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Not a fit and proper person

By Bruce Haigh - posted Friday, 21 February 2014


The Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, should resign. He is not a fit and proper person to be responsible for vulnerable lives.

Riots at the Manus Island detention camp on 16 and 17 February have seen over seventy asylum seekers injured and at least one killed. From a number of accounts it seems that tension and frustration, leading to anger, gave effect to physical violence on the part of asylum seekers.

The protest on 16 February was apparently contained. However further violence is said to have occurred on 17 February. It is unclear whether this was a continuation of the earlier protest or whether it was instigated by angry locals, including police, fearful at the prospect of disturbances spilling into nearby housing areas.

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Apparently Australian staff, including guards, left the scene and played no part in seeking a resolution to the problem.

Most of this information has come from sources other than the Minister and his department. All the Minister has confirmed is one death and several people injured. This lack of detail is justified by the government under the blanket ban of information relating to operational security, which under the circumstances is a nonsense excuse for avoiding proper scrutiny.

When the going gets rough the head of so called Operation Sovereign Borders, General Campbell, is pushed to one side while Morrison aggressively seeks to justify the unjustifiable. Campbell is little more than a figure head.

Without any help Morrison has taken the relationship with Indonesia to its lowest point since the mid 1980's. He understands nothing and listens to no-one. Snowden and the issue of spying have not helped. However intelligence agencies and the governments they work for understand the spying game and the byzantine rules governing operations.

It is the issue of boats and the lies and deception surrounding their return, together with the arrogance of Morrison and Abbott in dealing with the Indonesian governing elite that has caused the rupture, accompanied by deep anger and resentment, which will find expression to Australia's cost.

Morrison claims success in stopping boats over the past eight weeks or so. We only have his word for that.

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The only means by which a sustainable policy can be implemented is in cooperation with the Indonesian government and Morrison has burnt his bridges with respect to that possibility. With elections due shortly in Indonesia he can expect to reap what he has sown from what is likely to be a more hardline and less tolerant government.

Abbott and Morrison have created a vacuum in Australian foreign policy in the region. It should have been Abbott in Jakarta talking about climate change rather than US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Next will be China, if it's not already buzzing in Javanese ears.

In mid November I wrote, "Implementing policy under a veil of secrecy carries with it risks, big risks if there is a significant stuff up. In a situation of seriously flawed governance with which I was familiar, the white South African government, in their implementation and administration of apartheid, threw a veil of secrecy over political prisoners. When they died in detention, as their treatment was wont to cause, there was a significant domestic and international outcry. Just as there will be when asylum seekers are found to have died in Australian detention camps."

It did not take long, just three months. The government's policy is unsustainable. In the long term it will not stop boats taking to the high seas and for all we know it may not be working in the short term. All we have is Morrison's word that his blunt instrument of Operation Sovereign Borders is working and nothing about the operation to date has built much confidence into his word.

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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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