Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Road to Ruin

I'm not sure if I have the energy to blog about the upcoming Australian election.  The level of debate is so low, the options so dismal, that it is hard to know where to begin.  While the parties tit for tat about who will have the biggest deficit or break the most promises, everyone is ignoring the elephants in the room - climate change, the new world economic order, imprisoning asylum seekers, the permanent end to coal mining, a new generation of Aboriginal poverty and despair.  It's not so much an election as a game of trivial pursuit.

Much like this heavily publicised book by Nikki Savva, The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government.

Savva presents us with the inside story on the collapse of Abbott's Prime Ministership, as only someone in her position can.  She spent some years as Treasurer Peter Costello's press secretary before moving on to the Liberal Party's PR department, otherwise known as News Ltd.  She has a wide network of Liberal Party contacts with whom she worked as a political staffer, and who now feed her titbits for her columns in The Australian and commentary appearances on Sky News.

This means she can present us with a rollicking yarn about her former boss's bitterest sparring partner, Tony Abbott, and his Chief of Staff Peta Credlin.  Savva pulls no punches.  The early chapters of the book are a systematic demolition of Credlin's character.  The book was publicised through the careful placement of extracts about a rumoured affair between the two, but this turns out to be a fizzer.  The real story is that Credlin is a classic workplace psychopath.  Bullying staff and even her boss, throwing tantrums, controlling information and jobs, cutting off communication with the wider world.  Everyone, it seems, was offside with her - ministers, backbenchers, her own staff, the staff of other ministers.  Only Abbott, it seems, has any liking for her and he apparently supports her because he is cowed into submission.

However, this story soon runs out of steam because it begs the question - why would an experienced, canny operator like Abbott hire and keep someone so obviously unsuited to the job?  Why would he continue to protect her in the face of repeated advice from his closest allies to sack her?  I have always thought this showed that despite his many faults, Abbott still retains enough decency and loyalty to stand by his friends.  However, Savva will have none of it.  The problem is that Abbott himself was incompetent.

So the book moves on to flay Abbott as a person wonderfully suited to be an Opposition Leader but woefully unprepared to be Prime Minister.  His many  missteps are recounted in forensic detail - his off the cuff promises on election eve about things he wouldn't cut which came back to haunt him, his mishandling of the leadup to the 2014 budget, his immoderate language on terrorism and foreign affairs, his poor judgement on knighthoods, his unavailability to backbenchers and even senior ministers.  Things came to a head in February 2015 with a backbench revolt in which a spill motion gathered 39 out of 101 votes despite the lack of a challenger. Savva retails the joke that nearly 40% of Abbott's colleagues would rather be led by an empty chair.  He was given six months to get it right but nothing changed and the rest, as they say, is Turnbull.

It's a tale of intrigue and skullduggery, full of tales told out of school about who called who when, who had illicit meetings with whom, who was or wasn't part of which plot and why, who thought who was part of it when they weren't, who may or may not have voted for whom.  No-one comes out of it with much glory, not even Savva herself who gleefully reported many of these titbits in her columns, helping to stir up the very trouble she appears to deplore.

Of course she has a point.  After all, we all know who Peta Credlin is.  How many other Prime Ministerial Chiefs of Staff can you name?  Who is Turnbull's, or for that matter Bill Shorten's? When someone in this role emerges from the shadows you know there is something wrong.

Still, despite its apparent forensic detail Savva's account seems to be missing something, or many somethings.  The politics she describes is almost totally the politics of personality.  It's not a Liberal-National government, it's Abbott and Credlin's Government.  Its flaws are the flaws in these two personalities.  Credlin is an insecure bullying control freak.  Abbott is a political trench warrior without the people skills or policy smarts to run a government.  If they had just been nicer to their colleagues, or at least smarter in their interactions with them, they would still be there.  Or if Abbott had the sense to sack Credlin, he would still be there with better advisers.

The same shallow analysis is applied elsewhere.  The Labor Party doesn't feature much in this story but where it does it is given the same treatment.  Savva and her informants are not horrified at the thought of a Labor government, they are horrified at the idea of Bill Shorten as Prime Minister.  The Gillard government didn't fall because the Labor Party was fatally divided, it fell because Gillard was too inexperienced for the top job.

And of course, in Savva's world the whole point of politics is to win government and keep it.  Hence she thinks Abbott was a great Opposition Leader but a terrible Prime Minister.  After all, he destroyed the Gillard Government and won power, but was unable to keep it.  Yet it seems to me that if Abbott had been a good opposition leader he would have slipped seamlessly into the role of Prime Minister, having presented the electorate with a clear alternative government from the opposition benches. He did not - he simply tore his opponents to shreds then walked into power over their dead bodies.  Once there he had no idea what to do next.  His time in opposition was wasted.

But this is not Savva's biggest misunderstanding.  The hugest gap in this book, the one so big you can't see it, is about policy.  In her story, Abbott rapidly lost popularity because of personal failings and poor publicity.  Yet as a political outsider, I think this is a load of bollocks.  Abbott lost popularity once people became aware of the policies he and his government wanted to implement - policies Abbott rightly discerned they would never vote for if they were announced pre-election.

People didn't like cuts to pensions, medicare payments and various other aspects of the social safety net, especially not when the Liberal Party's rich backers got to keep their lucrative tax concessions.  They didn't like the curtailment of civil liberties and the targeting of Muslim communities, the wanton imprisonment of innocent asylum seekers, the constant appeasement of the coal industry at the expense of the environment.  If your supermarket sells rotting meat it doesn't matter how slick your advertising campaign is, people still won't buy it.  Which is the very problem Malcolm Turnbull has now.  The more people realise that despite his engaging personality he leads a government with the same policies as before, the less inclined they will be to return that government.  Hence the early election.

But this is not the full story either.  If you want to explain why Abbott lasted such a short time, you need an explanation which will also help you understand why the Labor Party switched leaders twice in six years, and why the Liberals dumped Turnbull in opposition then re-elected him two years into their first term in government.

Such instability is a new thing in post-war Australian politics.  Certainly there have been leaders who didn't last, but even John Gorton survived more than three years in a collapsing government.  Menzies, Fraser, Hawke, Keating and Howard all got extended runs at leadership.  Even Gough Whitlam, despite only lasting three years as Prime Minister, led the Labor Party for ten.  So what's changed?

I'm not sure I fully know the answer, but I think one part of the problem is that the parties themselves are fragmenting.  The Liberal Party is torn between the religious right and the secular pro-business "moderates".  The switching between Abbott (darling of the religious right) and Turnbull (champion of the secularists) is symptomatic of this deeper divide.  We've all seen Turnbull booed at NSW Liberal Party meetings.  The same is true of the Labor Party, with deep divisions over how much to appease big business, how close to remain to the union movement, how to manage refugee intake and how much to prioritise social equity over the neo-liberal economists' recipe for economic growth.

These divisions are symptomatic of a similar breakdown in social consensus in the wider community.  The divide between rich and poor is greater than it ever was - they now inhabit such different worlds they barely understand one another.  We have more cultural diversity than ever, and are torn between fear and embrace, a faultline brutally exposed by One Nation and then exploited by the Liberals for short term gain and long term pain.  We face threats we haven't faced before - climate change, a changing world economic order - and are flailing about for a coherent response.

You would like to think that in such a time of crisis we would be able to find political leaders who took the challenges seriously, who thought carefully about how to meet them and worked hard at taking Australians along the path of change.  I still hope and pray we will get to that eventually, but it's not on display in this election.  At least not so far, but then there's still more than a month to go....

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Arrival City

I've just read a most enlightening and thought-provoking book, Arrival City:How the Largest Migration in History is Changing our World by Doug Saunders.  Saunders is an English journalist who writes for the Globe and Mail, the kind of journalist who looks beyond the headlines for the social trends and idea that lie behind day to day events.  If I was journalist, that's the sort I'd like to be.

Our world, he says, is going through the largest and most rapid process of urbanisation in human history. Millions of people in developing nations are leaving their villages and heading to the major cities, most of them never to return.  By the end of this century approximately two to three billion people - a third of the world's population - will have made the shift and most of the world will be as urbanised as the wealthy nations are now.

At the centre of this movement is what Saunders calls the 'Arrival City' - those communities on the edge of major cities that are the first destination for rural migrants.  These destinations may be in their own country, or in a wealthy country far from home.  Wherever they are, they are not the most attractive or secure places.  Housing is often substandard, land tenure is insecure and occupation often illegal, infrastructure may be absent, or obtained at inflated costs from illegal diversions from "official" water or power supplies, and work may be hard, dangerous and poorly paid.

Why do people migrate to such places?  There are two reasons.  The first is that the places they are leaving are even worse.  Village life may seem peaceful and idyllic to outsiders, but developing nation villages are by far the poorest places on earth.  Farming is generally subsistence only, the risk of famine is never far away and there is little or no opportunity to supplement farm produce with non-farm work.  By contrast, the city presents opportunities to work and earn money, some of which can be sent back to struggling relatives back home.

The second reason is that arrival cities represent future hope.  They are a stepping stone to a fuller integration into city life, with opportunity for education (either for them or their children), for progress from menial work to more lucrative jobs or self-employment as they move up the social scale. Ultimately they present the hope of leaving a life of poverty and joining the urban middle class.

Saunders approaches this issue through the lives of a number of urban migrants, using each as a window into both the community they have arrived in, and into the village they have left.  The Chinese arrival cities of Liu Gong Li and Shenzen are linked to the village of Shuilin.  Tower Hamlets on the edge of London is linked with the village of Biswanath in Bangladesh.  The successful May 1 Neighbourhood on the edge of Istanbul is contrasted with the troubled German community of Slotervaart as destinations for Turkish villagers.

Life is inherently difficult for the residents of arrival cities, but it is often made more difficult by the hostility or bungling of government authorities.  Sometimes they are actively hostile.  The May 1 Neighbourhood was established as a well-organised act of protest by left-wing former villagers who built it in a single night on a piece of vacant government land on the edge of the city.  The police attempted to demolish it several times, seeing it as a hotbed of dissent and trouble.  Not only did they meet with determined armed resistance, what they destroyed was quickly rebuilt once they left.  Eventually the government gave up and changed tack, granting the residents title to the land, supplying infrastructure and incorporating them into the city.

Interestingly, the political movement that finally emerged from these communities, and ones like it founded by radical Islamists and Fascists on the edges of major Turkish cities, was not extreme at all, but the moderately conservative "Welfare Party" of Recep Tayyip Erdogan which currently controls the Turkish government (although recent events suggest Erdogan may not be quite as moderate or benign as Saunders suggests!).  Saunders attributes this eventual moderation to the process of legitimising land titles in the urban fringe communities, which turned radical settlers into petty capitalists through the right to convert their quickly-erected stone houses into three-story apartment buildings.  Even his left-wing radical informant has to sheepishly admit that he has converted his own house into a block of units and now lives off the rents.

Other arrival cities, however, are not so fortunate.  Slotervaart in Germany is also home to Turkish rural migrants, but unlike in their home country, they have no hope of permanence.  They enter Germany as "guest workers" and neither they nor their children are able by law to become German citizens.  The result is that thousands of young men and women who have only ever been to Turkey on holiday and who speak German better than they speak Turkish are nonetheless seen as foreigners, restricted in where they can live, what kind of work they can do and barred from access to German higher education.  They can neither return to Turkey nor become fully German.  The community becomes a hotbed of crime and dissent.

The suburb of Les Pyramides on the outskirts of Paris is similar.  Here, migrants from France's former African colonies rent beautifully designed housing but find themselves unable to start businesses in this fully residential suburb or to be licensed to do so elsewhere, forced to travel long distances to apply for scarce, poorly paid jobs, and locked out of a highly restricted university system.  The result was a series of wild riots in 2005, and many other examples of unrest since.  Such communities are among the biggest sources of "home grown terrorists" in Europe.  Blocked from a European identity, young men and women turn instead to a radical Islamic one which promises revenge on the countries which have rejected them.

So why do some communities work, and others don't?  Saunders identifies a number of elements that are needed for success.  New arrivals have to have access to the basics of life - basic housing and utilities, work that pays enough for them to live off, a reasonable level of safety.  Then they need the possibility of progress - the chance to own title on a piece of land, however small, the opportunity to better themselves either by improving their skills so they can move up the employment ladder, or by starting their own businesses.  Most importantly, they need the hope of permanence in their new communities and the chance to get an education for their children, so that the next generation will not face their parents' poverty.

This last point highlights something we frequently overlook in our debates about migration - it is an act of delayed gratification on a grand scale.  If migrants have the hope of future betterment for themselves or their children, they will put up with years of hardship.  When residents leave Shuilin Village for the city, they often go first to Shenzen because of the high wages on offer in its booming factories.  Yet in the end many choose to move on to Liu Gong Li because although wages are far higher in Shenzen it offers no hope of permanent residence, without which children can't be enrolled in school and housing must always be rented.  Liu Gong Li, for all its hardship, offers a brighter future.

It is the same story in Tower Hamlets, on the edge London.  Here, Bengali village families live in tiny Council flats and the parents toil at menial jobs, but their children go to school, study hard, and end up with university degrees and a ticket to the middle class, leaving Tower Hamlets for more desirable suburbs.  Official statistics often fail to capture this, because Tower Hamlets itself remains poor.

Indeed, remaining poor can be a sign of success in these communities, because rural to urban migration is not an individual thing.  The first migrants to a city will set up and work hard, sending as much money as they can to their family in the village.  As soon as they have the means they will help someone else to follow in their footsteps - a sibling, cousin or neighbour who they will employ in their new business, or get their employer to take on.  A young man might bring his wife and child, or marry.  In wealthy countries marriage will be used as a way to sponsor new migrants from home.  As one family leaves the poor community to buy a home in a better location, a new poor villager will fill their place.

The energy and enterprise of these migrants, if well harnessed, can transform and reinvigorate the urban economy.  At the same time, the process can also revive poor village economies.  At first it is the money sent home which helps improve housing and infrastructure, educates children and tides families over crop failures and food shortages.  Over time, as the city becomes home, remittances tend to decrease but the infrastructure remains, and the outflow of village populations allows for those who remain to expand their land holdings to a size where it is worth investing in modern farming methods, dramatically increasing yields and shifting from subsistence to commercial farming.  If it works as it should, both communities win.

If.  This book is, in the end, a big question mark.  It is big on stories but short on data.  How many people escape to the middle class?  How many remain in multi-generational poverty?  How many arrival cities become thriving economic hubs?  How many remain slums?  How many communities do governments embrace and resource, and how many continue to be subject to neglect or slum clearance?  Is it possible for third world governments, mired in debt and corruption, to adequately resource the migration of millions?

One thing is clear, though.  Urbanisation is happening.  People are on the move, and we will not be able to stop them.  The relevant question is not, "is this urbanisation a good thing?" It is with us whether we like it or not.  The only question is, will we handle it well or will we stuff it up?

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Blood Year

I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of David Kilcullen's Blood Year, and finally got to read it this week.  Kilcullen has been appearing a lot on ABC current affairs shows recently giving expert opinion on terrorist-related issues, and he always seems so knowledgeable and articulate.

And so he ought.  Not only does he have a PhD in guerrilla warfare, he is a former Australian military officer who, during various phases of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, served as an analyst in the US State Department, an adviser to General David Petraeus in Iraq and on the staff of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  These days he runs a private research company which, among other things, advises humanitarian organisations about security issues in war zones and maintains a network of contacts in trouble spots around the world.

The "blood year" of the title is 2014-15, when Islamic State emerged from the pack of extremist groups fighting in Iraq and Syria to claim large swathes of territory and launch terrorist attacks around the world.  Kilcullen sets out to explain how it came to this.

The killer line in the book (pardon the pun), which the author has been using to sell it in his various interviews, is that the invasion of Iraq was "the biggest strategic blunder since Hitler invaded the USSR".  You may feel that he is overstating his case a little but he justifies the comparison in a fair bit of detail.  Like Hitler, the Bush administration chose to invade a country that was well contained and was not currently posing a threat.  In the process it committed itself to fighting on two fronts, stretching its capabilities to breaking point.  For an additional level of difficulty, unlike the Germans the US did not have a continuous supply line between the two fronts, so that the transfer of resources between them was challenging and slow.

If the decision to invade was the fundamental mistake, it was compounded by many more.  US military planners estimated that the invasion would require about 400,000 military and civilian personnel to carry out the invasion and then secure and rebuild the country.  In the end, they got 200,000.  This meant that while the initial invasion was a pushover, the subsequent occupation struggled to establish effective control.

To increase the degree of difficulty, the US collaborated with the interim Iraqi Government on a process of "de-Ba'athification", disbanding the Iraqi army and removing all Ba'ath Party members from the civil service.  Since party membership was a qualification for holding any kind of responsible position in the Ba'athist regime this meant that any competent administrator was removed from the service, even though their membership may have been a career necessity rather than an expression of deeply held political allegiance.

This led to a dangerous situation from the beginning.  Because the US and its allies were unable to secure the country, many of the army divisions were able to depart with their weapons, withdrawing to secure locations from which they could harass the occupying powers.  They are still there today - according to Kilcullen, about three quarters of the senior IS military commanders are former Iraqi Army officers who were displaced after 2003.

While he is highly critical of the Bush administration, he has at least qualified praise for Bush's later conduct of the "Surge", the insertion of extra troops into Iraq in 2007-08 which led to a dramatic reduction in violence and the securing of large parts of Iraq on behalf of the Maliki government.  He also has strong praise for his sometime boss Condoleezza Rice and for Bush himself, who he says took personal charge of the Surge with at least weekly contact with its commanders.  He comments that while Bush's public persona was folksy and facile, in private he was highly intelligent and engaged.  However, his focus on Iraq came at the cost of attention to to the wider "War on Terrorism" in places like North Africa, other parts of the Middle East or even Afghanistan.

While he has this level of faint praise for Bush, he has none for Barack Obama.  Bush, he says, was at least prepared to back words with action.  Obama, on the other hand, acted as if merely making statements was enough.  Furthermore, Kilcullen is highly critical of his decision to withdraw troops from Iraq at the end of the Surge, and is scathing about Obama and Hilary Clinton's claim to have "ended the war in Iraq" when all they actually did was leave it.

From here, the book is a sorry tale of decline.  With coalition troops withdrawn and the Maliki Government increasingly aligned with sectarian Shi'a groups against their Sunni rivals, violence rapidly increased.  Al Qaeda in Iraq, all but wiped out in the Surge, bounced back and reformed itself as Islamic State.  All this was aided by the confusions of US and European policy in Syria, where the allies encouraged attempts to overthrow the Assad regime but failed to back them in any meaningful way, throwing the country into the kind of chaos in which groups like IS thrive and providing IS with a safe haven outside Iraq from which it could rebuild.

In the end, the US found itself in an untenable position.  In Syria it ended up having not one enemy but two - the Assad regime and IS - which were fighting each other.  This meant it was unable to respond effectively against either opponent and it became hugely complicit in the mass killing and displacement of Syrian civilians by both sides.  Kilcullen points out that the Assad regime has killed roughly eight times as many Syrians as IS has, and has been guilty of war crimes such as bombing civilian targets with chemical weapons.  Yet after announcing that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" for his administration in Syria and would force them to act, when Assad's generals did in fact deploy these weapons the US did nothing.  The signal was clear - you could safely ignore anything the US said because it would not act.

The other really interesting part of this book is Kilcullen's analysis of the terrorist attacks in the West.  First of all, he talks about them in terms of their tactical goals.  These attacks are designed to drain the resources of the allies fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, diverting resources to homeland security.  This tactic has been highly effective - the cost of mounting the attacks is very low for IS, but the costs they have extracted from Western nations have been extraordinary - billions of extra dollars or euros spent on policing, surveillance, airport security and border protection.

Secondly, he applies a sophisticated analysis of the tactics involved.  He describes the 9/11 attacks as "expeditionary terrorism" - terrorists are recruited and trained for their task in one country, then inserted into another to carry out the carefully prepared plan.  Other attacks over the years have followed this plan - for instance, the Mumbai attack carried out by Pakistani terrorists in 2008.  Such attacks can be devastating but they are also complex and expensive, and security improvements since 9/11 make them much more difficult.

Terrorist organisations have adapted by using other methods - remote recruitment particularly over the internet which allows groups to recruit people already in the target country; "leaderless resistance", in which a central group will do no more than issue general instructions (such as IS's public call for supporters to carry out attacks on Western targets) which supporters then carry out without central control or planning.  These two measures result in lower intensity attacks with fewer casualties, but they are also far less resource intensive and far more difficult to detect and prevent.

In addition, tactics have changed, making more use of what Kilcullen calls "guerrilla terrorism" - lightly armed groups of attackers hitting civilian targets (possibly multiple targets at any one time to fragment responses) and compensating for lack of fire-power by conducting sieges which tie up manpower and paralyse city centres for extended periods.  Terrorist groups, he says, are creative and adaptable.  If you take security measures to prevent one sort of attack, they will devise something different.  Defence is always one step behind attack.

Where does all this leave us?  Kilcullen is pessimistic about the future of these conflicts - he doesn't see any quick or easy victory either over IS or over a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Nor does he see any let-up in terrorist attacks in the West.  However, he sees very clearly that these outcomes are the result of decisions the US and its allies have made, not inevitable facts of destiny.

In this spirit he closes with a number of "lessons" to draw from the past 15 years of the War on Terror.

"Don't confuse bad management with destiny"

"Never think, 'This is as bad as it gets'"

"Strategy, without resources and sequencing, is fantasy"

"Battlefield success is not victory"

"You can't fight without fighting"

Kilcullen is, or course, a military man and this is a military book - a very enlightening and insightful one.  He is far from ignorant about politics, but his focus is on military successes, failures and prospects.  Within these terms, his pessimism seems more than justified.  However I wonder, is this pessimism because he, and those he has worked for, were seeking military solutions for what were primarily political and social problems?  And what might be the political and social solutions, given that military ones have failed so badly?  Perhaps there are none, but given the alternative is ever-spiralling violence and repression, we need to keep searching for them.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Who Killed Omid Masoumali?

So, over the past two weeks two Nauru-based asylum seekers have set themselves on fire.  The first, a young Iranian man called Omid Masoumali, died of his burns in a Brisbane hospital.  The second, a 21-year-old Somali woman named Hodan Yasin, set herself alight yesterday and is now in a critical condition.  Reports suggest at least one other man has been prevented from doing the same.

As far as I understand this is the tip of the iceberg.  Depression, anger and self-harm are widespread amongst the asylum seekers on Nauru, Manus, Christmas Island and the various detention centres on the Australian mainland.

Who is responsible for this shocking self-harm, these acts of desperation, these signs of hopelessness and despair? Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton wants us to believe it's the fault of human rights advocates, says the Brisbane Times (which, by the way, is the source of the photo).

He expressed anger at advocates and others "who are encouraging some of these people to behave in a certain way, believing that that pressure exerted on the Australian Government will see a change in our policy in relation to our border protection measures".

"These behaviours have intensified in recent times and as we see, they have turned to extreme acts with terrible consequences," Mr Dutton said.

"Advocates who proclaim to represent and support the interests of refugees and asylum seekers must frankly hear a clear message ... their activities and these behaviours must end."

So, Mr Dutton, self-harm is caused by people who suggest that perhaps somewhere in the make-up of your government there is a shred of humanity, who suggest to them that somewhere, sometime they will have a future?  Whereas if everyone just stayed on message and convinced them that there is no hope, that the world is all black and they may as well give up living now, then this self-harm would stop?

Our humanitarians, those who would like to befriend refugees and settle them here in our prosperous democratic country, are robbing them of hope, are they?  While your government is bringing them hope and light with your determination to ensure their only option is life on an island with no economy aside from housing our unwanted refugees, or on an archipelago with the highest murder rate in the world, or a poor repressive South-East Asian nation?

Your government, which without warning took a depressed and injured Hodan Yasin from her bed in the Brisbane detention centre and bundled her onto a plane back to Nauru against her will and contrary to medical advice ?  Your government, which has poured billions into a system that is specifically designed to rob people of all hope, is not to blame for their despair?

It seems to me, Mr Dutton, that these acts of self-harm are precisely the outcome your billions and your relentless denial of hope are designed to produce.  What could send a clearer signal to the people smugglers and those who might buy their services than a spectacular, public act of suicide?  Perhaps if you filmed the act it would have a bigger impact, but beyond that it is hard to see how you could design a more effective deterrent.  Well done.  I hope you are proud of yourself.

Mr Dutton squares his jaw while his opposite number Richard Marles wrings his hands and promises to do just what Dutton is doing, but more effectively. Meanwhile in the real world where black is not white, lies are not truth and people take responsibility for their own actions we, the Australian People, seem to be about to elect a government in which one of these men will be Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

Do we want to do that?  Can we, in all conscience, continue to vote for politicians who deliberately cause suffering to innocent people?  Whether they are steely jawed or hand-wringing, we should do better.  We can do better.  Will we?