An article by a reality TV contestant, turned opinionated columnist has provoked outrage in Britain.
Writing in The Sun, Katie Hopkins takes aim at the migrants taking boats from Africa to Europe, and those who die trying.
They are, she writes, “a plague of feral humans…cockroaches … built to survive a nuclear bomb”.
If they drown, she writes, she does not care. “Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water … I still don’t care”.
So far, so shock-jock. Katie Hopkins makes a career out of being provocative and extreme.
It is what comes next that should really make those in my part of the world sit up and take notice – because the hatred Hopkins has for migrants is matched only by the admiration she has for Australians, one in particular: Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Australia’s approach to migrant boats, she writes, is different from Europe’s.
“They threaten them with violence until they bugger off, throwing cans of Castlemaine in an Aussie version of sharia stoning”.
In Hopkins’ eyes, it is working. “Migrant boats have halved in number since Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott got tough”.
Let’s start with what Hopkins gets right.
Defined narrowly as “stopping the boats” – Abbott’s policies have worked.
In fact, they have worked better than Hopkins suggests.
All but stopped
Migrant boats have not “halved”; they have all but stopped.
Not one boat has successfully arrived in Australia this year, nor the last. In 2012 and 2013 – before Abbott’s policies were introduced – two or three would often arrive in a day.
You could take issue with nuance.
Yes the Australians use warships to turn boats around, but the government would dispute that that amounts to “threatening them with violence” – although there have been accusations.
“Turning back boats” is not policy in isolation.
Arguably more significant has been transferring those who have arrived to squalid camps in far-away countries, with the guarantee that even genuine refugees among them will never be settled in Australia.
And, however unpleasant some might say his policies are, Abbott would not label those trying to come to Australia as “cockroaches”.
But Hopkins is right that Abbott’s policies have worked for Australia.
Refugees who might otherwise have got on boats may well be suffering in other countries, of course.
They may be dying on other escape routes too (in the Mediterranean even) but they are not getting on boats – nor drowning – near Australian shores.
Whether the same policies could work in Europe is another question entirely.
The numbers of migrants trying to get there are far larger; the European Union – a collective of decision makers and jurisdictions – is the destination, not one country.
And then there is what Hopkins gets very wrong.
Australia’s policies, she says, are because Australians are unsentimental, they have “tiny hearts”.
Australians do not have tiny hearts. Where the boat policies are hard-hearted, and – say some – cruel, they are the exception to the rule. Australians are mostly generous, and kind.
The worry for Australians is its changing reputation; from a country of sunshine and smiles to one of sneers and snarls.
Australia is being tainted by association. It is not a good look.