Modia Minotaur

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The `Broad Church' and the Politics of Asylum Seekers

Cast your mind back to not-too-long-ago-at-all, and you will recall that a group of Liberal backbenchers, led by the Member for Kooyong, Petro Georgiou, was pushing for a Private Members Bill that was to radically reshape the country's asylum seeker policies. Though the bill was not, in the end, introduced, the government did eventually make large policy concessions in deference to Georgiou and his group - which, many argued, was his intention in the first place (an argument backed up by the fact that Georgiou himself was amongst those who voted to gag debate on this, his own Private Members Bill).

Cut forward to today - less than a year later - and these concessions have not only been dismantled, but the system has been set back past the bad old days of the Tampa incident.

Now, the issue of the Papuan asylum seekers is one no government of any political persuasion wants to touch with a barge pole (though I for one believe we may not be in this situation if Australia treated Indonesia like a genuine regional partner rather than a funny little holiday neighbour). However, setting aside the diplomatic dilemma, it's intriguing to look at the figures who put into place the original amendments to asylum seeker policy. Petro Georgiou, it is already well known, is under threat of losing his pre-selection to foes on the Right. Rumours also circulate about the future of Bruce Baird - like Georgiou, of the most prominently moderate Liberal MPs in parliament. The same can be said for other dissidents such as Judi Moylan.

When John Howard and other high profile ministers are questioned about these apparent dissidents in his ranks, the stock answer is always that the `Liberal Party is a Broad Church'. This has been an overwhelmingly successful philosophy for the government. By allowing dissidents off the leash once in a while, it creates an Opposition within its own party ranks, thus sidelining the genuine Opposition. Likewise local members are permitted to sideline party policy (Danna Vale's crusade against the Lucas Heights Nuclear Reactor is a good example) in a low-key manner, because it doesn't impact the wider party and, again, allows the government to keep its hand in on both sides of the debate. Hypocritical? Yes. Clever politics? Ten years in power is ten years in power.

But what is happening to this `broad church'? In NSW, the purge of moderates has already started, with Patricia Forsythe signing her own death warrant by blowing the whistle on the seizure of the state party by right-wing factions (an action which also cost it John Brogden's blue ribbon seat of Pittwater in an unprecedented swing). With the undermining of Georgiou and co, the Federal party may be going the same way.

This would be a very unfortunate thing for the Liberal Party. But, it would also signal a significant change in political tactics, as well as an opportunity for the real Opposition.


At 1:28 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting piece. For more on Papuan politics, your readers might be interested in a piece recently released by the Council on Foreign Relations:

It's fairly comprehensive on the recent protests over natural resources.

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