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Amnesty details brutal consequences of Tony Abbott's asylum seeker boat turn-back directive

Sydney Morning Herald - October 29, 2015

Michael Bachelard Tony Abbott used his first outing on the international speakers' circuit to urge Europe to moderate its love for its neighbours, and instead to turn back their boats an action that will "require some force... [and] gnaw at our consciences".

Meanwhile, from Indonesia, an Amnesty International report tells us exactly what this use of force looks like.

As has been documented more than once, activities that a succession of Australian ministers have coyly avoided talking about as "on-water matters", involve some pretty nasty behaviour.

Amnesty says one infamous turn-back this year involved uniformed Australian officers boarding an asylum seeker vessel, lying to its occupants, taking them on to Australian warships and incarcerating them by force, limiting food and medical attention, then paying the crew to take them back to Indonesia with minimal fuel to face significant danger on landing.

Asked about the payment, both Immigration minister Peter Dutton and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop answered "No". Abbott later virtually, but not actually, contradicted them when he said Australia would close its borders to boat-borne asylum seekers "by hook or by crook".

The lies, if the Amnesty report is to be believed, have continued. An Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force has told an Australian Senate committee that the operation was a rescue mission, intended to save lives following a distress call. Amnesty says, on the basis of interviews with asylum seekers and the boat's crew, that the boat was simply boarded, not rescued.

The questions that hang over this turn-back prompt us to ask what else has happened without our knowledge. The most infamous example of alleged brutality was the "burned hands" boat of January 2014. Can we really believe the navy's and customs' denials that anything untoward happened?

The reality is this. We have put a group of highly trained and armed young Australians out of sight on the high seas, excused them from various laws and authorised them to use whatever force is necessary to turn desperate people back on a dangerous journey.

We have attacked anyone attempting to scrutinise or question their actions; removed any notion of political oversight. That has the potential to encourage illegality and, potentially, brutality.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of "stopping the boats", what happens as a result probably does not gnaw nearly enough at our conscience.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/amnesty-details-brutal-consequences-of-tony-abbotts-asylum-seeker-boat-turnback-directive-20151028-gkkopb.html.

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