There are few things more certain in blogging than that Tim Blair or Professor Bunyip will post on Margo Kingston’s latest Web Diary frolic. Published to mark the second anniversary of the sinking of the asylum seeker vessel SIEV X, one of Margo’s favourite obsessions, what it actually commemorates is her final fearless rejection of any remaining pretence of journalistic detachment (not to mention rationality; I wouldn’t want Dave to label me Tim Blair lite again):
Again, in a war most journalists act as propagandists. If we are in a war, that does explain why the system won’t tell the truth, seeks to hide the truth, because nasty things have to be done to win a war, as we all know.
So where does that leave us ? Us people that turn up on a Saturday to worry ourselves senseless about the state of morality of Australia and its government? Well, that leaves us as traitors, terrorists, an extreme minority, and people who are in danger. …
It’s a time to look after each other and to be careful, and also I think if you are in a minority, a persecuted minority, then it is really important to free the mind to think laterally.
One phrase that I have instructed Webdiarists to cease and desist from for some time now is this “Ashamed to be Australian” business, because that is not only not going to convince anyone over to our side – and let’s be frank, our side is a dangerous place to be. You say “Come over to here, you’ll have a lot of fun and everyone will really like you.”
You know, you’re appealing to something apart from that. I believe that the people in my terrorist cell – you people – have got more brains than the other lot. The other lot has got the power, and we’ve got the brains. We have got to free our minds to use the brains, because what we have got on our side is hope and optimism and faith.
I can’t really call this vintage Margo; it’s more than that. Margo has decisively placed herself beyond all possibility of caricature. On a marginally more sensible note, Margo continues her well-rehearsed SIEV-X propaganda line of almost but not quite accusing the Howard government of complicity in mass murder:
And that’s when I started to know that, whether or not Australia sunk that boat or connived in sinking that boat, there is no doubt that Howard lied over 353 dead bodies. I just don’t respect that guy at all.
Nevertheless, just to make sure we all get with the program, Margo goes on to quote Canberra Times editor Jack Waterford, who apparently doesn’t share Margo’s pseudo-coyness:
I don’t know exactly how that political directive, strategic objective, fed its way into the military operation that took place. But one of the things which still bemuses me most in the lead-up to the SIEV-X affair is that when we had massively increased Australian surveillance over the area, ships at sea there to intercept any boats that were travelling, clear intelligence operations taking place in Indonesia designed to identify likely shipments, gatherings of refugees, and various things like that – this boat is allowed to sail off with some knowledge by the Australian authorities. And yet at all of the crucial times mysteriously it escapes all of the surveillance operations that we have and our ships are in fact well away and are not in the places where one would think that they ought to be if they were designing to intercept anything.
But even that one could accept to some extent as a cock-up, one of those things that happened or something like that, were it not for the pattern of cover-up, evasion, defensiveness, the serial pulling-apart of the layers of the onion, the hints that go further and further about undercover operations going on in Indonesia, so that it’s quite clear that at some stage a lot more truth is going to be revealed about it.
Well Jack, I suppose it’s not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that you might be right, but logic, commonsense and
Ockham’s Occam’s Razor suggest otherwise. Australian naval and air force personnel are certainly a disciplined military force accustomed to following orders. But they’re also human beings imbued with the seafarer’s ethic of rescuing other mariners in distress. It defies commonsense that all of the numerous military personnel who would need to have been in the loop of any order to deliberately avoid looking for SIEV X would not only happily have obeyed it, but to a man and woman kept silent about that order for 2 years. The other leg of the Tony Kevin conspiracy theory, that Australian intelligence agencies were somehow complicit in sabotaging SIEV X before it sailed, is marginally less unlikely at least from that standpoint. Intelligence agencies are far more capable of keeping a secret than the ordinary military services, especially where it involves morally or legally dubious activities (as intelligence activities frequently do). I’m not completely dismissive of the notion that some gung ho paid operative in Indonesia might have construed a disruption mandate in a tragically excessive way (although I’m certainly not accepting that this is what happened). However, the prospects of any parliamentary or other enquiry establishing any such thing are extremely remote to say the least.
Ockham’s Occam’s Razor leads to a far more prosaic explanation. Almost all SIEV vessels were drastically unseaworthy. SIEV X seems to have been even worse, and rather more overloaded than the norm. Few previous asylum seeker vessels ever carried as many as 353 people. However, that fact doesn’t connote sinister forces at work. This was the period after the Tampa incident, when thousands of desperate asylum seekers were clamouring to get to Australia before that possibility became closed off perhaps permanently. It’s hardly surprising that so many were prepared to cram on board despite what must have been self-evident danger, or that the people smugglers happily took their money.
We don’t need a conspiracy theory to explain these events. Nor do we need one to explain the failure of Australian forces engaged in Operation Relex to spot the vessel. It’s a huge ocean and a tiny wooden vessel. The Mediterranean is almost certainly the most intensively plied and overflown waterway in the world, and yet last night’s SBS News carried the tragic story of a Somalian asylum seeker vessel which has just been found after running out of fuel and drifting for 20 days. Thirteen passengers were still alive, there were 15 bodies still on board, and another 50-odd who died previously had apparently been shoved overboard. The SBS news item suggested that hundreds of asylum seekers may well have perished undetected in the Mediterranean this year alone.
People like Tony Kevin and Margo Kingston, who think there’s something inherently suspicious about RAAF/RAN failure to spot SIEV X, are either ideologically determined to draw the most adverse conclusion come what may or simply don’t understand how difficult it is to find a small vessel on a huge ocean. A few years ago, an earlier SIEV vessel managed to sail into Darwin harbour undetected. It was beached at the boat ramp just 200 metres from my house in suburban Nightcliff, from where one of the passengers enterprisingly hailed a taxi to take him to the nearest phone booth so he could ring the police and inform them of the asylum seekers’ arrival. No-one suspected a sinister official conspiracy to deliberately fail to spot the vessel, it was just another usual cock-up (or SNAFU as the Yanks used to call it – situation normal all fucked up).