Opinion

Abbott heading for a clash

Young men and women join the Royal Australian Navy for a variety of reasons: to fight for their country against its enemies, to learn a trade, to see the world, in the hope of adventure, or even to experience what Winston Churchill described as the tradition of "rum, sodomy and the lash."

But it is a safe bet that none of them enlist in the hope of being ordered to turn leaky Indonesian fishing boats full of the wretched of the Earth back across the seas they have already braved rather than conduct them the much shorter distance to Australian territory.

Quite apart from the obvious dangers such a course poses for both the hapless asylum seekers and the navy personnel who may well be called upon to risk their lives if the desperate boat people decide to sabotage their vessels rather than attempt the return journey, there will always be a feeling that this is not what they signed up for. The defence of Australia was never - at least until now - supposed to involve using violence against those who not only pose no threat, but are actually pleading for help.

And by doing so they would also be breaking the oldest and most venerable law of the sea: the first duty of sailors is to rescue those in danger, irrespective of whether they be friend or foe. To refuse to do so - in fact to send them into deeper peril - would be a violation of the ultimate moral code, as well as being a clear breach of international law.

So it is hardly surprising that the navy is less than enthusiastic about Tony Abbott's latest plan to end what he describes (hysterically) as "the crisis in Australia's border protection." The central plank is for the navy to turn back all - not some, but all - craft bearing asylum seekers to Indonesia. Given that the Indonesians have stated bluntly that they are happy to take back their own crew members but they regard the asylum seekers as Australia's responsibility, this will presumably leave the hapless victims to drift until they founder.

Since they are unlikely to accept that outcome, the Australians will be faced with a choice: continue to repel them in accordance with Abbott's policy, risking sabotage, mayhem and the inevitable loss of life, or do what they have in the past-escort the boats to Christmas Island, arrest the crew and deliver the asylum seekers for detention and eventual processing, knowing that about nine out of 10 of them will be found to be genuine refugees and therefore entitled to protection under international law.

Abbott says that he would expect the navy to obey orders - the boats are to be turned back, no ifs and no buts. Sailors who refused to co-operate would presumably lay themselves open to a charge of mutiny against the Australian government, which might be better than being charged with breaking international law and possible crimes against humanity, for which, as we have known since Nuremberg, "I was only obeying orders" is no defence.

The policy has been condemned by naval personnel, lawyers and foreign affairs experts who have warned that apart from its dangers and illegalities, it would irrevocably sour Australia's always delicate relations with Indonesia, our nearest neighbour and our most important diplomatic link to ASEAN and through it to the whole of Asia.

Abbott's immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, has defended it, but without any great enthusiasm. Abbott's deputy and shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop, and his shadow Defence Minister, David Johnson, have maintained deafening silence. The policy has been dismissed by former naval chief Chris Barrie as both illegal and unworkable, and denounced by others as silly, callous and possibly homicidal.

So how did Abbott come up with it and why does he persist with it? Well, simply to show he's hairy chested; he has balls while Julia Gillard self-evidently does not.

Note the timing; when Abbott announced his brainwave, Morrison was supposedly in discussion with Gillard's Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, to try and find a compromise which would allow off-shore processing of asylum seekers - the policy supposedly espoused by both sides - to be implemented.

Bowen was indeed prepared to compromise; he offered to reopen Nauru, in spite of advice that it would not act as an effective deterrent to the people smugglers a second time around, and of what (he revealed later) were exorbitant cost estimates for refurbishing and running the place. He even suggested resurrecting the cruel and inhumane device of Temporary Protection Visas, the form of psychological torture whereby even those found to be genuine refugees were prevented from enjoying the rights of normal citizens for an indefinite period. Bowen put TPVs on the table even though they had proved to have disastrous unexpected consequences: those unable to seek reunion with their families, or even overseas visiting rights, persuaded wives and children to follow them through the asylum seeker route, adding greatly to the numbers risking their lives on the voyage.

Bowen was prepared to take on policies which he knew to be at best pointless and at worst positively dangerous in the cause of bipartisanship. Morrison, however, was prepared to concede nothing: Abbott's way or no way. He knew Bowen could not and would not surrender totally, and was therefore content to let the impasse continue and blame the government. But since that made him look both stubborn and cynical, and reinforced the general feeling that the opposition was so obsessed by the thought of power that it had forgotten policy altogether, Abbott decided that he had to do produce something positive - anything to prove that he was not really the black hole of negativity the government was successfully portraying.

So 'Stop the Boats!' morphed into 'Turn Back the Boats!' with no serious thought of either context or consequences. Illegal, unworkable, silly, callous and possibly homicidal; also thoroughly nasty at every level. But not negative - no one can accuse him of that. Action Man is back. Or should that be Stupefaction Man?


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

These local movies will shine at 10th Byron Film Festival

LOCAL STORIES: One of the films featured this year is The Bentley Effect, a documentary about the Bentley Blockade.

THIS year marks a milestone for the Byron Bay Film Festival

Graceful Russian ballerinas will perform Swan Lake

ON STAGE: The Russian National Ballet Theatre brings their production of Swan Lake, the full length classical performance.

The Russian National Ballet Theatre is coming soon

Baird dogged by fears greyhound ban will cost Nationals seat

Mike Baird may hold off on implementing the greyhound racing ban until 2020 as he tries to woo voters back into the National fold before the Orange by-election.

Could Orange by-election force Baird to delay greyhound racing ban?

Local Partners

All she wants is to be chosen

Daisy has gone from puppy farm pet shop dog to the pound and she just wants a home.

It's time to get your shorts on the big screen

ANIMATED: Citizen To Activist, an animation by David Lowe and Eve Jeffrey, won the Jury Award for best Short Film at Flickerfest 2015 - Byron AllShorts.

Entries for Flickerfest 2017 and Byron All Shorts are now open

These local movies will shine at 10th Byron Film Festival

LOCAL STORIES: One of the films featured this year is The Bentley Effect, a documentary about the Bentley Blockade.

THIS year marks a milestone for the Byron Bay Film Festival

Graceful Russian ballerinas will perform Swan Lake

ON STAGE: The Russian National Ballet Theatre brings their production of Swan Lake, the full length classical performance.

The Russian National Ballet Theatre is coming soon

Baird dogged by fears greyhound ban will cost Nationals seat

Mike Baird may hold off on implementing the greyhound racing ban until 2020 as he tries to woo voters back into the National fold before the Orange by-election.

Could Orange by-election force Baird to delay greyhound racing ban?

Are government staffers talking Wentworth Park sale?

Greyhounds race at the Wentworth Park ahead of the industry's July 2017 shutdown.

No answer on whether government staff discussed Wentworth Parl sale

Justice delayed is justice denied in NSW courts

Court backlogs trigger push for break and enter law change

Communication breakdown in NSW fishing reforms

State-wide commercial fishing industry reforms have left fishers confused about their futures.

Non-English speaking fishers confused at industry-wide reforms

Classic car auction draws buyers from US, Dubai

"He wants everyone to enjoy the cars, the collection got too big'

Emily Blunt's (almost) singing career

Emily Blunt nearly became the British Britney Spears.

Angelina is blocking calls from Brad Pritt

Angelina Jolie has reportedly blocked Brad Pitt's number.

Apocalyptica 'seek and destroy' sceptics with 'master' set

Apocalyptica play Max Watts in Brisbane on their Shadowmaker Tour.

Review of final show of Apocalyptica's tour

Rebecca Hall doesn't own a TV

Newspapers, yes. Television, not so much

Jaime King 'terrified' by son's heart surgery

Jamie King was "terrified" when her son went in for heart surgery.

John Mayer's advice for Shawn Mendes

Shawn Mendes has revealed John Mayer gave him advice

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

Couple build their own 'tiny house' for $45k

Holly Bowen and Oli Bucher built their "tiny house" themselves, only hiring a plumber and an electrician. Photo/supplied

The house, which is built on a trailer and can be towed.

Sunshine Beach property breaks real estate record

The property overlooks Sunshine Beach, as the backyard lawn meets the sand.

Sunshine Beach mansion sale smashes real estate record

SOLD: Historic hotel finds new owner

Post Office Hotel Grafton

Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner

Pub in new hands and heading in a brand new direction

Peppers Airlie Beach put on the market

ON THE MARKET: Peppers Airlie Beach is being for recievership sale by CBRE Hotels and PRD Nationwide Airlie Beach.

Peppers Airlie Beach is being offered for sale.

3500 jobs on the way with new $950 million resort

Residential, tourist, community, and open space on Hummock Hill Island.

PROPERTY developers plan to begin construction next year.