Well, the longest election in memory has finally ended with one of the most indecisive resolutions in modern politics. While the numbers are yet to be finalised it looks like Labor and the Coalition each got roughly one third of the votes and the Greens, NXT and Independents shared the other third.
It was an election campaign that failed to raise any major policy differences between the two old parties and only really took off when Labor accused the Coalition of wanting to privatise Medicare. The rest of the time the commentary appeared to focus on Malcolm Turnbull’s head cold, Bill Shorten’s jogging and whether either party could hold off the advance of Nick Xenophon.
But it wouldn’t have been an Australian election if we hadn’t seen regular attempts to whistle up fear of “the boats”, people smugglers and refugees, and suggestions that either Labor or the LNP was about to go “soft” on refugees.
Of course neither of the old parties were about to go “soft” on refugees. In the absence of real leadership neither party appears capable of imagining a different policy setting, let alone how to communicate that to an electorate that has been primed to see “people smugglers” and “the boats” as a real present danger.
So, in light of that dismal state of affairs where do we go from here?
Believe it or not there are a few reasons for hope of a change. The first is that PNG wants Australia’s detention centre on Manus Island closed. And as this story from NZ radio makes clear, PNG’s Court is considering the removal of all detainees back to Australia and the issue of compensation. How Prime Minister Turnbull responds to this reality is unclear, but pretending Australia bears no responsibility as these comments suggest, is unlikely to work. Furthermore the report we launched a few months ago has made it explicit that Nauru is not a safe place to leave refugees and asylum seekers. Neither Turnbull or Shorten have been able to challenge the integrity of the findings and neither have had the nerve to argue that it is otherwise.
Secondly, Phillip Ruddock has been commissioned to argue for Australia’s ambition for a seat on United Nations Security Committee. According to some human rights lawyers based in Geneva, Mr. Ruddock is being regularly quizzed about the refugee policy he was so instrumental in creating. Two issues that may cancel Australia’s ambition is our lack of a Bill of Human Rights – being the only western democracy that does not have that legal scaffolding - and our refugee policy that puts us in breach of the Refugee Convention, the Rights of the Child and the prohibition against torture.
Thirdly, we are slowly making inroads into the national conversation. We will continue to speak to the international media about the report and continue to update it.
Once the dust has settled on the new parliament, we will travel to Canberra to lobby those who will see us and leave the report with those that wont.
Frankly none of this feels like enough. The suffering of women, kids and men being held in these camps, on Nauru and Manus, is heartbreaking. But with both Labor and the Coalition in lockstep over this cruel policy we need to find the opportunities where they arise and keep demanding the closure of the camps and the restoration of the rule of law.
As ever, please if anyone sees opportunities we don’t or has ideas for others actions please let us know.