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Published in ONLINE OPINION 11 April 2013 and The Canberra Times 20 April 2013

The state of governance in Australia has never been terrific. Curtain should have stood up to Churchill sooner and brought Australian troops home from the Middle East immediately after the debacle of Greece and Crete. He was pushed around and dominated by the supreme bully, General Mac Arthur.

Menzies, who had avoided service in WWI, complied with the directives and the philosophy coming out of Washington in the 1950’s and 1960’s and actively conspired to have Australian troops fight with Americans in Vietnam. To help do this he introduced ballot conscription for under age Australian males in a most underhand manner.

Whitlam was all huff and puff; he was unable to see off his own appointee as governor general when that extraordinarily vain, arrogant and weak man made moves to have him dismissed, an undertaking in which he was ultimately successful.

Fraser, the head prefect, of a most uninspiring cabinet, behaved and sounded like the public school poonce that he was. His was a government, like that of Whitlam, of lost opportunity. It was only after he left politics that he matured.

Hawke was a populist, who thrived on attention, he rode an economic upswing, until we encountered the ‘recession that we had to have’. That did not deter Keating as Treasurer, who began the recent Labor tradition of dumping leaders in office.

Keating had a strong agenda and the will to implement it. It was a free market agenda coupled uneasily with a strong social agenda, particularly Aboriginals. His free market philosophy, also embraced by arch conservative, political trickster and premier of NSW, Nick Griener, sits uneasily with the internal and external tyranny of distance suffered by a sparsely populated Australia.

Howard was a proponent of divide and rule. His political tools were fear, cricket, of which he knew little, and the American alliance. He took Australia to war, without a declaration, every bit as sneakily and dishonestly as his much admired Menzies. His legacy is state based terrorism inflicted on refugees. Like Hawke, only more so, he rode a wave of economic prosperity, which both he and his spineless Treasurer, Costello, believed they were responsible for. He bought votes with cash hand outs particularly to the increasingly wealthy middle class and he encouraged personal borrowing, which came home to roost as a result of the GFC.

Rudd came to power by deploying the finely honed skill of white-anting. He matched every twist and turn of Howard, something he had done to Laurie Brereton, when he wanted to be opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs and something he is doing now to Julia Gillard. He was, and remains, a vain glorious little man, a fact, which, too late became apparent to his caucus colleagues. They dumped him and made another grave error of judgement by replacing him with Julia Gillard, who believes in nothing except her own ambition, a trait she shares in common with her predecessor.

There is little of Labor about Gillard, except her voice, which seems to have been donated across time by Billy Hughes. Her race seems to have been run, with Abbott set to replace her in September. Her path, like that of her predecessors, is littered with what might have been, moral courage has been in short supply in Australian politics. The great unspoken and un-investigated is corruption in Australian politics, underlined by Eddie Obied and the almost complete absence of moral fibre demonstrated by the last state Labor government in NSW.

To my mind the issue which has defined federal governments over the past decade and a half is the manner in which both major parties have chosen to handle refugees. Fearful of polls and lacking the quality most needed in politicians, that of leadership, they have chosen to demonise and bully the weakest amongst us, the one group requiring our care and compassion – asylum seekers.

Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott have all used bullying as an instrument of politics. Their policies toward asylum seekers were and are not designed to protect and embrace those most in need, but rather to deter asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat.

The rhetoric of the Gillard government has been to claim that they are trying to break the people smuggler business model, and to assist they appointed an ‘expert panel’ to come up with policies to back their exclusionist boat policy. The government and opposition claim they want to stop people taking dangerous sea voyages, yet they stubbornly refuse to consider the option of processing on Indonesia for fear of encouraging more arrivals.

Current policies harm people. The victims are victimised, some incarcerated without hope of release because of fear they may engage in acts of terrorism. Advice tended to ASIO by a discredited Sri Lankan government, who happened to be the winner of a cruel civil war. The deal being if we detain their nominees they will prevent asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat. How low can we go as a nation?

Deterrence amounts to an unconscionable and prolonged act of state bullying.

Asylum seekers have limited power. What power they have resides with the proper application of the UN Refugee Convention.

Why should kids on face book, in school or on the footy ground or netball court behave differently to the example being set by government; it should lead by example. It demonstrates cowardice in the face of challenge which in turn undermines social cohesion, one recent example being in sport.

Abbott has indicated he will return to Howard’s policies on everything except Work Choices should he become prime minister. Incredibly he believes this is the issue that lost Howard the election. It was not. The electorate became very sick of Howard’s inability to tell the truth.

Abbott is a strange man. He seems to need and enjoy the company of Cardinal Pell, the prelate of high Catholic Church office, who over the years has sought to cloud and obscure issues relating to acts of paedophilia committed by clergy of his faith in Australia, at the expense of the victims and their families. Pell has in common with Abbott a propensity to bully and to tinker with the truth.

The new Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was accused by some of ignoring the plight of victims of the military junta which terrorised Argentina in the late 1970’s. In particular there was reference to two Jesuit priests who were detained, perhaps with the knowledge, or as some alleged the assistance of the new Pope. His defenders have been numerous including Cardinal Pell. He said on ABC radio that the allegations were investigated and dismissed by Amnesty International.

Contacted they replied, “In the case of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Amnesty International knows of a case opened in 2005 of the disappearance of two Jesuit priests, but has no documentation to prove or discount the participation of the new Pope in these events.”

What does Abbott believe will be gained by bringing Cardinal Pell to centre stage of politics, particularly when Australia is a secular country?

Abbott is a bully and he encourages other bullies such as Scott Morrison, but as a bully he lacks substance. He has put forward few policies and nothing he has said indicates a capacity to be able to change Australia for the better. His bullying and blustering indicate yet another timid and weak leader.

Even before becoming Prime Minister, Abbott is behind the times. He is out of date and out of step with much of the electorate. His rise is due solely to the demise of Gillard.

Australia deserves better. It seems to me Australia, like Italy, achieves despite government.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator.