Thursday, 12 August 2010

Not The Greens Ad

This Australian federal election has been characterised by an even higher than usual amount of mudslinging. Let’s look at three examples: Liberal attacks on the government’s broadband plan, Labor attacks on Tony Abbott’s attitude to labour relations, and the attack by both sides on asylum seekers who, when I last checked, were not one of the parties running for office.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott appears to think it sufficient to attack the government’s broadband plan on the basis of not trusting Labor to get it right, rather than any attack on the specifics. Much of the Liberal opposition attack on Labor is on the theme of alleged bungles in office, especially around spending their stimulus package. There were serious errors, but there is a big difference between a considered multi-year plan and emergency stimulus spending to stave off a major recession.

On the other side, Labor harps on Tony Abbott’s history of supporting the Howard government’s unpopular “Work Choices” labour relations package. While there is good reason to suspect that Abbott would bring those measures back if he could, it’s not an unreasonable line from him that he would not do so without going to another election.

On the issue of asylum seekers, both sides of politics have gone to the gutter, labelling asylum seekers as a “border protection” problem. Excuse me. These miserable people are not an invading army. In fact many are heading here because we invaded their country. Fully a third of refugees on the UN’s books are from two countries: Iraq and Afghanistan. We invaded Afghanistan for the reasonably justified cause of stopping further atrocities like 9/11. But we didn’t finish the job. We left Afghanistan with an unpopular, incompetent government that could only survive with foreign military support, and launched a war on Iraq, a country that has never been shown to have any kind of link to Al Qaeda or 9/11. We bungled that one too, resulting in a civil war and ongoing violence. These two conflicts alone have resulted in about 5-million refugees.

In any case, whatever the source, asylum seekers – anyone who asks for recognition as a refugee, and who is at risk if they return home – are entitled to seek refuge in Australia. We have signed international conventions that oblige us to take them. Here’s a surprising fact: the vast majority of boat arrivals (up to 97%, depending when you count) have their refugee status approved and end up staying in Australia. But they are a tiny fraction of total asylum seekers. Far more arrive by plane, with legitimate passports and visas. But most of those who arrive “legally” end up having their applications for asylum denied. Let’s summarise this:
  • boat people – tiny fraction of all asylum seekers, almost all legitimate: demonised
  • plane arrivals – most asylum seekers, very few legitimate: not a political issue
Add to that around 50,000 real illegal immigrants – backpackers and the like who overstay visas – and you should realise that the whole attack on boat people is a con.

When Tony Abbott and Julie Gillard talk about stopping the boats, and Tony Abbott talks about sending back people without proper passports, they are talking drivel. Luckily for them, the people most affected are a tiny constituency who can’t swing an election.

So going back to the examples, we have once each of an attack from either side that lacks substance, and an attack by both sides on an innocent third party (not in the sense of a political “party”).

By this stage in an election, with so much heavy-weight advertising by the major parties with so much investment put into focus groups and polling, the Greens poll numbers start to sag. Not this time. Instead, the Greens numbers are holding up remarkably well. The latest (at time of writing) Roy Morgan poll on senate voting intentions shows the Greens vote holding up well enough to double their senate representation from 5 to 10 senators. Yet the Greens have had little or no TV advertising, certainly none I’ve seen.

Could it be that the major parties have reduced TV advertising to an echo chamber of negativity, that has voters so turned off that they don’t pay attention any more?

Meanwhile on the ABC’s Gruen Nation on Wednesday night 11 August 2010, one of the ad agencies asked to pitch for alternative messages came up with this:

That’s certainly a positive message, even if the ABC won’t allow the agency to sell it to the Greens. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. This way, anyone who likes it can embed it in their own web page, because it’s not a political ad, it’s just an example of the TV advertiser’s craft.

Further reading
There are many sources of information on asylum seekers and refugees, including the UNHCR. For a quick summary, try GetUp’s fact sheet – but I urge you to research the issue yourself.

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