And in the better late than never category. One of the issues tackled on the ABC's Q&A programme a couple of weeks back (23/04/09) was the treatment of asylum seekers.
In a robust, off the cuff spray David Marr produced one of those rare television moments that stops you mid-coffee plunge and almost lets you forgive an industry that continues to give Meshel Laurie airtime.
Audience member Joe Duncan enquired:
With the latest boat of asylum seekers arriving, there's been a lot of talk about protecting our borders. Shouldn't Australia also have a moral obligation to protect people fleeing corrupt regimes and how do we create a balanced solution with persecuting the individuals involved and stigmatising their plight?
Craig Emerson got first shot and duly repeated Joe’s points, agreed with him and added nothing of substance, at which point skipper Tony Jones tossed the pill to Marr who tucked it under his arm and ran the length of the field with this effort:
DAVID MARR: We have more than a moral obligation, we have actually entered treaty obligations to these people and that treaty - the UN Refugee Convention is an act of apology by the civilised world to the Jewish people for doors having been closed in their faces in the late 1930s that led to the slaughter of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. There is history to the Refugee Convention. It is an act of apology and it is also an instrument to make sure that such a thing does not happen again. And we have an international legal obligation to take, however they come to our borders, to take in and assess the claims of people who are seeking protection. Now, that is our obligation. We have another obligation, as well, which is an older obligation in law, which is not to force people back to a country where their lives might be at risk. They are our two obligations. They are moral, but they are also legal obligations. And it is sad to hear the opposition trying to get up a good scare about boat people again because I had thought, and I think many people had thought, that their fingers were burnt with this the last time around. We haven't, Craig, been talking about this for 10 days. We have been talking about this for 10 years and one of the things we discovered in those 10 years was that temporary protection visas, which violate the fundamental notion that if a person is a refugee you offer them a permanent home, temporary protection visas, by forbidding family reunion, as they did under the Howard government, filled the boats with women and children and that when the SIEV X went down, many who drowned on the SIEV X were children and women seeking to join their husbands and fathers in Australia who were refugees and yet they are once again...
TONY JONES: Okay, David.
DAVID MARR: ...talking about restoring these evil visas.
Now, there are those who confuse commentary with reporting and regard Marr as a whingeing, latte sipping lefty, whose bias is clear and who, rumour has it, doesn’t even like sheilas. 'Balance' is their preferred slogan in these situations and so, in the interest of balance, let's move rightwards.
Also on the panel was Pat O’Rourke, one of America's funniest writers and an acerbic right-wing commentator who started his career at National Lampoon (hence the justification for running my favourite magazine cover with this post). Jonsey did the right thing and, after a shoulder tap from O’Rourke, waved him on to the field where it looked like he might give Marr a quick and dirty introduction to gridiron.
The result was somewhat unexpected, particularly for fellow panel member Julie Bishop who had just botched an unconvincing cover tackle on Marr.
PJ O'ROURKE: You know, we in the States have much, much more experience with being all wrong about immigration than you do.…. And we are so wrong about it. I mean, build a fence on the border with Mexico, give a huge boost to the Mexican ladder industry, you know. Put US troops on the Rio Grande and know that the United States armed forces are standing between me and yard care, you know. I mean, it's just - the thing is when somebody gets on an exploding boat to come over here, they're willing to do that to get to Australia, you're missing out on some really good Australians if you don't let that person in.
Julie took a run at it but her lack of match fitness was evident.
JULIE BISHOP: (Indistinct) people smuggling (indistinct).
It meant an easy complete for the visitor
PJ O'ROURKE: ...the reason America is a great nation is because of immigration. Let them in. Let them in. These people are assets. You know, one or two of them might not be, but you can sort them out later.
Of course I’ve left a great deal out, and to really get a feel for Bishop’s twitchy, almost to the point of Tourette’s, ejaculatory style of discussion you need to go to the Q&A website.