The shame goes way back. But Kevin Rudd has taken Australia lower than it has ever gone before. He had the relentless encouragement of Tony Abbott. But then beating up on boat people has always been a bipartisan business.
From the time that first boat arrived – the Kein Giang with five Vietnamese men on board – in April 1976, both sides of politics have made the same promise to the nation: to stop the boats, every single boat. There are too many coming now. Too many people are dying on the way. But we are not going to get anywhere while that toxic promise stays on the table.
It has licensed brutality towards boat people for nearly 40 years. When all this began, there was a constituency in this country for dealing decently with asylum seekers who came by sea. But the White Australia policy was barely cold in its grave. The fearful demanded fresh reassurance. So the decision was taken on both sides of politics to play to fear.
Food for thought.