It’s called the dead cat strategy. Here, according to Sam Delaney in the Guardian, is how Boris Johnson describes it:
“There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”
Dutton’s comment about refugees being illiterate and innumerate, stealing jobs and living on benefits is a classic example. He has put one of the government’s seeming strengths, the brutal treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and protecting Australia’s borders (so the rhetoric goes) front and centre of the campaign.
The Turnbull government is in trouble. The Labor Party’s focus on fairness, and Shorten’s win in the well hidden leaders’ forum, on Murdoch’s pay TV Sky News, and Labor’s drip, drip, drip release of programs like getting rid of the Turnbull government’s freeze on Medicare rebates have swung support behind Labor, and the Greens.
For example, after the first week of electioneering the Roy Morgan election poll had Labor at 52.5% on a two party preferred basis compared to the government on 47.5%.
So Dutton swings the dead cat. Suddenly all the talk is about his refugee comments and this may reinforce the Turnbull government in what it sees as one of its strengths. I say may because it doesn’t always work. David Cameron for example tried to swing the dead cat on terrorism at Muslim and Labor candidate Sadiq Khan in the election for mayor of London and it backfired. Khan won easily.
Dutton’s dead cat could do the same. There are many many refugees in Australia, and their children and grandchildren. There are maym many more immigrants and the children and grandchildren of immigrants who may also feel it is an attack on them and their forebears. Karl Stefanovic captured the disgust with Dutton’s comments when he explained his family’s hard working contribution to Australia as immigrants and called Dutton un-Australian.
The real question is will Dutton’s comments resonate with workers and see them vote for the open party of capital? It is possible, mainly because this fear of asylum seekers is built on other deeper insecurities and is fanned not just by the first eleven of capital but by the second eleven, the Labor Party.
The fear of the other is driven from the top and as Dutton’s comments make clear the idea is to intersect with the concerns of workers about jobs and inadequate social welfare spending.
The response of the left should be clear. It is not refugees or asylum seekers who sacked 4400 tax office workers. It is this government.
It is not refugees or asylum seekers who sacked or are sacking Queensland Nickel workers, or Arrium workers, or car plant workers. It is bosses.
It is not refugees or asylum seekers substituting part time for full time work. It is bosses.
It is not refugees or asylum seekers who are freezing the Medicare rebate, cutting billions from aged care, cutting family tax benefits, cutting health and education spending by a total of $80 billion and giving tax cuts to big business and those earning more than $180,000. It is this government.
The real enemy is Peter Dutton and all he represents, not asylum seekers and refugees.