Changes to immigration and refugee policy always have been the last refuge of the scoundrel or the bigot. Rarely are such changes anything but reactionary, designed to engineer a bump in the polls and "send a signal" (i.e dog whistle) to a specific portion of the electorate.
And so it is the case with Malcolm Turnbull's latest policy "leak" announcing a tightening of Australia's citizenship process.
It's been observed before, but this arguably marks the complete disappearance of the leather-jacketed Turnbull beloved by most Australians of the centre...and many Labor supporters. The erudite classical liberal Turnbull has been subsumed by an ugly combination of John Howard and Tony Abbott in a better suit. Like Darth Vader, "he's more [Liberal Party] machine now than man. Twisted and evil."
But he has a problem. The people he is trying to appeal to, the folks who think that hearing a foreign language on the street is tantamount to an "invasion", simply don't trust him. Even with all of his lurches to the right, they still ultimately view Turnbull as a latte-swilling inner-city leftie. Besides, these people get their jollies from people like Hanson, and even if he wore a tiny moustache, red and black armband and brown tunic, Turnbull could never satisfy their needs.
Turnbull's greatest weapon could have been his wide appeal — that frightened Labor silly when he won the leadership — but this has now been all but scuppered, and is entirely of his own making.
Rudd found himself in a similar position before the 2013 election. Seeking to close down refugee policy as an election issue, he tried to outflank the right by announcing no refugees who arrived by boat would be resettled in Australia. It's doubtful he gained even a single vote by being a part of the "lurch to the right" on immigration policy he had previously argued strongly against. He sold out his principles and, perhaps unsurprisingly, voters didn't think more of him. All it allowed was the then-opposition and next government to wave inhumane policy through without debate and without an effective opposition. And didn't it just work out so well for Rudd and Labor in 2013...
Is there anyone who seriously thinks gaining Australian citizenship is easy? Well, yes, otherwise Turnbull wouldn't be embarking on this course. But like those who think citizenship comes in a cereal box are informed by A Current Affair. They're told how dem imgrints get more than poor old granny from Centrelink, with none of their beliefs actually supported by evidence. So basically we have policy, in conjunction with the 457 visa announcement, that exists not to address serious issues, but designed solely to manage the incorrect and often xenophobic beliefs of a few. So much for leadership.
Changes to immigration and refugee policy always have been the last refuge of the scoundrel or the bigot. Voters now have to decide which one Turnbull is.