"There is nothing humane about a voyage across dangerous seas with the ever-present risk of death in leaky boats captained by people-smugglers," Gillard explained -- which is what conservatives argued during the Howard years.
Gillard went so far in copying Howard's "Pacific solution" that she proposed setting up processing centers, albeit centers run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, outside of Australia -- in East Timor.
Big problem: She forgot to clear the plan with East Timor first. Thus the new plan -- notable for its lack of planning -- smells like a shoddy stunt. If she had been serious, critics note, she would have laid the groundwork for her proposal with the host country.
Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott dismissed Gillard's proposal as "a pre-election political fix." He told The Australian newspaper, "I do not believe that a re-elected Gillard government will go ahead and build a processing center in East Timor."
East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta seems to agree. Or as he said of Gillard's scheme, "What plan?"
If in charge, Abbott says that he would turn back the boats. He also advocates refusing asylum to applicants who have destroyed their documentation to discourage them from faking refugee status.
It's always fascinating to watch the same disputes that divide America as they play out in other lands. Australia has its own idiosyncratic geographic issues, but it shared the American left's conceit that conservative immigration policy was mean, while the left's immigration agenda was humane.
That's where the Obama administration is. Rudd was stuck in that gear, too. Under Gillard, the same Australian Labor Party that argued that the right's policies were inhumane bowed to politics and chose to co-opt Howard's Pacific solution. It must be frustrating for Aussie conservatives to watch the Labor prime minister embrace the humanity of their reasonable positions in her own slipshod fashion. It also is frustrating to watch Obama refuse to understand why Americans, like citizens of any affluent country, want border security.