Monday, September 10, 2012

Will they volunteer to help collect the bodies?

Q+A yesterday had TVNZ's least impressive interviewer trying to skewer the government's least impressive minister. It was painful to watch.

Okay, perhaps that's a little harsh. I've seen Greg Boyed conduct workmanlike interviews in the past and immigration minister Nathan Guy may simply need a bit more media time to polish his skills. But if the purpose of a current affairs interview is to elicit useful information and illuminate issues, this one missed the boat - which is not an entirely inappropriate metaphor, since the subject under discussion was a government bill aimed at deterring boat people from arriving en masse in New Zealand seeking asylum.

The primary fault lay with Boyed, who seemed bent on finding out how many different ways he could ask the same question, namely: if no boatloads of asylum-seekers have arrived here before, why bother passing legislation that threatens them with detention if they do happen to turn up?

The answer should have been relatively simple. It's a pre-emptive move. New Zealand hasn't had to deal with boat people in the past and we don't want to now. The government also needs a process for dealing with them if they do arrive.

The obvious reason why boat people haven't set out for New Zealand is that Australia is much closer for them (and also much harder to miss if the crew's navigational skills aren't too flash). But the Gillard government, having completely cocked up its policy on asylum-seekers, recently executed a humiliating U-turn and reverted to the much tougher stance of the former Howard government, which insisted that boat people be sent to detention centres outside Australia. That policy flip-flop greatly increases the likelihood that asylum-seekers and the unscrupulous people smugglers who profit from their plight will now turn their attention to New Zealand.

That all seems fairly straightforward, but Boyed and Guy went round and round in circles for what the clock told me was 13 minutes but seemed infinitely longer.

It wasn't helped by the beetle-browed Boyed's over-excited questioning. He needs to understand that the purpose of an interview is not to claim a scalp or make a politician look like a dork, but to leave viewers with a better understanding of an issue. He should also learn to quit when the line of questioning leads nowhere.

As for Guy ... well, he's either had too much of the wrong type of media training or needs more of the right type. The most polite way I can put it is that he didn't come across as the sharpest knife in the government's drawer. They were halfway through the interview before Guy got around to making the point (which I would have thought pretty crucial) that the Australian policy change will inevitably make New Zealand a more attractive option for asylum seekers - that is, unless the government acts. 

Guy could have gone further and pointed out that asylum-seekers are queue-jumpers, using money to gain  an advantage over the tens of thousands of people languishing in refugee camps and patiently waiting for the UN repatriation process to take its course. For some reason he chose not to.

He could have gone further still and pointed out that discouraging people from risking their lives in unseaworthy boats is a humanitarian act, given that hundreds have drowned trying to get to Australia since the Labor government in Canberra relaxed the previously strict attitude toward illegal immigrants. This is a point lost on the New Zealand show business figures who currently feature in a hand-wringing YouTube campaign against the government's bill.

Guy could also have said that it's the fundamental sovereign right of any country to decide who comes in and under what circumstances. While it can be argued that the government should accept more than the current quota of 750 asylum-seekers a year, a carte-blanche policy - such as the YouTube campaigners seem to favour - could be disastrous. I wonder, would they volunteer to help collect the bodies when they start washing ashore on Ninety Mile Beach?


1 comment:

M said...

Actually I would say it could be argued that we should be accepting zero asylum seekers. This country can barely afford to support its own. That goes for foreign aid, unless it is tightly linked to birth control.