Sooner rather than later, Scott Morrison is going to hit a brick wall. His no-show-and-tell is already beginning to unravel; as a tool of asylum seeker policy it is unsustainable. His claims to have slowed the boats are untrue, if Indonesian media reports are correct. Because of Morrison's media blackout they are the only source of information for the Australian and international media, other concerned agencies and church organisations and NGOs.
Morrison claims the media blackout is necessary in order not to provide people smugglers with information, but people smugglers have their own sources of information, some of which may well be within Australian agencies and organisations. Morrison has implied that the Indonesian government has lied over the number of boats it has refused to accept asylum seekers from since September. He says two, they say three. In any event his statements at his weekly press conference are discounted or given little weight. His credibility, if he had any, has been further undermined by his strange and thuggish approach to management of the immigration portfolio.
State-imposed secrecy, with respect to managing minorities, dissidents or groups judged to be antithetical to the interests of the ruling elite, leads to oppression through lack of accountability. Morrison does not want to be accountable for deaths in detention or drowning at sea. Lack of transparency is a threat to human rights and democracy, but Morrison is no democrat; he is the Reichsfuhrer of asylum seekers. He decides who goes where, and when. He sends back to Sri Lanka, Tamils who are given no opportunity to express their claims for asylum in Australia and who are detained on return by the Rajapaksa regime, many to be tortured, some held indefinitely.
Sending back people without a hearing, who on the face of it, may have a legitimate refugee claim, is illegal under Australian and international law. Morrison plans to send minority oppressed Hazaras back to Afghanistan. That would also be illegal.
Implementing policy secretly 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 its 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.
Politically, Morrison and Abbott will not be able to wear such an eventuality. Their asylum-seeker policy is high risk. Already it has badly damaged our relationship with Indonesia with little prospect for improvement. Both seem blinded by the lights; along with Bishop they appear to be unable to turn around a relationship moving out of their control and all because they took the Indonesians for suckers in demanding they take our turned-around boats.
Some members of the Coalition argue that the dispute with Indonesia is a storm in a tea cup which will soon blow over.
Julia Gillard talked of the difficulties of finding a solution to the problem of refugees arriving by boat. Thinking in those terms is part of the problem. There can be no solution to the international movement of distressed people until internal unrest and fighting ceases in all states and war between states ends for good. The solution, the only solution, is to manage the movement and resettlement of displaced and distressed men, women and children.
Morrison claims to be a Christian; he should try to use the framework of that belief to put himself in the position of the people he is treating so badly.
Even as the relationship with Indonesia deteriorates, Australia has not sought talks on the issue that might reverse the slide. Indonesia does not want to deal with the selfishness and stupidity of Australia's major parties; it does not want to bear the burden of Australian domestic politics. It wants mutual co-operation such as the joint processing of asylum seekers.
It, together with the rest of the region, looks askance at the dumping of already distressed individuals on the hell holes of Manus and Nauru. No amount of gold medals will sweep away those negative perceptions of Australia and nor should they.
The defence department on legal advice should withdraw from operation sovereign borders. Not from their sea rescue and patrolling activities but from refoulement of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Morrison's actions are illegal and defence should not be associated with them.
Defence should withdraw before it is completely sucked into the Morrison vortex. It is supremely disheartening to watch a senior army general helping to trash Australian democracy by going along with the charade of not informing the Australian people, through the media, of what is being done with respect to vulnerable asylum seekers in their name.
Defence should also be wary of being forced into a position of having to defend deaths in detention, particularly of children. Officials in Immigration should be now giving frank and fearless advice because when the fan clogs up it will be them that Morrison seeks to blame for his transgressions.
Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat.
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