Edit February 06 2014: Since I wrote this on January 23 I have added links at the end of the article to later media reports. Today a new report has been published which casts further shadows on the whole debacle.
Details aside, though, his account has been consistent from the first. He says he has no doubt that what he saw at close quarters on about January 3 was three people’s hands being deliberately held to a hot exhaust pipe by Australian naval personnel to punish them for protesting, and to deter others from doing one simple thing: going to the toilet too often.
As an Australian I still want to believe our Navy personnel, however now, two weeks after I wrote this original article, I am no clearer on what happened, despite the pressure put on the ABC to apologise for the initial reports.
The ABC managing director, Mark Scott, has refused Tony Abbott’s calls for the national broadcaster to apologise for its handling of allegations made by asylum seekers against the Australian navy.
Sadly, my original article stands. Who can we believe?
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Is Australia about to become involved in a “regional war” of our own making? The media is alive with politicians of two nations determined not to lose face.
I feel incredibly sad because I don’t know who to believe here. I WANT to believe my country, I so very much want to believe my country. But I can’t, because there are too many doubts generated by past performance and behaviours. I see many rusted on right/left supports screaming for each “side” here but not enough of us taking a “can we have the facts here please” stance. I want the facts. Who is with me on this? Drop your rusted on party allegiances for a minute and stop and think – BEFORE lives are lost.
Indonesia and Australia have been exchanging barbs ever since the phone tapping scandal broke. I am not going to enter into the argument of whether spying on one’s neighbours is or is not appropriate. My personal view is that there isn’t a country in the world that isn’t doing as much spying as they can get away with and if they get caught there is a lot of noise by all until everyone settles back to business as usual: spying.
There is no doubting Indonesia was not too happy BEFORE we started towing boats back, something Indonesia has stated many times is not a solution favoured by Indonesia.
Many Australians don’t support the tow-back policy either. As long ago as 2001 Commander Dr Duncan Wallace wrote the following when this sort of policy was previously in vogue.
“These actions are ineffective in deterring people in coming to Australia and merely serve to harass, frighten and demoralise people who are already weak, vulnerable and desperate… It is my expert opinion, as a senior consultant psychiatrist to the Royal Australian Navy, that they are highly likely to be harmful to the psychological health and moral development of all [RAN] members involved… Nearly everyone I spoke to that was involved in these operations knew that what they were doing was wrong.”
Most Australians will remember the “asylum seekers throw their children overboard” claims by Howard and Reith. This was later proven to be a fabrication and politicians were caught out blaming Navy personnel for the “misinformation”. The Navy was forced to defend the accusations.
I DO NOT want to believe Australia’s Navy personnel forced asylum seekers to suffer burns. To me such behaviour is abhorrent, uncivilised and completely unacceptable. Yet I can’t help but consider the reports of ADF personnel in a race-hate row earlier this year or the sexism scandal. Behaviours equally abhorrent, uncivilised and completely unacceptable. While one half of me thinks it impossible our Navy would do this, the other half looks at the demonstrated behaviours. Additionally we have the above words of Commander Wallace: compromised psychological health of the personnel could have unexpected and unwanted results.
I never believed we would implement off-shore processing either, and we did.
Morrison and Abbott are probably correct when they say asylum seekers may have reason to paint Australia in a bad light but surely there are easier ways than inflicting these burns upon themselves? Being forced to hold hot pipes (where were these pipes, I’d like to know) seems too far-fetched to be made up. I just do not know who to believe.
Asylum seekers do have a history of self-harm, yet pipes hot enough to burn should not be accessible for the safety of our own personnel. If it was self-harm on board, surely the incidents would have been recorded, treated and reported? Was it self-harm on the supplied life boats? Too many questions, not enough answers.
On top of this we have the accidental/deliberate/mistaken (choose whichever word floats your boat) incursion into Indonesia territorial waters by Australia. Not once. Not twice. Multiple times. Once could be a mistake. More than once? Someone is pulling strings, issuing orders and blaming everyone else. My intuition tells me the Navy received specific orders and sooner or later an email or a transmission transcript will be leaked. Unacceptable behaviour by someone.
This has now escalated to the point where Indonesia sees Australia as a military threat.
“The greatest threat will obviously be from Australia,” she said.
Just recently, Australia apologized to Indonesia after its border patrol boats entered Indonesian territorial waters without permission in their bid to stop migrants.
A Defense Ministry official has warned that Australia’s “tow-back” policy may soon ignite conflict.
The policy involves the Australian navy intercepting and forcing back to Indonesia boats crowded with undocumented migrants heading to Australia.
“Now that we have three frigates on the border, a clash could be imminent as our Navy will prevent the towing back,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
“.. a clash could be imminent.” I have quoted an Indonesian publication so as not to be charged with using “looney leftist” Australian media.
Abbott fuels the nationalistic flames by painting the asylum seekers as law breakers. Morrison very carefully uses “illegal entry”.
”Who do you believe?” Mr Abbott asked. ”Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who are attempting to break Australian law?”
Legal experts have a different opinion of how the terms should be used.
Experts contacted by ABC Fact Check say it is not appropriate to use “illegal” when specifically describing asylum seekers or refugees.
Professor Jane McAdam, director of the International Refugee and Migration Law Project at the University of New South Wales, says that “asylum seekers are not illegal under international law”.
these people have not committed any crime, nor broken any Australian or international law.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-06/morrison-correct-illegal-entry-people/4935372 (Thank you to @davispg for highlighting this Fact Check).
So what is Abbott on about? It is all in the context. “1984”, here we come.
You’ll find yourself asking how this man who wrote the novel in 1948 could possibly have such foresight into what would evolve into the world as we know it today. Similarities between life as we know it and life as Orwell foresaw abound. The book will cause you to look around yourself and question the policies of our government and the policies of global governments and how they impact our daily life. http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/1984/
Sadly, I don’t know who to believe. About any of it. The burns, the incursions, the blaming and now the threats.
For an interesting interview with Lee Sails, do visit Independent Australia.
I remember I wanted to believe Essendon too.
Edited to add link to followup article: Religious beliefs and regional conflict.
Edit January 26, 2014. Published in The Age today:
The Australian navy has launched an internal investigation into revelations Defence personnel are members of an online racist group that calls for members to ”fight [the] Muslim infiltration of our country”.
Edit February 2, 2014 There are now reports of the use of pepper spray by the Navy. This could certainly explain the burns and the language barriers could explain different reporting.
Other asylum seekers have alleged that they were forced to hold onto hot pipes but the 20-year-old says he suffered burns on his hands because he was blinded after sailors responded with force, using some sort of spray.“There was an argument do you understand. When they spray me in the eyes I couldn’t see anything.
“While I was looking for a way out I stumble on the engine and my hand got burnt.”
Mr Nooris says he then threw himself into the sea.
“I felt pain like chillies went into my eyes. I could not see anything, it was dark, and I threw myself into the sea.”
I am not saying the use of the spray is appropriate, but I can understand the tactical reasons for use given the current policies. I was very reluctant to believe any of our Navy personnel had forced anyone to hold a hot pipe, but I CAN see the use of spray blinding a person who then is not prevented from stumbling and grabbing a hot pipe. What do they say? “Collateral damage?”