A ‘Tampa’ for Kim Beazley

Here is the column I asked for assistance a couple of posts ago. The earlier post started a discussion that was a bit unsatisfying for me as it seemed to me to misunderstand what I was getting at. Essentially the point of what I’m arguing is that if the Opposition had handled the matter aggressively – and in my view appropriately – the Government’s handling of David Hicks, which is to sit here accepting US assurances that they’re doing everything right was completely politlcally unsustainable.

Some people like Ken Parish thought I was arguing that the stunt I proposed would somehow engage people in defending fairly abstract standards – like due process. I agree with him that that is not such an easy thing to do. But I have myself witnessed the visceral hostility of Australians to the idea that an Australian can simply be spirited away by another country and held without any accountability.

As I said in the comments thread on Tuesday, people have a visceral reaction to being pushed around. The arrogance with which the US has locked up an Australian is something that Australians could get pretty stroppy about if it were contested within the political mainstream. [I concede a comment made by James Hamilton, that my previous discussion of the ‘arrogance’ of the US is wide of the mark – as Australia has behaved pretty much as if we’d rather they handled Hicks. So yes, the US’s arrogance has not in this instance been towards Australia – as represented by its Government – however much contempt they’ve shown for basic principles of due process.]

There’s also an academic or Quixotic strain in the column. I accept that Beazley shows no sign of giving a damn about this stuff. Had he done so from the outset however, my own view is that he could have roused Australians to anger at the contempt with which we’re allowing ourselves to be treated. But I admit, I might be wrong. And we’ll never know if I’m right.

Thanks to Dean McAskil for correcting me about Camp X-ray. It has been changed to Camp Delta in this version, but the correction came too late to be reflected in the Courier Mail piece.

Kim Beazley’s Tampa?

Pity the conviction politician. As Machiavelli said half a millenium ago, help people and they’ll take it for granted. Hurt them and they’ll remember. Or as an old boss of mine, Senator Button, used to say about politics “never rely on gratitude”.

So most politicians prefer being ‘small targets’ minimising the offence they give. Then again, as this week’s polling shows, it’s not that simple. Precisely because of the ubiquity of ‘small targets’, the public crave politicians who stand for something like John Howard, rather than those who don’t like Kim Beazley.

Most dominant and successful federal politicians have usually been conviction politicians. But getting the mix between conviction and pragmatism is necessary and difficult. You have to persevere and risk making mistakes.

John Howard followed this formula. Beazley could too even from the disadvantaged position of Opposition. That’s if he could discover those convictions within and find a compelling way to express them. Let me explain.

If you recall, Howard tried and failed to sell fear of foreigners to the Australian electorate twice before his great triumph the Tampa incident.

He floated restrictions on Asian immigration in the mid eighties but failed to gain traction. A decade later, Pauline Hanson reopened the issue. With studied insouciance in the face of ritualised calls to repudiate Hanson, Howard enthused about the new air of free speech.

With hindsight it looks like a political master-stroke the prelude to Howard’s absorption of Pauline Hanson’s political constituency. But that’s only because Pauline’s cause collapsed under the weight of her leadership flaws despite the ‘oxygen’ of publicity that Howard’s tacit endorsement initially gave her.

Tampa was the defining moment of Howard as a conviction politician. Though he’d failed twice before, he’d put in the groundwork vilifying boat people as ‘illegals’ and ‘queue jumpers’. He was also very lucky. Within a few weeks of Tampa, security against foreign threats crashed into our consciousness as the twin towers crashed to earth.

But even before 9/11 Tampa worked as a kind of street theatre symbolically rather than rationally. We were drawing a line in the sand. “We decide who comes here” never mind the decades old international refugee conventions we’ve signed. Xenophobia as patriotic nationalism.

But there are other currents running deep within the Australian psyche.

A while ago I attended a speech. Travelling with more bodyguards than our own Prime Minister, then US Ambassador Tom Schieffer was introduced with fawning courtesy and listened to in silence.

But once the second question from the audience turned to David Hicks, the hostility was palpable. The essence of the audience’s rising ire was bluntly summarised in an incredulous question from the floor. Was the Ambassador saying that Hicks was being denied due process because he was Australian, whereas American citizens in similar circumstances like Jose Padilla had received a proper trial. ? The answer could not be faulted for straightforwardness. “Yes”.

This audience was overwhelmingly establishment including various QCs, the late former Liberal Victorian Premier Rupert Hamer and former Fraser Government Minister Jim Carleton. But the audacity of the Ambassador’s frankness induced a kind of shock.

As it was with the boat people, Australians could go either way on David Hicks it all depends on the way the street theatre of politics plays out. Because of the Oppositions’ timidity or is it lack of conviction? the feelings that ran so deep that night have gone unexpressed within the political mainstream.

So here’s another kind of ‘Tampa incident’. Some street theatre for the Opposition. Not enough to win an election but enough to revive Kim Beazley’s flagging fortunes. Beazley gets a group of eminent and respected Australians together Malcolm Fraser comes most readily to mind amongst others. They travel as far as they can towards Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay with a simple message to the first US official who stops them.

We’re Australian. You’re holding our fellow citizen David Hicks. He may be guilty of very serious crimes and we’re not trying to make a hero of him. But like everyone else, and even in a military context, he has the right to due process and a trial before an independent magistrate the same rights you’ve accorded the citizens of every other Western country with the courage and decency to demand it. Right now your own military prosecutors believe your trial of Hicks is a “fraud”. We’re here to insist on Australians’ basic rights and we’ll be back each month until we’ve secured them.

No doubt such a venture would fail in the short term. It would take perseverance. And conviction. And the courage of that conviction. But it would tap into a powerful part of the Australian psyche. It would be just like the street theatre of the Tampa incident. Only the values and emotions with which it associated Australian nationalism would be those of light rather than darkness, of respect for the rule of law rather than power, and of engagement rather than looking away.

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James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Carrying the debate over from the earlier post…

Ken thinks that a successful stunt has to tap into a genuine popular fear. Nicholas replies, in effect, that it doesn’t have to be fear – any ‘visceral’ feeling will do, including indignation at being pushed around by bullies. This has some truth, but needs qualification. It depends who is being bullied. If it was a self-evidently innocent person being locked up for no apparent reason whatever, the good old Aussie sense of fairness would be outraged, and the tabloid media would give the fire plenty of fuel. The problem is that it does look as though Hicks was helping the bad guys, so his treatment is unfair only in some abstract sense that doesn’t incense your average Telegraph reader at all. Lawyers, academics and the rest of the inner city intelligentsia might care about due process, but the rest of the folk – Yobbo’s eighty percent – like their justice rough, at least as long as they’re not at the wrong end of a police stitch-up. The masses are also raised on TV shows where ‘rights’ typically appear as technicalities that allow vicious criminals to evade punishment.

At the level of human interest, the Hicks cause has quite a lot going for it. David seems a personable young chap in the photos, and his father is a very sympathetic, average sort of bloke – not to mention gutsy – who also happens to be good in front of a camera. If any family could have prompted a groundswell of ‘visceral’ patriotic outrage in that particular predicament, this family could. But I think the predicament in question just doesn’t fire people up. Civics classes in school might help, but not in the short term.

Andrew Bartlett
2022 years ago

I think it’s the double standard involved (one rule for US citizens and another for an Australian), as much as the lack of due process that has the potential to rile people.

However, you are right in saying the political conviction in opposing this situation would need to be genuine (which I don’t think it would be from Mr Beazley) and need to be there from the start for it to be effective.

I have a theory (also never able to be tested) that if Labor had strongly opposed the Howard Govt’s ramping up of the vilification of asylum seekers from the start and kept asserting the facts (and defending that due process thing again), rather than employed an approach of keeping its head down and avoiding the difficult public fight, it would not have reaped such a torrent of public opposition when it did finally resist (briefly) by temporarily opposing John Howard’s disgraceful Tampa legislation in 2001.

For me, the turning point there was actually when the Govt introduced Temporary Protection Visas in 1999 – a populist and deliberately cruel measure that was never going to deter a single refugee. Labor speakers in the Senate talked about what a bad measure it was, but then voted for it anyway because (in my view) they felt the politics of opposing it was too hard. While no one could predict the specific circumstances of the Tampa, that vote in 1999 was the last real chance to make a credible alternative stand on a key point of principle and have the time to build an alternative case with the public. Trying to argue due process and constitutionality at the last minute when the Tampa was sitting off Xmas Island was far too late, as the bushfire of public opinion had already been lit. (The Democrats and Brian Harradine had been opposing this stuff for years, but it is a hugely more influential thing if it is the official alternative government opposing it)

Again, this may still not have been credible as I don’t think Beazley’s natural inclination on asylum seekers was ever that much different from the government except in degree (as his recent performance defending mandatory detention shows). However, I believe (hope?) your core point is correct – namely that if the Opposition wants to build widespread mainstream anger with the Government’s approach on such matters, it has to do so strongly, consistently and genuinely over a substantial period of time. A ‘stunt’ or occasional one-off outrage wouldn’t fire the average voters’ ire with something like Hicks’ situation.

All just a theory of course cos it’s not likely to happen.

2022 years ago

Had Labor followed your suggested path, Andrew, they’d be joining the Democrats in losing party status; very few of you seem to realise just what actual public opinion, rather than that espoused in Fairfax, the ABc and SBS, is on these two matters. Most people probably think the relaxation in Immigration enforcement currently underway is a retrograde step, and pandering to unlawful activity.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Andrew I sympathise with your point. Robert Manne argues the same thing. Whether TPVs were the right place to resist I don’t know. But the other thing one can do is be active in trying to help refugees settle in Australia. From a early on in the process there were country towns who needed the labour. There have been lots of opportunities to humanise the issues.

With regard to Hicks, as you say and as James also points out, it’s the double standard to which I’m appealing in the political argument, not some abstract ideas about due process.

James’ points are all fair enough. Perhaps he’s right. But remember, political perceptions can change with a bit of effort. If you care about something you can have a crack, and unless your position is a real turd, you’ve got some chance of having an impact. So David Hicks isn’t served up to us like Shapelle Corby. But pressure and sustained effort can change perceptions. It doesn’t all have to work in the focus groups at the beginning to start registering in the focus groups at the end.

But who knows? I concede my argument is speculative.

2022 years ago

I suspect it was the border protection legislation, back in 1996. Howard’s famous statement that Labor were weak on border prtecton is completely true, just not in the way Howard means.

As soon as Labor started consenting to laws to deal with the Tampa pseudo-crisis, it became very hard for them to challenge the nature of that crisis. They’ ve been trying to find a way to back-pedal (without being seen to be pedaling back under any circumstances) ever since.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

“At the level of human interest, the Hicks cause has quite a lot going for it. David seems a personable young chap in the photos, and his father is a very sympathetic, average sort of bloke – not to mention gutsy – who also happens to be good in front of a camera. If any family could have prompted a groundswell of ‘visceral’ patriotic outrage in that particular predicament, this family could. But I think the predicament in question just doesn’t fire people up. Civics classes in school might help, but not in the short term.”

James F, it may seem trivial to you but I think the fact that your impression here of this case is the complete opposite of what most have really is the nub of the question. David Hicks father is an obnoxious twat and you are the first person to suggest otherwise to me ( I do mix with lefties btw – they know well enough to stay away from this one though). The kind of “civics classes” you propose are exactly the sort of gear that Howard can dog whistle up a truck load of visceral agitation against (eg the ‘values neutral” debate).

Talk about visceral response, the Australian public would eat the ALP on this issue. As for Civics classes your only hope is that in the ensuing debate we drown in our own saliva. Howard would laugh all the way to Newspoll/ballot box. He must lie awake and wonder what saintly act he performed in a previous life to deserve a philosophical opposition in this life that chooses people like David Hicks as the battleground.

This is a right wing country – the pendulum will swing back, it always does. The Left have a chance to stir up visceral opposition about IR reform – dogwhistling to the back pocket of workers. This can be your Tampa.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

this issue shows that most ‘rightwingers’ aren’t conservatives at all.

The rule of law is a central tenet for a conservative. this means an independent judiciary.
almost anyone of any legal eminece have severely criticised this part of the Gbay ‘trials to be.

at this stage no-one knows whether hicks is guilty of his crime as generalised as it is at present.

When he is convicted by the absurd system in the US no-one will still know.

If only bush and Howard were conservative we might have a fair trial and then we could be confident of the outcome.

Gummo Trotsky
2022 years ago

FWIW, I did some Googling today, trying to turn up opinion poll results on attitudes to immigration, with a view to getting some indication of changes over time. Big ask, so I’m not surprised that it’s been more or less a complete bust, apart from this paper from the Parliamentary Library:


Figure 2, which graphs the level of importance of four issues: health, education, defence and immigration is interesting. It shows that in polls conducted since June 2001, health and education have consistently rated as important issues with at least 75% of poll respondents (I’m too lazy to go track the original data and calculate a correlation coefficient for the series, but eyeballing them I don’t reckon it’s worth the bother). Defence has been all over the shop, probably rising overall (eyeball again) but with a big peak on the October 2002 figures. For some reason, the percentage of respondents who rated Immigration an important issue which started out at roughly 30% in June 2001, shot to 50% in September 2001 then started a consistent decline. By September 2004 it was back down to 35%.

There doesn’t seem much point in speculating on the reasons for the decline; it certainly can’t be taken as an indication that the general population are going soft on the idea of mandatory detention. And the trend may not have held since September 2004 anyway. On the other hand, I think it’s reasonable to assume that your serious, diehard supporters of mandatory detention are going to be in that part of the population that rates Immigration as an important issue (although the policy might enjoy livesoft support among the rest). This is speculative but while I’m indulging in a spot of speculative optimism, I may as well suggest that active support for the policy might be on the wane.

One qualification I feel obliged to add at this point is that it’s quite possible that among the 50% of respondents who rated Immigration an important issue in the September 2001 survey, there’s some unknown proportion who rated it important because they were disgusted by the whole Tampa exercise. The charts just don’t give any indication of _why_ people rate the issues as important, merely that they do. Stuff this, let’s go back to the speculative optimism.

So here we have some indication that the state of public opinion on Immigration has changed over the past 4 years, and there weren’t ever that many people who gave a stuff about it anyway; if you make the dubious projection from the polling to the general population, in June 2001 70% of the Australian population didn’t give a rat’s arse about Immigration. The Tampa incident only managed to get that down to 50% and we can’t be certain that everyone who decided that they were going to stretch the rat’s arse budget a little did so for the reasons generally ascribed, that is, fear o’ foreigners.

Public opinion isn’t fixed in stone; it’s amenable to being changed. And if we assume that the Tampa incident did play a part in John Howard’s 2001 election victory, you don’t need to shift a whole 60% of the voters to shift government policy. You need to shift enough people to get his legendary intuitive feel for the state of mainstream opinion to kick in. It wouldn’t take a shift to 80% of the Australian population wanting Hicks repatriated; just a shift big enough to pose a threat to the Prime Ministerial hubris. Plus maybe a few Liberal backbenchers who are prepared to get on their high horses about Hicks’ right to due process (according to Michelle Grattan in today’s Age, a few of them are already getting a bit restive). He might actually be pushed to move on the issue, just as he was pushed on the mandatory detention issue.

Much as I dislike Howard’s Prime Ministership, that’s something I’d like to see happen. Sure it gives him the opportunity to run his upstanding man of principle schtick past the electorate one more time, but I think we’d find the answer to one question that’s been puzzling me for some time: does George Bush really see John Howard as a “man of steel” or just a pissweak little sycophant from a pissant not-quite-third-world country with delusions of grandeur? And an easy mark when it comes to “free trade” agreements?

(Now that’s out of the way, it’s probably time to do something about getting me hard-drive into its new home)

2022 years ago

“So David Hicks isn’t served up to us like Shapelle Corby. But pressure and sustained effort can change perceptions.”

Again, Nick, you seem to think that the outrage over the Corby case is due to Australians’ obsession with Sovereignty or the Rule of Law? You couldn’t be more wrong.

It’s simply because the Corby trial seems unjust.

A:) Many Australians are somewhat familiar with the marijuana trade, and don’t see the point of couriering drugs to Bali. This leads them to think she must be innocent.

B:) The sentences handed down to Australians in SEA in the past have been draconian and downright sadistic.

C:) Many Australians don’t think that Marijuana should be considered an illicit drug in any case. I.E. the laws against it are unjust.

Compare this to David Hicks. No matter what his actual crimes may be, the fact is that he was openly training with a group of people who have declared themselves to be an enemy of Western Civilisation and Australia in particular (post Bali bombing).

Nobody gives a shit what happens to David Hicks, whether Australia is “bullied” by the US in the process or not.

There’s a good reason that only moonbats like the Greens and SA have taken up his cause. In their case, it’s because they’re actively on his side – any enemy of the US or western civilisation is a friend of theirs.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

Look at Yobbo the bleeding heart from Amnesty International. Pretty girl makes goo goo eyes and he turns into Julian Burnside.

2022 years ago

Actually I think she’s a fat slag. If you read my website you’d know that she’s not really my type.

The point is that sympathy for Corby is more to do with peoples’ view of the war on drugs rather than any concerns with due process or the rights of Australian citizens overseas.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

‘David Hicks father is an obnoxious twat and you are the first person to suggest otherwise to me ( I do mix with lefties btw – they know well enough to stay away from this one though).’

Jimbo, if you want to claim to have your finger on the pulse re. popular attitudes to the Hicks family, I won’t challenge you (at least until GT finishes his research). But it’s not really the main point is it? We all seem to agree that most of the voters don’t care about abstract principles like civil rights and due process. If you think that’s a desirable state of affairs, then say so and we’ll know where we stand.

2022 years ago

I think they don’t care much for the rights and due process applied to someone who has betrayed their country and taken up arms against their service personnel. Wilfred Burchett wasn’t even tooled up in Korea and Vietnam, and if he had’ve gotten in range he would’ve been awfully dead- as it was they pulled his citizenship. The lumpen proletariat so despised by the left elite for backing JWH seem to have a better grasp on the principles of treatment of irregular hostiles than the supposedly educated and informed.
BTW, I have no sympathy for Corby either- commit an offence in a foreign jurisdiction, and you’re subject to their penal provisions, no matter how nasty; the commonwealth has done more for her than she warrants. I’m still yet to hear any cries of outrage from the usual suspects over the three Australian citizens (of Vietnamese ethnicity) currently under sentence of death in Asian jurisdictions.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

Hi James, you are right it is all speculation but I’m backing my assessment inspite of what public meeting said what. Time will tell, of course.

We don’t agree that most of the voters don’t care about civil rights or due process. They just have a different idea on how a country that enshrines those priciples protects itself to you that’s all.

I care about civil rights and due process. Sometimes due process and civil rights can get in the way of their own longevity. This is one of those times. Shoot the him or let him rot – I am ambivalent either way. It does not pay to wring your hands and worry about human rights for these pricks – it’s your choice to do so and definitely your right to disagree. It may be your obligation to stand up and speak out. It will help you if you don’t underestimate your fellow citizens when you disagree.

Do we even know what due process and civil liberties are? Well, David and others are trying to take them from us and look what happened.

2022 years ago

But, James, how do you know what it is that he did?

I’m not much swayed by the rights argument either. What exercises me is that the fact-finding mechanism is so likely to produce errors, all of which will be in the same direction.

Do you really think that a prosecuting organisation anywhere – let alone a military prosecutor in these circumstances – is going to be fair and mistake-free in every case?

That would be a ludicrous belief, obviously. But the result of the military tribunal system is that there will be effectively no check on the prosecution: if you are prosecuted, you will be found guilty.

And so there will be people who are convicted of terrorism who have never been terrorists.

I just don’t see what benefit that gives us.

derrida derider
derrida derider
2022 years ago

“I don’t think Beazley’s natural inclination on asylum seekers was ever that much different from the government”

And its the same on Australia-US relations and the whole GWOT thing. The man is a thorough Tory.

I agree there is real political value in being seen to stand up to the yanks – with luck they’d try to publicly bully you, as they did with Latham. Of course you’d face vicious misrepresentation from Citizen Murdoch. So you’d needs lots more skill in perception management than Latham had, and lots more ticker than Beazley has.

Evil Pundit
2022 years ago

The fact that the Laft chooses to vocally support a terrorist and traitor is one of the reasons for its lack of support in the community.

It’s uncanny how lefties always seem to pick the worst possible issues on which to make a stand.

2022 years ago

Labor already has a potential ‘Tampa issue’. Howard’s IR reforms….Labor can win the next election on this issue. Just like Kennett’s rapid and aggressive privatization brought about his downfall, Howard’s IR reforms just push ‘the liberals’ ideological hatred of organized labor just that little bit too far.

– Keep up the good work.