Dr Keating prescribes the needed cure for Labor’s chronic PTSD

Labor could use a spine transplant right about now, Alan Kohler writes.

Labor could use a spine transplant right about now, Alan Kohler writes. Photo: TND/AAP

After the farce over the release of 148 permanent detainees by the High Court, we must sadly conclude that the Labor Party is still traumatised by the Tampa nightmare of 2001.

Actually, it’s not just refugees that have given Labor political PTSD – it’s housing, taxes and climate change as well.

PTSD is a condition characterised by flashbacks, anxiety and heightened reactivity to reminders of the trauma, and it is the only explanation for the government’s curiously tremulous behaviour after the High Court found that locking up people forever contravened Chapter 3 of the Constitution because only courts can judge and punish humans in Australia. It didn’t find that permanent incarceration is cruel and immoral, mind you, just unconstitutional.

The Opposition and much of the media then went hysterical, or rather performed hysteria, each for their own reasons.

The Opposition saw a boatload of 148 asylum seekers landing on an Australian shore and wanted to relive past glories over Tampa and Stop The Boats, while the mainstream popular media desperately tried to hang on to a smidgen of audience in the face of video streaming, podcasts and social media. Opportunities to terrify us about drooling sexual predators prowling the streets had to be seized.

In weak-kneed disarray, the government asked the Opposition to write some legislation that might deal with this unexpected boat arrival, with High Court judges as the people smugglers, and of course it was happy to do so.

The new laws gave the Immigration Minister the power to require these 148 refugees to wear monitoring devices on their ankles and be under house arrest at home between 10pm and 10am every day, which the minister, Andrew Giles, immediately required all of them to do (none of the rest of society’s miscreants, just them).

He apparently thinks this is not punishment as defined by the Constitution and therefore the exclusive province of the courts, but the High Court will soon set him straight about that. Or perhaps he knows it’s unconstitutional, but didn’t care – he just needed to get through the day.

A frisson of scandal rippled through the gallery after Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus got his dander up when asked by a journalist to apologise.

mark dreyfus

Mark Dreyfus apologised after his outburst at a media briefing. Photos: AAP

Caught napping?

“That question is an absurd question,” he responded. “You are asking a cabinet minister, three ministers of the Crown, to apologise for upholding the law. Do not interrupt,” he added, pointing, for which he did apologise.

Perhaps the Attorney-General might have been asked to apologise for not being prepared for the High Court to rule that permanent incarceration by the Parliament is unconstitutional, and was caught napping. Just a thought.

Anyway, a second tranche of legislation is more likely to survive the High Court because it requires the minister to apply to state or territory Supreme Courts to again lock up the escapees if they might break the law, which is fine, although a little hard to understand why we need another law to lock up people who break the law.

But logic went out of the window on day one of this affair, as PTSD kicked in and headlines started appearing – like this effort from The West Australian:

The sex monster in question had caused a catastrophic failure by allegedly touching someone inappropriately and has rightly been charged (but is not yet convicted, so he remains an alleged monster). Four others have allegedly misbehaved in less egregious ways and will also face the judicial system again.

Meanwhile the remaining, uncharged, non-monstrous 143 escapees are ankle-braceleted and curfewed, afraid to venture out for fear of being seized by angry mobs because of the tell-tale lump under their pants at the ankles, indicating that they are sex monsters.

This wretched episode was a soup with three ingredients: An opportunistic Opposition making the most of an unexpected windfall, a media in decline trying to frighten those now watching Netflix and TikTok into watching and listening to them instead, and a government jumpy from the effects of PTSD.

Scars of past traumas

The government is similarly jumpy about tax and climate change.

The stage three tax cuts, designed by the Coalition to reward its donors, has weirdly become Labor policy, and the tax changes to improve housing affordability that Labor took to two elections (and are obviously a good and popular idea) are now out of the question.

Halving the capital gains tax discount from 50 to 25 per cent and confining negative gearing to new dwellings was a policy that almost resulted in Bill Shorten turning the Coalition into a one-term government in 2016, an unheard-of feat. When a dividend-franking crackdown was added in 2019, and Labor lost more convincingly, the party was traumatised, and pledged never to do anything like that ever again.

That added to the climate change trauma that resulted from the relentless campaigning of Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin against Julia Gillard’s emissions trading scheme, calling it a carbon tax when they knew it wasn’t.

Labor seems to blame this for losing in 2013, when it was more likely to be the fact that it kept sacking leaders.

So to ensure that there is nothing resembling a carbon tax, big emitters are entirely responsible for Australia’s emissions reduction project, and they are encouraged to use cheap offsets to do it, rather than actually reduce them.

Three-time losers

So, on three of the most important matters before the nation, Labor is frozen, traumatised by past ordeals.

Therapy is needed to confront their fears. Happily Dr Keating is available, and gave a preview of the treatment he would give the modern ALP in an interview in The Australian on Saturday:

“I’m hoping the current Labor government can see the value of the Waimea wave,” Paul Keating told Troy Bramston.

“You know, riding on the front of the board … the crowd know when you are giving them value, even if they don’t understand all the issues, even if they don’t agree with all the issues, they know you’re giving them value.

“And I used to always say to Bob [Hawke], we’ve got to burn the political capital.”

Alan Kohler writes twice a week for The New Daily. He is finance presenter on the ABC News and also writes for Intelligent Investor

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