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A fake Australian Indonesian look-alike fishing boat

Go Back to Where You Came From (2)

Tony Abbott's brutal push-back strategy of asylum boats

The complete report on Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison's ruthless and top-secret 'pushing-back' policy of asylum-seeker boats

There is always a problem with policies of 'punishment' in a populist political environment such as Australian politics: once it starts, subsequent governments need to 'ramp it up' in their vein pursuit to seek re-election.

Fact is, that Australia's draconian policies of punishing asylum seekers - and their journey organisers - for arriving 'uninvited', first began under the government of Malcolm Fraser during 1977-78. Not a single government or Prime Minister since Fraser has ever retreated in any significant way from this punitive approach. In terms of the treatment of maritime asylum seekers, Australia now firmly resides in the Pariah-State league of nations.

About these pages

Tony Abbott was Australia's 28th Prime Minister for exactly two years, from 18 Sept 2013 to 15 Sept 2015.

Before his 'rise to the top', Abbott was a ruthless and aggressive opposition leader, who attempted to destroy whatever he could during the period of the Prime Ministerial administrations of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. And, if you elect a streetfighter and brutal pugilist as your Prime Minister, then you can expect policies and strategies that will be in character with that brutal attitude.

As Prime Minister, Tony Abbott maintained his spirit of super-aggressive conservatism. The already shocking treatment of asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat (under Kevin Rudd's second administration and Julia Gillard's governance, hardline offshore detention camps had been re-established on Nauru and Manus Island) descended further into secret policies of brutally sending people back on their own boats or on specially supplied one-way vessels.

Abbott was supported in his brutal policies by Scott Morrison, who as Immigration Minister was happy to practice a policy of extreme disdain for reporters: on several occasions Morrison happily walked out from formally organisated press-conferences when he didn't like the questions and scrutiny of openness and accountability. Under Scott Morrison, Australia's Migration Act was almost entirely destroyed: all affirmations of the rights of asylum seekers that applied in International Law under the United Nations Refugee Convention were stripped from the Act.

Within months of coming to power, government apparatchiks 'leaked' the news that the government was considering a policy of "pushing the boats back" or "turning boats around" to Indonesia. Just two weeks later, reporters discovered abandoned boats on Indonesian shores. Abbott and Morrison didn't give a damn about the serious diplomatic fall-out with Indonesia, they didn't give a damn about the rights of asylum seekers under International Law, they didn't give a damn about their own humanity, they didn't give a damn about Australian decency, and they didn't give a damn about the implications for Australia as a country with international legal obligations.

There are three pages in this section. The reports and opinion pages contained in these pages cover the period from January to June 2014.

first page ] [ second page ] [ third page ]


Related pages

22 October 2017: Go Back to Where You Came From (1) - Tony Abbott's brutal push-back strategy of asylum boats. The second one of three pages, comprising our complete report on Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison's ruthless and top-secret 'pushing-back' policy of asylum-seeker boats.

22 October 2017: Now we send them back in orange lifeboats - Tony Abbott's brutal push-back strategy of asylum boats. This is the first of three pages, comprising our complete report on Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison's ruthless and top-secret 'pushing-back' policy of asylum-seeker boats.

25 February 2014: Burnt hands and the ABC's burnt fingers - When allegations of Navy abuse during asylum seeker interdictions surfaced in ABC reports, it became Tony Abbott's convenient culture war trigger. Ever since the 2013 election, the pack of conservative wolves have been quietly howling and trampling at the bit to start degrading the ABC on behalf of the commercial media hounds bleating about ABC bias.

1 October 2013: Abbott's Liberals and the 'illegal boats' election campaign - Tony Abbott's aggressive 'Labor's illegal boats' campaign was a brazen attempt to redefine asylum seekers as 'illegals' throughout his time in opposition - but activists successfully undermined his 'flagship' in Perth.

Some photos

As reported by Guardian Australia, these fake, Australian-owned, Indonesian fishing boats "look-alikes" were built in Taiwan and Malaysia, shipped to Australia, and used by the Abbott government to forcibly send apprehended asylum seekers and their voyage organisers back to Indonesia.

This secret practice may have been fully maintained also during the post-Abbott government administrations. But we do not know this, because our governments are keeping this policy a top-secret. Australian taxpayers pay for these boats and this policy, but we're not allowed to know whether this policy even exists or not.

Click on the thumbnails to open a large size photo in a new browser window.

fake fishing boat 1
fake fishing boat 2
fake fishing boat 3
David Pope cartoon
five fake fishing boats
Michael Leunig cartoon

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Asylum seekers give details on Operation Sovereign Borders lifeboat turn-back

ABC TV - 7.30
by George Roberts and Mark Solomons
Posted Mon 17 Mar 2014, 6:28pm AEDT
Updated Mon 17 Mar 2014, 8:30pm AEDT

Asylum seekers who were forcibly returned to Indonesia by lifeboat have given the first detailed account of their ordeal, and a unique insight into the Federal Government's Operation Sovereign Borders.

New video footage of their journey has also emerged, despite Australian Government attempts to keep the turn-back operations secret.

The passengers who are now in detention in Indonesia have given the ABC's 7.30 program their accounts of being forced onto an orange lifeboat after being held on the Australian Customs ship Triton off Christmas Island for up to a week.

Iranian asylum seeker Arash Sedigh, 35, said it was the second time he had tried and failed to reach Australia and been put on one of the orange boats, bought specially for the purpose by the Australian Government.

Mr Sedigh says, during their detention on board the Triton, he was separated from the other passengers so he could not warn them about their imminent return.

He claims officers "punched" him before putting him onto the lifeboat.

"I asked [sic] them, 'We will die in this orange boat, it's not suitable for passing the ocean," Mr Sedigh said.

"They told me, 'That's not our problem, that's yours. If you die in the Indonesian water, [it] makes Indonesian government in trouble and responsible. That's not our problem'.

Mr Sedigh's wife, Azi, has told 7.30: "I was just screaming, I kept saying, 'This boat of yours is not suitable for me to board it'."

"I was holding to the sides of the boat that they took us to... I was just screaming. But the only thing they did was to pull me forcefully towards that boat," she said.

Mr Sedigh said he had threatened to kill Customs officers after he had earlier requested medical attention for a pregnant woman and other sick passengers, a request he alleges was refused.

He also claimed that after demanding to know what was going to happen to him and his fellow passengers, officers had said: "We don't know, you have no rights, you have no rights.

At another point, he said they had heard they were to be transferred to Christmas Island "very soon".

Instead, the asylum seekers were placed in the lifeboat and towed to within a few hours' sailing time of the Indonesian coast.

A Pakistani asylum seeker, who wanted to be known only as "Mr Dar" because he had been targeted by Islamic militants in Pakistan and feared for his family, said he and fellow passengers had been treated "like war prisoners".

"But all people were innocents, small babies, ladies, pregnant ladies and everybody was disturbed and in difficulty. Otherwise, why we go there?" he said.

Mr Dar said the lifeboat was "very small and very smelly".

"This boat is like a grave," he said.

"The people neck to neck and knee to knee ... somebody vomiting, the bad smell of the vomiting, other people start smoking, vomiting. All the people one by one - vomiting.

The ABC spoke to a dozen passengers who left Indonesia on a wooden fishing boat on December 27 and washed up in the lifeboat at Pangandaran on the south coast of West Java on February 5.

Some of them agreed to give in-depth interviews, but many appointed Mr Sedigh as their spokesman and said they agreed with his version of events.

The ABC has put detailed questions on the turn-back operation to the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, including allegations of mistreatment made by the asylum seekers.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison did not answer specific questions.

He said Navy and Customs and Border Protection officers working under Border Protection Command were "well trained and act in accordance with that training and the guidelines and protocols established for these operations".

"The Government rejects unsubstantiated allegations of inappropriate conduct made against our Navy and Customs and Border Protection personnel," the spokesman said.

The new interviews and exclusive footage of the asylum seekers' journey will feature on tonight's 7.30 program as the first instalment of a two-part special investigation into Operation Sovereign Borders.

www.abc.net.au/../asylum-seekers-give-details-on-operation-sovereign-borders/5326546

Asylum seekers tell of harrowing tow-back in orange lifeboat

The Age
March 18, 2014 - 6:56AM
Sarah Whyte and Michael Bachelard

People smugglers are continuing to entice asylum seekers to Australia from Indonesia, despite ramped-up efforts by the government to stop the boats.

In a report by the ABC's 7.30, asylum seekers filmed their harrowing journey aboard an orange lifeboat provided by the Australia government as they were towed back for a second time to Indonesia.

''We will die in this orange boat. It's not suitable for passing the ocean,'' Arash Sedigh said he told the Australian officials, as he was allegedly forced onto the small $46,000 orange vessel.

To which the officials allegedly replied: ''That's not our problem. That's yours. If you die in the Indonesia water, makes Indonesian government in trouble and responsible. That's not our problem.''

Boarding the people smuggler's wooden boat on January 27 with 34 others - including a pregnant woman and a one-year-old child - this was the second time Mr Sedigh, an Iranian asylum seeker, and his wife, Azi, had attempted the journey.

"When we arrive and Customs come inside our wooden boat, I just ask them 'Please, please, help us. Would you please take us in a safe place? They just shouted at me, 'Shut up! Shut up! Sit down!'", Iranian Arash Sedigh told the ABC.

''They pushed us. They punched us. We were just asking for our rights.''

But the Immigration Department said there were ''clear guidelines to govern the use of force''.

"Central to these guidelines is to ensure that operations are conducted safely for both our own officers and persons who are the subject of these operations,'' a spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said.

"For the past 88 days there has not been a single successful maritime people smuggling venture to Australia.

Even so, Mr Sedigh says people smugglers are still trying to encourage him and his wife to try again.

''They are trying to send us again they say us: 'if you want we can send you again several times but you cannot get back give back your money','' he told the ABC.

This is not the first time asylum seekers have described their vomitous and terrifying experience aboard the orange life boats, which are the government's latest weapon against people smuggling.

Earlier this month, asylum seekers told Fairfax Media of their forced trip inside the lifeboat back to Indonesia.

''Inside the orange boat it was closed, hot and very dark,'' Omar Ali, an Egyptian asylum seeker told Fairfax Media .

''No light. Very hot. When the driver opens the door, the water comes inside. We're sick. Everybody sick; there was no air,'' he said, who is now in temporary detention in an old office building in Cilacap, Central Java.

The lifeboats are small and inside they feel smaller. They are dark and airless with only a couple of small, high windows.

Mr Sedigh told the ABC he would not attempt the journey again.

''No, I have two times bad experiences about this trip, I don't want to make my wife in trouble again. I want her for living together, I don't want to make her die.''

www.theage.com.au/../asylum-seekers-tell-of/../orange-lifeboat-20140318-34ynm.html

Cost of Abbott government's orange lifeboats to tow back asylum seeker trebles to $7.5 million

The Age
March 20, 2014 - 4:54PM
Sarah Whyte

The Abbott government has tripled the amount of money spent on the large orange lifeboats used to tow back asylum seekers breaching Australian waters to Indonesia to $7.5 million as part of its tough border control policy.

The figure, to be revealed at an estimates hearing on Friday, is $5 million more than the initial $2.5 million allocated to purchase lifeboats in January.

It is believed each lifeboat costs about $200,000, which means the lifeboat fleet has increased from 12 boats to about 37 boats, each of which are only used once.

According to documents obtained by Fairfax Media $5.7 million will also be spent on an Australian Maritime Identification System, intelligence gathering technology that aims to locate ''security threats'' on the water before they reach Australian shores.

The documents, which will be presented to an estimates committee on Friday in Canberra, also show the cost of extending naval vessel, the Triton, for six months is $16.8 million, while the cost of increasing the contract for the armed patrol vessel, the Ocean Protector is $25 million.

This latest announcement comes as the cost of running Operation Sovereign Borders continues to dominate discussion around Australia's immigration policies.

Last month it was revealed temporary accommodation for staff aboard the floating accommodation vessel Bibby Progress off Manus Island was costing taxpayers $13.3 million over seven months to May 30, while the management firm in charge of Nauru and Manus Island detention centres, Transfield, was also awarded a $1.2 billion contract.

www.theage.com.au/../tow-back-asylum-seeker-trebles-to-75-million-20140320-355ci.html

Asylum seekers describe boat turn-back at centre of burns allegations

ABC-TV - 7.30
By Mark Solomons and George Roberts
First posted Mon 24 Mar 2014, 7:53pm AEDT
Updated Mon 24 Mar 2014, 8:42pm AEDT

An asylum seeker whose boat was turned back to Indonesia by Australia has given the ABC a detailed first-person account alleging he was deliberately burned by Australian military personnel while in their custody.

It is the first time any of the three alleged victims of the January incident, on a fishing boat called the Riski, has given their version of events.

The account of Mustafa Ibrahim, a 23-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker, and other evidence found by 7.30's investigation raise new questions about the turn-back of the boat by the military between January 1 and January 6.

The Australian Government has said allegations that people were deliberately burned on the boat were "baseless" and "unsubstantiated".

The ABC has established that a distress call was made from the boat shortly before it was turned back.

Two Somali passengers interviewed by 7.30 each described losing a brother overboard during rough weather when closing on the Australian coast, just hours before they were intercepted and turned back to Indonesia.

One of them has called on the Australian Government to provide information about his brother's whereabouts or release his body.

Customs today told the ABC that Australian authorities had interviewed the master of the asylum seekers' boat, who told them no-one had gone overboard.

The agency also said the weather had been "benign" at the time of the alleged incident.

"Notwithstanding this assessment, and as a precaution, the Australian authorities on scene conducted an extensive search by air and sea of the local area and did not locate any person from the vessel," a spokesman for the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force said.

One of the passengers, Somali Saed Yislam, told the ABC that before the boat was intercepted, he and his brother had been sleeping together on the top deck when he heard a "whoosh" sound as his brother fell in the water.

"I screamed, I screamed I screamed, the man did not stop the boat," he said.

7.30 spoke to 12 passengers from the boat in two detention centres at opposite ends of Indonesia. Five of them claimed they had either been involved in the burns incident or had seen it. Two others said they heard screams.

GPS data details journey

The ABC also obtained access to a GPS set seized from the passengers by Indonesian authorities after their arrest.

Data downloaded from it provides detailed information about the boat's more than 2,000-kilometre round trip from Indonesia to Australia and back again.

It shows the boat made it to within eight kilometres of Australia's Melville Island, north of Darwin, and was heading ashore at 12 kilometres per hour.

Passengers claim they landed on a beach soon after, and were quickly rounded up by military personnel despatched from a Navy ship and forced back on their boat.

The Australian Government has never acknowledged that the boat came ashore.

At the end of January, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison claimed there had been no boat arrivals since mid-December.

Rising tensions and protest

During the ensuing ocean voyage under Navy escort, passengers have described rising tension and a breakdown of discipline on board as it became clear they were being returned to Indonesia, culminating in a "strike" or "protest" during which several men jumped in the water.

Passengers said the "Army" or "soldiers" had instituted a rule by which the asylum seekers could only use the toilet once in 24 hours, men during the day and women at night.

They admit there had been a previous attempt to sabotage the engine and said they had assumed the ban on accessing the wheelhouse and toilet - located beyond, in the stern - was to keep them away from it.

But the restriction infuriated the passengers, and when a Somali woman with three children had been blocked from accessing the toilet, four men staged a violent protest.

Passengers said the first man to enter the wheelhouse had been a Somali, Bobies Nooris, who was immediately pepper-sprayed by one of the Australian personnel.

Mr Nooris admits he then burned himself accidentally on the engine exhaust while stumbling around, blinded.

He claimed he had only been trying to recover some belongings from the wheelhouse near the engine, but other passengers said he had led the protest.

Mr Ibrahim told the ABC he had also tried to get access to the toilet but Australian military personnel had refused, prompting a confrontation.

"I came to the toilet area and I met those people near the door. There were nearly six people at the door," he said.

"Two people came and met me and then I pointed that I wanted to urinate. I could not speak English so I show them I want to urinate.

"And they argued with me and they told me not to go and then one of them held me from this side and another from this side. Then they brought me, one came out this side the other one came out the other side and they put my hand on the exhaust.

Men 'being deliberately burned'

Asked if it could have been an accident, Mr Ibrahim said Australian personnel had acted "intentionally".

An English-speaking Sudanese passenger, Yousif Fasher, said he had witnessed the incident through an entry point to the wheelhouse.

He said he had then seen three of the men deliberately burned, "one after one".

"After they burn them and they take them out, they come and they call, 'Yousif, translate for anyone here. If anyone try to go to the toilet again, we will punish them like this. Tell them. Woman, in the night-time, like we told you, man at the daytime'," he said.

"This what they told, clearly, and I told the people. And people ... afraid, no-one is start to going.

Mr Ibrahim said he had not received any medical attention until he reached Indonesia, a claim backed by other passengers.

Eritrean asylum seeker Abdullah Ahmed Mohammed said he was on the roof of the wheelhouse during the burns incident.

"I am on the top ... I'm [hearing] the voice 'aaagh' from the pain," he said.

Mr Mohammed said the first attempt to sabotage the engine had been when the asylum seekers had been forcibly returned to their boat.

He told the ABC that some passengers had protested against being returned to Indonesia by jumping in the water and others may have intended to sabotage the engine at the same time.

But he strenuously denied that any of the passengers had received burns from the engine while trying to sabotage it.

Passengers queried TSE uniforms

Passengers said some of the Australians involved came from a Navy ship numbered 154, which corresponds with the frigate HMAS Parramatta.

Facebook photos show the ship in December and January carrying members of a Transit Security Element, a special unit used in boarding operations.

These units are drawn from the Navy, Army and Air Force.

Phone video shot by the passengers during the turn-back operation shows men wearing green camouflage fatigues, which the ABC understands is normally worn by members of the Army and Air Force on these types of operations, while Navy personnel wear grey-blue camouflage.

Mr Fasher said passengers had queried the difference in uniforms among the personnel on their boat.

"When we ask them why this colour is different, they say, some of them, they say, 'we are from Navy'. Some of them said, 'we are from Army'. This is what they told us," he said.

Several passengers said they would be able to identify the Australian personnel involved in boarding their boat.

Mr Ibrahim said he would recognise the people who had burned him.

"I know their looks, if I met them I will know them," he said.

Govt: burns allegations 'baseless'

The passengers said they were surprised no-one in authority in Australia had sought to interview them about their claims.

The Australian Government and military have said allegations that people were deliberately burned on the boat are "baseless" and "unsubstantiated".

Customs provided a statement from the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Task Force, saying:

"All personnel conducting border protection operations are required to act in accordance with rules regarding use of force.

"This comprises force necessary and reasonable for the level of resistance displayed to establish or re-establish control of a situation.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison declined to answer detailed questions about the operation.

He provided a statement saying: "I have repeatedly responded to questions from ABC journalists regarding outrageous claims of torture and mistreatment from those seeking to enter Australia illegally by boat in addition to claims that four people were missing at sea.

"Such responses were provided on: 8 January, 9 January, 21 January & 22 January. I stand by these responses," the statement said.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-24/asylum-seekers-describe-boat-turn-back/5342210

Asylum seeker burns allegations still 'baseless', matter is closed: Morrison

ABC News Online
By political reporter Latika Bourke
First posted Tue 25 Mar 2014, 9:50am AEDT
Updated Tue 25 Mar 2014, 4:05pm AEDT

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says there will be no further investigation into asylum seekers' claims they were deliberately harmed by Navy personnel during a turn-back of their boat, because the matter is "closed".

The ABC's 7.30 program last night broadcast an interview with one of the alleged victims, who said he was forced to touch the exhaust after ignoring a ban on entering the engine room.

But Mr Morrison says the claims are no more reputable now than when they were first aired by the ABC two months ago.

"All we saw last night was a repetition of baseless claims, nothing more than that," he told AM.

"The Government stands by all its rejections of these insulting and offensive claims.

The minister ruled out any further inquiry, including interviewing the asylum seekers, because he said the burden of proof lay with those making the claims, not the Australian Government.

"I don't think it's for the Government to disprove the negative, it's for those who have allegations to actually prove the positive.

Mr Morrison said the Navy examined the incident when the claims were first made.

"When the assessment was done after these events there was found to be no breach. I believe the Navy," he said.

"I don't find what was said last night any more credible than what was said two months ago, nothing's moved on; I suggest the ABC should.

"This matter is closed.

Mr Morrison would not confirm whether or not authorities filmed the turn-back operation but said if any footage existed it would have been included in the Navy's own assessment.

He said video recordings were usually only taken for search and rescue operations and this specific turn-back was not one of those.

Liberal MP Dennis Jensen said if the asylum seekers' claims were legitimate, a whistleblower sailor would have come forward by now.

"If that [incident] had happened, there would have been at least one sailor that would have been so disgusted that at the very least, on the quiet would have said 'hang on the official story is not correct'," Dr Jensen said.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-25/burns-allegations-still-baseless-morrison/5343070

Scott Morrison calls renewed asylum seeker burning claims 'baseless'

The 'matter is closed', says immigration minister, after man who claims he was burned by the navy spoke publicly on ABC's 7.30

Michael Safi
The Guardian
Monday 24 March 2014 23.59 EDT

Scott Morrison has dismissed the "baseless" account of an asylum seeker who claims Australian navy personnel deliberately burned his hands, saying the "matter is closed".

The immigration minister's comments follow a report broadcast on ABC's 7.30 on Monday evening, in which one of the three asylum seekers whom witnesses say were burned by the navy spoke publicly for the first time.

"I was going to the toilet. [Navy personnel] were standing in the toilet. They told me I not to go. We insisted to go, and those people, they won't let us. When we insisted, those people hold us and put our hands on the engine and burnt us," the Sudanese asylum seeker, Mustafa Ibrahim, said.

He added: "One [officer] came out this side and the other one came out the other side and they put my hand on the exhaust. Put it like that and one of them came and held it down and I slipped it out. I thought they wanted to tie me. And then after they burnt me, I just pulled my hand. The exhaust was very, very, very hot and it burnt all my hand and I ran away."

Ibrahim said he received treatment for the burns in Indonesia, and that he was unable to close his hand for days. Another asylum seeker told the ABC that the three men were burned as a warning to other passengers, who were allegedly told: "If anyone try to go to the toilet again, we will punish them like this one."

Speaking on ABC radio on Tuesday morning, Morrison again said the claims were not credible. "The government stands by all its rejections of these insulting and insensitive claims," he said. "If the ABC just wants to keep repeating and recycling these claims, well they can, but the government will continue to strenuously deny them.

Morrison said he stood by the navy's original assessment of the allegations, and not "what I saw last night".

"I don't find what was said last night any more credible than what was said two months ago," he said. "Nothing's moved on. I suggest the ABC should."

Allegations that Australian navy personnel had tortured asylum seekers first aired in January, when footage emerged showing people receiving treatment for severe burns that Indonesian police said were caused by the Australian navy.

The incidents allegedly occurred after Australian authorities were called to assist an asylum seeker boat that ran aground on an island near Darwin on New Year's Day, and towed back to Indonesia, as part of the Abbott government's policy of "turning back the boats".

The claims have been the subject of strenuous denials by Customs and the navy as well as Morrison, who has said the claims are fabricated and amount to "malicious and unfounded slurs" against the Australian navy. The ABC has come under fire for broadcasting the story.

Passengers to whom 7.30 spoke repeated claims that asylum seekers were physically and verbally abused by officers and prevented from freely accessing the bathroom after sabotaging the boat's engine, which navy engineers were working to repair.

As in earlier reports, witnesses said the alleged torture occurred when frustrated asylum seekers attempted to force their way into the bathroom. One passenger, Yousif Fasher, claims tensions boiled over when a young woman was denied access to the toilet. "When she start crying, the young people, they say, 'No, we have to go by force to the toilet,'" he said.

An asylum seeker also claims that passengers were punished for leaping into the ocean by being forced to sit under the blazing sun, allegedly told: "Now, as a punishment you have to stay here five hour. The sun is shining from the sky on you. This is punishment."

Several witnesses, including Fasher, say the boat was intercepted by Australian authorities after asylum seekers called for help when four passengers were washed overboard by an enormous wave.

But Australian Customs authorities have questioned whether any asylum seekers fell overboard, saying "the claims were rigorously assessed and acted on at the time they were made".

"The Joint Agency Task Force is confident that they were not true."

It said the ABC's report offered "no new evidence ... which would warrant further action".

"Recycling unsubstantiated and false allegations does not make them any more true than when they were first alleged."

www.theguardian.com/../scott-morrison-calls-renewed-asylum-seeker-burning-claims-baseless

Fight to expose footage of asylum seeker burns fails in Senate

Labor and Coalition vote down Greens motion for all video, images and audio from contentious turnback to be made public

Oliver Laughland
The Guardian
Wednesday 26 March 2014 03.57 EDT

A Senate motion to make public footage of an asylum boat turnback which resulted in three asylum seekers saying they had their hands burned by Australian navy personnel has failed, with both Labor and the Coalition voting against it.

The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young brought the motion for all video, images and audio from the turnback to be made public following a report by ABC's 7:30 program on Monday, which contained new witness claims about the incident.

The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, has consistently denied the navy engaged in any wrongdoing during the turnback, saying on Tuesday the ABC report contained "recycled" allegations and the "matter is closed". He also refused to confirm if any footage of the turnback existed.

Despite Labor voting against the motion, Guardian Australia has obtained a letter sent from the shadow immigration minister Richard Marles's office to Morrison on Wednesday, asking him to provide a public account of any investigation into the matter conducted by the navy.

It is understood the minister has yet to respond.

Hanson-Young said the result of the motion was "very disappointing". "Operation Sovereign Borders has become Operation Blame the Soldiers and it is our brave navy and customs personnel who are suffering because of it," she said.

"The government is thanking those men and women who risk it all to implement their dangerous policy by refusing to clear their names."

www.theguardian.com/../fight-to-expose-footage-of-asylum-seeker-burns-fails-in-senate

Safe asylum boat turnbacks may not be possible, Senate committee finds

Senators critical of 'blanket public interest immunity claims' used to avoid giving details about Operation Sovereign Borders

Oliver Laughland
The Guardian
Thursday 27 March 2014 03.04 EDT

It may be impossible for the government to safely pursue its policy of turning back boats carrying asylum seekers without crossing into Indonesia's territorial waters, a Senate inquiry into six Australian naval incursions has found.

On Thursday the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee released its report into the incursions, which occurred between December 2013 and January 2014 and were said to have been an inadvertent result of "miscalculations" about Indonesia's boundaries.

The report found that operating a safe turnback operation which the government has required the navy to do outside the 12 nautical mile boundary might not be possible.

"Ensuring the safety of crew and asylum seekers while turning back or towing back vessels outside of 12 nautical miles from Indonesia's archipelagic baseline may not be an achievable policy goal, depending on the prevailing conditions, the seaworthiness of vessels and the possible use of lifeboats," the report said.

The committee is also critical of what it describes as "blanket public interest immunity claims" used by the minister for immigration, Scott Morrison, to avoid providing some details about the working of the Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) policy.

During an inquiry hearing last Friday key OSB personnel used public interest immunity claims to deflect a number of questions posed by the panel, including whether OSB naval vessels turned off their GPS during operations.

The report calls on the immigration minister to provide a justification for the use of public interest immunity.

At the hearing last Friday the OSB commander, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell conceded that Australia did not have the capacity to continuously monitor all its naval vessels.

A public version of the customs and navy inquiry into the six incursions ruled out any deliberate incursion into Indonesian territorial waters and said the responsibility for navigation had been "devolved" to vessel commanders.

"On each occasion the incursion was inadvertent in that each arose from incorrect calculation of the boundaries of Indonesian waters rather than as a deliberate action or navigational error," the report states.

The committee recommended that the confidential version of the report be made public with suitable redactions.

The Greens immigration spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, who sits on the committee, expressed concern at the potential conflict of purposes found in the report, saying it made the policy of turnbacks "unworkable".

"Cutting a leaky wooden boat adrift more than 12 miles from a coastline that you can't see is inherently dangerous," she said.

"The government's refusal to explain what happened with these incursions again shows how Operation Sovereign Borders has become Operation Blame the Soldiers."

www.theguardian.com/../safe-asylum-boat-turnbacks-may-not-be-possible-senate-committee-finds

Peter Hartcher: Tony Abbott and the big Indonesia chill

Why Tony Abbott's tactics have caused a big chill with Indonesia

The Age
May 6, 2014 - 1:13AM
Peter Hartcher

Tony Abbott was supposed to be in Bali on Tuesday. He was supposed to be shaking hands with the President of Indonesia, attempting to thaw the frosty relations with Australia's only strategically important near neighbour.

He wanted to go. With only six months remaining of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's decade in power, there are limited opportunities to restore normal relations while Indonesia is still led by the most pro-Australian president it has ever had.

But Abbott's not there. He pulled out of the trip late on Friday. News had broken that the Australian authorities had intercepted a boat carrying asylum seekers. They were turning it around to send it back to Indonesia.

Why is that a problem? Abbott judged that it could have been seen as an insult to his host to turn up amid publicity of an Australian policy to which Indonesia has objected so strenuously.

Abbott was wise to cancel. But it's a stark illustration of how much damage the boats policy has caused. The policy is not the sole cause of the rift; it is, however, an obstacle to healing it.

It turns out that the Prime Minister of Australia cannot meet the President of Indonesia whenever there are reports that Australia is actively conducting its boats policy.

This is an extraordinary reversal of relations, and one that was probably avoidable.

Until the great chill descended in November, Indonesia's President was exceptionally solicitous of Australia's interests.

Whenever a major international event affecting Australia was approaching, the embassy in Jakarta would typically receive a note from the President's palace: "What does Australia want?"

The notes were sent at the initiative of the President himself.

Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, or SBY, an English-speaking former general, has been a moderate, secular, pro-Western leader with a long history of contact with Australia.

But now the notes have stopped coming. SBY recalled Indonesia's ambassador to Australia last November. He hasn't yet returned. Indonesia reviewed all its areas of co-operation.

And while collaboration continues in about 60 different fields, SBY's government decided to suspend co-operation in 10 areas, according to a recent audit by the embassy in Jakarta.

These 10 areas include the most sensitive and some of the most important - police-to-police relations are frozen, and so is military co-operation. There is no Indonesian assistance with asylum seekers. Customs and intelligence co-operation has been curtailed.

"Australia's relations with Indonesia go up and down, and at the moment they are somewhat down," says one of Australia's longest-standing observers of Indonesia, Dick Woolcott, who served as ambassador to Jakarta in the 1970s .

"But they are probably better in the last months of SBY than they will be at any time in the future."

Why? "None of the main candidates to replace him has any interest in Australia."

An eminent Indonesian, Agus Widjojo, a retired general and a noted military intellectual, argues that relations with Australia are best restored while SBY is still in the palace.

"It would be desirable if the situation [of suspended co-operation] can be terminated under SBY, says Widjojo, "because it would be easier for a new administration to start with a clean sheet than inheriting a problem that's specific to the SBY administration. It would help to give the new administration a clear view."

After SBY, he says, Indonesia's leadership is likely to be more nationalistic.

It's not that the leading candidate for the presidency, the enormously popular Joko Widodo, is hostile to Australia. His son studied for two years at the University of Technology, Sydney.

The frontrunner, known by his nickname Jokowi, visited several times to see his son, and says he's been impressed with a number of aspects of Australia including its emergency response to floods and public transport in Sydney.

It's rather a combination of two factors. First, Jokowi, mayor of Jakarta, doesn't have any particular interest in Australia or any agenda he wants to pursue.

Second, Indonesia's political system gives him no incentive to develop one.

Australia is widely seen as rich and arrogant. It's seen as being, at best, insensitive to Indonesia's interests and, at worst, hostile.

The biggest problem Australia suffers in Indonesia is that no politician ever wins plaudits by being positive towards Australia; politicians win kudos by attacking Australia.

The specific problems in the relationship at the moment are the boats policy and Australian spying.

The Howard government showed that it was possible to turn back asylum-seeker boats towards Indonesia without harming relations.

Could Abbott have done the same? The critical difference is that Howard didn't talk about it, in advance or when it was in progress.

Philip Ruddock, immigration minister in the Howard government, told me: "Indonesia will work with you if you don't decide to embarrass them over it." Yet this is exactly what the Abbott opposition did. It talked loudly and endlessly about its plan to turn back the boats.

The boats policy caused serious ill will in Jakarta, but it was the revelation of Australian spying on SBY and his wife during the Labor years that was the specific trigger for the freeze.

Could Abbott have handled his response better? Probably. But that's now academic.

Despite the difficulties in relations, SBY is an asset for Australia. But he is a fast-perishing one. The immediate challenge for the Abbott government is to navigate a rapprochement.

The bigger, long-term challenge for Australia is to remake itself in the Indonesian mind so that politicians have incentives to deal with it, not just to demonise it.

theage.com.au/../-tactics-have-caused-a-big-chill-with-indonesia-20140505-zr4zy.html

Contentious asylum boat found in Indonesia

Australian navy turns back asylum seeker boat to Indonesia after loading three extra people

The Age
May 6, 2014 - 6:53AM
Michael Bachelard

The asylum seeker boat that allegedly deterred Tony Abbott from meeting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono this week has been found in Indonesia after the Australian navy reportedly put three extra people on board and then turned it back.

People on board the wooden boat have told authorities in Indonesia that the Australian navy loaded two Albanians and one Indonesian onto the boat before sending it back to a remote island in eastern Indonesia.

There is no further information about the extra passengers, but there is speculation that they may be the two asylum seekers who were taken to Christmas Island for "urgent medical treatment" after another tow-back operation in February. The third may be an Indonesian crew member.

If the two were medically treated on Australian soil then loaded onto the next available boat to be pushed back to Indonesia, it would represent a controversial new turn in Australia's tow-back policy.

Fairfax Media has sought comment from Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

A statement released by the Indonesian navy late on Monday night said 18 asylum seekers - 16 Indians and two Nepalese - had set out on April 26 from South Sulawesi. They were intercepted by Operation Sovereign Borders vessels on May 1 near Ashmore Reef, an Australian territory in the ocean west of Darwin.

The asylum seekers told the Indonesian naval officers the Australian vessels then escorted their wooden boat closer to Indonesia where, on Sunday, the three extra men - two Albanians and an Indonesian - were put on board.

The wooden boat was then left on the ocean and directed towards Indonesian territory. It ran out of fuel at an island in Indonesia's remote eastern province, where the men were stranded, then found by Indonesian navy personnel.

It is the eighth confirmed Australian turn-back operation since the first boat arrived on December 19.

In early February, about 34 refugees from Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal were returned in one of Australia's unsinkable orange lifeboats. Those people said that two of their number had been ill and had been taken away by the Australian navy.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that two people had been taken to Christmas Island with health issues, one at least for "urgent medical treatment with a heart condition".

No further information about the two has been released.

Mr Abbott had made plans to accept the invitation of the Indonesian president to meet on the sidelines of an "open government" conference in Bali this week to try to smooth tensions over recent spying revelations.

However, Mr Abbott cancelled those plans late on Friday, citing the pre-budget period and the release of the Commission of Audit. The Indonesian president's spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Dr Yudhoyono accepted that explanation at face value.

The arrival of this boat, however, raises the question about whether the real reason for the cancellation was to save embarrassment on both sides.

theage.com.au/../boat-to-indonesia-after-loading-three-extra-people-20140506-zr55k.html

Report of extra asylum seekers put on turn-back boat a 'serious development'

An Indonesian and two Albanians placed on vessel by Australians, boat crew tells Indonesian navy

The Guardian
Monday 5 May 2014 18.52 EDT
Paul Farrell

An asylum seeker boat has been turned back to Indonesia with three additional passengers on board, according to a statement issued by the Indonesian navy.

The wooden boat was found on a small island in eastern Indonesia. The crew told the Indonesian navy that two Australian vessels had been involved in the operation, and put an Indonesian and two Albanians on board who were not initially travelling on the boat.

The crew of the ship said they had been been carrying asylum seekers from India and Nepal and entered Australian waters on 1 May.

The statement follows speculation that Tony Abbott cancelled a meeting this week with Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as a result of the turnback.

Fairfax Media has reported that the two Nepalese passengers may be asylum seekers who had arrived in a boat in February. The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said at the time that two asylum seekers had been transported to Christmas Island for medical treatment, but no further information has been revealed since then.

There have been a number of asylum seeker boats turned back to Indonesia since the Coalition took office but the federal government refuses to comment, citing operational security.

www.theguardian.com/../asylum-boat-turnback-three-extra-passengers-put-on-board

Asylum seekers from two boats combined onto one for turn-back to Indonesia

The Age
May 6, 2014 - 2:04PM
Michael Bachelard

Two boats of asylum seekers have been intercepted by Australia's Operation Sovereign Borders and their passengers combined onto one wooden vessel, which was then pushed back to Indonesia, an Indonesian government spokesman has said.

The turning back of these two boats allegedly deterred Tony Abbott from meeting president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Bali today, though the Prime Minister said he had decided not to come because he wanted to focus on budget preparation.

A spokesman for the Indonesian Co-ordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs, Djoko Suyanto, said on Tuesday that 20 asylum seekers turned back on one boat on Monday actually came from two different vessels discovered by Australian authorities in the same waters at a similar time.

They are the eighth and ninth boats confirmed to have been returned under Operation Sovereign Borders.

The spokesman, Agus Barnas, said Australian navy or Customs vessels had intercepted both boats, combined the two groups, put them back on the wooden boat of the larger group and pushed them back to Indonesia.

Some details remain sketchy, but Mr Agus said the first boat, carrying just two Nepalese people (not Albanians as the Indonesian navy originally reported) and one Indonesian crew member, had left from Rote island in Indonesia's east on about May 1. The second boat, carrying 18 asylum seekers plus three crew, left from Makassar, South Sulawesi.

According to a statement released by the Indonesian navy late on Monday night, the larger boat had set out on April 26 and was intercepted by Operation Sovereign Borders vessels on May 1 near Ashmore Reef, an Australian territory in the ocean west of Darwin.

The asylum seekers on that boat said they had been escorted in their wooden vessel closer to Indonesia where, on Sunday, the three extra men, who were intercepted later, were put on board.

The wooden boat was then left on the ocean and directed towards Indonesian territory. It ran out of fuel or the engine broke down at Lay Island in Indonesia's remote eastern province.

The men were stranded there before being found by Indonesian navy personnel, the statement said.

The 20 are now in immigration detention in Kupang, West Timor, while the crews were being processed at the local navy office, Mr Agus said.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has refused to comment on the turn-back except to scotch early speculation that the two asylum seekers added to the vessel had been on Christmas Island for medical treatment.

Mr Abbott had made plans to accept the invitation of the Indonesian president to meet on the sidelines of an "open government" conference in Bali this week to try to smooth tensions over recent spying revelations.

However, Mr Abbott cancelled those plans late on Friday, citing the pre-budget period and the release of the Commission of Audit. The Indonesian president's spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Dr Yudhoyono accepted that explanation at face value.

The arrival of this boat, however, raises the question about whether the real reason for the cancellation was to save embarrassment on both sides.

theage.com.au/../combined-onto-one-for-turnback-to-indonesia-20140506-zr5kb.html

Orange asylum seeker lifeboats stripped of their safety equipment

Lives put at risk as ropes, knives and other emergency tools removed and fuel tanks sealed, says customs officer

Paul Farrell
The Guardian
Tuesday 6 May 2014 21.00 EDT

The orange lifeboats used to return asylum seekers to Indonesia were stripped earlier this year of safety equipment, including ropes, scissors, knives and other emergency tools, raising further concerns about the use of the vessels, according to a customs officer involved in their deployment.

The lifeboats are designed to act as emergency vehicles and come stocked with items for crises. Guardian Australia has also learnt the fuel tanks were capped to prevent any refuelling.

"They did a heap of work on those boats," the officer said. "They stripped out everything they thought was unnecessary ... the lifeboats come with an assortment of stuff, a mirror, fishing line, knives, ropes, a bucket. They stripped all that out."

A former secretary of the defence department, Paul Barratt, said: "Those are designed as emergency vessels. They are designed to maximise the chances of survival, so everything they take off reduces the chances of survival in certain circumstances."

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) declined to answer questions about whether the use of the lifeboats without some equipment posed a risk to safety, or whether newer lifeboats were continuing to be stripped of equipment.

Tensions with Indonesian have heightened again following revelations that an asylum seeker vessel may have been turned back with additional asylum seekers on board. The prime minister, Tony Abbott, cancelled a visit to Indonesia this week, and the Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, said it was a "very serious development".

Pictures obtained by Guardian Australia show the Ocean Protector towing a lifeboat and reveal the cramped conditions asylum seekers face when they board the vessel.

It is also understood the Ocean Protector - which is heavily involved in lifeboat operations - entered Indonesian waters in one of the incursions earlier this year as a direct result of towing a lifeboat.

ACBPS have also declined to answer questions about whether they continue to stand by the findings of a joint review into the incursions into Indonesian waters, which found there had been a series of incorrect calculations of Indonesia's baselines that show the boundaries of their waters.

Last month Guardian Australia reported the Ocean Protector had entered far deeper into Indonesian waters than previously disclosed, despite having digital navigational charts that displayed the correct boundaries of Indonesia's territorial baselines.

The digital map showed, based on historical data, the ship crossing a red line that marked Indonesia's baselines. ACBPS said there had been "no evidence" presented to the review that suggested the vessels had correctly calculated Indonesia's baselines.

A spokesman for ACBPS added: "The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service's internal professional conduct inquiries associated with the incursion of Australian vessels into Indonesian waters are ongoing.

"These inquiries are being concluded as quickly as possible with regards to the due process obligations of the service. Until these inquiries are concluded, and their recommendations considered, it would not be appropriate to comment on them further."

www.theguardian.com/../asylum-seeker-lifeboats-stripped-of-their-safety-equipment

Legality of people possibly added to boat turn-back questioned

ABC Radio CAF - The World Today
Will Ockenden
Wednesday, May 7, 2014 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: Indonesia's foreign minister Marty Natalegawa says the Indonesian navy told him that there were three extra people on that boat and that they were placed on board by Australian authorities.

This morning, director of the Australian National University's Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, William Maley, said if the extra passengers had been in Australia's jurisdiction, it could be considered to be people smuggling, and Australian criminal law may have been breached.

Professor Donald Rothwell, from the College of Law at Australian National University, has told Will Ockenden that it raises questions about the way Operation Sovereign Borders has been working.

DONALD ROTHWELL: In terms of the publicly available information, with respect to Australia's conduct of Operation Sovereign Borders, this would seem to be the first time that any evidence has arisen with respect to additional passengers being boarded onto a vessel that was being subject to a tow back operation.

To date, Minister Morrison hasn't, in his updates on Operation Sovereign Borders, revealed anything equivalent to these assertions now being made by the Indonesian government.

WILL OCKENDEN: If it is proven that it did occur, does Indonesia have grounds under international law to take Australia to court?

DONALD ROTHWELL: At one level, whilst this seems to be very irregular, it's consistent in a broader sense with the way in which Australia has been conducting Operation Sovereign Borders, and the conduct of Operation Sovereign Borders raises a whole series of issues under international law, principally with respect to Australia's compliance with the International Convention for Refugees, but secondly with respect to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

And if Indonesia was so minded, it would certainly have the option to consider taking Australia to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea - a forum set up under the Law of the Sea Convention - raising concerns about Australia's interpretation of the Law of the Sea Convention, and particularly Australia's conduct of certain activities within Indonesia's maritime borders.

WILL OCKENDEN: There could be two possible scenarios here - one is that they were on another boat and transferred and never actually came into Australia's jurisdiction, and the other was that they did come from Australia's jurisdiction, and were then put on a boat and sent back to Indonesia.

What would you say would be the legal perspective when you look at those two scenarios?

DONALD ROTHWELL: Well, the first scenario just really raises the overarching issues that have already been discussed to date with respect to Operation Sovereign Borders. The second scenario then much more directly raises issues as to the application of Australian law as to whether or not these persons were lawfully removed from Australia, consistent principally with the provisions of the Migration Act, and so therefore raises issues as to whether a deportation has occurred.

But secondly, some questions have been raised as to whether this could be interpreted as Australia undertaking an act of people smuggling, and certainly there are provisions under Australian law, and indeed international law, which relate to that.

Part of the difficulty was making out a case for people smuggling, however, would be that this would be the action of a government, and at face value it would most likely have been an action not being undertaken for financial gain, so that would raise issues as to whether or not any prosecution could begin in terms of a people smuggling offence.

WILL OCKENDEN: Because governments would have the right, and routinely do, deport people from mainly airports, so this could be argued, surely, that it is just the same as that.

DONALD ROTHWELL: Well indeed, the Migration Act allows for deportation of persons who've regularly arrived in Australia, and section 200 of the Migration Act makes allowances for that. But this would be a very irregular migration if it were proven to - deportation if it were proved to be the case, because deportation normally occurs either through chartered aircraft or commercial aircraft.

And so the use of an asylum seeker vessel that was seeking to enter Australia as being a means to return persons to another place as part of a deportation, would be well outside - as far as I understand - Australia's experience in this matter.

WILL OCKENDEN: Though "irregular" doesn't necessarily mean "illegal".

DONALD ROTHWELL: Well, it does, I think, raise significant issues as to whether or not the Government is actually complying with Australian law in terms of the way in which persons can be removed from Australia.

Now, if the persons who were subject to this removal from Australia had an opportunity to actually contest such removal before the Australian courts, Australian courts would certainly be looking very carefully at the way in which the Australian Government was conducting itself in this matter.

These persons have now been removed from Australia, so their ability to contest this matter before an Australian court is of course compromised, but that doesn't mean to say that activists and human rights groups may be looking very carefully as the practice of the Australian Government, in terms of trying to circumvent such future activities.

ELEANOR HALL: That's international law Professor Donald Rothwell, from the Australian National University, speaking to Will Ockenden.

http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2014/s3999637.htm

Indonesia navy issues statement on asylum seeker boat turn-back

ABC News Online
By Indonesia correspondent Helen Brown, staff
First posted Tue 6 May 2014, 12:57am AEST
Updated Tue 6 May 2014, 5:06am AEST

The crew of an asylum seeker boat turned back to Indonesia by the Australian Navy says three extra passengers were added to their boat from the Australian ships.

Indonesia's navy has issued a statement based on testimony given by the crew who were found on a wooden boat stranded on a small island in eastern Indonesia.

The crew reportedly told navy investigators two Australian warships put three extra people on board their boat - an Indonesian and two people from Albania - before they were escorted back to Indonesian waters.

They say they were in Australian waters on May 1 while taking 18 asylum seekers from India and Nepal towards Ashmore Reef.

According to the crew, the Australian ships escorted them back to Indonesian territory a day later.

Last week, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott cancelled a planned trip to Bali due to an "on-water operation" which Australian government sources believe had the potential to cause "embarrassment" to the Indonesian government.

But on Tuesday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the visit was cancelled to allow Mr Abbott to concentrate on next week's federal budget.

www.abc.net.au/../an-indonesia-navy-issues-statement-on-asylum-seeker-boat-turn-b/5432284

Tony Abbott speaks to Indonesian president over boat turnback reports

Tensions continue to escalate over Australia's policy of turning back boats: 'a very serious development'

The Guardian
Tuesday 6 May 2014 05.47 EDT
Katharine Murphy and Paul Farrell

Tony Abbott has telephoned his Indonesian counterpart, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as diplomatic tensions sparked by Australia's policy of asylum boat turnbacks continue to escalate.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, objected strenuously to a recent decision by Australia to turn back asylum seekers intercepted on two separate boats, and the apparent addition of extra passengers.

Natalegawa described the recent case as a "very serious development".

"I am informed that apart from the apparently original 18 asylum seekers who were in the original two boats, apparently some additional three individuals were added to the boat that was forced back to Indonesia," the ABC reported Natalegawa saying at a leader's summit in Bali on Tuesday.

"So this is -if confirmed - obviously this is a very serious development. As I said from the beginning, we are risking a slippery slope in the facilitation of Australia's government for these individuals to be forced back to Indonesia."

Abbott was supposed to attend the Bali summit currently in progress but withdrew late last week.

The prime minister told the Indonesians he was unable to attend because of budget preparations, but there has been continuing speculation that Abbott's sudden withdrawal was related to a significant on-water operation that would embarrass Indonesia.

The Indonesian navy has confirmed that the asylum seekers referred to by Natalegawa on Tuesday had been forced back to Indonesia on one boat, but they had been picked up from two separate vessels.

The boat had been turned back to Indonesia with three additional passengers on board, according to the statement issued by the Indonesian navy.

Fairfax Media has reported that the two Nepalese passengers may be asylum seekers who had arrived in a boat in February.

The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said at the time that two asylum seekers had been transported to Christmas Island for medical treatment, but no further information has been revealed since then.

A spokeswoman for Abbott confirmed late on Tuesday that he and Yudhoyono had spoken by telephone during the afternoon.

"In a very cordial conversation both leaders agreed on the importance of the bilateral relationship between Australia and Indonesia," Abbott's spokeswoman said on Tuesday night. "They committed to continue the progress that has been made to resolve current issues and to strengthen the relationship further."

www.theguardian.com/../tony-abbott-speaks-to-indonesian-president-over-boat-turnback-reports

Asylum seeker push-back: Bishop says Australia has not broken international law

ABC News Online
First posted Wed 7 May 2014, 8:43pm AEST
Updated Wed 7 May 2014, 9:23pm AEST

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has denied Australia has breached domestic or international laws as the Greens call on the Australian Federal Police to investigate reports Australian authorities added three people to an asylum seeker boat and escorted it back to Indonesian waters.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says she has written to the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, asking him to investigate whether Australia has breached its domestic laws on people smuggling.

"You can't just have individuals put on other people's boats, and sent back out to sea," she said.

"This is obviously part of the big problem with this Government. They're so obsessed with secrecy, so obsessed with keeping the Australian people in the dark that they're hoping they can get away with these terrible, dangerous, and perhaps illegal actions.

"The reports of the Australian Government and officials putting on board asylum seekers to another boat and towing the boat back to Indonesia hasn't just upset our nearest neighbour, it may have also breached Australia's own criminal code.

The director of the Australian National University's Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy, William Maley, believes Australian criminal law could have been breached if the extra passengers had been in Australia's jurisdiction.

"It actually raises the question of whether [those] involved in this particular exercise have committed the offence of people smuggling," he told AM.

"Because under the Australian Criminal Code Division 73, there's a provision which says that a person is guilty of an offence of people smuggling if that person organises or facilitates the entry of another person into a foreign country and the entry does not comply with requirements under that country's law for entry.

However, Ms Bishop has told Sky News that Australia's asylum seeker operations are legal.

"Australia abides by, not only our own laws, but also international laws," she said.

"What we're doing comes down to an issue of sovereignty, and we're entitled to do what we're doing. But I'm not going into details. They are operational matters and we are not going to flag to the people smugglers what we're doing.

The minister has refused to be drawn on whether she has discussed the incident with the Indonesian foreign minister, who has expressed concern over the reports.

The ABC has obtained footage of men who claim to be crew members and asylum seekers from a boat they say was escorted back into Indonesian waters by two Australian vessels.

The footage is allegedly from an Indonesian naval base on the Island of Rote. One man tells a local journalist he is Albanian.

The group, who are wearing life jackets, are asked if the Australian ships took them to Indonesian waters and the crew nods, saying "until we can see the island".

The ABC is unable to independently verify the allegations made in the video or how the men judged they were in Indonesian waters apart from the sighting of land.

'Very serious development'

It was Indonesia which revealed that a boat carrying asylum seekers was pushed back into Indonesian waters where it ran out of fuel and became stranded on Lay Island on Sunday.

Speaking at a leader's summit in Bali, foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said the information that people were put on the boat by Australian authorities was yet to be confirmed.

"I am informed that apart from the apparently original 18 asylum seekers who were in the original two boats, apparently some additional three individuals were added to the boat that was forced back to Indonesia," he said.

"So this is - if confirmed - obviously this is a very serious development.

"As I said from the beginning, we are risking a slippery slope in the facilitation of Australia's government for these individuals to be forced back to Indonesia.

Earlier this week the Indonesian navy released information based on its questioning of the crew of a boat who say they were turned back by Australian ships and also had three extra people placed on board.

Indonesia's president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has expressed a desire to mend a diplomatic rift with Australia within the next few months.

In a phone conversation with Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Mr Yudhoyono affirmed that he hoped a code of conduct between the two countries could be finalised by August.

The document is the key to normalising relations between the two countries in the wake of spying revelations, asylum boat turn-backs and the withdrawal of Indonesia's ambassador.

Mr Abbott had been due to visit Bali this week, but the ABC understands the trip was cancelled after the latest boat turn-back scandal.

'Breach of Convention'

International law expert Professor Ben Saul says Australia is in breach of its obligations under the Refugee Convention, but it is unlikely that any legal action for people smuggling would succeed.

"I think the problem for whether this recent incident constitutes an offence of people smuggling under Australian law is really twofold," he said.

"One is that the Attorney-General's consent to a prosecution is required under the criminal code, and you can bet that the current Australian Attorney-General would be very unlikely to allow a prosecution to proceed against his own side's political policy," he said.

"The second, and more problematic legal point, I think, is that under the criminal code there's also a defence to federal criminal offences of what's called lawful authority, and that means that if there's some legal basis justifying the purported offence, then that's a defence to any prosecution.

"In this case, I think the question then would be: does the Government have power under either the Migration Act or the unwritten executive power of the Commonwealth under section 61 of the Constitution to conduct these naval push-back exercises?

"On that point, I'd simply say in the Tampa case the full Federal Court gave a very wide, expansive reading to the executive power of the Commonwealth to control Australia's borders and to even detain people to take them elsewhere to prevent them getting into Australia.

However, Professor Saul agrees with Senator Hanson-Young that the Government is breaching its obligations under the Refugee Convention.

"The key problem with this kind of naval interdiction and push-back is really that the Australian naval personnel are not accepting people's claims that they are refugees," he said.

"Now, when Italy tried this in the Mediterranean - pushing back asylum seekers - the European court of human rights said 'that's illegal under international refugee law because as soon as an asylum seeker makes contact with a government official, that asylum seeker has a right to claim asylum and the state has an obligation to treat that asylum claim seriously'.

"Now Australia is not discharging that obligation if it simply pushes people back onto the high seas, so that ultimately means that Australia's in danger of breaching its own obligation not to return people to a place of persecution," Professor Saul said.

"Australia really is the end of the world when it comes to legally binding human rights protection in this area.

"I mean, if this happened in any of the 50 or so European countries which are governed by the binding European Court of Human Rights, then it would be clear that the victims of this policy could call the government to account, get a binding judgment from the European court just as the asylum seekers did in relation to Italy in 2012, and the government would be forced to abide by that ruling.

"We're also at the end of the legal world because we don't have any domestically binding Bill of Rights. So, in Britain or Canada, if this kind of policy was happening, you could go to your own domestic courts to challenge it and get human rights protection."

www.abc.net.au/../bishop-says-australia-has-not-broken-international-law/5437332

Tony Abbott expresses 'regret' after pulling out of Bali meeting

The Age
May 6, 2014 - 7:43PM
Michael Bachelard

Tony Abbott has moved to defuse a looming war of words with Indonesia by making a personal phone call to Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to express "regret" at not accepting the invitation to visit him this week.

But a statement released late on Tuesday from Dr Yudhoyono's spokesman outlining the contents of the call at 4pm AEST made no mention of the latest boat turn-back, which had earlier prompted a stinging rebuke from Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.

The statement, released by Dr Yudhoyono's foreign affairs spokesman Teuku Faizasyah, said the Prime Minister had "expressed his regret for being unable to fulfil president SBY's invitation to attend the Open Government Partnership Asia Pacific Regional conference" in Bali.

Mr Abbott had originally signalled he would accept the invitation and hold a bilateral meeting with Dr Yudhoyono on Tuesday. However, late on Friday he pulled out.

The president said he "understood the reasons for PM Abbott's absence from Bali, which related to the budget discussion in the parliament", the statement said.

Others have suggested the real reason is because he did not want any embarrassment over the imminent boat turn back.

The statement said the two leaders also welcomed recent progress in attempts to resolve tension over spying, and Dr Yudhoyono "stressed his hopes that a code of conduct could be agreed in August 2014 at the latest".

It is the first time the Indonesians have ever put a deadline on those discussions - Dr Natalegawa has studiously avoided doing so.

However, Dr Yudhoyono leaves office in October, and the statement makes it clear he is now trying to hasten the resolution of tensions before his term ends.

The statement said Mr Abbott hoped to visit Indonesia and meet the president in June.

The Prime Minister also invited Dr Yudhoyono to visit the Australia-Indonesia study centre being set up by Monash university in Melbourne "either before or after his term of office as president".

"This is an expression of Australia's deep appreciation for the friendship that president SBY shows through the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia," the statement said.

theage.com.au/../regret-after-pulling-out-of-bali-meeting-20140506-zr5u8.html

Tony Abbott's policy a failure, says Marty Natalegawa

Tony Abbott's policy a failure as boats keep coming, says Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa

The Age
May 6, 2014 - 5:39PM
Michael Bachelard

The turn-back of two groups of asylum seekers on Monday has put further strain on the Australia-Indonesia relationship after Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa launched another stinging criticism of the Abbott government's boats policy. .

Indonesian officials confirmed that two boats of asylum seekers were intercepted by Australian naval or Customs vessels in recent days and their 20 passengers put together onto one wooden vessel and pushed back towards Indonesian waters.

Dr Natalegawa said there were a few "issues" between the two countries, but that the boat policy remained a problem.

"[The existence] of a problem has been confirmed by the return [this week]," Dr Natalegawa said.

"[That boat] has been forced back. It proves that Abbott's policy is not successful. Their unilateral policy coerces asylum seekers, threatens them and violates their human rights - and the policy doesn't bear fruit [because the boats keep coming] ...

"What Australia is doing now is clearly against and denies all comprehensive principles in dealing with the issue of asylum seekers. Australia is acting as if it can simply move the problem to its neighbour," he said.

Dr Natalegawa was speaking outside a conference that Prime Minister Tony Abbott hastily withdrew from on Friday allegedly because of embarrassment over the imminent boat return.

However, that's not the explanation Mr Abbott gave the Indonesians - and which was accepted by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - that he was too busy preparing the federal budget and dealing with the Commission of Audit report.

Dr Natalegawa said there had been "no detailed explanation of the reason for his absence" and that it was "up to the Australian government to provide information".

A spokesman for the Indonesian Co-ordinating Minister for Legal, Political and Security Affairs, Djoko Suyanto, also criticised the policy.

"The policy of sending the boats back creates uneasy relations ... It is unfortunate that Mr Abbott failed to come to Bali, otherwise both heads of state could have sat and talked over the problems together," said spokesman Agus Barnas.

Mr Agus confirmed on Tuesday that 20 asylum seekers turned back by Australia had arrived on one boat but actually came from two different vessels intercepted by Australian authorities in the same waters.

The two boats are the eighth and ninth confirmed to have been returned to Indonesia under the Operation Sovereign Borders policy.

Some details remain sketchy, but Mr Agus said the first boat, carrying 18 asylum seekers of mixed nationality plus three crew, left from Makassar, South Sulawesi, towards the end of April. The second boat carried just two Nepalese people and one Indonesian crew member, and had left from Rote island in Indonesia's east on about May 1.

According to a statement released by the Indonesian navy late on Monday night, the larger boat was intercepted by Operation Sovereign Borders vessels on May 1 near Ashmore Reef, an Australian territory in the ocean west of Darwin.

The asylum seekers on that boat said they had been escorted in their wooden vessel closer to Indonesia where, on Sunday, the three men from the other boat were put on board.

The wooden boat was then directed towards Indonesian territory and left behind by the Australian navy. It ran out of fuel or the engine broke down at Lay Island in Indonesia's remote eastern province. The men were stranded there before being found by Indonesian navy personnel, the statement said.

The 20 are now in immigration detention in Kupang, West Timor, while the crews were being questioned at the local navy office, Mr Agus said.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has refused to comment on the turn-back.

theage.com.au/../a-failure-says-indonesian-foreign-minister-marty-natalegawa-20140506-zr5q7.html

Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wants to mend diplomatic rift with Australia

ABC Radio CAF - AM
By Helen Brown in Jakarta and Naomi Woodley
First posted Wed 7 May 2014, 7:47am AEST
Updated Wed 7 May 2014, 7:54am AEST

Indonesia's president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has expressed a desire to mend a diplomatic rift with Australia within the next few months.

In a phone conversation with Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Mr Yudhoyono affirmed that he hoped a code of conduct between the two countries could be finalised by August at the latest.

The document is the key to normalising relations between the two countries in the wake of spying revelations, asylum boat turn-backs and the withdrawal of Indonesia's ambassador.

According to the presidential press release, both leaders hope the agreement can be resolved immediately so that the bilateral relationship can enter a new phase.

Progress may be helped with a possible visit by Mr Abbott to Jakarta next month, an idea that Mr Yudhoyono says he welcomes and officials are now working on.

Mr Abbott had been due to visit Bali this week, but the ABC understands the trip was sunk by another boat turn-back.

Earlier this week the Indonesian navy released information based on its questioning of the crew of a boat who say they were turned back by Australian ships and also had three extra people placed on board.

Speaking at a leader's summit in Bali, foreign minister Marty Natalegawa said the information that people were put on the boat by Australian authorities was yet to be confirmed.

"I am informed that apart from the apparently original 18 asylum seekers who were in the original two boats, apparently some additional three individuals were added to the boat that was forced back to Indonesia," he said.

"So this is - if confirmed - obviously this is a very serious development.

"As I said from the beginning, we are risking a slippery slope in the facilitation of Australia's government for these individuals to be forced back to Indonesia.

'Could constitute people smuggling'

The director of the Australian National University's Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy, William Maley, believes Australian criminal law could have been breached if the extra passengers had been in Australia's jurisdiction.

"It actually raises the question of whether [those] involved in this particular exercise have committed the offence of people smuggling," he told AM.

"Because under the Australian criminal code division 73, there's a provision which says that a person is guilty of an offence of people smuggling if that person organises or facilitates the entry of another person into a foreign country and the entry does not comply with requirements under that country's law for entry.

"There may be a crucial distinction between on the one hand simply pushing back a boat which has appeared at the Australian maritime border, and on the other hand taking people who have been within Australian jurisdiction and placing them on a boat and sending them back.

"Because arguably the latter falls within the definition of people smuggling and there it might well be that those at sea, and those who have been involved in organising or facilitating that activity, which could of course go right up to the top level of the government, have committed a criminal offence."

Professor Maley says Dr Natalegawa's comments reflect Indonesia's belief and anger that Australia's relationship with its near neighbour runs second to domestic politics.

Labor and Greens not satisfied

Labor and the Greens are maintaining the pressure on the Prime Minister to publicly elaborate on why he did not go to this week's conference in Bali.

The Greens also want Mr Abbott to say if and when he knew extra passengers were allegedly put onto an asylum seeker boat turned back to Indonesia over the weekend.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek does not accept that budget preparations prevented Mr Abbott from attending the Bali conference.

"We're talking about a two-day round trip, telephones do work in Indonesia. I would have thought that the budget would be at such a developed stage by now that the Prime Minister could very safely have [been] out of contact for the four or five hours that he was on the plane," she said.

She says Mr Abbott should have informed Indonesia sooner.

"What's surprising is that it seems that the Indonesians were expecting him, it was a personal invitation from the Indonesian president, and instead of picking up the phone several days ago, before this became public, the Indonesians have once again had to read about this in the newspapers," Ms Plibersek said.

Greens leader Christine Milne says given the comments from Dr Natalegawa, Mr Abbott must explain what he knew about the "on-water situation" and when.

"That is wrong, you simply cannot do that, and international legal experts have given their opinion that it's people smuggling, but it's extremely serious and that's why the Prime Minister must give an explanation to the Australian people and explain when he knew and why he has condoned it," she said.

"These are really serious allegations and the relationship with Indonesia is at risk.

Senator Milne says despite the Prime Minister's report of a very cordial phone call with Mr Yudhyono, Australia's policies are clearly testing Indonesia's patience.

"It's only a matter of time before Australia's activity is taken to a higher level, and the question is at what point will Indonesia as a state party tire of Australia's behaviour of sending asylum seekers back to Indonesia, shifting the problem to another country?" she said.

"At what point will the Indonesian government take Australia to the International Court of Justice?"

www.abc.net.au/../indonesia-president-wants-to-mend-diplomatic-rift-with-australia/5435140

Mungo MacCallum: Scott Morrison and the Australian Border Farce

What is Scott Morrison's reward for orchestrating the paranoia about asylum seekers that is so hurting Australia's foreign policy? The answer: a new border security force, writes Mungo MacCallum.

ABC The Drum
By Mungo MacCallum
First posted Mon 12 May 2014, 3:33pm AEST
Updated Mon 12 May 2014, 3:40pm AEST

It was always likely to happen and now it has. Immigration commander in chief Scott Morrison and his executive generalissimo Angus Campbell have gone rogue. It is time, past time, to confront the obvious: Operation Sovereign Borders is out of control and running amok.

Last week Prime Minister Tony Abbott was forced to snub the Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who had extended an olive branch to meet him in Bali and start repairing the fractured relationship. The official spin was that Abbott had to stay in Canberra to prepare the budget, but the budget date of May 14 was set in stone years ago and the key decisions had already been taken.

The real reason, well informed and (this time at least) reliable sources insist, was that the most recent hijinks at sea of the tight-lipped duo made the meeting impossible; they would have been just too embarrassing for the Indonesian president.

Apparently not only had our Navy turned back another unseaworthy vessel whose occupants had to be recued by their Indonesian counterparts, but in the process they had added three more detainees to the passenger list so the boat actually arrived back in Java with more on board than it had when it embarked. At least that it is the version being very firmly promulgated from Jakarta, and since Morrison will not deny it (secret on water matters, of course) it is presumably accurate.

This marks a serious escalation almost certainly not sanctioned by cabinet and probably not even by Abbott himself. Unsurprisingly it was roundly condemned by the feisty Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa. You can see his point. Turning boats back is bad enough, but it could perhaps be tolerated if the Australian Government did not keep bragging about it and telling the world that they did not give a rat's arse if Jakarta objected. But using those same would-be asylum seeker crafts to deport our own rejects constitutes an entirely new level of contempt.

Even if Yudhoyono, previously a good friend of Australia and now seeking reconciliation in the twilight of his presidential term, might be prepared to forgive it as a slice of ocker realpolitik, his rivals and compatriots will not. So Morrison and Campbell, always beyond scrutiny and now apparently beyond accountability, have managed to trash the relationship with our huge and increasingly powerful neighbour, the relationship that Abbott once called Australia's most important. (Of course on various occasions he has also said similar things about the United States, Japan and China, and his compulsive monarchism presumably means that he personally feels the United Kingdom is also up there; but hey, at the very least Indonesia is in the top five).

The duo have guaranteed that Yudhoyono's successor, whoever he may be, will be far less sympathetic towards Australia than the benign SBJ. Indeed, the contestants for the next presidential election will probably vie with each other to bad mouth the great southern bully as much as possible, and in office will feel bound to live up to their rhetoric. And it isn't only Indonesia; via such highly respected international organisations as the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, Amnesty and many others the word is getting around that the new government is plumbing new depths.

But never fear, we have our allies: Sri Lanka is fulsomely grateful that Australia failed to join others in sponsoring a resolution for an investigation into possible abuses of human rights during its war against the Tamil separatists. It was, of course, a quid pro quo for Sri Lanka's support for the policies of Operation Sovereign Borders, a textbook case of the way the Stop The Boats obsession is distorting our foreign policy.

All these shenanigans have allowed Morrison to cash in on the national paranoia he has ably orchestrated; his portfolio is now to be expanded to take in the entire Customs Department, and to use it as a base to set up a new paramilitary body to be called the Australian Border Force. This will, he assures us, be under the control of a civilian; a commissioner who will nonetheless have standing equal to that of the Chief of the Defence Forces and who will report directly and exclusively to the newly enhance minister.

Springing this development on a startled audience at the Lowy Institute, Morrison gave no guarantees that his new force would be any more transparent or accountable than his old one, and showed that he intended to maintain the iron curtain by not informing any of those directly affected in advance; officers of the soon to be defunct Customs Department had to read about their new status and new minister in the morning papers.

Morrison clearly enjoys Abbott's confidence; after all, he has stopped the boats, or at least turned them back, which to the voters of the western suburbs amounts to the same thing, even if Fiona Scott still has to suffer traffic jams on the M4. And he is definitely a minister on the make; he has revelled in speculation that he could one day take the top job himself. Which should make the thoughtful very nervous. Allowing politicians whose ambition and arrogance greatly outweigh their abilities and character to acquire their own private armies is seldom a good idea.

To take just one obvious example: when Adolf Hitler gave his mate Heinrich Himmler control of the SS in 1929, the organisation was a single battalion of 290. Within a year Himmler had raised its ranks to 3,000 and by the time Hitler gained supreme power in 1933 the SS numbered 52,000. And so it went.

Yes, I know, any mention of Hitler means I lose the argument. Gerard Henderson has said so and Gerard Henderson is always right, or at least Right. But that does not alter the fact that Scott Morrison has already done great damage to Australia's reputation and to our foreign policy. And something warns me that we ain't seen nothing yet.

Mungo Wentworth MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator.

www.abc.net.au/../maccallum-scott-morrison-and-the-australian-border-farce/5446224

Police asked to investigate asylum seeker boat turn-back

AAP / Sydney Morning Herald
May 7, 2014
Lisa Martin

Federal police will be asked to investigate whether Australian border protection personnel committed a people-smuggling offence while turning back an asylum-seeker boat.

But in a case of the government judging itself, it will be up to Attorney-General George Brandis to decide whether anyone will be prosecuted.

Indonesian navy officers claim Australian authorities added three people to an asylum seeker boat before sending it back to Indonesia in the past week.

Labor is demanding an explanation from Immigration Minister Scott Morrison while the Greens are calling on Australian Federal Police commissioner Tony Negus to investigate whether an illegal activity has been committed.

International law expert William Maley believes that might be the case.

There was a distinction between pushing back a boat and placing people, within Australian territory, on a boat to send them back, he said.

"Because arguably the latter falls within the definition of people smuggling," Professor Maley told the ABC.

Criminal action could be taken against those involved in the on-water operation and others "right up to the top level of the government" who were responsible for organising the turn-back.

Any action would require the consent of Senator Brandis, a requirement that raises concerns about a conflict of interest with his role as a cabinet minister in the Abbott government.

Mr Morrison so far has declined to comment on the incident, citing operational security reasons.

The opposition and Greens are more forthcoming.

"It's not good enough to go out there and chest-beat on the good days and be silent on the bad days," Labor immigration spokesman Richard Marles said.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says transferring people who were in Australia's jurisdiction to a boat bound for Indonesia was legally questionable.

Because the maximum penalty for people smuggling was 10 years imprisonment, the boat turn-backs were putting border protection officers at risk, she said.

Meanwhile, cabinet minister Malcolm Turnbull has said the government's border protection policies are harsh, but necessary to stop people smugglers.

Mr Turnbull, a lawyer before he entered politics, said while Operation Sovereign Borders complied with international law, no-one was entirely comfortable with the the policy.

"We have harsh measures [and] some would say they are cruel measures, but the fact is if you want to stop the people smuggling business you have be very, very tough," he told the BBC.

smh.com.au/../police-asked-to-investigate-asylum-seeker-boat-turnback-20140507-zr6gg.html

Peter Hartcher: Breaking the Australian government's silence on stopping the boats

The untold story of how the Australian government has really been stopping the boats.

The Age
March 1, 2014
Peter Hartcher

Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison banged the "stop the boats" drum long and loud in opposition. So it seemed baffling, even outrageous, when they fell suddenly silent in government.

But on the other side of the wall of silence, on the high seas and on Indonesian soil, they have been stopping the boats.

When they first took office, they were not ready to launch operations at sea. So they put a major effort into breaking up the syndicates' operations on land.

The new government allocated $60 million in new funding to an intensified disruption program. Most of the money went to the Indonesian authorities, who co-operated intimately with the Australian police and intelligence services.

Together, they broke up planned boat trips that were about to carry some 1500 people on promised voyages to Australia.

The Customs and Border Protection Service had asked the Labor government for the $60 million for the same purpose. The money was refused.

Initially, the Abbott government found the Indonesians willing to co-operate at sea as well as on land. In September, within days of the Coalition taking office, a boatload of asylum seekers was spotted at sea, in distress.

Australia's Customs and Border Protection service rescued the passengers and then handed them over to an Indonesian ship that stood ready to take them on the high seas. A second boat got into trouble in the same month. Again Australia rescued its passengers and again Indonesia accepted them in a transfer at sea.

But it was in October that the new Australian command made its first attempt to "turn back the boats where it is safe to do so," in the words of the Coalition's election promise.

The Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, had restructured the organisation to require the various departments and services involved to co-operate with each other.

The new command brought together the Customs and Border Protection Service, the Australian Federal Police, the immigration department, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Australian Signals Directorate. Morrison put this together using the same officials who had served Labor.

They were put under the newly created command of a freshly promoted three-star general, Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, and the show was badged Operation Sovereign Borders, or OSB, which the Greens lampoon as Operation Secret Boats.

The first turnback went smoothly. The Australians towed a boatload of asylum seekers back towards Java and the Indonesian navy accepted the boat at sea. The passengers were returned to Indonesia. A second boat was towed back early the next month, and again the Indonesians accepted it, but it was to be the last. As the Howard government had learnt with its boat tow-backs, the Indonesian authorities are prepared to co-operate with their Australian counterparts only in secret.

A third attempt to "turn back the boats" was aborted when word of the operation leaked out and the Indonesians withdrew.

Would Indonesia's services be prepared to work with their Australian counterparts on further tow-backs? The spying revelations by Edward Snowden in mid-November put a decisive end to any such possibility.

Australian spying on Indonesia is no surprise to Jakarta. Nor are Indonesian interception programs against Australia any news in Canberra. They are part of the daily reality.

But the revelation that the Australian Signals Directorate had targeted the mobile phone of Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his wife was a serious embarrassment to him.

It did not matter that the spying was done during Labor's term. It mattered only that it had been done by Australia, generally perceived as an unsympathetic and condescending rich power.

The former general cultivates a regal air. He had been deeply humiliated in front of his people.

When he demanded an explanation from Tony Abbott to recover his dignity and restore Indonesia's national honour, Abbott refused. Jakarta's political system and media lit up with anger and indignation.

Abbott had left SBY no alternative.

He ordered co-operation with Australia halted across a wide range of activities including Operation Sovereign Borders.

That is where it remains today.

The turnbacks continued, but without any Indonesian co-operation. Five asylum seeker boats were intercepted and towed back towards Java. It was in mid-January that the first sighting of a mysterious, bright-orange lifeboat was reported.

The fully enclosed boat, or capsule, of the type commonly used by big commercial ships, came to rest on the Java coast. It carried asylum seekers who had set out for a trip to Australia in a wooden boat and returned a few days later in a brand new orange fibreglass and plastic one.

The Australian government has not commented on the boat, but it didn't require Sherlock Holmes to figure out that it had been supplied to the asylum seekers courtesy of the Commonwealth of Australia as they were helped on their way back to Indonesia.

Australia has now repeated the exercise twice more with the life capsules. Jakarta is not impressed with the phenomenon, a sign of Australian meddling along the archipalegic edge.

But the Australian authorities are well pleased. The bright orange lifeboats have two advantages from Canberra's viewpoint.

They are pretty much unsinkable. This calms the consciences of the Australian personnel who have to load the asylum seekers into them for the journey back.

Second, they are irrefutable, neon proof on the Indonesian shoreline that the people smugglers are unable to deliver on their promise of passage to Australia.

The market price for a place on a boat to Australia is signalling that the message is getting through. The people smugglers had been charging $10,000 or more but now promise passage for as little as $1000. The most recently intercepted boats are far from full; some have carried as few as 25 to 30 passengers. In one case, nine separate syndicates of people smugglers pooled their passengers and still failed to fill a single boat.

When Australia conducted a joint naval exercise with Malaysia late last year, their patrols of the Malacca Straits intercepted three boats carrying asylum seekers. Two were bound from Malaysia to Indonesia, doubtless with Australia their ultimate goal.

But the surprising discovery was the third; it was heading the other way. The asylum seekers had given up on passage to Australia and were retracing their steps back north.

The flow of boats slowed sharply after the Rudd government signed the agreement with Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, to reopen the Manus Island centre and to resettle asylum seekers in PNG.

This agreement was the basis for Rudd's declaration that asylum seekers "will never be settled in Australia." The number of arrivals fell by some 40 per cent between that announcement and the September election.

But under the Abbott government it has dwindled further. Friday marked the 71st day without a boat arrival. This is the longest since Rudd dismantled the successful Howard government policy in 2008.

It has been six months and with 1500 journeys disrupted on land, two rescues at sea and eight turnbacks.

It is premature for Abbott and Morrison to declare that the boats have been stopped. They might just be paused; Australia's northern approaches are still in monsoon conditions, always a seasonal lull in people smuggling because of the stormy conditions.

The end of the monsoon will bring a critical test of the syndicates' determination and of the Australian government's policy.

Almost all recent media and political attention on the subject has been turned to the problems with the offshore processing and detention facilities. This is perfectly understandable. The problems are real and they are serious and they are not going away.

The riot in the Australian detention centre on Manus Island, the one that killed Reza Berati, is the latest but will not be the last of the traumas begotten by this draconian system.

But if there is ever to be an end to the suffering in the detention centres, the only realistic solution will be when there is an end to the arrival of new detainees.

Likewise, the only realistic way to bring an end to the drownings at sea that took the lives of 1100 asylum seekers in the last few years will be when there is an end to the flow of unsafe boats sent to carry them.

This is why Labor is struggling to make political capital out of Morrison's discomfort over the Manus Island riot. Labor reopened Manus, in an effort to achieve the same thing that Morrison is trying to achieve - stopping the boats.

But attention is overwhelmingly on the detention centres for another reason: Morrison's wall of silence on "operational matters" means that the media and the opposition cannot see what's happening with the boats.

The detention centres are the only visible part of the picture.

So far, Morrison's policy has been ugly but effective. He has no critics within his party, even among the moderate Liberals. One of his ministerial colleagues put it this way: "When we look at Scott, we think two things. One, 'thank God it's not me in that job.' Two, 'it's working'."

theage.com.au/../-governments-silence-on-stopping-the-boats-20140228-33r3b.html