Put A Leash On Dog-Whistling Tony Abbott
While Bill Shorten has become famous for mangling his witty one-liners, we should be paying more attention to Tony Abbott's more troubling off-hand statements.
We've all experienced a Freudian slip over the years, blurting the wrong thing that we were thinking instead of the right thing we were supposed to say.
Or in the case of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, mis-speaking a corny slogan or Dad joke that was meant to be at the expense of the government.
Tapping into our prejudices
But our Prime Minister Tony Abbott has a habit of delivering an altogether different category of one-liners: those that superficially look like a stumble but which speak to – and reinforce – the less than generous thoughts that lurk in the shadowy corners of our souls.
"Too soft on boat people"
For example, the vast majority of Australians still believe our government's treatment of asylum seekers is warranted.
Last week's Essential Poll found more than a quarter of respondents thought the government was being "too soft" on boat people, while only a third of those surveyed believed these asylum seekers are genuinely fleeing persecution.
Our PM does not consider himself in the business of disabusing that perception, and has at times refused to express any sympathy for boat people who risk their lives to escape by boat.
"I suppose we must grieve"
Just today, in response to the loss at sea of around 900 asylum seekers travelling from Libya to Italy, Abbott could only muster a few words for those who have presumably drowned:
"I suppose we must grieve for the lost…."
This prime ministerial callousness extends to the men, women and children held in offshore detention as a deterrent to other prospective boat people.
When a government inquiry into allegations of abuse in the Nauru detention centre found that sexual and other abuse had indeed occurred, our PM said "occasionally, I dare say, things happen," because "in any institution you get things that, occasionally, aren't perfect."
This is code for "if you get on the boat, you suffer the consequences".
"Guilt? None whatsoever"
A separate inquiry by the Human Rights Commission reported hundreds of assaults had been made against children in immigration detention between January 2013 and March 2014, and 128 teenagers had harmed themselves over the same period.
When asked on radio whether he felt any guilt over the treatment of children in immigration detention, our PM said "None whatsoever".
True leaders inspire hope not fear
Our PM makes these statements, not by accident, but deliberately because he knows he is tapping into an anxiousness about "foreigners" and a prejudice about some ethnicities that runs deep in parts of the Australian community.
He does so in the hope that we will turn to him as our protector.
But a true leader inspires hope in his community, not fear. Tony Abbott's dog-whistling should be exposed for what it is - a desperate ploy to shore up his leadership using asylum seekers as the bait.