The long and short arm of the law

In Western Australia a 12 year old Aboriginal boy was charged by police with receiving a stolen Freddo frog chocolate-bar worth 70 cents. In South Australia a man was charged by police with driving without a licence (he didn’t have one), when, strapped in by a seat-belt on the passenger side, he lent over to steer a runaway car, to avoid the car crashing into a structure. 

This week in Hobart 57 protesters were arrested, under orders of the Speaker of the Tasmanian Legislative Assembly, Michael Polly, for refusing to get off the front steps of the Tasmanian Parliament. The 57 were protesting about the rubber-stamping by the parliament of permits to extend the licences for the construction of the Gunns pulp mill for another two years. Among the elder protestors carted away in a police van was ABC gardening guru Peter Cundall (83), a grandmother (70), a woman with life-threatening cancer and an elderly wheelchair-bound forest activist. 

These protestors were taken to a nearby police station and charged, then released on a bail condition that forbids these elderly people, and the other protestors, from entering a large section of the Hobart CBD. They will face court in February. This was the long arm of the law in full flight. 

Meanwhile, as all the above was unfolding in Australia, 78 Sri Lankan Tamil illegal-immigrants were virtually holding an Australian Customs vessel hostage, as they refused to leave the ship and land in the Indonesian island of Bintan. The difference between the treatment of the protestors in Hobart and the month long “mutiny” by those aboard the Oceanic Viking could not be more stark. 

Let’s be quite clear about this —those aboard the Oceanic Viking are illegal immigrants. They are not “asylum-seekers” until they have been found to be so. They have entered into financial contracts with vicious criminal people smugglers, to have themselves illegally landed on Australian soil so as to avoid having to go through the legal processes as outlined by the UN Convention on Refugees. They are queue-jumping illegal-immigrants, who along the way, have committed serious crimes. Crimes, which, if committed by Australian citizens would see those citizens either severely fined or, more likely, sentenced to a long jail term. 

To start with, failure to obey the captain of a ship or his officers, is mutiny, clearly defined in the Oxford dictionary as “open revolt against constituted authority”. If Australian citizens refused to leave a ship or aircraft, and held out for a month, they would be, with little doubt, charged with a criminal offence and sent to prison. End of story! 

So what we have seen this week is the most powerful government in Australia— the government that has H.M. Customs, the Royal Australian Navy, the SAS, the Federal Police, and the Australian Immigration service fully equipped to deal with 78 illegal immigrants who refuse to leave our ship — surrendering to the Tamil’s demands by offering the “mutineers” a special deal. 

A deal that includes rapid status-processing within four to 12 weeks, and if declared to be a genuine refugees, most likely settlement in Australia with full social service benefits, instant housing and, presumably forgiveness for any criminal act that they happened to commit along the way. 

The impunity from legal charges with which illegal immigrants have operated over the years, on their dangerous voyages to any speck of Australian territory, needs some very serious examination. 

Any Australian citizen who conspired with people smugglers; paid large sums of money to be smuggled into the country; who gave false information to a government official; threatened to sink a boat with others aboard; set fire to a vessel thereby endangering human life; drilled holes in a boat-at-sea with the aim of sinking it or undertook any other life-threatening strategy —would be writing their memoirs in one of H.M. Prisons. 

There is something terribly wrong when there is one law for a country’s citizens and an exemption from the law by non-citizens, seeking to come and live with us. 

There is something terribly wrong when a country’s less privileged citizens have to wait for up to five years for public housing but an immigrant who has flouted the nation’s laws — and our notions of fairness—is granted special treatment with instant housing. It is curious, with Kevin Rudd’s concern for Australia’s homeless, how easily housing can be found for immigrants who have flouted the law, but not for our own citizens. 

As the 255 Tamils aboard a people-smuggling boat in the Indonesian port of Merak threaten hunger-strikes and self-harm if Australia doesn’t cave in to their demands, we can feel some sympathy for their anguish and frustration. But without the laws that govern this nation and the processes we use to ensure our generosity towards genuine refugees, (seeking protection from imminent danger, execution or torture), our system of refugee compassion collapses. 

Labor Senator Chris Evans, the Minister for Immigration, recently stated that the Rudd government had a $654-million strategy to strengthen Australia’s borders. One can’t help wondering whether this money would be better spent in ensuring that there was some punishment, rather than reward, was offered to illegal immigrants who commit criminal acts. And whether some of this money would be better spent in assisting those 45 million people living in refugee camps around the world. 

You can’t get away with receiving a 70 cent Freddo, or protesting on the steps of the Tasmanian Parliament — but holding a little mutiny aboard one of H.M.’s custom’s ships — as Peter Cundall would say… “blooming magic”!


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