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REFUGEE POLICY: “MORALLY CORRUPT AND INDEFENSIBLE” January 30, 2014

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, Humankind/Planet Earth.
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Former Naval Captain John Ingram was reported by ABC News that turning refugee boats away and forcing them back to Indonesia was not the Navy’s way of doing things. He is most likely right. It seems that the Government has involved the Navy and Military in “Operation Sovereign Borders” in a way that politicizes them, and in a way that by inference ignores their advice about these operations.

The ABC reported:

A retired senior Royal Australian Navy (RAN) officer has hit out at the Federal Government’s stop the boats policy as “morally corrupt and totally indefensible”.

“For our leaders to proclaim personal and religious ethics amazes me,” said retired RAN Captain John Ingram, recognised in yesterday’s Australia Day honours with an Order of Australia Medal for his decades of work supporting the Indo-Chinese community, and also for leading a naval rescue of 99 asylum seekers from a sinking boat.

“The concept of turning boats back is absolutely abhorrent. I have an issue with the hardline approach, the fact that RAN sailors are (now) being used for political purposes,” he said.

“And turning back boats on the open sea and pursuing towards Indonesia, which happened just recently, is not the naval way of doing things.”

Mr Ingram says growing anger and confusion within Navy ranks was further exacerbated last week by reports of alleged mistreatment of asylum seekers aboard a boat intercepted by the Navy.

Asylum seekers claimed they were beaten and burned while their vessel was being towed back to Indonesia – allegations rejected by the Navy.

“I think there has been a lot of unjust criticism of the way the Navy has handled it,” Mr Ingram said, speaking from his home in Port Macquarie, New South Wales.

“I realise the Chief of Navy issued a statement last week denying malfeasance.

“It’s my experience from 30 years in the Navy that sailors are extremely sympathetic towards all people in peril on the sea.”

There are questions about morality and compliance with international law and treaty obligations which are part of international citizenship and the rule of law, such as the law of the sea. There is a rhetoric surrounding the ideas of Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Such standards, especially the latter in regards to this public policy are honoured in the breech.

Then there are operational issues, or “on water questions”.Scott Morrison, was quoted on the ABC in 2011, that the Government would rely on situation reports from the ships, but ultimately it would be a matter of implementing government policy. That would imply that the Government would take responsibility, which is not the impression given by the Prime Minister in explaining why Australian naval vessels strayed into Indonesian waters.

Katherine Murphy for The Guardian reported, after the Prime Minister had confirmed that apologies had been made and accepted by Indonesia:

Pressed further on how the incidents could have occurred given the sophisticated technology on the vessels and the skills of the personnel involved, he proffered the following theories, including a sporting analogy.

On-water operations were complex and even elite professionals made human errors.

“On the high seas all sorts of things happen; there are winds, there are tides, there are other things that they’re focusing on,” he said.

“I have nothing but total respect for the professionalism of our naval personnel, for the professionalism of our customs personnel but, even people who are at the very top of their game, even people who are the very best at their job, will occasionally make mistakes.

“Test cricketers occasionally drop catches, great footballers occasionally miss tackles and, regretfully, there were a couple of occasions when this mistake was made – but it won’t happen again.”

Abbott emphasised the success of his contentious policy of stopping boats carrying asylum seekers from achieving their objective of reaching Australia.

“We have fully implemented the policy that we said we would implement prior to the election and I think we’ve gone almost 40 days without a boat actually getting to Australia.

“That’s the important point to make here.”

So we are supposed to believe that the naval officers commanding the vessels did not know where they were, made no understanding of what the circumstances might lead to, and did not provide situation reports back to Canberra and to the Government. He may not say so explicitly, but the Prime Minister is blaming the Navy. A more likely explanation would suggest responsibility and accountability lies with the politicians and the policy.

In relation to earlier, as yet reports that Asylum Seekers were forced to hold onto hot pipes that burnt their hands, the Government refused to confirm that such operations took place and the Prime Minister defended the Navy. Even though the allegations cannot be confirmed, it was very well understood that Asylum Seekers were likely to either jump into the sea or sink their boats in circumstances where they were turned around. Presumably measures would be implemented to prevent these actions from happening, which would be independent of the prevailing weather conditions.

The ABC reported Abbott as saying:

“You can’t leap to be critical of your own country and you certainly ought to be prepared to give the Australian Navy and its hard-working personnel the benefit of the doubt,”

Observations can be made. Policies were reduced to slogans solely to win government. Morality is based on a fractured view of humanity reinforced by a conception of borders as walls to keep out the other. The implementation of policy is enmeshed in an dated ideology blind to consequences and incapable of pragmatic adjustment. Lack of political responsibility is then linked to blame and scapegoating. The refugee policy is failure to accept the employment and social inequality within Australia. By failing to understand the sources of conflict within Australian society, the policies adopted which promote the notion of strength, distort and fail to anticipate likely sources and patterns of existing and future external conflicts, including those generated by Climate Change.

Trauma for those who survive will be a lived experience. Whatever happened to human kindness?

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