Comment: A message to the Australian Labor Party

Leader of the Labor party Bill Shorten after addressing the audience on day two of the Australian Labor Party conference held at the Melbourne convention. Saturday, July 25, 2015. Source: AAP

Hold the applause.

OK, fine. You win.

After your national conference on the weekend, it’s clear that you are quite committed to doing whatever it takes in the area of cruelty towards asylum seekers in order to maximise your electoral chances.

It’s obvious that your terror of being portrayed as soft on the desperate will lead you to ape whatever policy the government chooses to use to wedge you. Innocent people locked up for years, abused, raped, driven mad from despair, and even killed, and you’ll back the policies that produced those outcomes to the hilt; and now you’ve decided that boat turnbacks are on the table too, turnbacks “when it is safe to do so” even though the fact the boats are inherently unsafe is supposedly the reason you want to stop them in the first place.

So yeah, we get it: in order to keep playing the part of the tough guy, Labor will chase the Liberals to the right as far as necessary, and we shouldn’t be surprised if you chase them even further from here. 

And we know you do this because you’re certain that we who object to these policies will vote for you anyway. And the fact is: you’re right. 

Of course we will. Oh, we might put the Greens first, but in almost every case our preferences will flow to you, because no matter how repulsive your asylum seeker policy gets, you’ll be able to paint yourselves as better than the Libs, and you’ll be right. You’re better than the Libs. On refugees you creep ever closer to parity, but on the environment, workers’ rights, welfare, women…you beat them. And the thought of you being in government, as disappointing as we expect you to be, is still significantly preferable to what we’ve got now. 

And you know that. That’s why you can keep doing whatever it takes in the kicking-foreigners field, and know it can only gain you votes from swinging rednecks, rather than lose you votes from bleeding-heart greenies. 

So fine. You win. You got us. We’re trapped. We’ve got no escape from the brutal dilemma you’ve placed us in. If we don’t want Prime Minister Abbott to continue indefinitely, we’ve got to back you and your Liberal-lite approach to extinguishing hope. And yes, it might very well work. We may well have Prime Minister Shorten this time next year.

So well done. You must be very proud.

Just please, please – don’t ask us to applaud you for it. Don’t expect us to look at how you’ve got to where you are and cheer your cleverness and pragmatic strategizing.

All Labor members and cheerleaders, it’d be nice if you could gloat over your brilliant "neutralising" of the issue in private. Stop demanding the rest of us appreciate you. Stop moaning that we’re not being nice about you on Twitter. You’ll get our votes. Don’t expect our love too, not after all we’ve seen from you.

Don’t expect us to lavish you with bouquets for your minor, timorous concessions to basic decency. Doubling the humanitarian intake by 2025 – well, bravo, promising that someone in the future will act on your decision is gutsy as hell. Promising oversight of camps and mandatory reporting of child abuse – big talk from the party that already voted to enable the abusers in parliament. And you did so because, like the government, you know that lessening the cruelty lessens the deterrent – if locking them up on islands is going to discourage people from getting on boats, then locking them up on islands where they get assaulted and killed will discourage them even more. It’s ironclad logic, and it’s why the abuse in detention centres isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. And you, the Australian Labor Party, know it, which is why not only is your lip service to "compassion" outweighed by your embrace of savagery, but it’s also hard to believe you’ll even stand by it – every time you get spooked on "border security", you abandon another principle, so there’s no reason to think you won’t throw more over the side if circumstances necessitate it.

So no, I won’t praise you. I won’t congratulate you. I won’t celebrate Labor’s progressive credentials. I will attack and I will criticise and I will rage against your cowardice and lack of humanity. And then I will trudge to the ballot box and sadly let you have my vote. Because god knows you’re still easily the lesser of two evils.

But don’t you dare ask me to be happy about it. Go home and pat yourselves on the back – I sure as hell won’t do it for you.

Ben Pobjie is a writer, comedian and poet.

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