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Issue #1709      November 4, 2015

Abbott’s rivers of blood

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott used his invitation to deliver the second annual Margaret Thatcher Lecture in London on October 27 to thump his own chest and tell European leaders to “turn the boats back”. “More than ever, Western countries need the self-confidence to stand up for ourselves and for the universal decencies of mankind lest the world rapidly become a much worse place,” Abbott tells European leaders. The speech was so rabidly racist and reactionary that many in his conservative audience were winching.

Tony Abbott at the Margaret Thatcher Lecture in London.

More than 700,000 refugees are estimated to have arrived by sea so far this year according to the International Organisation for Migration. Many others have come by land such as from Kosovo.

By far the largest number of people seeking asylum in the European Union are from Syria. Other major sources include Kosovo, Afghanistan, Albania, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya. Abbott attempted to play down the life-and-death circumstances they have fled, instead claiming they are economic migrants.

As would be expected, he also fails to acknowledge the US’s and Australia’s role in the wars that are behind the crisis. Instead Abbott recommends escalating the military presence of Western forces in Syria.


Naturally, Abbott sang the praises of the Iron Lady and her determination to bring about change. “The lesson of Margaret Thatcher’s life is that strong leaders can make a difference…” He even went as far as suggesting “there was at least a hint of Thatcher about my government in Australia”.

He continues, “… as Margaret Thatcher so clearly understood over the Falklands: those that won’t use decisive force, where needed, end up being dictated to by those who will.”

“It will require some force … it will gnaw at our consciences – yet it is the only way to prevent a tide of humanity surging through Europe and quite possibly changing it forever,” Abbott continued.

“We are rediscovering the hard way that justice tempered by mercy is an exacting ideal as too much mercy for some necessarily undermines justice for all,” he says, giving gratuitous advice to European leaders who are grappling with a crisis the likes of which Australia has never experienced.

“This means turning boats around, for people coming by sea. It means denying entry at the border, for people with no legal right to come; and it means establishing camps for people who currently have nowhere to go.”

Under the Refugee Convention to which Australia is a signatory, it is illegal to return a refugee to a place where “their life or liberty would be threatened.”

“Devout Catholic”

He turns to the Bible, or more accurately turns the Bible on its head. First he makes a reference to “the imperative to ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ ” as “at the heart of every Western polity … It’s what makes us decent and humane countries as well as prosperous ones, but – right now – this wholesome instinct is leading much of Europe into catastrophic error.”

Not surprisingly this brought a strong reaction from a number of Church leaders in Australia who were appalled, ashamed and offended by Abbott’s use of the Bible to try to justify his anti-immigration policy. Human Rights lawyer and Jesuit priest Frank Brennan cited Pope Francis’s first visit outside Rome to the Italian migrant island Lampedusa in 2013 when he called for a “reawakening of consciences”.

Enoch Powell

Abbott also made a reference to Enoch Powell, an extremely racist and reactionary former conservative MP who served in the government of Harold MacMillan and the shadow cabinet of Edward Heath.

Thatcher was an admirer of Powell: “He had a rare combination of qualities all founded on an unfaltering belief in God, an unshakeable loyalty to family and friends and an unswerving devotion to our country. He was magnetic. Listening to his speeches was an unforgettable privilege. He was one of those rare people who made a difference.”

Powell became notorious for what is referred to as the “Rivers of Blood” speech delivered in 1968. In it he not only opposed immigration but proposed the mass repatriation of all non-white people from Britain. The uproar was so great Heath had to sack him from his shadow ministry and he left the Conservative Party.

There are strong parallels with a great deal of what is implied by Abbott’s speech and policies and what Powell put forward in the 1960s and ‘70s.

“The nation has been, and is still being, eroded and hollowed out from within by the implantation of large unassimilated and unassimiliable populations – what Lord Radcliffe once in a memorable phrase called ‘alien wedges’ – in the heartland of the state … ,” Powell said in a speech given in Southampton, April 9, 1976.

Like Abbott, Powell opposed multiculturalism.

White superiority

“We are told that the economic achievement of the Western countries has been at the expense of the rest of the world and has impoverished them, so that what are called the ‘developed’ countries owe a duty to hand over tax-produced ‘aid’ to the governments of the undeveloped countries. It is nonsense – manifest, arrant nonsense; but it is nonsense with which the people of the Western countries, clergy and laity, but clergy especially – have been so deluged and saturated that in the end they feel ashamed of what the brains and energy of Western mankind have done, and sink on their knees to apologise for being civilised and ask to be insulted and humiliated,” Powell said in an election speech in 1970.

“Naturally, the safety and prosperity that exists almost uniquely in Western countries is an irresistible magnet. These blessings are not the accidents of history but the product of values painstakingly discerned and refined, and of practices carefully cultivated and reinforced over hundreds of years,” says Abbott 45 years on.

Abbott refers to “the notion of civilisation”, and “the heritage she’d (Thatcher) been elected to preserve and strengthen.

“She believed in Britain – in its history, in its institutions and in its values – and, by acting on her beliefs, she helped others to believe as well.”

The message is clear – accepting asylum seekers poses a threat to those values, to Western civilisation and that white heritage.

“Stop the boats” deception

Abbott again stretches the truth by asserting that the people fleeing in boats are just seeking to live in a country more prosperous than their own.

He also describes asylum seekers fleeing for their lives as illegal which under the Refugee Convention is not true. He inflates the rate of “illegal” arrivals claiming they were “running at the rate of 50,000 a year – and rising.” The highest figure was around 20,500 – less than a single week for the number reaching Europe’s external borders.

Abbott boasts how the numbers were reduced under the Howard and Abbott governments to the point where the “immigration detention centres have-all-but-closed … That’s why stopping the boats and restoring border security is the only truly compassionate thing to do.” All but closed?!

According to Australian Human Rights Commission figures, 2,013 people are being held in immigration detention centres, including 127 children. Abbott omits to mention the appalling, inhumane nature of conditions where they are being held or the attempted suicides, self-harm, rapes and other incidents (see “Damning evidence – Australian officials’ involvement in transnational crime” this issue).

Getting things done

“On Soviet missiles aimed at Europe, she didn’t see nuclear annihilation to be averted at all cost but an evil empire to be shown that aggression would not pay,” Abbott said, misrepresenting the crucial role the Soviet Union played in striving for peace.

“On council houses, she did not see a government service but a neglected asset that would better be looked after by owner-occupiers taking pride in their own homes.

“She didn’t see unions protecting workers so much as bullying their employers into bankruptcy. She didn’t see state-owned enterprises as ‘national champions’ so much as an endless burden on taxpayers,” Abbott said.

With Thatcher he said, “it was about getting things done. It wasn’t about achieving consensus; it was about doing the right thing.”

“Today, we best honour her life and legacy by bringing the same tough-mindedness to the problems of our time that she brought to the problems of hers.”

“Her focus – were she still with us – would be the things of most consequence: managing the nation changing, culture-shifting population transfers now impacting on Europe …” The neo-fascist Enoch Powell couldn’t have made it clearer.

Next article – The legal noose tightens

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