The political right prides itself on its tough, no-nonsense approach to border security and crime. Sentimentality is occasionally permitted on Anzac Day or when a royal octogenarian gets the hiccups. But the right’s champions assure us that empathy and compassion can have no place in the vital politics of national security and criminal justice.
A recent case in the Queensland city of Mackay, however, has cracked open this stony veneer, and touched the hearts of two of the most notorious right wing warriors in the country, George Christensen and Bob Katter. This is the case of elderly US immigrant Patton Eidson.
Eidson’s not your typical sob story. His is a salacious tale of crime and intrigue. Arrested in California and levied with a $2 million debt for supposed drug profits (while his associates faced charges of conspiracy to smuggle cannabis from Thailand), Eidson, using the pseudonym Mike McGoldrick, fled to Queensland in 1989 with a false passport and a false birth certificate. He and his family have since invested their substantial wealth into resorts and restaurants.
On 3 May Eidson’s home was raided by 15 Border Force agents and he was taken into detention. He now faces deportation.
Some might fault Eidson for arriving through improper channels, failing to have presented the right documentation and, in the case of debt evasion, migrating for pernicious economic reasons rather than any well-founded fear of persecution. A murky history of criminality and narcotics might also be grounds for concern.
But this is where Christensen and Katter step in to remind us that we are all in fact part of a universal siblinghood, to judge not lest we be judged and to take pity on those who’ve faced circumstances that we perhaps do not fully understand.
“The horrible insensitivity of what has occurred here is appalling”, Katter said. Calling the detention of this “well-loved, popular, respectable citizen” “sickening”, Katter has written letters to the Immigration Department, shared a change.org petition on Facebook and even gone so far as to accuse the government of “terroris[ing]” Mr Eidson as it moves to deport him.
Christensen has been melancholy, and though resigned to Eidson’s fate, has criticised the government for putting “an old man” in such a situation.
This is a staggering about-face for two figures known mostly for their tendency to sneer at sensitivities about human rights and thump tables at the mere mention of foreigners’ mistreatment.
In reality, it reflects no change of heart at all. Christensen and Katter are racist, sociopathic hypocrites, whose only modus operandi is a bigoted political style aimed at winning rich constituents.
When it comes to real atrocities, they have nothing to say, or are themselves complicit. They are staunch backers of government refugee policies that systematically terrorise refugees in island gulags, abuse and wrench them away from families and result in awful trauma after perilous journeys in search of safety. That Eidson has wealth and puts some of it into Queensland is what matters to Christensen and Katter, nothing more.
This selective empathy is in the nature of right wing politicians. When Bronwyn Bishop resigned after stealing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, Christopher Pyne condemned the public ire she drew as akin to the Salem witch trials. Plenty of Liberal politicians and conservative media commentators still bemoan Tony Abbott’s hapless rejection by the Australian public as one of the great injustices of our time.
It is all a reminder that the people in power have endless tolerance and compassion for one another. For the rest of us, none.