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Who can we believe?

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.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/investigation-burned-hands-on-the-high-seas-20140206-hvbdl.html#ixzz2sWjrPkQv

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.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/feb/06/abc-mark-scott-refuses-apology-navy

Sadly, my original article stands. Who can we believe?

* * * * * * * *

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.”

https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/23881 (Thank you @BrigadierSlog for the link)

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.

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/01/22/tni-gears-sets-sights-foreign-threats.html

.. 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?”

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/abbott-government-to-cooperate-with-indonesian-probe-into-asylum-seeker-burn-claims-20140123-319xh.html#ixzz2rD9psSUC

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.

Do you?

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”.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/navy-probe-as-personnel-are-linked-to-racist-australian-defence-league-20140125-31fre.html#ixzz2rTMqSuOl

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.”

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-31/asylum-seeker-claims-he-was-sprayed-in-eyes-by-australian-navy/5229362

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?”

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30 comments on “Who can we believe?

  1. I didn’t know it was a small majority that voted this government in. I know that I didn’t vote them.

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  2. To think that a vast majority of Australians voted this government in . . . .

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  3. The present Abbott government is beyond believing. Every time they come on, I switch off. They have stopped issuing statements in this matter and they are not holding any press conferences. Independent journalist can not investigate the veracity of their smatterings, which are pure propaganda.

    Our PM is an embarrassment on the international stage. We have lost our moral compass. People are starting to believe the propaganda. They are saying our borders are under threat. This is just hogwash.

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  4. Reblogged this on auntyuta and commented:
    I would like as many people as possible to have a look at this post and think about the issues that Robyn raises.

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  5. As always, Robyn, you researched a lot of sources. This is why I like very much what you are posting so we can be informed as much as is possible at this stage.
    I hope you don’t mind if I reblog this post so that hopefully some more people become aware of it. Thanks for posting, Robyn.

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  6. Of course let’s all ignore the 6 million tonne elephant in the room. The navy kidnapped, trafficked and dumped people from Australia, on an Australian warship which is Australia into waters they had no idea of being safe in and to a country that they have no right to re-enter or stay.

    They did this on purpose, why are people surprised that they burnt them after the deliberately and with great racist malice refouled them.

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  7. It’s not a question of belief or who to believe, it’s a question of what the evidence shows. This is why we can dismiss Abbott’s “who ya gonna believe?” response out of hand. That is not an appropriate response to such serious allegations, to dismiss them without attempting to find out for himself what the facts are.

    Now if this kind of belligerent response and failing to investigate or apprise himself of the facts or acting out of accord with the facts happens time and time again, as it does with Abbott, that goes to a matter of trust. Abbott cannot be trusted. That doesn’t infer anything about whether asylum seekers were in fact burned in the manner and for the reasons they claimed.

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    • Thanks Nick. Agree. We are just supposed to believe because he said so? I will never forget that cyclist guy who proclaomed his innocence for years. Or the children overboard. Or the Essendon supplements. No-one ever does anything wrong until the evidence is in.

      Sad.

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  8. […] mind has been churning since I published “Who can we believe?” yesterday. The comments on that article and interaction on Twitter made me delve deeper into […]

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  9. Agree Robyn..there are more questions than answers, which is why I believe we need an open enquiry on the entire fiasco including incursions into Indonesian territorial waters. It isnt going away and needs to be resolved sooner rather than later.

    I do think Indonesia had their shackles up well before the “spying” saga. Remember Abbott, Morrison & Bishop had visits to Indonesia prior to election when we were assured how great their relationship with SBY was. I have my doubts. None of them are skilled in the finer points of diplomacy. Then another vist immediately post election. None of these visits cemented the bi-lateral relationship as well as it should have.

    Indonesia has always seen Australia as the final desired destination of choice for asylum seekers. We are seen as both a large country (geographically) and a rich country. Our attitude to asylum seekers and more broadly foriegn aid is seen as mean and cruel. There is nothing in it for Indonesia to either “stop boats” or have the boats returned. Adding to the poverty issues for the 200 million people who live there. They see it as our problem not theirs.

    Abbott doesnt want to “loose face” but he may have to drag out some skilled negoiaters to sort this before further escalation..for all our sakes.

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    • Excellent observations Betty. Very, very concerning on so many levels. I am considering a follow-up article about the attitude of Abbott and his ministers to the “unwashed hoards” to the north. I have a feeling he believes he has some God-given right to dictate, even though we are a tenth of the population. THAT is a worry!

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  10. Great article Robyn. I just can’t believe anything that TA & his mob are doing, especially where Indonesia is concerned. If you happened to see Abbott giving his presser today, he had difficulty making any sense & couldn’t even look straight down the lens of the camera. At least when Bill Shorten did his presser he looked straight down that lens.
    I just hate being lied to by anyone let alone the people who are supposed to be running our country. I also don’t like the way that Abbott is trying to use scare tactics to bring fear into the equation. It stinks & its the same tactics that Howard used to control the population.
    This country needs to wake up & realize that we are being manipulated big time. Perhaps if enough people are angry enough they will join the March in March demonstrations around the country.

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  11. In normal times, allegations are at least formally investigated. When propaganda is at stake, new rules apply. Our new regime of secrecy and duplicity gives me little confidence of anything but an approaching rough ride for us all.

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  12. Thank you for the article Robyn, perhaps illustrating the wickedness of the problem we’re dealing with.
    In my opinion Australian’s have been conditioned to live in fear. It’s been getting progressively worse for some time, but a real catalyst was September 11, 2001. Then the fear was terrorism, now the fears are economic and/or social. Fear impedes judgement and throughout history fear has been used to justify all manner of evil.
    Asylum seeker agency has been steadily eroded by successive governments pretty much ever since the Keating Government (Labor) introduced mandatory detention in 1992. We’ve had 22 years of governments whittling away at the treatment of asylum seekers, a generation.
    I too don’t know who to believe. Each side will present ‘evidence’ to support their claim. I think until I see independent verification I have to consider everything propaganda until proven otherwise, and this is very disappointing.

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  13. Great article Robyn. A Journalists said the other day Abbotts big election promise was and still is to turn back the boats and he knows if he is to have any crediblity, he has to turn back the boats and to him it does not matter HOW he does it. Remember how he was on Julia Gillard the moment she did not keep a promise..

    I have young relatives in the Navy they can and do lots of courses to update their knowledge and skill. I do not in any way believe the Navy did not know, that they were in foreign waters as their technology would be so incredibly up to date…

    Abbott has a set plan for Australia and a believe that no one is going to stop him from doing what he has set out to do. He has a set agenda as he owes ertain people for getting him where he is today..

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  14. Sorry Robyn, I have nothing to offer you on this one, I am in exactly the same boat (definitely no pun intended), no idea who to believe.

    Both sides of politics have ‘form’, sadly with the Children overboard lies and the fact that so many of that era are now back in Govt, that gives me no confidence what-so-ever. On the flip-side you have the Indonesians gearing up for an election & there are votes in putting us Aussies – who quite frankly ‘have form’ for being so condescending to them for so many years – in our place. Unless you were one of those ex pats who thought the natives were soooo quaint, anyone who has dealt in this area of Asia always knew that Mr Abbott’s thinly veiled ‘shit happens’ in Parliament (not even picking up an effing phone direct), was always going to go down like a lead poo in Indonesia, it was disrespectful.

    As I said, no idea… Guess we just hope that maybe someone in the Navy does a Snowden & rolls on the Government, or we could soon be having Admiral Morrison quoting “In Air Operations” too 😦

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    • We had Abbott speaking in less that politically astute terms today too, using the word “ought” when he ought not have in relation to another leader (you can guess who).

      Just goes from bad to worse!

      Thanks for the additional points, Noely. Especially the “shit happens” comment – I’d forgotten that. It all compounds.

      Like

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