09 September 2011

Metcalfe and the UK/French/Aussie riots -- a case of cui bono?

Did Immigration Department Head Andrew Metcalfe predict rivers of blood, or didn't he? He's not saying what he said. Whatever it was, he apparently said it twice: once on Wednesday morning to Canberra journalists, and again on Wednesday afternoon to Opposition leader Tony Abbott. With the exception of Abbott, the only people who have reported authoritatively on it seem to be people who weren't there, such as ABC journalist Jeremy Thompson or Crikey commentator Bernard Keane.

Personally I doubt very much that Mr Metcalfe would have said anything of the sort. Keane's second-hand scenario seems quite plausible: an answer to a question that was probably a bit clumsy and was misconstrued by the journos.

The point is, though, it doesn't matter now whether he said it or not. It has been taken up with as much gusto as the original "Rivers of Blood" speech by UK MP Enoch Powell in 1968. For the Daily Telegraph (a Powellesque rag if ever there was one), it became a prediction of rioting in the streets. The claim will inevitably come up again and again like the children overboard slander. And it's for that reason that the government should make a clear statement now that it does not believe that allowing asylum seekers to be processed onshore (which most of them are, anyway, since the majority come in by plane and no one notices them) will lead to rioting or UK-style looting (I thought that was caused by Senator Wong having a baby with her same-sex partner, according to the Tele?).

Otherwise, one would have to assume that the government is happy for these rumours to run wild. It doesn't want onshore processing either. That would be an example of dog-whistling surpassing even the best of the Howard era.

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