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Chickens coming home to roost

March 26th, 2006

The Howard government’s past misdeeds, most of which seemed at the time to be consequence-free, are catching up with it. The AWB scandal is an obvious example, with the important observation that the “Children Overboard” episode ensured that no-one (other than those wanting to be duped, unfortunately a large group) believed the government’s initial denials of knowing anything about the whole business.

Perhaps more serious, in terms of its consequences for Australia’s national interests is the dispute with Indonesia over the granting of temporary protection visas to 42 Papuan “illegals” (the term popularised by former Immigration Minister and current Attorney-General Phllip Ruddock.

Under the international law that prevailed in the past, these people would have been asylum seekers, with a wide range of legal rights.[1] If their cases had proved successful, the government could reasonably claim to be bound by treaty obligations. Now however, “we will decide who comes here and under what circumstances”. People fleeing Saddam Hussein and the war in Afghanistan have been pushed back to sea, to take their chances, or subjected to close and critical scrutiny, in a process with the presumptions all stacked against them.

So, assuming a consistent process is taking place, the decision to grant visas to the Papuans amounts to a judgement that the Indonesian government is far worse than Saddam or the Taliban, so much so that their illegal arrival can be disregarded. Not surprisingly, the Indonesians are not taking this at all well.

The best thing the government could do for Australia is to admit that its actions in 2001 were a desperate and cruel, but successful, political manoeuvre, aimed at winning votes from a panicked electorate, and that nothing it said or did at the time should be regarded as part of our true policy. Almost certainly, that is the message being conveyed privately to the Indonesians, but what’s needed is some sort of public apology, and this is not a government that’s good at saying “Sorry”.

fn1. The process of stripping back these rights was started by Labor, but extended massively by Ruddock and Howard.

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  1. Hal9000
    March 26th, 2006 at 23:28 | #1

    Isn’t it the case that because the Papuan 42 actually made it to the mainland they get a slightly improved standard of treatment than the asylum seekers picked up at sea or on the offshore islands, which are for asylum-seeking purposes (but for no other) deemed not to be a dinkum part of Australia? I ask not out of any desire to exculpate the egregious Howard and Co – merely to explore the Kafka-esque surreal world that is Australian immigration policy today.

  2. March 27th, 2006 at 01:20 | #2


    The best thing the government could do for Australia is to admit that its actions in 2001 were a desperate and cruel, but successful, political manoeuvre, aimed at winning votes from a panicked electorate,

    No. The Howard governments overall policy towards assylum seekers is best described as a “cruel-to-be-kind” form of “tough love”. Without its tougher border protection policy the credibility of Autralia’s alien (migrants and refugee) intake program would be threatened and hundreds more asylum seekers would have drowned.

    Howard’s tougher border protection policy was morally justified because it saved the lives of exploited people-smuggled persons. And the policy was wildly popular because it is in the best long term interests of Australia’s legal residents.

    The hoo-ha about “race election” was overblown. Tampa boarding/Children OverBoard did not win that many votes in 2001 – 911 was the big electoral turnaround. As Howard points out:


    “People voted for our tough border protection policy. They didn’t vote for us because of children overboard.”

    Howard concocted some “fake-but-true” stories about the of the actions of those responsible for scuttling SIEV-IV in order to accumlate some quick political capital in the lead-up to the election. Wikipedia presents neglected aspects of this story:

    The Senate inquiry did however find that passengers aboard a number of other SIEVs had threatened children, sabotaged their vessels, committed self-harm, and in the case of SIEV-7 on 22 October, it is alleged that a child had actually been thrown overboard, but was subsequently rescued by another asylum seeker.

    In self-justification, Howard argues that:

    the refugees he falsely accused of throwing their children in the sea deserve no personal apology because they did the next worst thing – “they irresponsibly sank the damn boat, which put their children in the water”.

    It is rich for Wets to complain of “dog whistles” and “race cards” played around election time. Political correctness and identity politics are played all year round – with much more evil consequences for the body politic.

    The aim of Howard’s “border protection” policy was to deter people smugglers, not assylum seekers – who were accepted so long as they came through the correct channels. (One can argue about the efficacy of existing procedures at point of exit from from places where assylum seekers live in fear of persecution.)

    People smuggling is a criminal activity which the Howard government wanted to stop irrespective of political considerations. As Mick Phelan, head of the AFP, said:

    “We are determined to bring those responsible for people-smuggling offences to justice no matter how long it takes,” he said.

    “Those people who facilitate [them] show total disrespect and disregard for the welfare of vulnerable human beings.”

    Over the past decade the unregulated trade caused the needless drowning of many people every year. In 2000 scores of people drowned in the Indian Ocean every year:

    increased smuggling of Iraqi refugees from Indonesia, headed for Australia. The boats carrying these refugees often sink, and many refugees have drowned.

    And nary a voice raised by “the liberal media” about this ongoing tragedy until the opportunity for Howard-hating arose.

    People smuggling also degrades the efficiency of the governments alien intake program. Many assylum seekers were “secondary movers” who were shopping for a favourable jurisdiction.

    Adrienne Millbank, in the latest issue of People and Place, from Monash University, writes: “Most of the Tampa boat people were what is termed ‘secondary movers’ … They had moved long distances … across and through countries with little interest in persecuting them, in order to settle in an affluent and stable Western country [and] had often destroyed their identity and travel documents …”

    Previous governments either did nothing much to stop this or were ineffective, or allowed overlawyering lobbyists to make an end run by clogging up the legal system with appeals against rulings. Peter Walsh debunks the vested interests behind much “refugee activism”.

    “People smuggling” has become a global industry organised by criminals and said to yield up to US$1 billion a year. Orderly processing of asylum applications from these people, many of whom have thrown away all evidence of identity, is obviously difficult.

    Most Australians resent this incursion. Illegal arrivals are placed in detention pending determination of their status. … But due principally to a vain and meddlesome judiciary, the process can be extended for many years, during which a self-aggrandising minority, almost always supported by the media, tries to build up enough political pressure to overturn policy.

    Refugee politics as practised in Australia has produced a pernicious homo sapiens mutant known as an “immigration lawyer”, dedicated simultaneously to displaying their moral superiority while padding their wallets with public money by abusing legal processes.

    In the 1990s they have applied a new device for generating income while subverting the public interest — class actions. Recruit a thousand or so asylum seekers at $200 each for a class action. Some of them succeed in getting “bridging visas”. This fact is then used to encourage and recruit other people to join class actions.

    And the problem was getting worse well before the Tampa/COB. So something drastic had to be done.

    The results of Howard’s actions speak for themselves. Border protection was a policy success. The dastardly trade was stopped in its tracks once the government showed it was serious. Wikipedia unwittingly suggested that it was “Heads Howard wins, Tails Howard-haters lose” in the refugee blame game:

    By 2004, the number of unathorised boat arrivals had been reduced dramatically. The government argued that this was the result of its strong policy towards asylum seekers. Others argued that the decrease was the result of global factors, such as changing circumstances in the primary source nations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

    The processing of assylum seekers can now proceed in a more orderly and humane fashion now that the people smugglers and immigration lawyers are out of the loop. Henderson points out that

    Howard was correct when he said on the 7.30 Report last year that “we stopped the boats”…On the evidence, there are fewer than a thousand asylum seekers now held in detention…

    Handling fewer than 1000 asylum seekers in Australia, now that unlawful immigration has dropped to a trickle, should be a matter capable of ready solution. In other words, the battle has been won…The task now is to resolve the residue of what remains from the victory.

    Border protection was a political success. The border protection policy still popular:

    The findings [of an AES poll] show that the Federal Government has strong support for keeping its policy of turning away boat people, while at the same time relaxing its detention policy by allowing some people in long-term detention to be released into the community.

    Public confidence in the (largely NESB) alien intake program and support is still strong. By the early nineties the Australian populus were sick and tired of vested interest groups manipulating alien intake programs to run their own agendas. Howard turned that around. The SMH reports.

    Overall, opposition to immigration has fallen greatly since the days of the Keating government. In 1993 70 per cent of Australians thought the number of migrants allowed into Australia had gone “much too far, or too far”. Fewer than half that number agreed with this proposition last year.

    Dr Betts said that in the Keating era there was a feeling the immigration program had been captured by an ethnic lobby focused on bringing specific nationalities into Australia, while the push for multiculturalism, the rhetoric about Australia being part of Asia and the high unemployment rate all fed antipathy towards migrants.

    Since the Howard Government had made it harder for migrants to obtain welfare, stopped emphasising multiculturalism and focused on skilled migrants instead of family reunion, opposition to migration had fallen, even though overall numbers were increasing.

    It was rational, if not very nice, to take harsh measures well before the “tipping point” moment in this industry occurs, by which time no amount of action, panicked or calm, can do proper good. We all know what has happened to the US and EU because their leaders sat on their hands rather than take the bull by the horns.

    The deafening silence from Howard-haters on the good job Howard has done on alien intake is parallelled by their deafening silence on the good job Howard has done in liberating those persecuted in modern “Clash within Civilizations” conflicts (eg Timorese Christians, Afghanis, Iraqi Shiites). In both cases to admit the full truth would cause their ideology to come crashing down upon their heads.

    Howard-haters, ideologues and “refugee activists” did not make an issue of his government’s bastardising of assylum seekers until it was politically convenient to do so. And their construction of the issue was grotesquely lop-sided and ignored the most important moral consideration. Howard deserves the political rewards that this policy has reaped, whatever the prospects for his immortal soul.

  3. Hal9000
    March 27th, 2006 at 08:10 | #3

    Jack, Jack, Jack… Afghans, not Afghanis. Tadzhiks, not Tadzhikis. Uzbeks, not Uzbekis. What do they teach in scholl these days?

    As for Howard’s “good job” – the efficiency of Australia’s military pre-dates the Man of Steel by nearly a century, so he can’t claim credit for that. The actual intervention in Timor was most reluctantly undertaken after a public outcry, and then only when the Indonesians (having done all the killinig looting and burning and population expulsion they had the stomach for) actually invited Interfet in – the policy up until that point was the same as Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating’s had been (to the shame of them all). I think the jury is still out on whether the Afghans or the Iraqis are better off – see discussions on this blog passim. So, not ‘deafening silence’ from us Howard-haters on any of these scores.

    Praise where praise is due, however. I am happy to give Howard praise for his one true military foreign success, however – RAMSI in the Solomon Islands. Well done, Mr Howard!

  4. jquiggin
    March 27th, 2006 at 09:33 | #4

    The current case illustrates the problem with “fake-but-trueâ€? statements, Jack. It’s so hard to disavow them afterwards. And that has consequences.

  5. Don Wigan
    March 27th, 2006 at 09:46 | #5

    I agree with John’s analysis that it is chickens coming home to roost. If only we hadn’t made such a big political thing of the “illegals” it would be less embarassing. How similar, too, to the Bush dilemma when after years of developing anti-Arab sentiments it should suddenly find a backlash to the benign Dubais commercial purchase of several American ports.

    Not that it is any occasion for gloating. Australia needs to encourage the democratic and secular interests in Indonesia. Yet none of these are yet game to stand up to the military-imperial forces, still a formidable power 7 years after Suharto’s fall. What the TNI has done in Aceh (now thankfully heading for a truce) and West Papua is at least as brutal as anything they did in East Timor.

    Not even the Howard Government can expect to believe that no harm will come to these West Papuans if they are returned. They fell for that once with East Timor. The TNI has form. The public for a variety of reasons unjustified and justified carries around a lot more anti-Indonesian sentiments than our governments do.

    At diplomatic level, Australia needs to persuade the Indonesians that they cannot afford the potential backlash, even aside from humanitarian obligations. At the same time they ought to quietly point out that brute military force will no longer work when it is subject to scrutiny.

  6. March 27th, 2006 at 10:29 | #6

    I agree there seems to be inconsistency on the Government’s policies. But do we have specific duties with respect to the people of Papua given our geography, historical links and given our knowledge of the way Indonesia treated the East Timorese? Doesn’t geography condition policy here?

    If the government had sought to act on the basis of consistent, pragmatic ethics-free policies it would have refused the Papuans request. Even if inconsistent, isn’t the Government displaying some evidence of morality here?

  7. avaroo
    March 27th, 2006 at 10:46 | #7

    Is the “chicken coming home to roost” named Chicken Little? Some day predictions of roosting chickens may even be correct.

  8. Katz
    March 27th, 2006 at 11:55 | #8

    This is a hardy annual. Any amount of righteous spittle may be propelled for and against the proposition of JQ that:

    “these people would have been asylum seekers, with a wide range of legal rights.[1] If their cases had proved successful, the government could reasonably claim to be bound by treaty obligations. Now however, “we will decide who comes here and under what circumstancesâ€?. People fleeing Saddam Hussein and the war in Afghanistan have been pushed back to sea, to take their chances, or subjected to close and critical scrutiny, in a process with the presumptions all stacked against them.”

    But for clarity, here is the critical clause from the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951)

    C. This Convention shall cease to apply to any person falling under the terms of section A if:

    (4) He has voluntarily re-established himself in the country which he left or outside which he remained owing to fear of persecution;

    Quite clearly, by travelling through a third country, which they left voluntarily, refugee status is voided so long they were not put under fear of persecution in the country or countries through which they transited.

    On the other hand, the Howard government accepts the claim that the Papuans left West Papua and landed directly in Australia. They had not voided their claims for refugee status.

    The 2001 actions of the Howard Government were cruel and probably opportunistic from a political point of view. However, they breached no international conventions.

    But these 2001 actions do make life difficult for Australia, and the Howard Government deserves to be criticised for their small-mindedness.

    Indonesian nationalists and islamists need no additional reason to be hostile towards Australia. Perhaps if the Howard government hadn’t been so high-handed in their legally correct treatment of Iraqis and Afghans seeking a better life, then their legally correct handling of the Papuans may not have seemed so pointedly critical of Indonesian misconduct.

  9. jquiggin
    March 27th, 2006 at 12:23 | #9

    Katz, an obvious problem with your interpretation (not the only one, but fatal to your argument) is that most of those who made it through the barriers were ultimately successful in their claims for refugee status.

  10. March 27th, 2006 at 12:48 | #10

    jquiggin said:

    … most of those who made it through the barriers were ultimately successful in their claims for refugee status.

    Isn’t this fatal to your argument though? You argued that:

    People fleeing Saddam Hussein and the war in Afghanistan have been pushed back to sea …

    Well, no they haven’t. As you say most of their appications were accepted, why can’t we similarly accept the Papuans?

  11. Hal9000
    March 27th, 2006 at 12:54 | #11

    I’m not sure that ‘travelling through’ [a third country] can be read all the way up to ‘voluntarily re-establish[ing yourself]‘.

  12. avaroo
    March 27th, 2006 at 12:58 | #12

    Are we talking about only 42 people?

  13. Katz
    March 27th, 2006 at 13:01 | #13

    I don’t see why, JQ.

    The claims for refugee status that you refer to weren’t decided judicially. They were decided by executive fiat. Policy trumps the rule of law.

    In other words, having served its political purpose the tortuous investigation of the actual status of these folks was usually terminated in the interests of political tranquility. The Howard government decided to stop playing hard ball.

    For the Howard government racism is a matter of convenience, not conviction.

  14. Frankis
    March 27th, 2006 at 13:34 | #14

    In your Howard-huggin’ fervour Jack I think you may be protesting too much. Certainly you quote with seeming approval the mendacious midget’s fall back slander “they irresponsibly sank the damn boat, which put their children in the water”. Howard has no idea who really sank that boat, or whether the guilty party had any children on it. So he’s little more than the lying little twerp you always knew he was Jack, just piling new ones on top of the old ones. The crux though is that it’s a real shame that Howard’s lying habits must interfere with good works others within government may be trying to do, such as this granting of asylum to the Papuans.

  15. jquiggin
    March 27th, 2006 at 14:00 | #15

    Katz, the Tampa cases were assessed by the UNHCR. Some were rejected because the Taliban regime had fallen after their arrival in Australia [and some of these were ultimately admitted by the governmment] but as far as I know no-one has been rejected on the basis you claim. Can you cite any evidence to support the claim that your interpretation is generally applied?

    In response to various comments, let me clarify that the government is doing the right thing in admitting the Papuans. It’s just that, having done the wrong thing in the past, they are open to accusations of inconsistency, which have duly been made.

  16. March 27th, 2006 at 14:30 | #16

    Frankis,
    The only parties present were the Australian Navy and the asylum seekers on the boat (I presume there were no submarines nearby), so there are three options – the boat sank accidentally, the Australian Navy sank it or the asylum seekers on the boat sank it.
    I think an accident can be discounted (a very odd coincidence, sinking at the time the Navy were close) and I do not think you are saying that the Navy sank it (besides which, it would not be in Australia’s or the Navy’s interests to do so), so what option are we left with?

  17. observa
    March 27th, 2006 at 14:33 | #17

    Aint the law and judgement of it a funny thing?
    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,18616215-2,00.html

    “In response to various comments, let me clarify that the government is doing the right thing in admitting the Papuans. It’s just that, having done the wrong thing in the past, they are open to accusations of inconsistency, which have duly been made.”

    On the second part perhaps they’ve turned over a new leaf due to the success of critics like JQ? Now, as to ” let me clarify that the government is doing the right thing in admitting the Papuans” how does that square with your recent posting that Indonesia has been progressing reasonably well with electoral democracy, rule of law and the like? Should DIMIA have taken Pres Yoko Ono at his word WRT the safety of these Papuans? Shouldn’t we be prepared to reward Indonesian progress here John, albeit that they have had a chequered career in our opinion? Also, wouldn’t it be in our interests to do so, on pragmatic grounds, because what we have virtually said now to all Papuans is- You are being persecuted and can all seek asylum here. Where is the evidence for that currently? Oh and I do mean all Papuans, including from PNG, because let’s face it, if they claim to come from WP, how will we know? You think Pres Yoko Ono is a liar then John?

  18. doug
    March 27th, 2006 at 14:58 | #18

    Umm, Katz, I think it’s very clear from even a brief reading of the Convention that…

    ‘the country which he left or outside which he remained owing to fear of persecution’

    refers to the country of nationality (or former nationality), and not to countries through which the person transits.

  19. Frankis
    March 27th, 2006 at 14:59 | #19

    Andrew you’re not making the mistake of discriminating among your friends but seeing all foreigners as one amorphous mass are you? I think it’s fairly clear what I was suggesting above with “Howard has no idea who really sank that boat, or whether the guilty party had any children on it”.
    Let’s all suppose that it was someone on the boat who pulled its plug – can you tell me how many children the culprit had on board at the time, please?

  20. Seeker
    March 27th, 2006 at 15:37 | #20

    “The TNI has form.”

    Yup, and they are still not under full control of the civilian government. The large running sore that is Indonesian-controlled West Papua is not going to be resolved until the TNI are removed the political decision process, and even then it will be tricky.

    West Papua has never been a comfortable or willing fit in the Indonesian polity, as evidenced by that fact that Indonesia have to use ongoing and often quite brutal force to keep it. The sooner Indonesia recognises that they cannot win this one on the long run, and start organising a smooth withdrawal and transfer of power, the better for all concerned, including Indonesia.

  21. Katz
    March 27th, 2006 at 16:56 | #21

    Ummm Doug,

    Again we confront that old confusion between “is” and “ought”.

    When I wrote:

    “Quite clearly, by travelling through a third country, which they left voluntarily, refugee status is voided so long they were not put under fear of persecution in the country or countries through which they transited.”

    I don’t endorse this reading of the convention. The Howard government has extended the category “illegal immigrant” to mean just such a person.

    I agree with the following interpretation of the actions of the Howard government in twisting the Convention:

    “…the [Howard government does] something which no other signatory to the Convention on Refugees has yet been prepared to do; that is, by legislation, restrict the convention definition within its own territory…Whatever ministers and administrators throughout the developed world have thought about the convention definition, they have until now always left final determination of who is a refugee to the courts.”

    Which brings me to my second point:

    “Katz, the Tampa cases were assessed by the UNHCR.”

    Precisely JQ. Not content with excising parts of Australian territory from the scope of Australian law, the Howard government surrendered more of the jurisdiction of Australian courts to foreign tribunals. This is a swingeing example of executive tyranny over the rule of law.

    “Some were rejected because the Taliban regime had fallen after their arrival in Australia [and some of these were ultimately admitted by the governmment] but as far as I know no-one has been rejected on the basis you claim. Can you cite any evidence to support the claim that your interpretation is generally applied?”

    Whenever the term “illegal migrant or “illegal entrant” is used to define a person who under other circumstances might be determined to be a refugee under the 1951 Convention this interpretation is applied. This is the precise meaning of the term “queue-jumping”. Under law, these persons are supposed to begin the process of regularising their refugee status in specific geographical locations. Just so there is no mistake, I regard this process as absurd, yet it is the consequence of the reading of the Convention that I alluded to above.

    Do you doubt the legality of these amendments to the Migration Act. And do you doubt the legality of the Howard government to subvert the judicial process in the ways described in earlier posts? Clearly these folks don’t have as many legal rights as you asserted in your original post.

    Nothing will happen to change this state of affairs until Australians take some notice of the inroads that the executive is making into the scope of judicial oversight.

    And to bring it back to the Papuans. Whether by good luck or clever planning these Papuans avoided both the excised zones and falling into the trap of being dubbed “illegals” by “queue-jumping” in the manner described above.

    The Howard government could contest the application for political asylum. But they know that it is a lost cause. Compare that with the Chinese diplomat Chen Yong Lin, when the government did all it could to sweep the embarrassment under the carpet.

  22. Simonjm
    March 27th, 2006 at 19:58 | #22

    Yes I bet it was a shock for the Indonesians given Howard’s past form it should have been a shoe in but those pesky Papuans avoided his trump card and got here. They might even think it is a religious thing after all these guys Christians and we know what the others were.

    Don’t be surprised if we get dragged into this one, the TNI will come down on the Papuans like a tonne of bricks more torture murder and refugee’s.

    BTW did anyone catch Bolt on Insiders? He is beyond a joke.

    A man that argues the moral high ground on the war in Iraq but basically says nope no evidence of human rights abuses despite the Irish Parliament, The US State Department or Amnesty International among others thinking otherwise.

    He doesn’t bat an eyelid when he on one hand champions the moral reasons for the war in Iraq but justifies screwing the Eat Timorese over royalties, the AWB bribes as the farmers would have been financially hurt and saying the granting visas to the Papuans because that will encourage the separatists which could lead to bloodshed.

    But I thought you could disregard casualties as long as one is fighting for freedom against those who oppress & commit human right abuses. Works for Iraq.

  23. March 27th, 2006 at 21:17 | #23

    jquiggin Says: March 27th, 2006 at 2:00 pm

    It’s just that, having done the wrong thing in the past, they are open to accusations of inconsistency, which have duly been made.

    No. The government did not “do the wrong thing” in the past, unless one thinks that it is wrong to stop an illegal activity which caused hundreds of people to drown each year.

    Or is the liberal-left position on processing people-smuggled asylum seekers “let justice be done, though the heavens fall”? (to Davy Jones locker in this case).

    The means it chose were dodgy, but the end achieved was good. This is sufficient justification in the murky area of foreign policy.

    As for “the government, having done the wrong thing in the past” I think that liberal-Leftists are riding a mighty shaky high horse in throwing around these kinds of accusations. For over a generations that push was hell-bent on running cultural policy and ruining culture.

    Just look at the criminal mess they made of the bits of alien intake policy that they got their hands on – rorts, scams, ethnic lobbies, nepotism, etc. No wonder their leading light (Theophanous) was sent to the slammer. The was why the majority of the people gave them a massive boot up the backside in 1996. But did they learn anything? Not on your nellie!

    Howard’s vindictive 2001 electoral tactics gave a stinging blow to the Wets in the domestic political arena, one that was well worth a vote. They had to be stopped by fair means or foul. Elsewise we would be in the state that the US and EU find themselves on these questions.

    The Indonesians, of all people, understand the importance of conserving a cohesive and strong national culture. They have chucked a little hissy fit but will get over this tiny slight.

  24. Gabrielle
    March 27th, 2006 at 23:14 | #24

    This whole discussion contains many factual errors and rewriting of history. Katz claims that people were granted refugee status not by a judicial process but by ministerial decisions. The current Minister only began to grant refugee status to many people after a number of cases which set precedents in the Refugee Review Tribunal and in the Federal Court were lost by the Federal Government. This occurred because the Afganis were clearly refugees, even under the restrictive definitions of the Howarde government. As for the laughable concept of ‘queue jumping’, have any of you ever seen a ‘queue’ in a refugee camp in Pakistan, in Somalia, in Eritreia? They don’t exist. There is just as much corruption involved with getting out of camps in these places as there is in paying a people smuggler. We may deplore what people smugglers do for a living but why take it out on the refugees?
    Another contentious point is the one concerning the boat sinking. Why do you think the Federal police were sent to Indonesia to teach the Indonesians to ‘disable’ smuggler’s boats? Remember in evidence given to the Senate inquiry, it was revealed that the Federal police were sent to do this before the sinking of the the SIEV-X. Some participants in the discussion seem to be labouring under the delusion that The SIEV-X and the children overboard boat were the same boat. They were not. Over three hundred people drowned on board the SIEV-X after it gave a distress signal and the Australian Navy sailed away. This shameful event deserves to be represented by all Australians accurately. The many children on this boat who drowned were never thrown overboard by anyone, but their memory deserves an accurate retelling of their story. Shame on those whose infantile politics will not allow that history must tell all the facts, no matter how unpalatable.

  25. Katz
    March 28th, 2006 at 07:30 | #25

    Jack,

    As we have established in the course of this discussion, Howard has:

    1. Narrowed the geographical reach of the rule of law within Australia.

    2. Consigned to a UN tribunal decisions on rightful entry into Australia. In so doing he disqualified the Australian judiciary.

    In the probably forelorn hope of establishing principles of good governance and the rule of law, in future:

    1. when will it be good policy to surrender Australian sovereignty to the United Nations, or to any other supranational body?

    2. when will it be good policy to make ad hoc changes to the territoriality of Australia?

    Ironic isn’t it? It was precisely these fears that drove the Right in its fear of the power of the Vatican and the Kremlin.

    How times change.

  26. Simonjm
    March 28th, 2006 at 12:01 | #26

    Thanks Gabrielle wanted to post that one but my memory failed me on the details.

    What’s another shameful event to add to the list? Just another footnote to be forgotten.

    Though there may be hope yet a national youth forum listed as its top priority true reconciliation with aboriginals and maybe even a treaty. This self-absorbed selfishness Hugh McCain talks about may come to an end.

    God the right would have a fit!

  27. Steve Munn
    March 28th, 2006 at 13:02 | #27

    Gab says: “Over three hundred people drowned on board the SIEV-X after it gave a distress signal and the Australian Navy sailed away.”

    Have you any evidence for this claim Gab? Didn’t the SIEV X sink in Indonesian waters?

    I think that mandatory detention has, as an unintended consequence, saved many lives. If mandatory detention was abandoned we could possibly see hundreds of SIEV Xs. Let’s not forget that 300,000 Vietnamese asylum seekers lost their lives at sea after the Vietnam War and there is no reason such a tragedy wouldn’t be repeated if Australia once again adopted a benign approach to asylum seekers.

    Irrespective, I would like to see Australia accept more refugees from hell holes like Darfur and Eritrea. These are the people who could never hope to raise the funds to pay the people smugglers.

  28. SJ
    March 28th, 2006 at 16:49 | #28

    Steve Munn Says: “Didn’t the SIEV X sink in Indonesian waters?

    Apparently not:

    Drowned asylum seekers still wait for justice
    October 25 2002

    Wednesday was the anniversary of this huge tragedy becoming public. On that day, Prime Minister John Howard was at pains to reassure radio listeners throughout Australia that the boat sank in Indonesian waters and that it was not Australia’s responsibility.

    Labor Senate leader John Faulkner usefully reminded us on Wednesday that this claim was patently false. Howard was undoubtedly aware on October 23, 2001, of two intelligence reports in Canberra on that day. The inter-agency People Smuggling Taskforce in the Prime Minister’s Department reported that SIEV X was “likely to have been in international waters south of Java” when it sank; we learnt this on June 6. Then we found out one month ago of a second intelligence report on October 23 from the Immigration Department to Philip Ruddock, that “the boat sank approximately 60 nautical miles south of the Sunda Strait”, i.e. in international waters and indisputably in Australia’s operational border protection zone.

    Throughout April, May and June, the committee was fed a confusing diet of misrepresentations, false stories and gaps in testimony, to try to persuade it that Howard’s statements were true or might have been true. Why was the system so keen to bolster retrospectively his false claim that SIEV X sank in Indonesian waters? Because this claim was fundamental to the defence that Australia had nothing to answer for.

  29. March 28th, 2006 at 16:59 | #29

    SJ,
    Did you make that up, or do you have a source?

  30. March 28th, 2006 at 17:08 | #30

    Sorry, missed the link.
    Tony Kevin has an interesting opinion – but, even if it sank in International waters, why was it our fault? He seems to try to be saying, also, without evidence, that Australians were in Indonesia trying to sink boats. If he believes that AFP or other Australians were reponsible for the sinking, then he should say so and not just hint. Or has he no evidence?

  31. SJ
    March 28th, 2006 at 17:38 | #31

    Andrew Reynolds Says: “If he believes that AFP or other Australians were reponsible for the sinking, then he should say so and not just hint. Or has he no evidence?”

    Maybe you should ask him. Or John Faulkner.

    Senate Hansard 23 September 2002
    ADJOURNMENT: Immigration: Border Protection

    This is the first part of a three-part speech I will be making this week. At both the Senate estimates committee hearings and the hearings of the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident I have asked officials and ministers literally hundreds of questions about Australia’s involvement in disrupting and dismantling people-smuggling syndicates in Indonesia…

  32. March 28th, 2006 at 18:43 | #32

    SJ,
    So, “…disrupting and dismantling people-smuggling syndicates…” means sinking a boat? I have never seen “syndicate” used as a synonym for “boat”. Your thesaurus needs a good check.
    Even if I was to believe anything the (Labor) Senator said I do not believe that he meant “boat” when he said “syndicate”.
    Get a better source.

  33. Bill O’Slatter
    March 28th, 2006 at 18:55 | #33

    For Andrew Reynolds benefit , from http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/maritime_incident_ctte/report/footnotes.htm#F182
    However, some difficulties did arise during night, when the bilge levels in SIEV 4 began to rise.[175] The SIEV’s generator had failed and could no longer power the bilge pumps.[176] In the hours between 2.04am and 4.03pm on 8 October 2001, CO Adelaide put in place a number of different strategies designed to deal with the bilge levels on the SIEV. These included providing the SIEV with hand and peri-jet pumps, and sending one of the Adelaide’s RHIBs to Christmas Island to pick up four stroke fuel to power the SIEV’s own pumps.

    3.30 By 4.03pm, the bilge levels had reduced to 0.5m from a high of 1.2m but the SUNCs were ‘agitated’ by water coming in over the freeboard and boarding party officers continued to be concerned.[177] At 4.30pm, the Adelaide commenced serving the evening meal on the SIEV, but just before 5.00pm and ‘largely without warning’ it began to sink rapidly. Commander Banks informed the Committee that it was then ‘in a position 16 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island’.[178]

  34. SJ
    March 28th, 2006 at 20:07 | #34

    Andrew Reynolds Says: “Your thesaurus needs a good check.” Um, no. I think you need to phrase your questions better. And not parse sentences in silly ways.

  35. Steve Munn
    March 28th, 2006 at 21:01 | #35

    Bill O’Slatter has confused SIEV X with SIEV 4. The SIEV X, according to SJs link, was just 60 nautical miles off the cost of Java when it sank.

    It is simply dishonest to attribute this sad situation to Australia. “The Age” has recently reported that Indonesian fishing vessels regularly make it to the Australian coast and hide in mangroves to avoid detection. Thus it simply isn’t feasible to expect Australia to operate some kind of sea-nanny service that caters to the needs of the Indonesian people smuggling operations.

    The people on the SIEV X were already in the “safe haven” of Indonesia. Why were they attempting to enter Australia when they had ALREADY escaped the home countries that had allegedly persecuted them?

  36. SJ
    March 28th, 2006 at 21:48 | #36

    Steve Munn Says: “The SIEV X, according to SJs link, was just 60 nautical miles off the cost of Java when it sank.” You don’t admit that this is not in Indonesian territorial waters, which is what you originally queried. Here’s why it wasn’t in Indonesian territorial waters:

    In view of the country’s susceptibility to foreign intervention from the sea and for domestic security reasons, on December 13, 1957, the Indonesian Government issued a declaration on the territorial waters of the Republic. It stated that all the waters surrounding and between the islands in the territory came within Indonesia’s sovereighty. It also determined that the country’s territorial water limit was 12 miles, measured from a straight baseline drawn from the outermost points of the islands.

    Thus it simply isn’t feasible to expect Australia to operate some kind of sea-nanny service that caters to the needs of the Indonesian people smuggling operations.” The suspicion here is that Australia’s “sea nanny service”, aka border surveillance, was in operation at the time and knew where the boat was, but didn’t step in to help. Absent a judicial inquiry, I don’t and can’t know all of the facts, and neither do you. Your parroting of Howard’s excuses is kinda funny, though.

  37. Steve Munn
    March 28th, 2006 at 22:38 | #37

    We usually agree on matters SJ, but in this case we disagree. And also you have misrepresnted your own source, which goes to say:

    “In the past, archipelagic states like Indonesia have unilaterally determined their 200-mile-Exclusive Economic Zones. Today such economic zones are confirmed by the International Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was ratified by the Indonesian Government on October 18, 1983, by Act No. 5 of the same year. This is the legal basis of the Indonesian-Exclusive Economic Zone.”

    Try telling Indonesia today that its claim to waters only extends 12 nautical miles from the coastline and I expect you would be subject to a fatwa!!!

    Nonetheless I feel terribly sorry for the cruel death the SIEV X folk suffered. This tragedy should not be belittled.

  38. stephen bartos
    March 28th, 2006 at 23:09 | #38

    re. the SIEV X, tony kevin – http://www.tonykevin.com/TerrorLeg.html has written a book that explains the whole tragedy in detail. The book, A Certain Maritime Incident, also won a NSW Premier’s literary award http://www.arts.nsw.gov.au/awards/LiteraryAwards/2005%20awards/2005winners.htm . Although that award probably carries little weight with some of the commenters above, it does indicate that there is a panel of judges who read the book and thought it compelling.

    the uncontested facts about SIEV X (that emerged via senate questioning not only in a reference inquiry but in subsequent estimates questions) are: Australian officials concerned knew there was a dangerously overloaded boat about to set out for Australia; they could have maintained surveillance but instead chose to back off; the boat sank, with the loss of 353 lives. Australia could have helped but chose not to. It takes a peculiar view of ethics to think allowing 353 people to die is OK.

    there are other issues on which there is inadequate information – was australia involved at the indonesian end? was there information about the boat just prior to it sinking as queried by SJ? (and many other issues…see tony kevin). as noted by SJ, the only way to determine these would be a full judicial inquiry or royal commission. If the government has nothing to hide, it should hold an inquiry to put these unresolved issues to bed.

    incidentally, the Munn comparison with vietnamese boat people is wrong – there was loss of life, and it was tragic, just as was the loss of life in SIEV X. But this happened mostly in the transit from Vietnam southwards via very unsafe waters around the phillipines (including pirates) and treacherous seas around malaysia. I don’t recall any incident involving loss of life in the international waters adjacent to Australian territorial waters. The comparison is therefore far fetched. There is no reason to think that there would be an exodus from vietnam (or any other south east asian country) to australia by boat if we adopted a more benign attitude to asylum seekers. there might – or might not – be more seeking to transit to australia via indonesia: depending on the historical circumstances that had led them to be in indonesia in the first place. however, the Papuan incident that started off this thread has probably put paid to the chances of decent cooperation between Australia and Indonesia over the management of asylum seekers anyway.

  39. Steve Munn
    March 28th, 2006 at 23:53 | #39

    Stephen Bartos, if what you say is true then I would support a judicial inquiry. Although it seems highly unlikely to me that a whistleblower wouldn’t have come forward by now, particularly given the immense loss of life. The Navy wasn’t prepared to kowtow to the Government over Children Overboard, remember.

    For the record, I fully support the West Papua asylum seekers, especially given the complicity of the Australian Government by, for instance, training the notorious Indonesian military.

    By the way, hundreds of Africans die each year in the short boat journey to Spain. I thereby hold to my claim that a more benign asylum seeker policy would cause much death and misery, as an unintended consequence.

  40. March 29th, 2006 at 00:37 | #40

    SJ,
    I apologise if my English cannot be understood by you. Surely, “Or has he no evidence” (if that is the sentence to which you object) understood by all can be?
    IF we ignore your “point” on my use of English, I said that he should come up with some evidence that Australians were in some way involved in the sinking. You replied with the John Faulkner quote talking about disrupting the syndicates. Call me pedantic, but cannot see how disrupting a syndicate can be the same a causing a boat to sink.
    Yes, it was a tragedy – any unneeded death is – but the worse tragedy would be to perpetuate the system that made them believe that paying money to the people that put them on those dangerous boats would get them into Australia. The government’s solution was harsh, but, IMHO, there was no other realistic way to achieve it.

  41. observa
    March 29th, 2006 at 12:57 | #41
  42. Hal9000
    March 29th, 2006 at 13:19 | #42

    Andrew Reynolds et al: on what evidence do you base your assertions that the Howard govt’s policy is responsible for the drop in the number of seaborne arrivals from Indonesia? You’ll have to do better than the fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc.

  43. Steve Munn
    March 30th, 2006 at 02:09 | #43

    Hal9000, sometimes we don’t need an eminent professor to conduct a study in order to acknowledge the bleedingly obvious.

    Asylum seekers, motivated by a desire for a better life, are obviously less likely to illegally enter a country they know will lock them up in a prison for what may turn out to be many years.

  44. Hal9000
    March 30th, 2006 at 08:44 | #44

    “we don’t need an eminent professor to conduct a study in order to acknowledge the bleedingly obvious”

    On the contrary, I’d suggest the ‘most bleedingly obvious’ explanation is changed policy on behalf of Indonesia in respect of policing smugglers. As is pointed out earlier in the thread, the threat of death en route and incarceration on arrival does not in fact deter refugees fleeing the certainty of fates worse than death for the chance of a better life. I hear your snorts of derision – but the evidence is against you. Consider the well-documented case of Indochinese refugee flows in the 1970s-80s – it was the policy cooperation of the transit countries that brought the situation under control. Perhaps you are too inclined to believe the boasts of proven liars – our federal government.

  45. Bill O’Slatter
    March 30th, 2006 at 09:37 | #45

    Steve Munn ,because of a lack of threaded software ( this is the bane of blogging ) certain confusions may arise. My previous comment was in relation to Andrew Reynolds response to Frankis who was discussing SIEV4. Your commnets in regard to SIEVX are naive. The AFP may be involved in the sabotage and overcrowding of SIEVX. We just don’t know for sure. Some form of inquiry is needed. The mechanisms that the Howard government has used to
    a) create a poor policy (kept from the Australian people)
    b) direct agencies to enforce that poor policy
    c) be able to deny any responsibility when things go wrong
    will be further illuminated by the Cole inquiry

  46. April 1st, 2006 at 04:25 | #46

    Safety tip for Gabrielle:

    “Over three hundred people drowned on board the SIEV-X after it gave a distress signal and the Australian Navy sailed away. This shameful event… ”

    Better for your short term health outlook to not mention this posted opinion of yours in Wooloomooloo waterfront pubs when the fleet is in. In fact be very careful where you mention it, you may be surprised just who has served before the mast.

  47. April 1st, 2006 at 11:53 | #47

    Hal9000,
    Because we are dealing in the realm of human response you would be well aware that a controlled experiment is not possible. If you have evidence to he contrary of what Steve Munn has said thenI challenge you to produce it. Otherwise, argue the point and do not try to get from us what you know does not exist.

  48. Bill O’Slatter
    April 1st, 2006 at 12:24 | #48

    Steve at the Pub : you are saying that you shouldn’t say/write something because they might bash you up. That’s very courageous of you. I think you should stick to debating the point : was the navy involved in the sinking of the Sievx. From my reading of it it wasn’t ( I am open to persusasion that it was otherwise), but the AFP may have been.

  49. April 1st, 2006 at 23:13 | #49

    Bill: Don’t know about you, but when my teeth, nose etc are in danger of being smashed, regardless of the “righteousness” of my opinion, I tend to clam up. My observation is that most people do the same.

    Perhaps I was “projecting”. Gabrielle’s comments are sufficient to get the speaker knocked down in almost any company. In the good old days one could challenged to a duel with pistols or swords. I am willing to bet that Gabrielle’s comments were not made in the presence of pussers.

  50. Steve Munn
    April 3rd, 2006 at 01:03 | #50

    Bill and Gabrielle strike me as the sort of chaps who could be mistaken for April Fools at any time of year.

    I suggest you dudes direct your wacky conspiracy theories to “UFO Today” magazine.

  51. Bill O’Slatter
    April 4th, 2006 at 19:31 | #51

    Thanks for that Steve it is a most effective form of argument. I will use it myself in future. However it would also be appreciated if your argument also had some content.
    Regards “Stinky” Bill

  52. Xanda
    April 17th, 2006 at 09:55 | #52

    To Hal9000:
    I have worked with Indochinese “refugees” for the last twenty years, to call most of them political refugees is a nonsense. Most openly tell me “the best thing that happened” was the fall of Sth Vietnam -it gave them the chance to a move to a more economically promising location.
    Likewise, with the Tianmen Square refugees- what a joke!!!!
    I am married to one. Most had little or no interest in politics-though they went out of their way to be seen and photographed a demonstration against Beijing.
    They used our systems naivity
    To talk of the dangers they had to transvere is misleading too.
    People will smuggle drugs,even under threat of death, if the economic return is sufficient.

  53. Martin
    September 16th, 2006 at 22:28 | #53

    To Xanda
    What you said is 100percent correct.The fall of Saigon was the best thing to happen to the Vietnamese.Have you noticed how so many get excited at the prospect of goung back for a holiday.Cheap women and beer there.Europeans never returned till a regime change.

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