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Stop the deaths: rescuing asylum seekers is an integrity issue

We received news yesterday of the latest fatal capsize of a boat carrying asylum seekers towards Australia – the 20th reported sinking event in four years. The two deaths yesterday brought the confirmed…

Yesterday’s fatalities highlight the importance of ensuring Australian authorities continue to respond to asylum seekers caught at sea. AAP/Sharon Tisdale

We received news yesterday of the latest fatal capsize of a boat carrying asylum seekers towards Australia – the 20th reported sinking event in four years. The two deaths yesterday brought the confirmed and probable death toll to 865 people from sinking events since 2009.

As usual, key facts about the event are still scarce. According to home affairs minister Jason Clare’s media conference late yesterday, the boat had sent out a distress call on Sunday afternoon, but it was not boarded by officers from a Customs Border Protection Command response vessel - the ACV Ocean Protector - until Monday morning due to safety concerns over boarding at night. It was then handled as a normal maritime boundary interception.

The boat had way, but incomprehensibly, it was instructed to “heave to” to enable boarding. This was an irresponsible and dangerous decision in yesterday’s sea state 3 (usually waves of around 0.5 to 1.25 metres): the waves reached up to 2.5 metres according to border protection commander, Rear Admiral David Johnson. The boat’s foreseeable capsize minutes later put the Australian boarding party and the passengers at great risk.

Had the Ocean Protector simply instructed the boat by loud-hailer to follow it into safe waters behind Christmas Island, two passenger deaths and three critical injuries could have been avoided. There should be a coroner’s inquest to investigate responsibility for these poor decisions that defied elementary Safety of Life at Sea practice.

The stats don’t lie

This is all, sadly, familiar territory. First, there was Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X (SIEV X) in October 2001 – a pivotal event that stopped the boats coming for many years. Then, over the past four calendar years (2009-2012), my colleague Marg Hutton and I have monitored and researched each one of the 18 known founderings, sinkings or disappearances of asylum seeker boats bound for Australia.

A sinking boat with refugees aboard and a child in a life raft in the early 2000s - a decade on, little has changed. AAP/Defence

These 18 recorded events caused an estimated 860 confirmed or probable deaths over the four calendar years between 2009 and 2012. Then, in January 2013, another reported sinking with three people drowning; and two more people reported dead yesterday.

This is an average death rate over four years of between 2.5 and 3%, against reported numbers of arrivals.

Deaths peaked in the nine months between December 2011 and August 2012 with 515 confirmed or probable deaths in eight events. There were months of urgent public debate in Australia: both major parties pressed humanitarian arguments that to stop the deaths, offshore processing solutions must be quickly agreed. The mounting casualty rate seemed to strengthen those arguments.

Since laws to reopen Nauru and Manus Island were passed in September 2012, there have been only two reported sinkings, on October 26 last year and January 29 this year before yesterday’s events.

Stop the boats: the rhetoric hasn’t worked

Despite Nauru’s reopening, the boats are still coming at quite a rapid rate in 2013, as recorded in the regular media releases issued by the Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare.

The minister’s media releases show that between January 25 and March 20 this year there were 21 interceptions and eight rescues at sea. While exact locations are not stated, most rescues were in international waters and in Indonesia’s search and rescue zone, north of Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef. It would seem that every boat in distress is being rescued or intercepted.

My book, Reluctant Rescuers, analysed public evidence in the four cases of sunken or disappeared boats between 2009 and December 2011: two missing boats in 2009 and 2010, the Christmas Island shipwreck in December 2010, and Barokah which foundered south of East Java in December 2011.

I found that despite Australian intelligence-based knowledge of these four voyages, and publicly reported phone calls to Australia from each of them, over 400 people died because prompt and effective Australian Safety of Life at Sea responses were not forthcoming.

The Western Australia coroner’s inquest into the shipwreck of SIEV 221 at Christmas Island reported explicit reluctance by the Australian border protection system to acknowledge its own responsibilities to protect asylum seekers’ lives at sea.

Essentially, an official view was presented that until a boat physically appears on Australia’s maritime borders in distress, there is no requirement for Australian authorities to search and rescue. Prior intelligence-based knowledge of lives likely to be in danger on incoming asylum seeker boats creates no legal obligation to act.

Yet it is clear that intelligence-based information, and even in some cases distress calls directly telephoned to Australian authorities from boats in trouble, have triggered every Australian maritime interception or rescue action. Most times, our response vessels get there in time to save most lives. But 860 deaths in four years is no small matter.

This issue is not about interception resources, which are on station anyway. It is about a willingness to evaluate and promptly to manage known or anticipated risks to life on boats trying to reach Australia, but that would sink if left unaided by Australia. This is both an ethical and a governance issue.

Formulating an ethical response

As sinkings continued between May and August last year, I gave written and oral evidence to Angus Houston’s expert panel on asylum seekers. Their report helpfully lists Australia’s rescue at sea responsibilities under international law for asylum seekers in distress.

Asylum seekers from Sri Lanka on their way to Christmas Island, inside a detention centre in Indonesia. EPA/Dedi Sahputra

The record of the past four years and yesterday’s events - as well as the earlier SIEV X tragedy - shows that continued public vigilance is needed to ensure Australia’s high rescue at sea values and practices are not eroded or compromised by considerations of deterrence of irregular boat voyages under present or future governments.

The indivisible obligation to protect all human life in distress at sea is embedded in international maritime law and custom. Every professional mariner, military or civilian, understands and respects this. It is important that Australia’s politicians and border protection policymakers continue to understand it too.

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  1. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    i think we need to be careful that australia is not seen as the baddie here.

    860 deaths is regrettable in any circumstances (many more are killed in oz every year in road accidents).

    the number of deaths thru war, conflict persecution, disease, malnutrition etc in the countries the "boat people" are fleeing must be substantially more than 860.

    australia is not responsible for people getting onto the boats........these people pay their money and regrettably "take their chances". i am not…

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    1. David Collett

      IT Application Developer at Web Generation

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I see the issue differently - more along the lines of "if you do the crime, you should do the time."

      Australia doesn't meet it's obligations as defined in things like the Refugee Convention and Maritime codes. See here: http://expertpanelonasylumseekers.dpmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/report/attachment_3_australia_international_obligations.pdf

      Just like when you don't keep your promises, you feel guilty, all Australians should feel ashamed of whelching on our obligations.

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    2. Steve Phillips

      Nurse Practitioner

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Steve, you will be a lone voice crying in the darkness on this one.
      I suspect the 'numpties' would have us paying the smugglers directly and the Australian Navy acting as a taxi service because their boats cant be trusted.
      I sick of the hypocrisy on this one. If these deaths had happened during Howard's tenure we all know a shitstorm would have erupted from the left with questions in parliament and the ABC featuring it on every show. As it is it barely registers. We've become hardened to it and totally lost faith in the Govt's ability to do anything to help.
      Roll on Sept.

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    3. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to David Collett

      The refugee convention is often acknowledged to be a bit long in the tooth David and despite that there is quite some reference to what signature states might or might not do as pertaining to their own and international laws, Australia being to the fore in resettling refugees from many various UNHCR camp locations where people can be waiting for years if not decades, the international community with a few exceptions like the US,Canada, NZ hardly pulling their weight to the same extent as Australia and that's nothing Australia should be ashamed about.

      Where shame should apply is to people who obviously have resources to join the people smuggling routes to put themselves and even their children's lives at risk in an effort to force their way ahead of the many refugees who wait for accepted processes.

      Feel ashamed for yourself if you like and meanwhile the Australians who are putting their own lives on the line in open sea conditions have every right to be proud of what they do.

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    4. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Steve Phillips

      Just curious Steve, but what do you think will be different after September, apart from having a different government that is also totally powerless to do anything about the situation?

      If you think that Abbott's four word policy of 'turn back the boats' means anything more than platitudes designed to play to the lowest common denominator, you are only deluding yourself.

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    5. Steve Phillips

      Nurse Practitioner

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Told you Steve, the numpties are out in force.
      Mike the Rudd Govt with Julia in a prominant posi dropped all the barriers to the smugglers in 2007. Up until then Howard had been quietly accepting far more legal immigrants that many Australians would have found comfortable. This didnt recieve much fanfare but then we dont ecpect much from numpties do we.

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    6. George Harley
      George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Dogsbody

      In reply to Steve Phillips

      As a small aside, I am a very old, Scottish born, BA 704 plane person.
      The term numpty is Scottish.
      It was often used by my mother and grandmother and frequently directed at me. It was a term of endearment, frequently accompanied with a hug and a kiss.
      It was never intended as an insult.
      So shut yer geggie.

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    7. Craig Steel

      Miner

      In reply to George Harley

      In the Army we used the term 'numpty' to mean someone who is, mentally, way below par.

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    8. John Newton

      Author Journalist

      In reply to Steve Phillips

      Steve I think you will find there were quite a few deaths under Howard's watch, but of course considerably less conflict in the world which is ultimately responsible for boat arrivals – and to a great extent out of our hands (other than our own involvement in conflict)

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    9. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to David Collett

      I don't feel ANY guilt what so ever! And I have little doubt that the vast majority of Australians feel similarly.

      It is only you bleeding hearts that lose sleep over this!

      So stick that in your pipe and smoke it David!.

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    10. Craig Steel

      Miner

      In reply to David Collett

      I don't feel any guilt. The boaties are totally, 100% responsible for their own deaths.

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    11. Steve Phillips

      Nurse Practitioner

      In reply to George Harley

      Being a 707 plane person educated in Helensburgh, Aye, Im aware o that. Am nae gittering t ye. I may be as my wife would have it a "bletherskite" on occations, this time I use the term as is currently used in the vernacular to denote those of sub-par intelligence.

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    12. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to David Collett

      hi david.......still reading the info.

      but i take it these boats are not flying any sovereign nations's flag.

      i still say we are not committing a crime - if we were wouldnt there be redress thru international law?

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    13. George Harley
      George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Dogsbody

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Hi Stephen
      Why do you insist on calling them "boat people" ?
      Why does the opposition insist on calling them "illegal".
      The majority of people that arrive here illegally do not arrive by boat.
      When will we start calling illegal arrivals by their proper name, plane people?
      If the coalition is so worried about the loss of life in the boats that nearly make it to Australia, why turn them back?
      Love Mandy

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  2. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    " the boat had sent out a distress call on Sunday afternoon, but it was not boarded by officers from a Customs Border Protection Command response vessel – the ACV Ocean Protector – until Monday morning due to safety concerns over boarding at night. It was then handled as a normal maritime boundary interception.

    The boat had way, but incomprehensibly, it was instructed to “heave to” to enable boarding. This was an irresponsible and dangerous decision in yesterday’s sea state 3 (usually waves of…

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Greg North

      And what would you do differently Greg?

      You say the government's course is inept - what is the alternative?

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    2. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      There are a number of options still to be explored Mike and immediately.
      1. Re-establish TPVs
      2. Open discussions with the appropriate UNHCR people re the possibility of arranging transfers to refugee camps, perhaps some offer of additional funds into the UNHCR for running camps and UNHCR camp costs are likely about less than one hundredth of what it is on Christmas Island, Nauru or Manus Island, particularly as the Nauruans have added an additional visa charge of $1000/mth.
      3. Failing anything…

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    3. John Newton

      Author Journalist

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      A few ideas

      1. More funds for the UNHCR to facilitate refugee processing more quickly - and to circumvent at least to some extent the corruption in places like Indonesia.
      2. Send officials to Indonesia to speed up the flow of refugees after they have been given status. They get on the boats because even after being given refugee status, they can sit in 'camps' for years.

      That'd be a start

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    4. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to John Newton

      3) Give the woman in the source countries access to free contraception to eventually dry up the future supply of refugees

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    5. Jonathan Maddox

      Software Engineer

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Greg Boyles suggests "3) Give the woman in the source countries access to free contraception to eventually dry up the future supply of refugees"

      That sounds very much like you'd like to assist the genocidaires in the source countries.

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  3. Colin MacGillivray

    Architect, retired, Sarawak

    Here's another possible suggestion to distinguish the true asylum seekers from those seeking a better standard of living in Australia and avoiding the proper process.
    When boat people arrive at Xmas Island give them 2 options: A: At least 5 years wait with no guarantee of a visa or B: a plane back to where they came from immediately. The option B volunteers would soon spread the word back home to others not to waste their money and risk their lives; and the 5 year wait for true asylum seekers might reduce quite a bit. The cost of the plane ride will be cheaper than keeping someone in a camp for 5 years or more.

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    1. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      So based on your two options Collin, you would be advocating that the government break the law?

      Not exactly the best approach I would have thought.

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    2. Kim Darcy

      Analyst

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike, governments make the laws remember. If a proposed government policy - carried out by the executive - goes beyond the powers granted by current legislation, then the government can change the law.

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    3. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      There are alternatives available to what is happening now Colin, some tough love you could say which will obviously be unpalatable to some, however Australia is not a country with a bottomless welfare barrel and it sickens me that we are just letting people force their way in ahead of refugees in camps.

      There is no need to break any laws for all that is needed is for Australia to pass the appropriate legislation and if need be withdraw from the UN convention though that may not even be necessary as it is our law that is binding, the convention not law and you only have to look at what happens in the US and also happens occasionally in Europe, all countries also likely signed up to the convention but doing what their laws allow.

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  4. Sean Lamb

    Science Denier

    "This is an average death rate over four years of between 2.5 and 3%, against reported numbers of arrivals."

    It would seem that claiming asylum in Australia is considerably more dangerous than most, if not all, of the countries refugees claim to be fleeing from.

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  5. Tony Kevin

    Emeritus Fellow at Australian National University

    Thanks to The Conversation for running this essay.. Predictably, the resulting conversation is already veering away from my subject - how better to save lives in our maritime interceptions and rescues at sea on our borders, according to our international legal obligations and normal decency - into the contested policy territory of how to deter such voyages and what to do with people once safely on Australian soil.. There are many people talking passionately about these two latter issues.

    But…

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    1. Sean Lamb

      Science Denier

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      "We are talking about human lives lost here!"
      As always the best way to save lives here is to discourage people from attempting to gain refugee status by arrival by boat. It is shouldn't be particularly difficult to do. Otherwise you could think about arranging for an Indonesia - Christmas Island ferry or plane link which doesn't require a passport or visa to board.

      BTW, the under five mortality rate in PNG is around 70/1000, so if you are looking to save lives there is plenty of low lying fruit much closer to home.

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    2. Colin MacGillivray

      Architect, retired, Sarawak

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      Tony, you said we weren't addressing the topic.
      "But hardly anyone is talking about how we avoid people drowning at sea whom we could have saved." Our comments are exactly on your topic. We are trying to find ways to deter people from going to sea in the first place. Better to find a strategy to avoid a situation altogether than to deal with it when it occurs.

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    3. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      The Australian government has no control over what vessels asylum seekers will board and all they can do is to intercept them for investigation purposes and in this case as another Tony has said elsewhere " shit happens ".

      Certainly the best way of avoiding this type of incident would be for no people smuggling and no need to intercept boats.
      Otherwise, you are just hypothesising and Australian taxpayers can have their money spent far better in looking after our old and ailing people rather than paying for another pointless inquiry, there already being too big a taxpayer bill as it is brought to bear because of this current government.

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    4. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      Kevin I just watched a Four Corner report on the state of Afghanistan and its prospects when the west pull out.

      Average afghans have no sense of nationhood, have no sense of national responsibility and barely value their own lives or the lives of their fellow Afghans. They spray machine gun fire at Taliban fighters regardless of children being in the line of fire.

      You are losing sleep over several hundred Aghan (and others) refugees who drown out sea trying to get to Australia illegally…

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  6. Mike Swinbourne

    logged in via Facebook

    Tony,

    I don’t know where you are getting your information, but it would appear that you don’t know a lot about the sea or how rescue operations at sea are conducted.

    Firstly, by all the accounts that I have heard, this asylum vessel was some 14 nm from Christmas Island, so telling the crew by loudhailer to follow the customs vessel to the ‘safe waters behind Christmas Island’ is a nonsense.

    Secondly, sea state 3 is quite a low sea state. It is defined as ‘slight’ seas, with winds from 7…

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    1. Tony Kevin

      Emeritus Fellow at Australian National University

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike,

      I guess you know more than Rear Admiral David Johnston about what the organisation he commands, Border Protection Command, does on a daily basis for us taxpayers? It monitors our maritime borders for suspected irregular entry vessels, it intercepts them, and when necessary it rescues them.

      As to the state of the seas, Johnston said yesterday in his media conference with Minister Jason Clare (embedded link in my essay) that Sea State 3 means waves normally around 1 metre but occasionally…

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    2. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      Tony,

      By way of background, I have spent a very long time flying at low level over the ocean, a lot of which was involved in search and rescue and maritime patrol activities. I have also worked as an operations officer and planning officer for search and rescue and border patrol activities, so I do have a good understanding of what is involved in border protection etc. I may not know more than Rear Admiral Johnston, but I suspect that I know more than you.

      And without getting into a semantic…

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  7. Steve Hindle

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    Tony, you missed other very effective measures that have been used in the past to stop people drowning. So effective were these measures that for a 5 year period after 2004 no asylum seekers drowned at sea.
    http://www.abolishforeignness.org/blog/fortress-australia-asylum-seeker-and-migrant-death-and-detention-statistics
    I also think that sending rescue craft further away will simply result in distress calls being made further away. Last year one boat called Australia for help before they had even got past Bali.

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  8. Leigh Burrell

    Trophy hunter

    Time to enact the 25 mm cannon solution. Blow them out of the water!

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  9. George Harley
    George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired Dogsbody

    This fairly minor issue in the grand scheme of SS Australia went wrong when a highly unpopular Howard government used the MV Tampa to sink Tugboat Beazley.
    Asylum seekers have been used as pawns ever since, so much so that the opposition continually refers to them as "illegal" when they are nothing of the sort. As far more people fly here, then break the law overstaying visa etc to try and obtain citizenship, perhaps we should declare QANTAS pilots people smugglers?
    This very article, displaying the decency and the humanity of the author has already been tainted by some of the replies.
    I fear this toxic argument will continue until we send a couple of boat people back to where they came from' Gillard to Wales and Abbott to England.

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    1. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to George Harley

      Between 2% and 3% of these people drown trying to get here. With 860 men, woman and children having lost their lives in the past 4 years I would not call asylum seekers a "fairly minor issue".

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    2. George Harley
      George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Dogsbody

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Steve
      Of course the loss of life is horrible.
      "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
      You managed to distort my words and my philosophy without ever knowing me.
      My point was that we could save lives without being bastards, racist, or just simply, scared.
      Xenophobia is probably Darwinian and hard wired, from 200,000 years ago.
      Some of us have grown out of it.

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    3. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to George Harley

      No George, I did not distort your words. You described the asylum seekers as a "fairly minor issue" . I simple pointed out that this is wrong due to all the deaths that are occurring. The situation is serious and throwing around words such as xenophobia and racism does not add to the debate.

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    4. George Harley
      George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Dogsbody

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Steve,
      What I intended to say, if you take my entire article in context, was to suggest that Australians have been mislead into thinking that asylum seekers are the biggest single issue affecting Australia.
      Of course their deaths are horrible and I would support any programme that saved their lives.
      However, one oft spouted coalition policy is to turn back the boats when it is safe to do so.
      The utter hypocrisy of this is breathtaking. They mealy-mouth say it is dangerous for these poor souls to risk their life to almost get to Australia, then want to turn them around, when no country in a bulls roar will take them.
      Indonesia will not agree to it and the Navy wont do it. You do not have to obey a "lawful" command this is patently illegal or immoral.
      I was only following orders does not work anymore.
      Regards

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    5. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to George Harley

      NONE of us have 'outgrown' it George, not even you!

      Some of us are better 'equipped' through education and/or economic circumstances to suppress those tendencies in ourselves.

      But they can always readily re-surface when our economic and political circumstances change.

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    6. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to George Harley

      An emotive knee jerk response George!

      Multiply that by a hundred million or so and you have the true scale of this global problem.

      Helping that one girl may give you some short term personal gratification but it wont solve the problem for the remaining 99,999,999 living under the same or worst conditions.

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    7. George Harley
      George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Dogsbody

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Bollocks.
      I am sure that the Anglo used to hate the Saxon.
      Didn't stop the rumpy pumpy.
      We have outgrown some of the stupidity, we will outgrow the rest of it.
      Darwin will rock and rule.

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    8. George Harley
      George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Dogsbody

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Hi Greg
      Bollocks.
      Your 100 million multiple is wrong, misleading, mischievous or just deceitful.
      And of course I reacted to that young girl. Who, in all humanity, would not?
      If that is an emotive, knee-jerk reaction, then I suggest that you do not have any knees or emotions.
      Regards

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    9. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to George Harley

      George I also felt deeply sad for that girl who was shot by those taliban thugs.

      But the simple fact remains that saving her individual life WILL NOT SOLVE the far larger problem.

      The only thing saving her will achieve is providing you and I with some personal gratification which is cold comfort for the remaining millions of girls who are being treated similarly by the Taliban thugs.

      And George my figure of 100 million is not meant to be an accurate count but merely an means of conveying to you the sheer scale of the problem which you clearly do not yet comprehend.

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  10. Anthony Nolan

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    Tony Kevin: your concern with at sea rescue and the apparent history of institutional complicity in failure to adhere to international obligations doesn't escape me. I think what has happened is that the political culture o f demonisation of refugees arriving by boat, within the larger context of a dominant Australian culture of racist intolerance of difference, has created the conditions in which staff are able to act out their hostility. The longer view of Australian history shows that racism has primarily been carried forward by the state; it does not inhere in individuals so much as become part of the operating procedure of entire bureaucracies (DIAC comes to mind). Unfortunately, there appears to be evidence that this institutional bias is affecting operational considerations for maritime rescue. A very worrying development that has been coming for some time.

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    1. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Anthony Nolan

      Bull$hit Anthony!

      1) That navy personnel are demonstrably racist in their dealings with asylum seekers

      2) That the asylum seekers themselves are universally 'passive non-violent victims'!

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  11. Greg Boyles

    Lanscaper and former medical scientist

    Bloody hell Kevin........the navi should do this and the navi should'n't do that.......

    These idiots are gambling with their lives, and you loose as many times as you win when you gamble!

    If they drown then they drown Kevin, and they have no one else to blame than themselves!

    Our navi personnel SHOULD NOT take any unreasonable risks to rescue these people!

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  12. Lee Emmett

    Guest House Manager

    I'm trying to work out, in theory, what I'd do if in the same position as a 'boat person'. So the scenario goes something like this - there's a war, or civil war, or some sort of ongoing disaster happening. I'm likely to die if I stay. So I pack up a few things, and start walking, until I get to a neighbouring country which doesn't want me, and nor does the next place. Then I hear about Australia, where there's no war, and I might have a chance to live and work. But it involves getting on a boat…

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    1. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Lee Emmett

      All that seems reasonable Lee and I would no doubt act similarly if I was in the situation.

      But then let's look at the same scenario from the Australian perspective.

      1) There are hundreds of millions of such individuals around the globe and they can't all obtain refuge in Australia without eventually turning our country into a similar human cesspit.

      2) If we send the message to hundreds of millions of refugees around the world that Australia's borders are open to them then the few thousand…

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    2. Tony Kevin

      Emeritus Fellow at Australian National University

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Greg, You may not like to hear this: but fortunately a lot of Australians would not share your particular ''Australian perspective" here, that "we must with a cold heart (for the good of our own fellow citizens and our nation) say an emphatic "NO" to illegal arrivals regardless of consequences of sending particular individuals back." This is what America said to the Jewish passengers on the cruise ship St Louis, fleeing Nazi Europe in 1939 - those individuals (hundreds of them) were forced to return…

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    3. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      "Greg, You may not like to hear this: but fortunately a lot of Australians would not share your particular ''Australian perspective"

      I disagree Kevin. I think a great many Australians are SICK TO BLOODY DEATH of your lobby's moralizing and sermonizing over this issue. And not only anglo-saxon Australians either!
      ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      "thinking here is that we may eventually…

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    4. Tony Kevin

      Emeritus Fellow at Australian National University

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Send them back to where, Greg? What government will allow your proposed cargo ships to land and offload people our government has picked up at sea as they approach Australian territory?

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    5. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      Frankly Tony, at the end of the day, I don't give a #$%^ what is done with them.

      Just as long as they do not win their lip sowing and arm slashing stand off with us!

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  13. Leigh Burrell

    Trophy hunter

    From today's Australian:

    "CO-OPERATION between Sri Lanka and Australia - and turning back asylum boats - is helping to beat people-smugglers, says Sri Lanka's high commissioner Thisara Samarasinghe.

    As the Sri Lankan navy yesterday intercepted the first asylum boat to be picked up there for more than a month, the former naval chief said authorities had stopped more than 3000 asylum-seekers leaving on more than 60 boats last year. He defended the practice as safe and manageable...

    Mr Samarasinghe…

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    1. George Harley
      George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Dogsbody

      In reply to Leigh Burrell

      Thks Leigh
      I do not know what percentage of people trying to escape persecution by fleeing to Australia are Sri Lankan.
      I would suggest that anyone wishing to flee from Sri Lanka should not be forcibly repatriated.
      That is, of course, unless you completely and utterly trust the Sri Lankan government to extend all human rights to each and every repatriated Tamil.
      Regards

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    2. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to George Harley

      George whether or not the Sri Lanken can be trusted or not, the fact remains that their a millions more Sri Lankens wishing to move to Australia that I, and clearly a majority of Australians, are prepared to accept!

      I simply don't care what their personal circumstances are!

      We have our own priorities and needy individuals in Australia that should be taken care of first before we concern ourselves with tens of millions of needy Sri Lankens - it is just that simple.
      And I really don't give a rats if people like you think I am a cold hearted prick.

      There are tens of millions of desperate people around the globe and Australia cannot and will never be able to 'save' more than an insignificant proportion of them. And I am afraid that I am well and truly OVER losing any sleep about this unfortunate fact.

      We need to take care of our own before we worry about saving the world!

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    3. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Such is the price of our collective refusal to address over population decades earlier while we still had a chance to alleviate long term human suffering that we are increasingly seeing now.

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    4. Leigh Burrell

      Trophy hunter

      In reply to George Harley

      "...unless you completely and utterly trust the Sri Lankan government to extend all human rights to each and every repatriated Tamil."

      That's setting the bar rather too high. Our government doesn't even extend all human rights to each and every Australian - the right to free speech springs immediately to mind. If they can't demonstrate a threat to their life or safety they have no business entering Australia under our humanitarian program. It is entirely possible - and increasingly likely under this government - that they would have more of their human rights observed over there than here!

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  14. Greg Boyles

    Lanscaper and former medical scientist

    When there was a disaster during the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and some sailors lost their lives did the Australian community level accusations of 'crimes against humanity' at police search and rescue and all others who tried to help them and call for an coronial inquiry to determine why they negligently failed to save the lives of all the sailors?

    NO!

    So you PEOPLE have some bloody nerve leveling accusations of 'crimes against humanity' at the navy and government officials when they fail to reach stricken illegal immigrants boats in time or otherwise fail to get them all to safety!

    Illegal immigrants gamble with their lives and sometimes that gamble does not pay off for them. C'est la vie!

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    1. Tony Kevin

      Emeritus Fellow at Australian National University

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Greg, to lighten the mood a little, here is First Dog on the Moon's 2013 Walkley Award - winning cartoon strip "Then Where Will We Be?"'

      http://sphotos-d.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/530429_387903194629093_718294251_n.jpg

      Hope the image comes up.

      I admire the general efficiency and bravery of BPC frontline personnel (Navy and Customs) . I wonder about some of the orders they are given from on shore, which at times go against SOLAS obligations. I have developed this line of reasoning many times e.g. in my book "Reluctant Rescuers" (you might want to read it online), my submission to the Houston Panel (on their website), and in my ABC AM interview with Lexi Metherill this week. See

      ABC AM - http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-27/questions-raised-over-asylum-boat-handling/4596538 .

      Enjoy your Easter.

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    2. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      Tony I will not 'lighten up'.

      You are all but accusing navy personnel and politicians of being deliberately negligent in rescuing illegal immigrants and this is simply reprehensible and unacceptable!

      Let's see you go out and command a navy ship, put your own life on the line and do a better job!

      Chances are your bleeding heart lobby mates would calling for your head on a platter!

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  15. Steve Hindle

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    Tony Kevin
    I would like to point out that your reply to Greg Boyles
    "...but the logical end point of your hard-line thinking here is that we may eventually have to machine-gun boats on the water"
    is probably in breach of The Conversations terms and conditions.
    *you warrant that the material you submit is not obscene, offensive, defamatory of any person or otherwise illegal.
    *you agree not to post material that is deliberately intended to upset other users.
    It is an emotional subject but some control is needed.

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    1. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Steve let him go.

      This crap does not bother me at all, and all he is succeeding in doing is turning ordinary Australians against him and his lobby.

      Few people, other then Greens, respond favorably to this sort of irrational and over emotional response!

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  16. George Harley
    George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Retired Dogsbody

    A girl that wanted to be educated got shot in the head by people that did not want her to be educated.
    Trucks full of bombs are driven into girls' schools.
    If I was the father of those girl children, I would do everything in my power to get them away from there.
    Does that make me evil?
    Can I put her on a boat with a hope of a future and not be considered opportunistic?
    History, forget, repeat... blah , blah, blah...

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  17. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    hi rubens c

    the root cause of asylum seekers is the country of origin - the issues that impels people to leave their home.
    it almost seem ironic that as the west becomes involved in "helping" countries such as iraq and afghanistan, we see an influx of people from these countries turn up as "boat people". so much for our help in one sense.

    i know that you and others say that australia is a BIG country, but to be fair most of it is desert or not suitable for sustained agriculture.

    as climate…

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  18. Tony Kevin

    Emeritus Fellow at Australian National University

    To Greg Boyles and Steve Hindle in particular, really to all followers of this lively thread: I am sorry if my language got a bit emotive yesterday. At this point I would like, if the Editor permits, to recall the opening five paragraphs of my 2012 book 'Reluctant Rescuers'':

    " The present wave of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by
    boat, who are mostly fleeing political and military persecution
    or insecurity in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka, began around
    1999. A bitter…

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    1. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      "We generally like to think of ourselves
      as decent and kind-hearted to fellow human beings who are in distress
      and fear for their lives, but we find ourselves increasingly pushed by
      irregular immigration pressures to behave otherwise."

      I agree Tony.

      However I, and obviously a large proportion of other Australians, will not tolerate our generosity being blatantly exploited by people smugglers, economic refugees and assorted criminals and domestic terrorists from other countries.

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  19. Tony Kevin

    Emeritus Fellow at Australian National University

    I would like to share with readers of this thread the news from Wednesday - which has had no media coverage as far as I can see, I only learmed about it from www.hazarasylumseekers,com today - - that the head of the Dept of Customs and Border Protection, Michael Pezzullo, has annpunced that there will be an internal Customns enquiry into the interception of Monday. I regard this as a positive development and I am cautiously optimistic.
    Original sourcehttp://www.mydailynews.com.au/news/another-asylum-seeker-boat-brings-total-almost-600/1809370/

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  20. Tony Kevin

    Emeritus Fellow at Australian National University

    Sorry, my last message accidentally went off prematurely. This is what the news reported Michael Pezzullo as announcing on Wednesday:

    'Customs and Border Protection confirmed it would review the circumstances surrounding the response to Monday’s tragedy in which two people, including a small child, died.

    Chief executive officer Michael Pezzullo said such an inquiry was routine after any significant maritime incident.

    “In light of the tragic loss of two lives during the incident, it is prudent and entirely appropriate that an assessment of the operation is conducted to determine whether correct operational procedures and processes were followed and to ascertain any potential areas for improvement in those procedures,” Mr Pezzullo said.

    As part of the assessment process, Customs and Border Protection will construct a chronology of the incident and ensure all relevant documents and any recordings or imagery are captured.'

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  21. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    its all very well to be armchair humanitarians, but how many people ( including those of us here) would welcome refugees into our community or homes. how many people are out in the community helping these refugees assimilate into our communities.

    its easy to donate money or offer verbal sympathy , but to be really honest about the issue would require real action and not just words.

    whilst the refugee issue remains at arms length it is very easy to be a good samaritan.

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    1. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I agree Stephen.

      All this ranting and raving about asylum seekers is nothing more than self gratification and self indulgence by bleeding hearts like George.

      Nothing more than competition among the bleeding hearts for the 'crown of compassion', or perhaps attempts to build their stairway to their fictitious heaven or just the pushing of the vested interests of those bleeding hearts financially committed in the asylum seeker sector of the economy.

      With no regards for the consequences for…

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    2. George Harley
      George Harley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Retired Dogsbody

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Bleeding heart, I can live with Greg, that's just an opinion.
      But Sir, you take one step too far in implying I am trying to enter any of the thousands of heavens invented by Homo not quite so sapiens!
      At the risk of alienating some other bleeding hearts, I will out myself as a loud and proud atheist.
      Regards

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    3. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to George Harley

      Then presumably your motivation is simply to gain kudos among your peer group.......the crown of compassion as it were.

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  22. Leigh Burrell

    Trophy hunter

    Our armed forces are involved in wars against Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq. In bygone days ALL Muslim aliens from those countries - not just illegals - would have been candidates for internment for the duration of the conflicts to prevent "fifth column" hostilities.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Leigh Burrell

      any terrorism in iraq and afghanistan seems to be directed at their own sovereign citizens.

      to me this is civil war and not terrorism.

      the west has inserted themselves upon these people with the bogus threat of terrorism as a pretence to invade .

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  23. Tony Kevin

    Emeritus Fellow at Australian National University

    This is the URL and text of the official Customs and Border Protection Department media release last Wednesday, announcing an internal enquiry into the circumstances of the two deaths at sea last Monday:

    http://www.customs.gov.au/site/130327mediarelease_SARupdate.asp

    BEGINS Search and rescue incident off Christmas Island – final update - 27 March 2013

    ACV Ocean Protector has resumed operational duties following Monday’s (25 March) search and rescue operation north of Christmas Island…

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    1. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      I don't know why they are even bothering Tony.

      Those killed and injured are not Australian citizens and were placing their own lives and that of our navy personnel at risk.

      To be perfectly blunt - screw them. If they gamble with their lives then sometimes they will lose and it aint our responsibility!

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    2. Susan Costello

      Public Servant

      In reply to Tony Kevin

      After reading this brief report, my feelings are that the people involved in this rescue did an excellent job and I see no need to waste money and time investigating it further.

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    3. Tony Kevin

      Emeritus Fellow at Australian National University

      In reply to Susan Costello

      Susan, I suggest you re-read the Jason Clare - David Johnston media conference which sparked my discussion of this issue in my essay:

      http://www.jasonclare.com.au/media/transcripts/1458-press-conference-customs-house-canberra.html

      There is plenty of room for questioning the decision-making reported there, as set out in my subsequent commentaries here and elsewhere. I welcome Mr Pezzullo's decision to commit to an internal enquiry. I hope and trust that it will be followed by an external coronial inquest.

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  24. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. In reply to Greg Boyles

      Comment removed by moderator.