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If the cap fits wear it

By Bruce Haigh - posted Wednesday, 23 January 2008


I was pleased, perhaps more pleased than most that Howard was defeated: his consuming passion to remain at the centre of power and his innate mendaciousness, in my opinion, made him evil. Rudd does not appear to be evil.

I had a reasonable expectation of Rudd and his ministers doing the right thing, therefore I was angry when I found out that the Minister for Immigration, Senator Chris Evans, was about to head off to Indonesia to discuss people smuggling. I should say sneak off as he was not planning to inform the public of his visit, at least not prior to his departure.

The putative reason for his visit coupled with the furtive nature of the arrangements smacked of his being a captive of the old mind set and methodology of his department. No minister on top of his department, his minders and his portfolio would agree to such a visit under such circumstances in the first few months of assuming office after a change in government.

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To me the visit had all the hallmarks of the department wanting to lock the new Minister into past decisions and practices in order to keep the lid on the dirty cauldron that Immigration has become - make the Minister complicit and compliant by making him part of past policy.

Evans, who is not the brightest light on the block, appears to have fallen into their trap.

I rang every journalist I knew and alerted them to Evan’s impending travel. This had the effect of generating a number of enquiries to his office which in turn led to a very late and hasty press release on the eve of his departure.

The scope of his visit appeared to have been widened to include calling on the Indonesian Foreign Minister, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). It is somewhat unusual, in diplomatic terms, for the Minister for Immigration to meet with the Indonesian Foreign Minister before the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs has done so. This meeting appeared to be a smokescreen.

Evans was interviewed by Steve Cannane on ABC, RN Breakfast on the morning of his departure. In the course of that interview Evans confirmed that ALP policy included the continued excision of Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef from the Migration Zone but then, under questioning, went on to say that the other 4,000 islands excluded by the Howard government would continue to be excluded by Labor.

Surprisingly, in view of his alleged appointments with the IOM and the UNHCR, he claimed, when asked was he going to raise the issue of asylum seekers trapped on Lombok Island, not to have been briefed on the issue. This is surprising in view of the number of representations that have been received by his office and Immigration.

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Evans told Cannane that he was talking to his Indonesian counterpart in order to strengthen existing arrangements between the two countries relating to people smuggling but in response to questions did not seem to know what those arrangements were.

What then was the purpose of the visit if the Minister was so poorly briefed? Or perhaps the question should be, what is the real nature of the policy relating to people smuggling if part of the policy is to keep the Minister in the dark?

I had rung the Minister’s office the previous day to ask if it was correct that he was travelling to Indonesia to discuss people smuggling. After some delay the office said it would get back to me. No one did that day. The next day I rang and was put through to the press secretary who proceeded to demonstrate a glass jaw comparable to Howard Minister Staffers. It was claimed that the Minister, after six weeks in the job, was still getting across his portfolio. I said that Penny Wong appeared to need no such excuse. And in any case, with refugee issues front and centre in the National Parliament over the past eleven years where had the Minister been?

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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