Appearing on ABC’s Q&A program this week, Bill Shorten faced a lot of uncomfortable questions.
Shorten was already in an uncomfortable setting.
He was a solo panellist at a special taping in Elizabeth — a northern Adelaide suburb spoilt by the closure of the Holden manufacturing plant last year.
But it was the question raised from an audience member on whether he would end indefinite detention for asylum seekers, that really left Shorten struggling.
‘What we are not going to do is have the boats start again and see hundreds of people drown at sea,’ he said.
‘I think it is legitimate for people to want to come to this country. I support a refugee intake. I don’t [think] it is bad for a person to want to come to this country.
‘I think it is very brave for someone to up and sticks and leave their own country and where they come from. But what I can’t ignore is that when we have a policy that see the people smugglers come across from Indonesia and 1,300 people drown.
‘But the second thing I am going to say is, I don’t believe the [trade off] of not having the people smugglers back in business is that you keep people in indefinite detention.’
Shorten also said he disagreed with ‘using people on Manus and Nauru as political scoring points for a debate in Australia’.
But when asked again if that meant he would end indefinite detention, he couldn’t conjure a real response.
Instead he said he would need to see what agreements could be made to resettle asylum seekers.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull now finds himself in an awkward position. You can consider his position to be nuanced, rather than oversimplified for the sake of slogans.
But many within his own party take a more hard-line stance.
And, like it or not, the refugee crisis facing Australia is not going to go away any time soon. Not so long as war, poverty, and political oppression remain rife in developing nations across Southeast Asia.
At the end of the day, you either allow illegal immigrants — refugees and economic migrants alike — jump the queue and usher them into Australia.
Or you don’t.
Something Bill Shorten would have done well to think through before his appearance on Q&A.
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