Some of my very strong reaction to Robert Manne’s article on asylum seekers is because I don’t like being made aware that my side is losing the fight. You know, my side. Us latte-lefty inner-city poofter PC-thought-police straw persons.

Some of it is because of my weariness at those generalisations: battlers v elites, the western suburbs versus the inner city, on and on and on. Perhaps our nation is trying to stop the boats coming by boring them to death, but I think simple journalistic laziness is to blame. Manne is very soft on the media’s role in this: every media outlet loves this issue and will never, ever run a story arguing that perhaps people don’t really care that much about asylum seekers, or that there are volunteer organisations in the western suburbs helping to teach refugee kids English, for example. (See “Boats and votes: more evidence on the opinion gap” and “Howard’s victories: which voters switched, which issues, and why” for some journos actually trying to find out about voter opinions and habits, rather than just recycling received ideas.)

But mostly it’s because of the last three paragraphs, which seem to me to be disgraceful. He is saying that if the majority – or, to use his phrase, “the overwhelming majority of the Australian mainstream”, whatever that is – hold that discouraging asylum seekers by treating them brutally is OK, then there’s basically fuck-all we can do about it, no matter how irrational their position is; or, worse, that we LLICPPCTPSP are like the East German government who in Brecht’s phrase “have decided to elect a new people”.

If our only  weapon against irrational brutality is to throw our hands up (and “confront honestly” the fact that we’re powerless), then there is no point to political action of any kind.

But, as it happens, we’re not all still living in tribes or absolute monarchies or dictatorships, all of which have been supported by majorities at one time or another.

I think he should be ashamed of himself.


One response to “Manne

  1. I agree regarding the media’s role in propelling anti-asylum seeker sentiment.

    The media is an opinion cartel that emerges naturally under economic pressure to push any given barrow as far as it will roll in the direction of strong circulation figures and ratings. If we take it as a given that sensationalism and conflict sell better than anything else, the consequence seems to be multistable multi-outlet media stampedes, in which one successful editorial U-turn swings the majority of other news and current affairs vendors around with it.

    In the last year we’ve seen the average bearing of editorials can jibe very rapidly from one relatively extreme position to another as strategists decide the prevailing winds affecting sales are altering, whether it be due to shifting public sentiment or a scarcity of the basic resources required to continue pushing the same position in “real” stories, issue after issue.

    When Rudd was PM and the Coalition was battling itself, the prevailing narrative was one of morbid fascination at the gladiatorial combat within the Liberal Party, and triumphalism regarding the ongoing Rudd poll miracle. But once the Coalition consolidated just a little under Abbott – mainly by dint of him being the last man standing – new conflicts and scandals had to be determined, and we started to hear about the BER “disaster” and the insulation scheme “tragedy”. Within a handful of months Rudd was gone. That, to me, is a potent demonstration of the malleability of mainstream thinking.

    Therefore I believe, or at least hope that Manne has it quite wrong* with his idea that the present political context does no more than make manifest a natural position of the Australian mainstream on [Islamic] asylum seekers.

    I suspect the same voters who, due to the concerted campaign of conservative media outlets and political parties, feel a certain anxiety about boat arrivals could be brought around to perceive the palpable absurdity that defines their concern once the figures on these arrivals vs net migration are revealed – all supposing the quarter of the media wind were to change.

    Aside from effective aids like the Crikey “what are you anxious about?” infographic, it would be easy enough for A Current Affair or the Australian to run features that, say, compared Australia’s migration policy and circumstances to those any wealthy country with a land border in the world.

    Something along the lines of Rob Oakeshott’s “moat people” rhetoric could also serve as an explanatory tool, if not a basis for real policy.

    * I do read the Monthly on a near-monthly basis, and it has been a while since Manne has resonated with me. I think he has lost the plot.

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