Trawling For Morons: The Coalition’s Fishing Boat Bait-And-Switch
By Mike SeccombeNovember 18, 2013
How many Indonesian boats have we bought, and at what cost? Nobody’s saying.
Not all conservatives are stupid, but most stupid people are conservative.
So said John Stuart Mill, who is generally credited as being one of the fathers of modern liberalism, one who stood for the liberty of the individual against the power of the state.
Now, I quote Mill not to endorse the comment, although many admirable people have done so over the past couple of centuries.
I quote him to make the point that it appears the powers that be within the ironically named Liberal Party of Australia not only endorse Mill’s aphorism, but believe there is political capital to be made from appealing to stupidity.
We could cite many examples, but let’s focus on just one; one which can be found on page 11 of a document released in August 2013, entitled The Coalition’s Policy for a Regional Deterrence Framework to Combat People Smuggling.
Among the various measures outlined in the document, was this gem:
“[A] capped boat buy-back scheme that will provide an incentive for owners of decrepit and dangerously unsafe boats to sell their boats to government officials rather than people smugglers.”
We should note that the buy-back policy was but one part of a sub-section on “engagement with local communities” for which the then-Opposition budgeted $20 million.
I know what you’re thinking: $20 million does not sound like a lot of money. But in fact, the money allocated to the boat buy-back was much less than this, because it was only one of a number of initiatives that were to be funded from the $20 million, along with the provision of “communications equipment” to people in up to 100 villages, so they could report people-smuggling activity, and potential bounties to be paid to informants.
But the fact that it was a tiny appendix to the grandly named “Operation Sovereign Borders” did not stop The Libs’ leader Tony Abbott and immigration spokesman Scott Morrison talking it up.
Nor did the fact that rational analysis showed it to be an inane idea.
Do you know how many fishing boats there are in Indonesia?
Well the fact-checking site PolitiFact quickly found that statistic, along with a few others that put the “policy” in proper context. We quote:
“The country has the world’s fourth-largest coastline and its fishing industry employs more than 6 million people and contributes more than 5 per cent of the nation’s GDP. In 2004, according to the United Nations, there were 729,682 boats – though those numbers have apparently been rising.”
The site quoted Morrison, from the day he launched the policy, in company with Abbott, in Darwin on August 23:
“We want to have a program that reaches out to up to 100 villages across Indonesia. But also the opportunity where the intelligence leads you to have the option to be able to get that boat before the people smuggler does and stop that boat leaving Indonesia. That saves lives; it saves the taxpayers’ money ultimately.”
PolitiFact rated the claim that the buy-back would save lives and taxpayer dollars as being in the very worst category of political promises. It rated the promise as being in the “Pants on Fire” category.
That is to say, it was deemed a lie.
Furthermore, the evidence suggests that Abbott and Morrison always knew it was never going to be implemented, for since the election they have been very quiet about boat buy-backs.
So, come Monday’s Question Time in Parliament, the Labor Opposition sought a little information about the matter.
First up Labor’s relevant shadow minister, Richard Marles, asked Morrison a pretty straightforward question:
“How much money do you currently have allocated for the purposes of boat buy-backs in Indonesia?”
Morrison ducked and weaved, offering no specifics, but saying – in that quirky, quasi-military style he has – that the government was deploying its “full arsenal of measures” and “deploying funds as set out at the election”.
Next question, Marles asked why, given the previous answer, had Morrison apparently told the Murdoch press the previous Friday that the buy-back money had been “reallocated”.
Again Morrison avoided a straight answer, so Opposition Leader Bill Shorten next had a go at getting some truth out of the leader of the secret government, Tony Abbott.
Abbott also avoided answering.
So we are left wondering, have any boats been bought, and at what cost? And is Scott Morrison just talking through his arsenal?
Yes, this is small beer. Except inasmuch as it goes to the tactics used by the Coalition to gain power – a series of “bait and switch” misrepresentations across a whole range of issues, including but not limited to the “budget emergency” that wasn’t, and the carbon reduction scheme which isn’t.
So, let’s end with another famous political quote, attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time”.
With all respect to President Lincoln, it’s a silly quote. As Tony Abbott et al. know very well, you have only to harvest that extra few per cent of gullible ones to give you a majority.