Accountability is the cornerstone of good government. It ensures answerability, a readiness to explain itself; to provide sufficient information and justification to the people for its actions. We, the people, feel secure in being listened to, understood and provided for by our elected representatives who may be relied upon to provide wise leadership at home and to justly uphold our rights and discharge our responsibilities as members of an international community of nations abroad.
And so it was last week that Australians of all walks of life rejoiced in a wealth of edifying and illuminating explanations ranging from Australian dogs’ best friend, Barnaby Joyce, whose Yorkshire terrier turn-back was a triumph of diplomacy and statesmanship to our barking mad Prime Minister’s gnomic repudiation of all notion of social contract ‘Nope, nope, nope.’
Non-answerability came thick and fast after their leader’s lead, as coalition politicians ‘fanned out’ to ‘sell the budget,’ as the PM termed his team’s approach, a process avidly embraced by Bruce Billson in interview with ABC Insiders’ Barrie Cassidy.
So mad keen on fanning out was our Minister for Small Business on Sunday morning TV that he resembled nothing so much as a lap dog himself, whimpering and wetting himself with pleasure; beside himself with excitement on being given a bone, in the form of instant tax write-offs for some small businesses. If he could, he would have licked his master’s salty face. News shots showed him in the corner of each frame adoring his leader with dog-like devotion.
Never to be outdone, Julie Bishop elbowed our recycled former health watchdog Peter Dutton out of the spotlight with her forensic rationalisation of our nation’s cruel indifference towards several hundred wretched men, women and children found starving, destitute and begging for help in a wooden fishing boat turned back by Malaysia to fend for itself in the Andaman sea. How do we know they are real refugees? Bishop asked.
Minister for Ineffectuality, Peter Dutton was left to wring his hands. ‘We do so much already, he despaired. We can’t help everyone. ‘There are about 20 million people who are displaced around the world. We can help some but we can’t help everybody,’ he told Channel Nine, as if, somehow, this explains why we must do nothing.
Yet Dutton manned up when it came to Pistol and Boo, Johnny Depp’s un-quarantined Yorkshire terriers. He blew the whistle long and loud, even, somehow teaming with Barnaby Joyce who issued an Aussie ultimatum ‘Bugger off home.’ The phrase resonated with the international crisis and encapsulated LNP refugee policy whilst guaranteeing the enmity of all fair-minded Australians, dog-lovers and Depp fans world-wide.
But it’s OK to chuck ’em out, added Labor, in reference to expelling ‘illegals’. In a disturbing display of race to the bottom bipartisanship, Labor immigration spokesman, former senior legal consultant, Matt Thistlethwaite, ditched empathy and ethical responsibility in favour of a narrow, legal view.
‘Countries have the right,’ he observed feebly, ‘to remove people who are not found to be refugees under UN convention,’ a perspective which would greatly comfort the countless dispossessed of the world who are forced to return to their country of origin and certain persecution and or a life of destitution.
Australia must throw its hands in the air. It is the only logical solution chimes in our de facto Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, our self-appointed Federal fixer before Christopher Pyne abrogated the title.
‘It’s dumb to even suggest that we might help, argued Rottweiler Morrison, a former border protector himself, whose practices have contributed to the current crisis, before proceeding to rebuke us and set things straight with one of his ‘people who’ explanations.
‘People who suggest countries in the region can resettle persecuted Rohingya misunderstand the scale of the problem.’ There are a million persecuted Rohingya in Myanmar.’ Clearly Morrison thinks that tolerance begins at home – and should stay there. Australia, perhaps, should just tell Myanmar to back off the Rohingya, just as we told Putin to back off in Ukraine. That seems to have worked a treat.
Too many to count, too insignificant to matter, too wretched to care, none of this wisdom reached the ears of the desperate people in a wooden fishing boat, condemned to a death at sea. Two hundred people died during their three month ordeal which culminated in their being abandoned to the elements by a crew made desperate at news of a crackdown on people smuggling. Their bodies were thrown overboard. Survivors were vainly trying to shelter from the fierce Andaman sun under flimsy plastic tarpaulins. No-one was game to take them in.
Cries of “Please help us! I have no water!” rose from the boat as a vessel carrying journalists approached. “Please give me water!”
Help? ‘Nope, nope, nope.’ Our nation’s leader, Good Samaritan Abbott made a captain’s call to negate our collective humanity. Sensing somehow that her leader was not even prepared to enter into discussion of the matter, his foreign minister leapt in with both feet, as she is wont to do, almost to his rescue, by explaining to a disgusted world that the Bangladeshi boat-people would not get any help from Australia because they were not genuine refugees.
In fact, Bishop hissed, during a break from her mobile emoji-sending, they were ‘illegal labourers’ according to her sources in Indonesia, fellow turn-backers and buck-passers whose self-interested perspective is doubtless utterly credible. Many aboard are reported be carrying readily available false National ID and counterfeit passports. ‘Illegal’ labourers are less than human it seems and forfeit all right to humane consideration.
The boat’s plight highlights the migration crisis confronting the region. 6,000 to 20,000 migrants are believed to be at sea, fleeing ethnic persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh, while countries such as Australia pass the buck or point the finger.
It is also, tragically a litmus test of legitimacy for a coalition government which has abdicated all responsibility, accountability and answerability in favour of spin. If we cannot swallow our slogans and practise our humanity and common decency, there is nothing our government can do from now in to salvage any last vestige of credibility or moral integrity at home or abroad.