The ABC has been much criticised, by our Prime Minister no less, and by the silly bullies on some commercial radio stations, for not being patriotic enough, for not barracking for the home team. Disloyal journalists published a story that some wounded, unwelcome refugees who had been intercepted on the high seas by our navy boys and girls were alleging that they had been tortured by them, forced to grasp and hold onto hot engine pipes and burnt. These dishonourable journalists broadcasted pictures of several dark-skinned men presenting their severely burnt hands to camera and complaining about the brave troops defending our borders.
I don’t know whether the allegations are true or false. I wasn’t there at the time to witness what was happening. Some people were there if such an incident or anything like it occurred. Presumably the refugees themselves were there, but even that I do not know from my own knowledge, so I must suspend my judgment pending further information. However, they have said that they were there and that they were tortured, or at least treated in such a way as to sustain serious injuries.
The Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, would have us believe that the incident never happened, that the allegations are unsubstantiated, and therefore false. He might be right. I don’t know. And neither does he. He wasn’t there either. So he is clearly relying on what he’s been told, though we don’t know what he was told, or by whom. We don’t know whether the person he spoke to (if he in fact spoken to anyone) was present at the time or where he got his information from. As far as the Minister’s denial of the truth of the allegations is concerned, we are still all in the dark.
Now, as to the allegations themselves, Scott Morrison invited us to accept that they are false, for two reasons.
Firstly, this alleged incident was not something our brave, professional, respected, trustworthy navy men and women would ever be part of. It’s offensive to contemplate the possibility.
Secondly, there is no evidence to substantiate these serious allegations.
As to the first basis offered for rejecting the allegations, like all other patriotic Australians, I’d like to think it is true that our service personnel would not engage in such cruel and criminal treatment of vulnerable human beings. But this was the very same reason offered for years by naive Catholics to refute the vile allegations that members of the clergy were sexually abusing children. Professional people don’t always act professionally. Sometimes, some professional people, even Australian professional people, commit crimes. It’s hard to believe, but unfortunately it’s true. American troops in Vietnam engaged in the mass slaughter of civilians, and participated in horrible torture of the enemy in Iraq. We even saw pictures on television of unprofessional, criminal behavior of service men and women. It’s not new, and it’s not confined to the enemy. And closer to home, we have had to accept that unwanted sexual activity, criminal sexual behavior has been engaged in on naval vessels by our brave, professional service-men. I wish it wasn’t true, but we have to accept that sometimes good men can do terrible things, especially to people they have learnt to classify as “illegals”, as “invaders”. If these allegations eventually prove to be true, the shock jocks and our Prime Minister will have a lot to answer for.
As to the second reason proffered by the minister, it might surprise him to know that there is evidence to substantiate the allegations, and no admissible evidence to undermine them – only the merest hearsay of the minister. The evidence might be thin. We might wish to have more evidence – evidence of an independent witness, for example. There might be grounds for some suspicion. As the evidence stands, it only amounts to a prima facie case, but in the absence of any admissible evidence to the contrary, it substantiates and establishes the allegations.
What is the evidence? It consists of three important items. Firstly, several people, more than one, make a similar allegation. Secondly, each alleges that he was tortured or treated harshly by members of the Australian navy, and suffered injuries to their hands. And thirdly, there are pictures (presumably genuine pictures) of the burns sustained to the palm area of their hands.
Now, that’s the evidence. It’s easy to say that it’s a slur, that it’s false and that the ABC should not have given succor to the enemy, but neither the navy nor the Government has taken any steps to demonstrate in any way that the allegations are groundless. And they claim to have the proof. It’s just that no one else is allowed to see or hear it. We have to trust the word of the minister. He assures us that the claims are scurrilous and groundless.
Let’s hear from someone who was there, other than the refugees. Someone from the poop-deck or the engine-room. The captain or one of the petty officers. The person recording the events on video as they were unfolding. Let’s see the film. We didn’t see the poor mother throwing her baby overboard. Maybe we won’t see sailors mistreating refugees on the high seas.
It’s not the traitorous behaviour of the ABC journalists that worries me. It’s the fact that smug, secretive ministers and their shock jocks treat the public like drongos.