Peter Smith

Nightmare on Election Night

Saw Julie Bishop being interviewed by Barrie Cassidy on the boat people issue. My goodness, it was frustrating. I am not saying that she was hopeless, she wasn’t. But, at the same time, she wimped out of saying the bleeding obvious, which is that Australia doesn’t need, nor should it seek, Indonesia’s permission to protect and secure our own borders. Just as Indonesia doesn’t need our permission to protect and secure its borders.

Then we have this continuing questioning on the ABC, which goes like this. What would we do, in trying to turn back a boat, if those on board threatened to kill themselves or scuttle their boat? Well, what would we do if bank robbers threatened to kill themselves, and also their children, brought along to improve their bargaining position, unless we allow them to walk away with the money?

You cannot as a country allow that kind of blackmail to win the day. Where would it end? We now know where it ends. It ends in chaos, with an effective an end to the rule of law on our borders. You have to call their bluff and/or take well-practised counter measures. You don’t just give up, as is clearly the position favoured by Kevin Rudd, the Labor Party, the ABC, and all of their fellow travellers.

With these thoughts swirling away in my mind I fell asleep.

It is election night in late 2016. Kevin Rudd has been returned to power with a vastly increased majority. Special commissioner for welcoming boat people, Sarah Hanson-Young, offers him her personal heartfelt congratulations. Malcolm Fraser is waiting to receive him at Government House.

Meanwhile a group of desperate conservatives set sail for Indonesia on a rickety boat seeking sanctuary. “We can’t take it anymore”, one of them was heard to cry. “It’s not so much the policies but the public bonhomie, the sanctimony, the faux modesty, the finger counting, the convoluted syntax, the smile, the ‘zipping’ here, there and everywhere.”

They pass hundreds of rickety boats going the other way. They shout warnings, but to no avail.

Unluckily, close to the Indonesian coast, they almost collide with the one and only Indonesian patrol boat which, in accordance with standard procedure, is crewed by short-sighted people to prevent them spotting rickety boats leaving Indonesia.

“Turn around please”, the patrol boat captain says in faltering English. “We don’t want you in Indonesia. Believe me it is awful here. You won’t like it. You will have to eat strange food.”

“Please let us in, let us in, we are desperate”, the apparent leader of the conservatives pleads, while walking with a swaying gait across the deck and punching the cabin wall, which shatters at his blow.

“If you don’t let us in we’ll scuttle our boat; we’ll kill ourselves”, and he went on, “look we have some women and children with us”.

The Indonesian captain translates for the benefit of his crew. There is silence while the words sink in, then spontaneous raucous laughter.

“Ok, well how about this, you will upset the relationship between our countries if you turn us around. It could even mean war.”

More translation follows and yet more raucous laughter.

The captain responds in Indonesian. “Kami akan memutuskan siapa yang datang ke Indonesia dan keadaan di mana mereka bisa datang.

This, when roughly translated (using Google) by those on board the rickety Australian boat, went along the lines of: we will decide who can come to Indonesia and the circumstances in which they can come.

Their hearts sink at these powerful words. They think about scuttling their boat, but will the Indonesians care? Will they be picked up? Will they drown while raucous laughter rings in their ears?

They think about having someone theatrically kill themselves in full view of the Indonesians. Leaving aside the absence of volunteers, there is also that awful prospect that the Indonesian captain will think it none of his business, nor his responsibility, if an Australian wants to take his own life.

Short of resolve in the face of sneering and implacable opposition they slink off back towards Australia. “Maybe the Nauruans will let us in?” someone says.

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

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