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November 22nd 2013 print

Philippa Martyr

A Nice Little Earner

Recent convictions of relatively low-level members of the Indonesian military leave little doubt their superiors are also doing nicely by helping people smugglers. Is it any wonder they want to see more boats heading south?

indo bribeI said to my sister last night, ‘I can completely understand why SBY’s leaped on this opportunity to cut us off. Turning back the boats must be pretty expensive.’

‘Oh yeah’, she said. ‘It’s a nice little earner.’

That hadn’t occurred to me. I’d been thinking of the legitimate cost to Indonesian naval vessels of having to turn back and deal with annoyingly decrepit people-smuggler boats. Dealing with displaced persons is expensive at the best of times, as Australia has discovered, and I assumed that now that Indonesia was sharing the burden, they were finding it rather more financially difficult than they’d expected.

But of course my sister was far closer to the mark. The people-smuggling racket is a nice little earner for the Indonesian military. There have been enough stories now emerging of the Army collecting parcels of people and dropping them off at their pickup spot on the beach, all for the exchange of parcels of money, to give this proposition legs.

And it is the Indonesian military which run Indonesia. Not SBY, although we might pretend that this is the case, as he clearly does. He is entirely answerable to his military forces, and they are hurting.

Why are they hurting? Not just because Australia is forcing them to take responsibility for their own people-smuggling problem. It’s because Australia is hurting a key source of military income. The Coalition policies are, in fact, working, and working so well that they have put a significant dent in the Indonesian military’s unofficial forward estimates.

Scott Morrison has just announced that in November, 2012, some 2600 people attempted to enter Australia illegally on 43 boats. In November 2013, that number has been reduced to four boats.

Australia’s only fault in this is not being prescient enough to see how closing down the racket would hurt the Indonesian military’s finances, and lead them to instruct SBY to find some reason to end our cooperation in this matter.

Your move, boys.

Philippa Martyr blogs at Transverse City