Australia's new iron lady turns on migrants in bid for power

When Julia Gillard was first elected to parliament in l998, she was quick to challenge the idea that immigrants were a problem for Australia.

In her maiden speech, the future prime minister - a Welsh migrant herself - challenged the anti-Asian line of Pauline Hanson, the nationalist Right-winger whose views enjoyed widespread support at the time.

Ms Gillard told parliament that Ms Hanson, would "never understand that the vast majority of migrants come here determined to make a better life for themselves and for their kids and they are prepared to work unbelievably hard to achieve that dream".

They were bold words, and Ms Hanson and Ms Gillard have been as diametrically opposed as any pair of politicians in the past 20 years. But now that Ms Gillard has risen to leadership of the Labour party and the prime ministership after the sudden downfall of Kevin Rudd, something fundamental seems to have changed.

Yesterday, Ms Gillard called for a national debate on the asylum-seeker issue and issued a new crackdown on illegal migrants trying to enter Australia. While rejecting the Opposition's pledge to return to the so-called Pacific solution, in which, under the conservative John Howard government, asylum seekers were sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, she proposed an alternative which sounded remarkably similar.

Ms Gillard suggested a processing centre in East Timor or maybe New Zealand.

"The purpose would be to ensure that people smugglers have no product to sell," she said. "Arriving by boat would just be a ticket back to the regional processing centre."

Her explanation for this new government tack would have done her verbose predecessor Mr Rudd proud - even if it reversed his policies. She was "not interested in pursuing a new Pacific solution" but instead a "regional protection framework".

"Spot the difference from the Howard years, if any," one political observer commented. Spot the flaw too. Even East Timor's deputy prime minister, Jose Luis Guterres, insisted last night that it was too early to establish a processing centre.

The former head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan, also raised questions about Labour's new approach, claiming that offshore processing did not deter asylum seekers or people smugglers.

It is not a view that is shared by the Right-wing Liberal-led opposition coalition, which believes its hardline approach to illegal migrants during the decade-long Howard era put a stop to the flow of boat people arriving on Australian shores. And Ms Hanson herself is on the same page. Unsurprisingly enough, the Queensland firebrand believes the Labour Party should take a more robust stance against migrants, especially those arriving by boat.

She has even called on the government to cancel financial aid to Indonesia if it is unable to secure its borders and stop the flow of asylum seekers setting out for Australia.

The statistics make awkward reading for Ms Gillard, who is desperate to neutralise the problem ahead of the general election that is expected in the next few months. Since Labour won office in 2007, 143 boats carrying more than 6,500 asylum seekers have ended up in Australian waters, many of them being processed on Christmas Island, south of the Indonesian archipelago.

The influx has placed enormous pressure on detention centres on the island and the mainland, prompting many Australians to believe it is the direct result of the government's relaxation of border security.

The opposition leader, Tony Abbott, was quick to jump on the government's vulnerability yesterday. He unveiled his own immigration policy only minutes before Ms Gillard's announcement. "I have a simple message to the Australian people - if you want to stop the boats you've got to change the government," he said.

In addition to promising a return to the Howard government's so-called Pacific Solution, he also declared that asylum seekers who deliberately destroyed their identification documents would be automatically denied refugee status.

With both major parties in agreement that the boat people should be processed elsewhere, the imminent election campaign could turn into a battle between he or she who seems the toughest.

Ms Gillard has made it clear that she wants a rational debate where racism and political correctness are not an issue. "For people to say they're anxious about border security doesn't make them intolerant, it certainly doesn't make them racist, it means they're expressing a genuine view that they're anxious about border security," she added.

The irony is that the renewed debate on the boat-people issue places Ms Gillard, Mr Abbott and Ms Hanson in much the same camp. Ms Gillard may still believe that immigrants come to Australia to work unbelievably hard, but one thing is clear: at least until the election, she is unlikely to say anything of the kind.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?