It seems that nearly all of the Australian media have jumped on the ‘Let’s trip up Julia Gillard’ bandwagon. This is problematic in itself. What is even more problematic is that the media have confused Julia Gillard’s speech by assuming that in naming East Timor as a possible site for an offshore regional processing centre, she was committing to East Timor as the location and announcing a concrete policy. Well, she most certainly wasn’t. But this didn’t stop the media from having a field day all of last week about this issue.
What was most disappointing was the overt bias of some commentators:
Laurie Oakes: Julia Gillard just looked silly and slippery and slimy and shifty in all that and it’s a very, very bad start to her prime ministerial career.
Oakes: I think she’s done herself enormous damage.
And the fact that for nearly one whole week the media was in a constant flurry over two very minor issues:
1. That Gillard supposedly committed to East Timor as a location, and has now backtracked due to constant media attack.
2. That Gillard spoke with the East Timorese President Jose-Ramos Horta first instead of Prime Minister Gusmao.
Hello? Where is the substance? How is this newsworthy? And why do we care about these points so much that they should dominate the entire debate about asylum seekers? Note to the media: Tony Abbott also announced his policy, and where is the proper scrutiny of that?
All of this drama and myth-making can be cleared up quite easily. Let’s have a look at the actual speech made by Gillard at the Lowy Institute. I have included a few lines before and after she first mentions East Timor as a regional processing centre for contextual purposes.
We co-chair the Bali Process with Indonesia, and through this process we are working with our regional neighbours and key organizations like the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration to manage irregular migration and stop people smuggling – and can I say how much we appreciate and value our cooperation of Indonesia as co-chair.
We do these things because we believe that building a sustainable regional protection framework is the most effective way to address irregular migration, including to our country.
Building on the work already underway in the Bali Process, today I announce that we will begin a new initiative. In recent days I have discussed with President Ramos Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing irregular entrants to the region.
The purpose would be to ensure that people smugglers have no product to sell. A boat ride to Australia would just be a ticket back to the regional processing centre.
It would be to ensure that everyone is subject to a consistent, fair, assessment process. It would be to ensure that arriving by boat does not give anybody an advantage in the likelihood that they would end up settling in Australia or other countries of the region.
It would, of course, have to be properly run, properly auspiced, properly structured.
President Ramos Horta told me that he welcomed the conversation about this possibility and I look forward to further consultation and dialogue on developing this initiative into a proposal that would advance the proper and consistent treatment of people arriving without authorisation in our region.
I have also spoken to New Zealand’s Prime Minister about this possibility, and John said to me that he would be open to considering this initiative constructively.
East Timor and New Zealand are vital countries in this initiative as they are already signatories to the Refugee Convention, and New Zealand, like Australia, is a key resettlement country.
Her speech leaves nothing open to interpretation. It is as clear as day and Julia Gillard said herself throughout the week, “We’re in a dialogue with East Timor.” What part of dialogue and consultation don’t you understand?
On the point of consulting the President before the Prime Minister, yes, this may have been inappropriate or it may not have been. But it is certainly not the most important detail of Gillard’s entire Lowy speech and initiative announcement. And Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Stephen Smith, offers a reasonable response to this criticism. (See related links below)
So, to the Australian media, instead of trying bring down the newest Prime Minister by trying to find/fabricate a potential “stuff-up”, why don’t you do your job? Which I assume is to report the news, contribute to an intelligent debate, and provide a detailed and impartial analysis of (or considered opinion on) policy announcements by the Government and the Opposition. Thanks a lot.
ABC Insiders Program Transcript 11/07/2010 – Opening segment, featuring quotes from the last week in politics