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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Last night on Lateline we heard former Liberal immigration minister Alexander Downer state very clearly that the only way for the Gillard government to stop the asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia would be to implement the policies of his government, which was voted out of power in 2007.

One of the elements of that policy was offshore processing of asylum seekers on the small Pacific island of Nauru.

Today, Prime Minister Gillard announced that she had begun talking with East Timor about establishing a regional processing centre in that country. Her talks were not explained in detail and journalists are still waiting for firm details that would explain the new policy direction. But the view seems to be that such an offshore processing centre is to be established if Gillard's government wins the next election - which is to be held this year.

So it seems that Downer was right, which is a hard fact for any self-respecting liberal to stomach. But it's a true fact nonetheless.

To her credit, Gillard was at pains during her policy announcement - which was held at the Lowy Institute today - to signal a move away from the polarising and divisive attitudes of earlier administrations. Terms such as 'red-neck' and 'leftie' are, she says, not useful. Her understanding of the concerns of people living in rapidly-growing and highly-populated parts of the country was reiterated. People "are concerned", she said.

In effect, Gillard is trying to wedge the Opposition away from its core supporters in the outer suburbs of the big cities: the people who are no longer 'red-necks' but merely 'concerned'. It's probably an effective strategy, although Opposition leader Tony Abbott will no doubt do his best to rubbish the new policies as "weak".

Pic credit: Time 4 Change blog.

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