swinging dead cats and the narrative of refugees

Let’s talk about the dead cats that Peter Dutton has been swinging; a form of politics that we as Australians should understand, because it’s how this election will go down.

Also remember you have until 8pm/2000 TODAY, Monday 23 May, to be enrolled or you can’t vote this election! Not sure if this is AEST or AWST, but WHY WAIT?! AEC Website now please and thank you. Then come back here for dead cat swinging.

To swing a dead cat is defined thus, in this Guardian article about the recent London Mayoral race:

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.

This is how Dutton is trying to control the narrative. A few weeks ago his PR team made a big deal about pulling down that photo. We all know that photo, now; how much time have we devoted to that photo and his ridiculousness when we should have been talking about Nauru, about Hodan, about asylum seekers self-immolating?

Last week’s dead cat was that illiterate, “innumerate” refugees would come to Australia and take all our jobs (and get on the dole). How many words have we spent making fun of his use of innumerate (he was trying to say “uncountable hordes”, not “hordes who can’t count”); of the idea that one can both take all jobs and also be on the dole?

Peter Dutton throws a “dead cat”

Pauline Hanson did it all the time in the ’90s, outrageous statements that we focus on instead of talking about the actual things we need to be talking about. Children Overboard was a classic example of the dead cat.

That we constantly focus on the dead cat instead of the issue is a huge problem, and we need to not be distracted even as we delight in it.

Excellent comedian and human, Sami Shah, posted this below twitter as an IMAGE so we’re quoting it instead of embedding it, sorry:

…$912 million on offshore detention, which is over $400,000 per person annually. That’s for 1580 men, women and children. $55 million to Cambodia for 4 settlements. 4. Oh, and it costs $700 million to settle Syrian refugees on the mainland, which Australia committed to doing in December. Only 26 have been have been settled so far. This is what Labour and the Greens should be saying, but they aren’t.

The People who think refugees take jobs while magically also being on the dole, thought so before Dutton, and think so still. Those who know better, still do. His odious prattling has given the Liberals more free coverage then they could have dreamed off, while confirming to anti-refugee voters (the majority of Australia) that their side is the victim somehow. This is how the Right wins every time. Don’t let them control the direction of the debate. Grow up and learn to fight the battle better. This is high school debate tactics.

Indeed, #auspol blogger Andrew Elder argues that the whole strategy behind Dutton’s comments — if there was one, which he isn’t certain about — is to distract the left, to keep us feeling superior to the people who we think fall for this kind of xenophobic strategy, thus alienating them. (He also points out that Crosby Textor are about as good at winning elections as Pauline Hanson, ie, not very.)

Further reading on this tactic in this election year: Any election involving Crosby Textor will include dead cats, and we’ve just been thrown one

Beyond this political cat throwing, there’s been another element to this very specific action: to engage with this by talking about how skilled refugees are, how hard we’ve worked and how many degrees we’ve achieved, et cetera, we’re creating a dangerous rhetoric around the narrative of deserving refugees.

Engaging with Dutton’s rhetoric is a slippery slope:

By making the only acceptable image of an asylum seeker one that becomes a doctor or a lawyer or any other role with a substantive service to the very society that oppresses them, we have created a cruel and superficial metric for freedom.

This doesn’t hold up alongside the reality of many refugee backgrounds. A lack of education, ability or health should not be a source of shame for any population, let alone people we knowingly and continuously subject to physical, sexual and emotional trauma, alongside medical neglect.

This is a different sort of problem, obviously, but it’s something we should keep in mind nonetheless.

Meanwhile, First Dog on the Moon has identified the real source of the problem: BIRBS.