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Four Corners: round peg in a square hole

By Bruce Haigh - posted Monday, 18 June 2012


The story portrayed in the Four Corners program, 'Smugglers Paradise – Australia', on the 4 June, was not the one intended. Responding to criticism in The Australian, which I think is misplaced, the producer, Sue Spencer, says the facts of the program are not in dispute, I disagree.

The thrust and intent of the program was contained in the promo, "Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called people smugglers 'the scum of the earth'. This program reveals how many of them have made their way to Australia posing as asylum seekers and have persuaded the government to grant them refugee status and residency."

Producer Sarah Ferguson, presenter Kerry O'Brien and the ABC have attached themselves to this particularly nasty epithet. Why?

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We know that not all people smugglers are bad. A book has been written about one. I t has been released to great acclaim. More copies were sold at the recent Sydney Writers Festival than for any other book. It was written by Robin De Crespigny about Ali Al Jenabi. It was three years in the writing. Al Jenabi was under surveillance, there was no secret about the production of the book.

The book details the character of Al Jenabi, the trials and tribulations that forced him to leave Iraq and how he became involved in people smuggling and put together boat-loads of people for passage to Australia. Ali is a remarkable character, something that the AFP, Immigration, ASIO and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service do not want to know about or put about in the Australian community. Why didn't Ferguson seek to balance her story with an interview with Ali?

It might be seen that the ABC program sought to counter that rather positive image. Certainly the promo leaves one with that impression. In the face of some rather quizzical comments about the program, Ferguson sought, and had published, an explanation of how she put the story together. But it raised as many questions as it answered.

She is at pains to describe the pressure she was under to get the story out by a certain time. Why the pressure on an investigative piece of journalism that certainly could have used more time in the making? We are introduced to Hussain Nasir who, Ferguson says in The Australian, was a colleague who 'took us step by step during the course of a year towards Captain Emad.' Nasir has since confessed to Paul Maley of The Australian on 11 June, that he has had, 'a long working relationship with Australian Federal Police aimed at smashing people-smuggling rackets.' I would have thought it was incumbent upon Ferguson to provide viewers with that fact, presuming of course that she knew.

Ferguson gave the impression that she had the skeleton of the story and she spent time putting flesh on it. The question is; who pulled that skeleton from the cupboard?

At the end of 2010 a boat which departed Indonesia went missing with ninety seven people on board. People associated with putting the asylum seekers on board were convinced it had arrived in Australian waters, but not Nasir, the AFP agent. He alone pursued enquiries in Jakarta. Ferguson says he pursued people smugglers because he hated them, twice they had cheated him and he was concerned at the way they exploited women and children.

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How did Nasir survive in Jakarta? Ferguson says at one point Nasir filmed a people smuggler with a hidden camera. Was he paid for this? He told Paul Maley that he frequently passed information to the AFP about the activities of people smugglers while he was living in Indonesia.

Others in the story also give the appearance of working for the AFP. In the program Ferguson talks of an Abu Ali Kuwaiti who went by boat to Australia, was convicted in 2001 of people smuggling and by 2010 was back in Jakarta as 'head of one of Indonesia's most powerful smuggling syndicates'. What she fails to mention is that Al Kuwaiti, also known as Abdul Kadem, was deported from Australia. He and his family were so badly treated in detention, his young sons self harmed, that he vowed to send as many boats to Australia as he could.

The allegations and evidence put forward in the program, surrounding the claims made about Captain Emad, lack credibility. We are told that he came to Australia by boat and that his application for refugee status was accelerated. He received a permanent visa three months after arrival. Why? As an investigative reporter Fergusson should have pursued this. Why was this favour done for him? On whose recommendation was he fast tracked?

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Bruce Haigh is a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal. The ABC refused to publish this story.



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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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