Illustration: Michael Mucci
Poor Tony Burke. I don't mean the Immigration Minister, although obviously he has plenty of problems. I mean the other Tony Burke, the unassuming and completely innocent 35-year-old British project director who has the misfortune of sharing a name with the Immigration Minister, and has his own Twitter account in that name.
The Real Tony Burke, as I like to think of him, has a Twitter handle that differentiates him from the Labor minister in charge of the dubious Papua New Guinea ''solution''. It identifies him as a project director and gamer, a sports nut and Liverpool fan.
Rudd has adopted his own slogan of 'Stop the slogans'.
But that is not cover enough for some of the lunatics and knuckleheads on Twitter.
The abuse began when the Other Tony Burke became Environment Minister.
''I was watching the news one night and the other Tony Burke was on about the Murray Darling development [sic],'' the Real Tony explained to me.
''That night it kicked off, with people sending me lots of angry tweets ranging from 'I've sold the Murray to the corporations … ' to 'your policies are stupid/you don't have a clue' etc.''
Real Tony has been called an idiot, a posh tw*t, ''plus several very nasty things that I reported to Twitter so I didn't get further abuse from those people''.
Sometimes Real Tony toys with his critics.
''The World Wildlife Fund also questioned how I would protect the Great Barrier Reef from dredging and megaports. I suggested martial arts training and shotguns for fish,'' he told me.
Since the Other Tony Burke was appointed as Immigration Minister last month, things have become even worse for Real Tony.
Some sample abuse: ''Oh bugger off Tony and go learn your mug sheet for tomorrow'', and ''We get it all right. Same old, same old … And I know … It's @TonyAbbottMHR's fault. Now will you bugger off'' or ''legal guardian of unaccompanied children in Australia, sending children to #PNG = NOT A GUARDIAN''.
The Immigration Minister tweeted an apology to the Real Tony, noting: ''At least you know it's not about you. I can't say the same!''
The asylum seeker debate has officially become so stupid that it may as well be a Twitter flame war.
Despite growing public pressure for both major parties to come together and negotiate a solution, or at least a unified bipartisan stance that stands a chance of deterring asylum seekers, the politicians' attacks on each other have become ever more partisan and increasingly idiotic. It's not as if there is an Israel-Palestine-sized divide between the major parties. The bad punchline underlying this whole horror show is that Labor and the Coalition have pretty much the same ''border protection'' policy.
Both advocate offshore processing, and both wish to deny boat people the prospect of permanent residency in Australia - the government by promising to resettle all comers in PNG, and the Coalition with its temporary protection visas.
The only substantial difference is that the Coalition promises to turn back the boats ''where it's safe to do so''.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ridicules this as a slogan, and has adopted his own slogan of ''Stop the slogans''.
The Coalition says the problem with the government's resettlement agreement with PNG is that it is ''policy on the run'', meanwhile it emerged that the Coalition's Operation Sovereign Borders, announced hurriedly last week in response to Labor's PNG plan, was not put through shadow cabinet.
On Monday we had a delightful to-and-fro about whether or not pregnant women and children would suffer detrimental health effects if they took the malaria medication they would need to live safely on Manus Island (a story broken by Fairfax colleague Bianca Hall). Minister Burke said he would send 'em anyway, as soon as facilities were ready for ''family groups''.
The opposition snarked that Nauru, a ''pleasant island'', according to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, was a superior processing venue. It would set up a tent city for 2000 boat people there.
To prove the point, Tuesday saw the opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison zipping off on a flight to Nauru, which was paid for by Toll Holdings, a logistics company that has $26 million-worth of contracts with the Immigration Department, and stands to make similar money out of a future Coalition government.
This story was broken by Fairfax colleague Jonathan Swan. When questioned about it by ABC's Fran Kelly on Wednesday, Morrison responded that the flight represented nothing untoward, and was declared ''on my Register of Interest''.
It wasn't at that point, actually.
It appeared on the Register of Members' Interests on Thursday, about half an hour after I inquired of Morrison's office where it was, although I don't say the two things are connected.
Kelly also pointed out that asylum seekers on the Coalition's temporary protection visas stood a good chance of being eventually re-settled in Australia (40 per cent of them were under John Howard's ''Pacific solution''). Morrison dismissed this with a ''Well, we can play speculative things on scenarios, Fran … '', which is particularly glorious from the opposition, seeing as its entire raison d'etre is based on the hypothetical that it will one day become a government.
Meanwhile, heads jerked back to the government as Minister Burke accused Morrison and Abbott of ''enjoying'' the asylum seeker problem. Morrison declared himself grossly offended by any such suggestion.
When tackled on the Coalition's plan to cut the number of refugees Australia takes under the Refugee and Humanitarian Intake program from 20,000 (currently) to the former number of 13,750, Morrison made really quite a wonderful claim.
''At the end of the day, when you've got less than 1 per cent of the world's refugees actually getting resettlement … moving that dial by four or five thousand either way is not going to make any real difference.''
Umm, except perhaps for the pretty enormous difference it makes to the four or five thousand persecuted people who take those extra places.
Meanwhile, Other Tony Burke criticised the Coalition's Nauru plan for naming the capacity cap for asylum seekers processed under the Coalition's hypothetical ''Nauru solution'' (2000 people). He said people smugglers would immediately look to swamp that capacity and the boats would keep coming.
If people smugglers hadn't noticed that for themselves, they certainly would now Burke had pointed it out to them.