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The unreasoning fearmongers

And the prize for giving vacuous prizes goes to...the Left. 

Last week John Pilger delivered a speech after becoming the 2009 recipient of the Sydney Peace Prize. Predictably, he railed against the war in Afghanistan. There are no terrorist training grounds there, he said. No mention of Al Qaeda from Pilger. He railed against the suffering on the “besieged people of Gaza”. No mention of the role of Hamas from Pilger.

And then he railed against Australia’s immigration policy and the “concentration camp on Christmas Island”. No mention that the 78 Sri Lankans on board the Oceanic Viking are determined to take up residence on Christmas Island.

What Pilger has done for peace is not entirely clear. But the progressive mindset says that if you are expert enough at crafting emotional arguments that’s enough to deserve a prize. One need only look at the two big issues of the day - climate change and border protection - to realise the progressive predilection for emotion over reason and stealth over honesty. Some of them - mostly politicians - use emotion for calculated political purposes. Others - commentators and activists - seem to genuinely suffer from arrested development, frozen in perpetual adolescence where emotion trumps reason.

A few months ago, NSW Premier Nathan Rees labelled those sceptical about the climate change science as akin to Nazi appeasers in the 1930s. Last week at the Lowy Institute, Kevin Rudd said those same people are fearmongering, gambling with their children’s future. It’s a powerful allegation, full of emotion. It is also dishonest.

To be curious about the state of science, to ask questions of the orthodoxy, to suggest that we not rush ahead of other countries in a way that will punish the Australian economy is the antithesis of fearmongering. It says let’s draw breath, put aside the wild hyperbole, ignore the growing group think, the cheap symbolism and think rationally about climate change. Those who predict the end of the world, those such as Al Gore who tell us sea levels will rise by 6m in by 2100, those such as Tim Flannery who tell us we have about 20 years to act on climate change or else place our future at risk of apocalyptic droughts, floods, war and famine. Here are the fearmongers.

The emotional claims by Rees and Rudd do nothing to advance debate. That is not their intention. Their aim is to shut down debate by shaming opponents into agreeing with them, or at the very least, just shutting up. Anyone who disagrees with the Left on a range of issues is invariably labelled as cold-hearted and lacking basic human compassion.

No issue highlights this more than border protection. Here, once again, the language used by the Left is replete with emotion. On Sunday morning on ABC1’s Insiders, journalist David Marr said that Australians - unlike any other people in the world - fear refugees. Fear is a strong word. It is full of emotion. It is also a dishonest way to describe Australian attitudes to border control. Recent poll movements against the Rudd government suggest that Australians remain concerned about border protection. But being concerned about border control is not the same as being fearful of refugees.

Those on the Left, such as Marr, pepper their language with emotion because their thinking is premised on the same. They cannot fathom that Australians have long expressed a rational preference for an orderly, controlled system of immigration and border protection. It’s nothing to do with fear, David. It’s to do with facts. And a simple compact.

As former prime minister John Howard reminded us in his weekend interview, the facts speak for themselves. Under Howard the boats stopped. And, as he said, “the consequence of our policy was that because we stopped the boats public support for a higher immigration rate to Australia rose, and public support for a humanitarian refugee program was maintained and even strengthened.

“The Australian public will always support a reasonably high immigration program if they think it is properly managed and serves the interests of Australia,” he said.

Howard was not alone in understanding that and formulating policy to reflect that deal with the Australian people. As my colleague Paul Kelly sets out in his book The March of Patriots, the politics of people movement grew from an enduring compact that began with the Chifley government in 1945 when increased immigration became both a reality and a necessity in a globalised age.

It is, as Kelly writes, “the most powerful political compact in Australia’s history. Mass migration was presented to people, business, unions and churches on the condition that government would control who came to Australia in the interests of people.” And that policy platform has been maintained by every prime minister from Ben Chifley to Rudd.

How easy the Left forgets or deliberately ignores the facts underscoring that compact. Remember in the 1970s it was Gough Whitlam who said: “I’m not having hundreds ... Vietnamese Balts coming into this country with their political and religious hatreds.”

And Bob Hawke in 1990 who said: “Do not let any people ... think that all they’ve got to do is break the rules, jump the queue, lob here and Bob’s your uncle. Bob is not your uncle on this issue. We’re not going to allow people to jump that queue.” And Paul Keating, who, as prime minister in 1992 introduced mandatory detention for unlawful arrivals.

How easily the Left forgets or deliberately ignores the success behind that compact. As Kelly records, from the 1940s Australia became a story of mass migration, accepting about seven million migrants, the highest per capita outside of Israel.

By the time Howard left office, one in four Australians had been born overseas. The compact between the Australian people and the government of the day to support and sustain an orderly immigration program has been integral to Australia’s success as a country that has accepted millions of people from across the world.

Rudd understands the compact. But in his quest to be all things to all people, he now finds himself and his policy held to ransom by a group of savvy asylum-seekers who are highly strategic in their actions and demands. Clearly, Rudd did not count on the resolve of the 78 Sri Lankans on board the Oceanic Viking. But as he figures out what to do, he can count on the resolve of the Australian people in expecting - not through fear, but through reason and proven success - that his government will keep his side of the compact on immigration policy. Better Rudd listen to history than the overblown and unthinking emotion of those on the Left.

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