Real Australians from the award-winning Sentence Management Unit at Wolston Correctional Centre
Now that the issue of Haneef’s incarceration has been resolved, attention has turned inevitably to how the issue will affect Australians’ voting intentions.
I was struck by this remark by Rod Cameron on Lateline:
There are two classes in Australia, Virginia. The political class, so to speak, will be aghast at the brazen nature of the wedge that the Howard and his government tried to play on this one; they’ll be aghast at the mismanagement of it all. But the other — the real — Australia, they’ll have a very different take on it, and I don’t think John Howard will suffer very much from this debacle… the real Australia has a pretty hard-nosed view of all matters to do with terrorists, would-be terrorists, suspected terrorists, and they won’t mark the government down for taking every step to ensure that this guy wasn’t a terrorist.
Cameron’s putative debating partner Michael Kroger, obviously with a different agenda, opted to endorse this analysis enthusiastically. But can it be right?
Even supposing, for argument’s sake that the non-chattering classes don’t care about the finer points of principle and procedure, that indeed they are happy to be lied to from time to time as Frijters and Strocchi keep assuring us, is it true that they don’t object to someone being seized and then incarcerated for a month, from motives that are transparently a combination of political theatre and pure spite? We are not dealing with something complex and arcane like the AWB affair, nor a case that requires some understanding of international treaty obligations and the like, as with the Tampa affair. It’s a straightforward case of someone being locked up with no justification.
Let’s suppose, again for the sake of argument, that your stock standard, non-chattering, fourth-generation, caucasian, real Aussie doesn’t care if some character named Mohamed gets locked up — on the grounds that, even if he isn’t a terrorist, he probably sympathises with the terrorists. The point is that the electorate also includes a huge number of people who are called Mohammed, or have a Mohamed in the family, or come from South Asia, or even just have dark skin; and, even if these many Mohameds are residents or citizens, with the protections that go with that, they are bound to find it intimidating or unacceptable that people in their ethnic and cultural categories, or thereabouts, can be picked up and held in custody on a minesterial whim. And they vote, because it’s mandatory.
In any case, I don’t think our stereotypical Aussie is quite so indifferent to the fate of Haneef as Cameron and Kemp suppose. Haneef is a doctor. They’ve all been treated by Indian doctors, in most cases very competently (notwithstanding the odd exception like Jayant Patel), and realise that Indian doctors are intelligent, diligent, civilised people, who deserve respect and consideration. (the AMA President is worried about the reverse effect, that is, that other foreign doctors will be subject to suspicion on account the Haneef affair — which assumes that people trust the government — but it’s just as likely that Howard and Andrews will be treated with suspicion because people know and trust their Indian doctors, including in the country.
Yes, one or two of his second cousins seem to be terrorists, but most of us have a lot of second cousins and feel accountable for very few of them, and how many reasonable people would insist on seeing Martin Bryant’s second cousins locked up on the same basis as Haneef?
If the polls show a ‘Haneef blip’ for Howard, I’ll eat my hat. The only question is what the real Australia will make of Labor’s part in the affair.