A response to Paul Colgan’s article, ‘The Dili Proposal’ (6/7/2010), The Punch
With phrases such as “political correctness” and “racist” being bandied about for days, it is no wonder that the immediate response by many online commentators to the government’s new asylum seeker policy was reactionary, emotionally charged, ill-considered, and obscured by left-right posturing.
It seems that, with the increasing reliance upon online sources to provide up-to-the-minute news updates and analysis, accuracy and insight have been compromised. By trying to be the first to report and provide commentary on breaking news stories, such as Gillard’s new policy on asylum seekers, quality of information and journalistic integrity has been seriously compromised. If a journalist or blogger would just wait a moment, consider the primary sources, the emerging off-the-cuff commentary, and ponder deeply the nuances of the issue at hand, then the consumers of such content would be much better off.
It is also crucial to understand how such knee-jerk commentary can affect the tone and dialogue of this contentious national debate. It is time for commentators to attempt to be at their most impartial in order for this debate to involve the facts and practicalities of the situation at hand.
I will now provide a glaring example of such dangerous acts of haste. Paul Colgan, Managing Editor of The Punch, an online news source, posted an article, ‘The Dili Proposal’ at 1.30pm (6/7/10), just under two hours after Julia Gillard finished making her speech at the Lowy Institute. But unfortunately, Colgan’s article reveals a lack of understanding of Gillard’s speech and views, perhaps due to a hastiness in his production of such commentary.
Colgan ties two ideas in Gillard’s speech, Australia’s asylum seeker (not migrant) intake, with population sustainability. Thus, Colgan obscures the nuanced point Gillard actually makes when he writes that, ‘Given Gillard’s furious agreement that yes, the numbers of boat arrivals are tiny, the Prime Minister still casts this as being about “sustainability. Here’s the key part: …”.’
He then quotes (out of context) the first part of Gillard’s speech:
“In many faster growing parts of Australia – like western Sydney, south-east Queensland and the growth corridors of Wyndham and Melton, in my own electorate in Melbourne’s western suburbs – people would laugh if you told them population growth was intended to improve living standards.
People in these communities are on the front line of our population increase and they know that bigger isn’t necessarily better.
At the same time, other parts of Australia are crying out for more people – skilled workers to fill job vacancies in occupations like mining, health and aged care, and community services.
I regard this alone as a giant policy question for Australia.
It is truly the mismatch of modern Australia: communities with too many people and not enough jobs and then other communities with too many jobs and not enough people.
This is reason enough to declare that population policy should not be driven by an arbitrary single number.
Instead, I believe it must be driven by the needs and the circumstances of each region across the nation.”
But Colgan conveniently leaves out the next line:
“Instead, I believe it must be driven by the needs and the circumstances of each region across the nation. With this I have commissioned the Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, to develop a population strategy for a sustainable Australia.”
As yet, there is still no mention of asylum seekers in Julia Gillard’s speech. And why is this so? Because Julia Gillard did not suggest, directly or indirectly, that the nation’s border control policy and its annual intake of asylum seekers has anything to do with creating a sustainable population policy for Australia. In fact, she agrees with Julian Burnside QC, when he stated that, “it would take about 20 years to fill the MCG with boat people”. In Julia Gillard’s speech, she refers the issue of population sustainability on to the Minister responsible, Tony Burke. She then speaks a little further on the matter, and, completely separately, raises the issue of the government’s border protection policy. Not once in her speech does she link the two issues together. Although these broadly related issues are dealt with in the same speech, Gillard only ever links Australia’s overall migrant intake with the idea of a sustainable population policy, thus making Colgan’s closing two paragraphs incorrect and obsolete:
“But if the numbers are tiny against the total migrant intake, how can they have any effect on growth patterns, sustainable or otherwise?
They can’t. Numbers of people arriving by boat are nothing to do with sustainability and everything to do with electability.”
Yes, Paul Colgan, you are right. Boat people have nothing to do with sustainability. And no one, not even Prime Minister Julia Gillard was suggesting that. Thus, in this case, boat people also have nothing to do with electability. Perhaps a closer perusal of the primary information and a more careful consideration of the facts will be helpful next time you attempt to produce an accurate and insightful analysis of a news story. This example reveals the value of a carefully considered yet timely commentary of emerging news events rather than the publishing of a hasty, immediate and often inaccurate (and thus counter-productive) commentary.