Rudd fails the Tampa test
You learn a lot about people when the pressure is on.
Some interesting facts emerged recently about what really happened during those extraordinary four weeks last year when the Oceanic Viking abandoned our Patagonian tooth fish to become home to 78 Tamil asylum seekers.
During these events the debate raged about who knew what and when. Where would they go and on what terms? The answers to many of these questions came to light during recent questioning in Senate estimates.
Of greatest significance was confirmation that the Prime Minister knew nothing of the special deal done with the Indonesian Government to get the 78 Tamils off the boat. Remember, this was the deal that offered a 12-week guarantee of processing, with settlement to a third country. Most refugees seeking third country re settlement in Indonesia wait five years.
There would be English lessons while they waited and the Australian Government would proceed to spend every diplomatic favour they had to convince other countries to take them on.
The bottom line was that Australia had twelve weeks to get them out of Indonesia and we had to take full responsibility for every last one of them.
The decision to agree to this special deal was taken by the Border Protection Committee of Cabinet chaired by the Minister for Immigration. Representing the Prime Minister on this committee was his National Security Adviser, who we were told that he or his deputy attended every meeting.
This was the ‘bloke’ the Prime Minister referred to in Parliament last year, smugly saying “there is a bloke called the national security adviser…he answers to me”.
All of this turned very sour when a few weeks after they got off the boat, ASIO had given four of the passengers, now official refugees, an adverse security assessment. They had failed the security test.
Normally if someone is given an adverse security clearance by ASIO, that is where their conversation with Australia ends. But not this time. Because of the special deal, they were now our problem, we were bound to take them.
As confirmed by the Department secretary, the 12 week deadline was approaching and we had no option than to take them. As a result the National Security Committee approved a decision to transfer four people with an adverse security finding from Indonesia to Australia in mid December.
Not only had this never occurred before, it had certainly never occurred as a result of a special deal with a foreign government.
Last time something even remotely like this happened was when one of the last detainees on Nauru was transferred to Australia under the special ‘transitory persons’ provision created under the Migration Act. The adverse assessment was revised by ASIO and the individual was then provided a visa.
There can be no doubt that the special deal with Indonesia compromised our national security. We had a basic passenger manifest of the names of who was on board, but they could have said their name was Charlie Brown at that stage of the process. ASIO had been given no access to the individuals until after they had disembarked the vessel.
The Rudd Government basically signed up blind to take responsibility for people they knew nothing about. I’m torn between what is worse. Knowingly taking this blatant security risk, or failing to even think about it. It’s still not clear whether this was a sin of omission or commission.
What is clear is that our Prime Minister, who promised national security would come first, did not want to know anything about it. Not only was he not told, he did not seek to inform himself. He did not even discuss the terms of the special deal with his own National Security Adviser.
I simply can’t imagine John Howard absenting himself from a such key decision. In fact, he didn’t.
While there will be endless debate over the Tampa, John Howard did not sit cowering away in his office trying to avoid eye contact with his Minsters or security advisers for fear of having to make a decision. He didn’t seek to use a Cabinet sub-committee as a human shield for his own accountability.
John Howard took control of the Tampa situation, took action and the rest is history – the boats stopped coming.
When presented with a similar situation with the Oceanic Viking, Kevin Rudd blinked and the people smugglers got the message. Since then another 40 boats have arrived.
“I knew nothing”, as Mr Rudd boasted in the Parliament, is not what you want to hear from your Prime Minister when national security is at stake.
This is the real problem with Kevin Rudd and Labor when it comes to border protection. Their heart is just not in it. Instead they pretend to be one thing, while failing to be another.
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