Around this time on Friday I mentioned that the Australian government was considering taking in detainees from Guantanamo Bay, and I mentioned the concerns that I had about the issue.
My concerns about it, for the most part, revolved around the issues with placing the detainees in facilities here. Do we have a central camp? Or do we mix them in with the general prison population.
I was also concerned about Who would pay for them. Logic would say that the US Government would have to pay, but the history of the whacky world of politics says that we, the Australian taxpayers, would end up footing the bill.
There were also issues about the legality, under Australian law, of us detaining the Guantanamo inmates.
In the end I concluded that, in my view, it would be easier and better for US President-elect Obama to take an interest in either improving the conditions at Guantanamo, or finding better accomodation for the detainees at other US facilities.
Well, there has been some movement on this story, and quite frankly I feel used.
Let’s take a look at the timeline shall we?
Friday morning, front page of The Australian, there’s a big story about how Australia might be taking the detainees, and the story quoted a spokespoerson for acting prime minister Julia Gillard.. Understandably, it becomes THE story of the day. It leads most of the news bulletins, various “experts” and politicians make statements about it, people like me editorialise about it, and talkback radio goes in to meltdown mode with people flooding the phone lines with their views on it.
The general concencus seems to be that taking in the detainees in some mass influx wouldn’t be a wise political decision as a lot of the voices in the media, be they political commentators, so-called “experts” or the general public, seem to be against the move.
By the time the Friday night television news bulletins had rolled around, acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard has almost made a decision, telling the country that Australia is unlikely to take the detainees.
More speculation and debate occurred on the Saturday, the newspapers had their say, and the general view still seemed to be that we shouldn’t take the detainees. By Saturday night, Ms. Gillard had completely ruled out the influx of detainees. Here’s the main bit of the speech that she read to the media at a press conference.[audio:http://samuelgordonstewart.com/wp-content/gillardgitmoJan09.mp3]
Ms. Gillard did go on to say that future requests for individuals to be resettled would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Now, I’m glad to see that sense won out here and that we’re not going to make outselves responsible for fixing a problem which belongs to the United States, but there is something slightly odd about this.
Friday, the day after New Year’s day, a day which would otherwise have been a very quiet news day, a story which has been bubbling away in the background for a while suddenly becomes the biggest story in the country thanks to a statement from a “spokesperson” for Julia Gillard.
And then, that night, this slow, calculating, federal government, has suddenly made a decision, or almost made a decision. It was received warmly by the public, so by the next day, it was policy.
For a government which loves to take time to make decisions by referring them off to committees, this was an extremely fast decision with some interesting international relations consequences.
I suppose that I should be happy that the government followed the wishes (or the apparent wishes) of the people, but I do feel used, and I’ll tell you why.
The old “flood the media with a controversial decision and then announce whatever the public reaction says to announce” trick is one which the Howard government used quite often. It’s a trick which, whilst useful to a certain extent, is subject to manipulation by the media, who may very well have their own agenda to push.
It’s a trick which was roundly criticised by the media, the public, and the then federal-Labor opposition…and yet here it is, in January 2009, making a come back.
I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised…the content never seems to change in politics, just the people making the statements. And on this occasion it seems that, whilst we’re not taking terror suspects in today, Ms. Gillard has the key in the door, ready to open it when she finds a terror suspect which she likes.
Ah yes, that other wonderful trick of politics. It sounds like a decision, but it’s actually a case-by-case basis.