Monday, January 13, 2014

Abbott's hard line on boat arrivals pays off

THE Abbott government has won a mighty, if still provisional, victory against people-smugglers. Today, it is just under four weeks during which no illegal immigrant has arrived in Australia by boat, nor been taken into Australian immigration authority for transfer to Manus Island or Nauru.

This is the clearest and most emphatic vindication yet of the electorate's decision to change the government in September. It may be something of a turning point in modern Australian history. It offers Australia the chance of avoiding the European fate of creating a vast underclass of people alienated from their host society.

In many areas of national policy, the Rudd and Gillard governments had taken Australia down the disastrous European road. The Abbott government is returning to Australian traditions of governance and policy.

While Australia will still be one of the most generous societies in the world to refugees, they will arrive in an orderly and lawful manner and be chosen by Australian authorities.

The determined illegal immigration to Australia of recent years, coming from all corners of the earth but funnelled by boat through our north, will come to an end.

In six years of Labor government, more than 50,000 people arrived illegally by boat with a steady and alarming increase over the years. Hardly any were sent home.

Australia may now have turned the corner on this dark chapter of lost sovereignty and lawless migration, though it is too early to be definitive.

Conditions during most of the past four weeks have been good for sailing. The monsoon has arrived late in Indonesia and is just getting under way. There may well be weeks more before another boat trip is attempted.

The Abbott government will neither confirm nor deny the numbers, but in the past four weeks some five boats have been turned around or towed back towards Indonesia.

Operational secrecy has been central to the success so far.

Operationally, turning boats back is even more effective than transferring people to Manus or Nauru.  The arrival of people in Manus and Nauru often still triggers final payment for the people-smugglers, who continue to tell their customers that people housed on those islands will eventually get to Australia.

Failed illegal arrivals who return to Indonesia, on the other hand, demand their money back and tell everyone they know that the mission was a flop. Even if the boat is sound and the crew competent, they are met by the Australian navy and kept out of Australia.

Meanwhile, Australia continues to have, per capita, the largest permanent refugee resettlement program in the world. But these refugees are not self-selected nor chosen by illegal people-smugglers - they are all genuine refugees, and none of them drowns on the way here.

Nothing has been more controversial than the secrecy which Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has imposed on the operation.

In general, governments are always best advised to be as open and transparent as possible, but this is a uniquely complex policy question. If the government is successful in stopping the boats, people will probably tolerate a good deal of discretion. There are two compelling reasons for the secrecy. The initial proposal to restrict information came from officials. It is no coincidence that this so far remarkably successful operation has been led by a former Special Forces officer, General Angus Campbell.

The key difference between an SAS soldier and everyone else is what the boffins call the internal locus of control. To the greatest extent possible, the SAS imposes its control on a situation. Information is one crucial variable the government can control, so it does just that.

In one press conference Campbell outlined his reasons for wanting to restrict information. People-smugglers use Australian government information to advertise their product and claim payment. They use knowledge of where vessels are intercepted to plan future voyages. They use Australian announcements to claim credit for their product, even to know precisely what their competitors are up to.

Keeping your adversary as much in the dark as possible is an elementary principle of military operations. Information that leaks out is far less valuable to people-smugglers than information that is announced or confirmed by the Australian government.

The involvement of the Australian military has been central to this operation's success. This is not only because the navy has to carry out the most difficult elements of it, but also because the appearance of an Australian general running the operation, standing by the minister at the early weekly briefings, has conveyed a powerful subtext of resolve. The military also has extensive international connections, especially in Southeast Asia. This additional dimension of engagement and dialogue has been critical.

The people-smuggling industry is no longer confronting a Rudd or Gillard government half-heartedly taking measures they don't believe in. Instead, it is confronting an Abbott government, a wholly different beast. And it is confronting an operation led by a distinguished, determined and supremely competent Australian general.

The second reason secrecy is so important is because it is absolutely essential in dealing with the Indonesian government dimension of the policy. The Howard government turned back boats and the Indonesian government accepted this. The Howard government promised never to say anything about this publicly, and kept its word.

While the boat turn-backs have been reported in the media, the Abbott government has not confirmed them, and this gives Jakarta a necessary degree of breathing space.

As you would expect, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has issued a statement saying the Abbott government may be in breach of international law. This is standard issue UN boilerplate nonsense. There is nothing the Abbott government has done, nor anything the Howard government did before it, which breaches the UN refugee convention in any way.

If Abbott is successful in stopping the boats altogether, the electorate will be satisfied and his government will surely run the line at the next election that a vote for Labor is a vote to restart the illegal boat trade.


Leftist hate at any whiff of conservative convictions

"We know the statistics - that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime, nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioural problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it." - President Barack Obama, Father's Day speech, 2008.

Yes, we do know the statistics. But that hasn't stopped an avalanche of hate - and I use the word advisedly - being unleashed against Cory Bernardi for quoting and echoing the sentiments of Obama in his book The Conservative Revolution (Connor Court 2013).

The big whisper going around now about Bernardi is that he is gay. The preposterous logic goes like this: Bernardi hates gays, he is obsessed by the subject, which means he is probably a repressed, self-loathing homosexual.

No less than a federal MP and Liberal backbencher, Warren Entsch, has promoted this absurdity. On Tuesday, he told Fairfax Media: "He's obviously got an obsession with people that are gay. It worries me. You've really got to watch out for those that have these obsessions. He who protests the loudest …"

Entsch himself is obviously gay if we apply his own tortured logic. Unlike Bernardi, he has long been obsessive about gays. For 10 years, he has campaigned against his own party's position on same-sex marriage and promoted a private member's bill in support of gay marriage (although he drew the line at supporting the Greens on the issue). The subject of gays caused him to go into party discipline meltdown and traduce the reputation of a colleague with smears, exaggeration and innuendo.

Let's look at the timeline of hate.

Monday: the first story that suggested Bernardi's book was controversial appeared, as night follows day, on the ABC. Within hours of the ABC report, and interview by Bernardi on ABC TV following up on that report, Bernardi's office in Adelaide was inundated by phone calls. "The office was overwhelmed with calls," Bernardi told me. "There was clearly an orchestrated campaign of abuse which was levelled at my staff."

Tuesday: The phone and email campaign extended to Amazon, where hundreds of negative reviews of The Conservative Revolution were published by people who had not read the book. and the comments at the office became more personal. "There were questions to my staff like 'Can you ask Cory how I should insert my tampon, as he wants to tell all women what to do?"' Bernardi said. "My female staffers were told things like, 'How can you work for such a bigoted c---', and 'You have betrayed the sisters by working for him, you treacherous bitch'. Some left recorded messages. It was clearly an orchestrated campaign."

Wednesday: Entsch weighs in via Fairfax Media, insinuating Bernardi is a self-loathing homosexual and asking what Bernardi would think if a member of his family turned out to be gay: "Would he advocate sterilisation?"

This is despicable, and there is a subtext to this. After the Coalition won government last year, Tony Abbott dropped Entsch from the position of chief whip. And Entsch is friendly with Malcolm Turnbull, who is openly contemptuous of Bernardi. Entsch even mentioned Turnbull in his attack on Bernardi, saying Turnbull had been raised by his single father and was not a lesser person for that.

Thursday: a reaction to the hate campaign, with a heavy flow of supportive calls and emails. "Interestingly, the email feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," Bernardi said.

All week, Fairfax Media has published a string of negative reporting, commentary and remarks about Bernardi, yet in this coverage no one has even pretended to have read the book. If they had, they would see Bernardi quotes a plethora of studies and that it was a British Family Court judge, Sir Paul Coleridge, not Bernardi, who came up with the phrase that traditional families should be the "gold standard" as the best protector of children's welfare. Based on his Family Court experience, the judge said family breakdown was the root cause of most social ills and warns: "What is a matter of private concern when it is on a small scale becomes a matter of public concern when it reaches epidemic proportions."

In his book, Bernardi sums up his argument on families with this: "Social policy should continue to advocate for the best possible social environment for children. More often than not, as studies have shown, that environment is a family with a child's married biological mother and father. Of course, there will always be exceptions to this - some traditional families fail miserably at childcare and some step-families do a wonderful job of raising children - but it should not deter society as a whole from encouraging its citizens to pursue the traditional family model."

Not exactly rabid. The same cannot be said for the parade of bigotry over the past seven days - absurdly claiming to be in defence of tolerance.


Abbott government planning 'repeal day' to cut 8000 laws

The Abbott government is planning a "repeal day" in parliament in March when it hopes to axe more than 8000 federal laws in a push to cut red tape costs.

The Australian reports that the "repeal day" is scheduled for the final parliamentary sitting week in March and is part of a federal government plan to slash red tape by $1 billion a year.

The Statute Law Revision Bill and the Amending Acts 1901-1969 Bill will propose slashing 8000 redundant laws going back around 100 years.

On the same day, parliament will be presented with a number of bills proposing the repeal of "burdensome regulations".

The bills are to be debated in the coming weeks, with the government reportedly claiming they'll represent the ``biggest single reduction in federal laws ever put before the commonwealth parliament".

The "repeal day" concept is said to be borrowed from the US, where congress has regular repeal days.


School reform leader backs maths, science

ONE of the architects of the Abbott government's school curriculum reforms says more students should be encouraged to pursue maths and science.

The coalition on Friday announced that Kevin Donnelly, a former chief of staff to Howard government minister Kevin Andrews, would be one of two men to review the national schools curriculum.

Mr Donnelly said education should be pared back to basics.  "We really do need to look at how we teach mathematics and science and English," he told Macquarie Radio on Monday.

"We really do need to know whether the millions and millions of dollars that's gone into education over the last 20 years, where results have flatlined or have gone backwards - we want to know how effective that money has been."

He said successful school systems in Finland, Korea, Singapore and Japan showed moves to "cut it right back to the basics" instead of teaching "edgy babble" had been effective.

"We aren't getting enough young people to do mathematics and science, chemistry, the harder mathematics subjects in years 11 and 12," Mr Donnelly said.

"Part of the reason is, especially (at the) primary, lower secondary (level), unfortunately there are teachers teaching mathematics who aren't properly trained."

He also criticised what he said was a "politically correct" approach to classroom discipline.  "Teachers can't raise their voice, they're not allowed to criticise children or admonish them because that's going to hurt their self esteem apparently," he said.


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