There is zero chance of a bipartisan solution to asylum seekers unless the government adopts the opposition’s policies. Any analysis that says otherwise is day dreaming.
What the offer from the government is about is an attempt to pivot off the deaths of 100 or so asylum seekers in Indonesian waters last weekend and entangle the opposition in the government’s asylum seeker problem.
The opposition won’t buy into this for a number of reasons.
Bipartisan presumes compromise. If the opposition were to do business with the government on the issue, then not only will they be tarred with the “failures” of a policy that is only partly theirs, but they will get mired in the future compromises required to try to make it work.
If the government accepts in toto opposition policy, then the opposition will probably grit its teeth and live with it. Indeed, they are already setting themselves up for this possibility by Scott Morrison’s 7.30 Report position that not only does it matter what the policy is, but whether the people smugglers believe that the government implementing it is serious.
In other words, to make this policy work, not only do you need to adopt our policies, but you need us to be in office.
The government senses a possibility of wedging the opposition on the issue. The numbers in the House of Representatives are so tight that they might need an opposition member or two if they can’t get Greens cooperation, and if they can pass the legislation with a defection the media will see that as a huge defeat for Tony Abbott.
Julia Gillard knows about wedges, because she is wedged on the issue herself.
She is looking for a way out of the vice between the traditional Labor strongholds in the suburbs, that are where the really strong anti-asylum seeker sentiment resides, and Labor’s new friends in the inner cities who think that restricting this sort of immigration is not just xenophobic, but racist.
If a change in position is the result of compromise without capitulation, then she thinks she has a chance of keeping both factions equally, but less, unhappy with her.
Abbott doesn’t share this problem. Anyone who wouldn’t vote Liberal because of the Libs boat people policies doesn’t vote for them now, so he has nothing to lose by maintaining a tough line, and a whole swag of nominally safe Labor seats to gain to boot.
Some of the Liberals’ left will want to deal with the government, but as Russell Broadbent demonstrated on Waleed Ali’s RN Drive, they have plenty of room to argue compassion and stick with Abbott.
Indeed, there would be more chance of the government getting cooperation from them if the parliament were not so tight.
But as it is, the pressure from their colleagues will be immense. In the end it is impossible to see any of them, and I guess I am talking about Mal Washer and Judy Moylan, being party to any deal with Gillard.
While both might see benefits in changing refugee policy, they should see that the government’s offer is more to do with political advantage than it is to do with any genuine human rights concerns.