribe before June 30 and choose what you pay for a year of Crikey. Save up to 50% or, chip in extra and get one of our limited edition Crikey merch packs.

Join Now