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March 20th 2014 print

Peter Smith

ABC Journalism Par Excellence

When 7.30 reported its breathless scoop about an orange boatload of would-be illegal aliens being sent back to Indonesia, the hope of some at the national broadcaster might have been to reveal the inhumanity of Operation Sovereign Borders. If so it was an own goal of the first rank

lifeboatThere were 22 letters in The Australian on Wednesday – effectively the first opportunity to laud 7.30’s masterly exposé two days earlier of Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB). Alas, all of the eleven letters referring to the program were condemnatory. Some, shockingly, accused the ABC of bias and indecency.  One suggested that the ABC presenter and reporters should wash their mouths out with carbolic soap. I can only suspect the letter writers were right-wing crazies.

Letter writers to the SMH and AFR were respectfully silent, preferring on the whole to bag Arthur Sinodinos. As a complete aside, why did it take him more than five seconds to stand aside? Amazing! What planet do these blokes come from? Anyway, back to the ABC.

I was watching the ABC News on Monday evening and fully expected to switch to Murdoch Mysteries at 7.30 while chomping my solitary dinner. Then Sarah Ferguson told me to hold on. Secret stuff was going to be revealed. She wasn’t wrong.

In case you missed the revelatory program I can tell you that the Australian navy is intercepting people-smuggling boats on the high seas. Mysteriously, by some apparent fluke of nature, these boats spring leaks as the navy approaches. Then, wait for it, naval personnel board these boats and take the asylum seekers off their sinking boat. They then set sail for Indonesia where the asylum seekers started out.

But this is no kindly gesture, apparently, because the asylum seekers don’t want to go back. They are queue-jumpers and want to come to Australia ahead of those applying through regular channels. Scott Morrison and, of course, the dastardly Tony Abbott, is intent on thwarting them.  What in the world are they doing trying to secure our borders?

At this point I thought, ‘What’s next?’ What else will this piece of extraordinary investigative journalism of Pulitzer standard tell us? I wasn’t disappointed.

On approaching Indonesian waters the asylum seekers are placed in a life boat, coloured orange, and directed to sail to Indonesia. I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. How much do these life boats cost? Could we employ some used-car salesmen to try to sell them to Indonesia at a bargain landed price?

Some asylum seekers appeared, expressing outrage at their treatment. They said they were told to shut up when they tried to plead their case. Bizarrely, the sailors did not want to enter into philosophical and legal debate on United Nation conventions.

To illustrate how completely distraught they were at the treatment meted out, one who said he’d converted from Islam to Christianity while living in Iran (clearly, if we can believe him, showing an inane disregard for own life and his wife’s), said he’d threatened to kill RAN personnel. Another quite blatantly said, ‘F*** Australia.’ Another threatened us with a repeat of 9/11. And who can blame them? Certainly not the ABC. Surely they are the kind of people we should embrace?

One perceptively called Abbott a smuggler. It took me a while to work this out. At first I thought it was a case of lost in translation or some allusion to budgies. But on reflection it was quite clever. I suppose Abbott is sort of smuggling the asylum seekers back.

The ABC asked Scott Morrison 28 questions about OSB, all of which he refused to answer. I can only assume the ABC letterhead was not clearly visible; otherwise how he could refuse? We live in a democracy don’t we?

Apparently more is to be revealed in a second program. I can’t wait. I fully anticipate an interview with Sarah Hanson-Young to throw more light on OSB. No longer can the government keep it all secret. Intrepid ABC investigative reporters are on the job.


Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics