That the ABC has been making mischief in regard to Australia’s relations with Indonesia is beyond doubt. What still needs to be explained is the apparent indifference of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to reforming the national broadcaster
Whether it’s a pause or not, it’s a record. The period of the last 72 days is the longest since Prime Minister Rudd dismantled John Howard’s successful Pacific Solution in 2008 during which no illegal immigrants arrived. Was it just incompetence that opened the floodgates, or was it the considered and deliberate policy of the Rudd/Gillard governments to bring in vast numbers of illegal immigrants, most of whom would stay on welfare for years?
If it were incompetence, why did it take until late 2013 for the Rudd government to take serious steps to stop the flow? Was that belated action just for the benefit of voters and last year’s election?
Assume, for a moment, that the Rudd/Gillard governments were not incompetent. Was there then, if not a plan, an acceptance of the fact that with their policy of abandoning the control of our maritime borders an increasing number of illegal immigrants would enter Australia with, as government research has confirmed, most forming a long-term relationship with Centrelink?
Was it a calculated decision to give them, through the abolition of Temporary Protection Visas, the status of permanent residents and, eventually, citizens able to nominate relatives and thus to increase their number?
Surely there was no consideration of how, as citizens, they would vote in future elections? Surely there was nothing similar to the reason why the Keating government overruled the 1988 decision by their immigration Minister Chris Hurford to deport Grand Mufti Sheik Hillaly Taj El-Din Hilaly?
In any event, the Abbott government elected on September 7, 2013, was soon successful in stopping the flow of illegal immigrants. In this the Indonesian Navy was quietly cooperating with Scott Morrison’s Operation Sovereign Borders, as Peter Hartcher reports in The Sydney Morning Herald. This was done, and only could be done, without the glare of publicity. This is an important consideration. The politicians and journalists who demand that the Sovereign Borders be conducted as if it were a reality-TV show must surely understand two things.
First, this Sovereign Borders is crucial. It is about securing our borders, that is the defence of Australia — a primary function of government. And in a defence operation, no general reveals to the enemy either what he is about to do or what he has just done.
And in this case, there is a second factor of which Senator Conroy and his allies are well aware. ( If they are not they should not be in Parliament or journalism.) Co-operation with Indonesia is conditional on it being done quietly, discreetly and unannounced. The Senator knows that. So do other politicians and journalists worthy of those occupations.
So why is the gallery so insistent that every aspect of the Sovereign Borders be made public immediately?
It is difficult to come to any other conclusion than this: they must want Sovereign Borders to fail. That is worth repeating. These politicians and journalists have an agenda and it is that Operation Sovereign Borders fail. The consequences of failure are obvious.
First, there would be an increased, and constantly increasing, flow of illegal immigrants attracted especially by our welfare system.
Second, with the abolition of Temporary Protection Visas, those landing would soon be able to settle and nominate others.
Third, and tragically, increasing numbers would die. The Left heartlessly dismisses this as of no consequence. As Senator Hanson-Young said after over 200 went to their deaths when their unseaworthy boat sank off Java in December 2011: “Tragedies happen, accidents happen.” She and the Left took a different view of a single death in the recent riot on Manus Island.
To return to the story of the success of Operation Sovereign Borders, at some time last year, between June and November, the ABC entered into a deal with a left-wing British newspaper and its online Australian offshoot concerning the promotion of a story about material stolen by the American traitor Edward Snowden, now based in Moscow. The ABC says the pact was struck in November, but it has not published any details of the agreement.
Across all of its many platforms, its several radio and TV channels , its internet sites and most importantly, Australia’s official ”soft diplomacy” TV channel into Asia, the story dominating ABC News for days was its simultaneous promotion of a story by the local online subsidiary of The Guardian newspaper. This was the completely unsurprising fact that, like every other intelligence agency, Australia’s had intercepted foreign government telephone conversations.
But the conversations which the ABC fell on with unrestrained glee were the interceptions under the Rudd/Gillard government of calls in 2009 on mobile phones used by the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his wife. Had this story been restricted to the meanderings of a website owned by a loss-making British newspaper supported by a rapidly depleting trust fund it would have been a one-day wonder.
The problem was that it was released, and heavily promoted, by the ABC — a national broadcaster seen in neighbouring countries as at least of semi-official – if not an official — status. Suddenly a story that would otherwise have faded quickly had legs, credibility and taxpayer funds to make sure it remained at the head of almost every news bulletin.
To those who say the ABC is independent, at arm’s length from the government, Asians would ask, with justification, why then did Prime Minister Gillard and Senator Conroy improperly intervene in the tender process – not once but twice – to make sure that the ABC would be the one to disseminate their message into Asia on the government funded official “soft diplomacy” channel? A reasonable conclusion would be that the ABC’s role is to disseminate the official Australian message to the region.
The effect of the ABC story was that Australia was seen to be publicly rubbing the noses of the Indonesians in their story that, in an ineffably superior way, a White Australian Prime Minister was tuning into private conversations of the deep Indonesian President and his wife and gloating over this.
That the spying was not by Prime Minister Abbott but by Prime Minister Rudd is neither here nor there. In Indonesian eyes, they are both behind their broadcasting practitioner of soft diplomacy, the ABC. Few Indonesians would seriously believe that the ABC is an out-of-control delinquent, constantly in breach of its own Charter. Few Indonesians would believe that the Abbott government — or any government — would for a moment tolerate a government-funded agency whose principal agenda is to undermine and eventually get rid of that government. They would know how to deal with such delinquency in their countries and would expect that Australian prime ministers would do the same.
The inevitable result of these shenanigans was a loss of face, not only by the President but by Indonesians generally.
That the story was shrieked from high heaven by the official Australian broadcaster, the government mandated practitioner of soft diplomacy in Asia, greatly exacerbated the humiliation felt by the President, his wife, the whole Indonesian establishment including the media and consequently rank and file Indonesians.
This is not the first time an ABC broadcast has seriously damaged Australian-Indonesian relations. When the Indonesians saw a main source of their food — live cattle imports — arbitrarily cut off without notice, consultation or even the courtesy of a phone call from the then-PM to the President, it was because an incompetent government had been thrown into a state of panic because of an ABC transmission, again on the official “soft diplomacy” channel.
The point of this sorry story is that no one in their right mind would appoint a diplomat who acted against the best interests of the nation they were representing. The same of course applies to our official “soft diplomacy” channel.
This just cannot continue.
So why, Mr Turnbull, is the ABC still our soft diplomat in Asia?
Prof David Flint is the author, with Jai Martinkovits, of Give Us Back Our Country, the second edition of which is being published by Connor Court for release in March, 2014