Readers overboard with PM’s Timor plan
BORDER protection policy has been an albatross around the neck of successive federal governments.
From the “children overboard” incident in 2001 which threatened to derail John Howard’s re-election to Julia Gillard’s confused strategy last week on boat arrivals, bridging the troubled waters of the asylum seekers debate has been fraught with electoral risk. Neither side of politics has been able to break through the entrenched attitudes that divide the Australian population on the issue.
These attitudes came to the fore again in the public arena, triggered by Gillard’s decision to wade into the murky waters of the boatpeople debate. The plan was to try to look tough and yet compassionate in an effort to win back Labor voters concerned about the increasing numbers of refugees clamouring to reach our shores.
It wasn’t a convincing ploy. The reaction on online news sites was one of confusion about where Labor stood on the issue of asylum seekers.
Gillard’s mention of talks to establish an offshore refugee processing centre - possibly or possibly not - in East Timor led to an overwhelming backlash from all sides, accusing her of bungling and then backflipping.
Chris Cotter’s comment to The Courier-Mail typified what many online readers thought: “Does this woman actually know what she’s doing? How obvious is it that she’s saying what she thinks we want to hear prior to the election? How dumb does she think we are?”
Peter Wiltshire of the Gold Coast compared Gillard’s leadership on the issue to that of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd: “Another backflip, another failure of action and policy. Julia Gillard is a Kevin Rudd clone with the same-old incredible spin that makes the average Australian sick and tired!”
Aussie Lad of Broken Down NSW, in a comment to News.com.au, said he had lost trust in Gillard: “This is a major disappointment. It is clearly policy on the run in the interests of electioneering. Can’t trust Gillard. She won’t be getting my vote.”
Another reader, Drew of Adelaide, urged the Prime Minister to call an election as soon as possible: “Julia has now set a new low for foreign relations in the region. Just like Rudd she opens her mouth just to change feet. Hurry up and call the election.”
Writing to The Australian, Errol Bliss of Tweed Heads had not forgotten the way Gillard had backstabbed Rudd to become PM: “Gillard has left the electorate confused and justifiably underwhelmed by her performance. The electorate could be forgiven for judging her harshly at the ballot box, most especially given the extraordinary circumstances of her elevation to PM two weeks or so ago.”
One of the few to support Gillard’s bid to find a solution to the quandary over asylum seekers was another reader of The Australian, Cemac of Pelican Waters, who turned the blame back on the media for confusing the issue: “The media quoted Ms Gillard as saying East Timor was a possibility yet the media and the Opposition are alleging she is doing a ‘back flip’. Clearly she and the Government are exploring options and so they should. This is a media beat up which we are all fed up with as you try to create stories.”
But this was a lone voice amid the ocean of opposition and disappointment with Gillard’s performance on border protection.
As Digital Chris of Victoria, suggested in a comment to SBS.com.au, Gillard’s middle-of-the-road stance on asylum seekers put her in a potentially messy situation: “Julia Gillard has the intuition but has now ‘officially’ failed to correctly judge the pulse of wavering Labor voters, attempting to appeal to both right and left. She has been badly misinformed by her advisors and now sits in the middle of the road - like a grape ready to be squashed sooner or later by one or both sides.”
With Gillard now set to broach the equally thorny debate on climate change and an emissions trading scheme, she will need to tread carefully if she wants to avoid getting crushed like that proverbial grape.
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