Bob Carr is a dinosaur feeding the hungry beast of racism in this country. An ineffectual foreign minister who opened his mouth before taking proper counsel, he now seeks to fuel the obsession of the major Australian political parties with kicking already persecuted and downtrodden people.
Quoted as saying to Right faction colleagues in the ALP, ''if you want to embrace the Greens-Left-Fairfax-ABC position, you are going to go backwards at the next election'', Carr is reinforcing a position on asylum seekers that can't be allowed to persist in a country that aspires to call itself humane and compassionate.
Sadly, Carr is far from alone.
The race to the moral bottom on refugee and asylum seeker policy already reached perverse proportions during the election campaign. It has gotten worse since, under a government that refuses to provide current and basic information about boat arrivals or the numbers and ages of people held in offshore detention centres, and whose entire message is about fear and isolationism.
Now we are bribing developing countries to take all boat arrivals, talking about turning back boats, employing ridiculous mantras such as ''Operation Sovereign Borders'' and appointing Deputy Chief of Army Angus Campbell to repel the apparently grave threat posed by asylum seekers.
Are these impoverished, desperate people in flimsy boats such an alarming enemy? Do they challenge our sovereignty? Do they threaten our borders? Do we need to employ our armed forces to repel them? The fact is they are not an enemy at all; they are human beings in need of help. Prime Minister Tony Abbott's policy should be renamed ''Operation No Humanity''.
Just look at the contrasting response of Europe to the drowning of hundreds of African asylum seekers on their way to the Italian isle of Lampedusa - tens of millions of euros to assist in rescue operations, calls for unity of action, but most significantly compassion for those lost at sea. In Australia, it seems compassion has been completely drained from the discussion about asylum seekers. Apart from the perfunctory - and completely disingenuous - expressions of sorrow for the dead, ALP and Coalition politicians are falling over themselves to talk tough about boat arrivals.
Since when has it been the role of our political leaders to play to base fear and hatred, to racism and meanness for nothing more than political gain and point-scoring? Very few voices - of people such as Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young - speak compassionately about the plight of people who flee persecution, conflict, and social and economic devastation.
Much has been said about the reasons why people make the dangerous boat trip to seek asylum in Australia. Perhaps the most spiteful and foolish comments came from Carr and Kevin Rudd when they said that the majority of asylum seekers were not genuine refugees - they were not avoiding persecution, but rather seeking improved economic circumstances. Rudd was quoted as saying that only ''some'' asylum seekers were real refugees. Forget that 90 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive by boat are found to be genuine refugees.
Successive government policies have been directed to the political perception that the vast majority of Australians want the boats turned away; they pander to the thick vein of isolationism and racism that runs deep in this island nation.
What is missing from political dialogue in Australia is a serious discussion about what it means to be a compassionate society and to be part of the world. What if, instead of playing the fear and racism card, a major political party stood instead for compassion and decency? I wonder whether this wouldn't strike a chord with other strong threads of Australia's cultural identity - like the idea of a fair go, of helping out those in need. The fact is that we take a very small number of refugees compared with many other nations, and for a country of our size and wealth an infinitesimally small number. There is just over one refugee in Australia for every 1000 people. While in 2009, 8427 people sought asylum in Australia, 45,197 did so in Britain. The fact is we have greater capacity - geographically and financially, but also in our hearts.
Our leaders have shown thus far they are hollow men. They stand for nothing other than getting into power or staying in power. They have abandoned all moral direction on this issue. The message they send cheapens all of us, and it makes this country so much worse a place in which to live. It makes us look mean, not compassionate; racist, not tolerant.
I don't want to live in a country whose leaders stand for nothing; who play to racism, inwardness and self-interest. I want to live in a country that wants a place in the world, that takes some responsibility as an international citizen, that shows compassion and a commitment to helping those who are so desperate that they would risk their lives and the lives of their children to come here in the most dangerous of ways. Do our politicians really think people do this because they want to earn a few more dollars or have a cushier life? Shame on them.
Gideon Boas is associate professor at the Monash University law faculty and a barrister.