The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Ummm… is it Stop the Boats or Hire the Boats?

So the UNHCR and the Indonesian police have accused us of paying people smugglers to go back to where they came from. The response from various members of cabinet was “No we didn’t! Ur… I mean, um… no comment. Boats. Stopped. Us. Quack quack quack.” Which is up to our government’s usual high standards of communication, so nothing unusual’s going on there, clearly. Our response internationally was along the lines of “I know you are, but what am I?”. Ms Bishop, reacting rather like an angry life partner accused of negligence, or a Soviet era Foreign Minister, answered allegations of iniquity by passive-aggressively accusing Indonesia of being too messy to be worth discussing it with. And as for the PM, it’s business as usual. Quackspeak and vague comments about “on water” matters. “On water”, by the way, is meaningless. The only time any fleet unit isn’t on the water is when it’s in the graving dock, which would mean that the government should also refuse to comment on the ceremonies of Colours and Sunset and the operations of the ship’s welfare fund. Why oh why did we elect a government that doesn’t speak English?

As the allegations currently stand, we have some witnesses of intermediate credibility claiming that Australian Customs officials paid out over 30000USD in order to persuade a boat crew to turn back. Now, I don’t mean to cast doubts on the honesty of asylum seekers – it’s just that, in my experience, they’re generally very tired, sick, confused and non-English speaking: not the best qualifications for understanding exactly what is going on around them. But, assuming that the unanimity of their testimony and the supporting testimony of the crew and the Indonesian police add up to this allegation being true, what does it all mean?

Common sense would dictate that contributing money to an ongoing illegal enterprise must be against the law, but the fact that everybody is very carefully avoiding the word “illegal” would suggest that it is perhaps a little more complex than that. I don’t really see how, but there it is. What it tells us definitively, however, is that this country is being run by irresponsible, unprincipled cowboys. And that these same cowboys, when confronted with their misdeeds, will react with spectacular unintelligence. None of which is new information.

So no, I’m not particularly excited by this issue. Whether our egregious and embarrassing government paid people smugglers or not, the fact remains that our asylum seeker policy is xenophobic, inhumane, questionably legal, unjust and, viewing the issue of “boat people” in its wider context as an actual problem, deeply, deeply stupid.


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