As a desperate Syrian refugee on Manus opts to return to Syria to be bombed rather than face years of imprisonment, a man more desperate, Tony Abbott, has his Road to Damascus moment. But as Bob Ellis says, this is a a novice on the Road to Nowhere.
ABBOTT'S punishment of boat people has been made ridiculous by the appearance of a quarter of a million of them off Lesbos and Lampedusa.
Because of this – a human tsunami of need – he dare not take in any of the poignant, yearning parents and children fighting their way out of Hungary, and trudging the road to Germany.
He will take in only those who went on foot, not crossing water, to the camps of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
The ones who are not “illegals”. The ones who did not pay “people smugglers” to speed their journey.
This leaves him with the Nauru Solution, the PNG Solution, the Cambodia Solution, and the Temporary Protection Visa Solution all in shambles.
He has to argue that some children must spend ninety years on Nauru, disadvantaged, ill-educated and unable to leave, and others can go to school, and university, in Melbourne, and move around Australia unfettered in quest of a job, a life partner, a personal destiny. He has to argue that some young men who fled Syria must risk – as homosexuals, as Muslims – in Port Moresby, and others can live in Australian without or difficulty, play cricket, and study medicine or accounting at university.
The difference is that one group paid people smugglers, and the punishment for this is a lifetime of hurt.
Bizarrely, no reporter can interview any Syrian on Manus Island, or take his photo. A million yearning faces can be seen on the railway stations, buses and highways of Europe, but none at all on Manus, or Christmas Island. Their faces are a state secret. They are Unpersons. Their story is an “on-water matter” that may not be discussed. They can be beaten, whored or murdered, and it is none of our affair. This is the Abbott Doctrine: all Syria are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Abbott has decided, as well, that he can bomb some Syrians but not others. He cannot bomb, for instance, or take out with a drone strike, Bashr al-Assad, who he agrees is a “genocidal monster”, but must not be “targeted”, as Australians helping ISIS can, as Britons helping ISIS were on Tuesday.
He agrees the Syrian Civil War can have no good end, but we must be in it, murdering Syrians, and shattering their suburbs, and stirring more and more of them to leave the country and try to go to Europe, which cannot take all of them in.
He has no idea what Syria will look like in ten years’ time, nor how long we will be fruitlessly bombing its antique boulevards and biblical markets and olive groves, but he knows he must keep on bombing it, he has his “Road to Damascus” moment, and this is the shining path he must walk on singing lustily, to no imagined end.
He does not think that far ahead, and he never has. He imagines a new Anzac expedition is a glamorous idea, and he’s up for it, in 2017 or 18.
He may not be here to lead it. Canning will fall, or come close, for reasons other than his Road to Damascus initiative, and he may be gone in eleven or twenty days.
He will be remembered as the most calamitous prime minister we have had, one reviled overseas as greatly as Mugabe, a stain on our history, and a blot on our name.
And so it goes.
As you may be aware, Bob Ellis is suffering from a serious illness. If you'd like to help him make a full recovery, you might like to consider making a contribution by subscribing to his blog, Table Talk, HERE.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
Don't want to help Syrian refugees in detention "We don't want to reward people smugglers" TA. Is that b4 or after we pay them (allegedly)— Tao de Haas (@TaodeHaas) September 10, 2015
Abbott gravely misjudged the national sentiment on Syria and Syrian refugees: http://t.co/J1pCIn8z2G [$]— Crikey.com.au (@crikey_news) September 8, 2015
Think. Subscribe to IA for just $5.