Yargh! How piracy will be the next big asylum debate
There is talk of piracy in Canberra today as the Opposition makes clear it is not giving the Government a free pass on asylum seeker management. It is determined to depict the Government as too incompetent and unprepared to implement the policy it jointly supports of sending refugee applicants to Nauru and Manus Island.
The accompanying message is that only an Abbott government could really stop the boats and “be in charge of who comes to our country”.
“If you want to have John Howard’s results,” said Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of the partially revived Pacific Solution, “you have to have John Howard’s resolve.” That piracy talk is echoing in Norway where executives of the Wallenius shipping line today must be asking why them as they are again drawn into the unattractive margins of Australia’s asylum seeker debate.
One of the line’s ships, the MV Parsifal, on Monday had a spot of bother with 67 rescued asylum seekers who didn’t want the ship to go where the skipper wanted to take it.
Parsifal was headed for Singapore but protests by the rescued people raised concerns about the crew’s safety and the captain instead took them where they wanted to go, Christmas Island.
Parsifal is a sister ship of another Wallenius vessel, the Tampa. Close to 11 years ago to the day, the Tampa was caught up in a row over 438 rescued asylum when it was the Australian government and our military who overruled the skipper.
Instead of coming to an Australian port, the off-loaded asylum seekers were taken to Nauru. That incident on August 24, 2001, saw the start of the Pacific Solution, which is about to be partially revived by the Gillard Labor government.
It was an inglorious start to the original policy, and events at sea have ensure a similarly messy start to the revived version. And this Government might not be prepared for what is to come.
For starters, Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison is effectively accusing the Government of tolerating piracy on the high sea by not taking action against the 67 asylum seekers who forced Parsifal to change course.
“For the vessel to have been turned around allegedly under threat of violence, to go completely in the opposite direction, which I imagine completely would have at significant cost, is an outrageous act to be committed,” said Mr Morrison.
“These people were admitted as being assessed; they should be investigated for potential crimes of piracy.”
Tony Abbott later called it a “reverse Tampa”, but it’s not that simple.
Mr Abbott would not say whether he would have sent in SAS troops, as John Howard did to the Tampa. There were no no piracy related charges made against the Tampa’s asylum seekers. And Mr Abbott does jot yet know what sort of menace the Parsifal’s asylum seekers were using against the crew.
Further, the Parsifal incident underlined expert advice that turning boats back, as Mr Abbott has strongly called for, would now be hugely difficult.
Beyond those points, Tony Abbott will be relentless in portraying the Government as being inadequate to the task of deterring irregular boat arrivals.
On Wednesday, Scott Morrison and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen shook hands after the House of Representatives passed Nauru legislation. It was the sort of handshake boxers exchange just before the fight starts, not when it is over.
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