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David Johnston goes overboard with ABC criticism

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'There is no substance to these allegations'

Defence Minister David Johnston calls for an investigation into the ABC over allegations that Navy personnel abused asylum seekers.

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Defence Minister David Johnston is at war. With the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which, he declares, has been responsible for ''maliciously maligning'' his unimpeachable navy sailors.

Senator Johnston, of course, is a little late to the fray, offering that ''I have not said much because I have to confess I was extremely angry and I have required some period of time to cool off''.

Senator David Johnston slams the ABC: A more extreme example of killing the messenger could barely be imagined.

Senator David Johnston slams the ABC: A more extreme example of killing the messenger could barely be imagined. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

He hasn't done so, apparently. Until now, no one had actually accused the ABC of ''maliciously maligning'' the navy. The dictionary definition of malicious is ''intending or intended to do harm''.

A more extreme example of killing the messenger, given that the ABC did no more than report allegations, even if the emphasis granted to the report has been questioned, could barely be imagined.

Even Prime Minister Tony Abbott seems to want to reduce fire on the ABC over its reporting of asylum seekers' claims of mistreatment by the navy, possibly because an extensive Fairfax report has shone new light on the officially untested allegations.

Having previously accused the ABC of taking the side of everyone but Australia's, Mr Abbott merely noted on Friday that ''the ABC's own Media Watch concluded that the original reporting was unjustified and I think that's a perfectly appropriate verdict''.

But Senator Johnston, quite properly defending and praising navy personnel for saving lives and enduring hardship and abuse while doing it, couldn't help going overboard.

''I am absolutely sick to the stomach that this Australian iconic news agency would attack the navy in the way that it has,'' he frothed.

It required an investigation. Not into the allegations that sailors might have mistreated asylum seekers by forcing them to burn their own hands, but into the ABC.

Senator Johnston dodged every question about why there should be no proper investigation into the allegations against those he called his heroes.

''When you give me something to act upon that is more than just hearsay, innuendo and rumour, we will cross that bridge when we come to it,'' he offered, saying he'd spoken to senior command and had been told there was nothing to the allegations.

And when confronted with Fairfax's report of an extensive interview with the asylum seeker who acted as interpreter on the boat in question, and who insisted he'd seen with his own eyes the alleged mistreatment, Senator Johnston dismissed the claims as a ''small number of misbehaviours''.

When asked why Defence hadn't previously answered questions posed by Fairfax on the issue, Senator Johnston fobbed off responsibility altogether.

''Border protection, with over 50,000 people on 800 boats coming in, in four years, is a civil public policy issue,'' he declared. ''It is not a military exercise. We need military skills, we need military logistics and capability, but it is a civil public policy problem. Immigration and border protection need to be kept in the context of a civil public policy output.''

An astonishing performance.

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