The Abbott Government is loudly proclaiming that it is acting lawfully on the high seas. How would anyone know if what they are doing is lawful. They are doing everything they possibly can to prevent journalists from observing what they are doing. They are making it virtually impossible to get to Nauru and Manus to interview asylum seekers who have been chucked in the hell holes paid for by Australian people’s so that we don’t get to hear what is happening to the men, women and children in our offshore holding camps. They refuse to reply to the Indonesian Government’s requests that they confirm or deny that they paid people smugglers to return asylum seekers to Indonesia.
What we do know is that psychiatrists believe that prolonged detention of asylum seekers in the offshore and onshore camps is causing and/or exacerbating mental health problems of the children, the women and the men. We know that in the camps people are not safe from sexual and other assaults.
At the very time when the Abbott Government is getting ready to make a minister for immigration able to strip suspected supporters of terrorist organisations of their citizenship without adequate judicial safeguards and even without having a conviction recorded against them it is saying that what it is doing on the high seas is within the law. It is preparing legislation to ban health professionals telling anyone what they have witnessed in our concentration camps.
It is probable that it was agents of Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) who paid the money to people smugglers. As Paul Bongiorno said on Fran Kelly’s Breakfast Program ABC Radio National these agents specialise in the “dark arts”. The Australian Secret Intelligence Service website proclaims that:
ASIS is Australia’s overseas secret intelligence collection agency. Our mission is to protect and promote Australia’s vital interests through the provision of intelligence services as directed by Government.
What it does not say is what they really do they a bunch of spooks who are on a much freer leash than their national counterparts the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). They are the people the government uses to when it wants to organise a drone strike overseas. There is virtually nothing they wont do provided the government tells them to do it. They are our extra-judicial arm – our militia.
One option before us is to sagely nod and say “Well Tony’s the prime minister I’m sure he’s doing what’s best for Australia”. We might feel a slight unease about our turn back the boats policy in the face of the Amnesty International Report that reveals that the world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War with 50 million displaced persons and asylum seekers on the move.
Alternatively, we might demand that our government act as a responsible advanced capitalist society and take our share of those fleeing war, famine and persecution. In the face of this humanitarian crisis it is not a tenable response to slash our foreign aid and incarcerate those fleeing persecution who attempt to come to our country on boats.
Even if Abbott is correct in the assertion that Australian officials have acted within the law – this is not the question that should be addressed. We need to ask “Is what we are doing on the high seas the right thing to do, is it just, is it humane and is it the decent thing to do”.
Circulated June 2015.
Copyright © 2023 John Tomlinson