Carlo's Corner: So now the news is un-Australian

Friday, January 31, 2014
'You certainly ought to be prepared to give the Australian Navy and its hard-working personnel the benefit of the doubt.' Tony Abbott gives his unique views on the function of investigative journalism.

So now reporting the news is Un-Australian.

This is the line from prime minister and proud Australian Tony Abbott, strongly backed by media owned by proud Australian and American-citizen-for-tax-purposes Rupert Murdoch, whose Daily Telegraph screamed on its January 30 front page, “PM brands ABC un-Australian: THE ABC OF TREACHERY.”

The day before, Abbott told Sydney shock jock Ray Hadley: “A lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's.”

A key issue provoking Abbott's outburst was the ABC reporting on a series of allegations made by asylum seekers, backed by Indonesian officials, of mistreatment by Australian Navy personnel engaged in forcing their boats back to Indonesia.

Said the PM: “You can't leap to be critical of your own country and you certainly ought to be prepared to give the Australian Navy and its hard-working personnel the benefit of the doubt.”

Presumably the correct, non-biased way to report such allegations, which have included torture, is to stick your fingers in your ears and shout: “LALALALALALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU, DIRTY FOREIGN SCUM! LALALALALALALALA how good are we at cricket? We got the Ashes back! And now, here's Vanessa with the weather.”

Because, as Abbott says every time he mentions them, Australian Navy personnel are “hard-working”. Can you imagine? Reporting allegations made against anyone who works hard?

At first, I found this confusing. As a defence, it seems to rest on the implication that Indonesian officials reporting mistreatment are all lazy, to say nothing of the asylum seekers. No doubt there is no hard work involved in fleeing war and repression in your homeland and risking your life travelling half way around the world in an overcrowded boat. Easiest thing in the world.

Then I realised Abbott meant it was only wrong to question hard-working Australians. Defence lawyers should try this. When representing an accused serial killer, get up in court and declare: “I object to these biased charges of murder. My client is very hard working and an Australian. I find the lack of patriotism in this courtroom deeply offensive. Really, whose side are you on?”

The government response has been to simply state that it believes the navy when it says the allegations are false. In fact, immigration minister Scott Morrison released a statement denouncing the “offensive allegations of torture”.

Of course, you could point out that even more offensive than allegations of torture is actual torture. And that some sort of response beyond screaming “how dare you!” at anyone who reports the allegations might be in order. Such as some sort of official inquiry.

But maybe it is fair enough. It's not like any allegations of misconduct have been proven against Australian military personnel in recent times. Well, asides from the horrific culture of sexual abuse exposed by the “Skype” scandal, in which a female cadet was secretly filmed having sex.

Nor is there any evidence at all that Australian Navy personnel harbour racist anti-refugee sentiments. Well, asides from the recent exposure via Facebook that navy personnel had ties to racist far-right groups, and one member of the navy wrote under a racist anti-asylum seeker tirade that, “I'm about to head out today to deal with these fuckers”.

But asides from all that, there is simply no cause for concern.

The other defence is to imply that obviously the asylum seekers would say that because they have some sort of vested interest in demonising the navy. But it is never quite explained what advantage they'd get by making accusations against the navy of the nation in which they wish to seek asylum.

Presumably, asylum seekers believe that when authorities hear such claims, they'll think: “Well, I mean sure, we potentially endangered their lives by driving their boat back to Indonesia simply for using their right under international law to seek asylum, and our policy anyway is to refuse to process the claims of anyone who arrives by boat, and had they made it we'd have only jailed them indefinitely in a hellish prison camps on isolated Pacific islands, but... well, if they are the kinda plucky souls who'll accuse the Australian Navy of torture, then bring 'em all in!”

On the other hand, it is clearly impossible to imagine navy personnel mistreating asylum seekers in a context of demonisation in the media of asylum seekers and a government elected on a platform of being as harsh on asylum seekers as possible while promoting near total secrecy in dealings with them.

So it is perfectly obvious what the truth is here. No need for the government to investigate and no need for the media to ask any difficult questions. No, if the navy says the allegations are false, then it is surely the duty of all Australians to accept their word for it and cheer on our home team as they force back desperate people risking their lives to seek safety as is their right under an international treaty to which our country is a signatory.

Anything else is un-Australian treachery.


From GLW issue 995