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    ABC Director Mark Scott was the target of Abbott's Conservatives during the burnt hands affair

Burnt hands and getting your fingers burnt at the ABC

IMAGE: Thanks to Peter Nicholson cartoons

When allegations of Navy abuse during asylum seeker interdictions surfaced in ABC reports, it became Abbott's convenient culture war trigger

Ever since the 2013 Federal election, the pack of conservative political wolves have been quietly howling and trampling at the bit to start restraining the ABC's indifference to peddle its 'ideological politics' agenda.

Bashing up the ABC is a long-held tradition amongst Australia's conservative political elites. Way back in the 1970s and 1980s, they were guided and led by catholic commentators like Bob Santamaria, who, in the name of Christianity and social homogeneity, regarded the national broadcaster as stacked with 'dangerous lefties' and soft revolutionaries who would destroy the country with their frequent talk about homosexuality and their critique of the conservative status quo.


Click on this button to go to the next section

This page is the first one in a 2-part series about the same topic - the 2014 asylum seeker burn and beating allegations reported by the ABC. Click on the 'forward arrow' image to go directly to the Next page.
 

Tension between the Abbott government and the ABC quickly developed. Scott Morrison, Abbott's new immigration minister, bravely continued Abbott's relentless attacks on asylum seekers while in opposition. Within weeks of the election Morrison announced that irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) would now be called 'illegal arrivals'. Asserting his decision and continuing John Howard's ramming-down-our-throat tradition of "politically correct language" for Australian conservatives, he bluntly instructed the immigration department to only use this term, ignoring David Marr's question "What's the law they break, Minister?"

In response, Auntie's head of editorial policy Alan Sunderland sent an email to all staff, noting that there would be no change of terminology at the ABC ("The short answer is no"), a fact that was happily reported by News Corp's flagship The Australian (No illegal arrivals on ABC despite minister's line).

Abbott's conservatives were also keen to quietly 'fall in place' and reflect the spirit of the attacks by sections of the commercial media, especially Murdoch's News Corp, who supported the election of the Abbott government - while some outlets frequently engage in bleating about ABC bias - and act supportively to those who deplore and wish to condemn, if not destroy, what they perceive as the national 'domination' by the ABC.

That's what happens when Tory-loving conservative-leaning commercial media sections discover, that unlike their own declining print sales of newspapers, the ABC grows in reach and importance. Perhaps they despise the fact even more that this could simply be so, because the ABC is all too often the best we have in Australia.

The price of secrecy

The 'burnt hands allegations' episode can be regarded as the first example of the enormous price the Abbott government is compelled to pay for its highly determined implementation of a 'culture of secrecy' in large parts of its political administration.

Following the September 2013 election, the Tony Abbott government's peculiar culture of quiet became quickly apparent. After the frantic election coverage and commentary had died down, something in Canberra went very quiet. For several weeks, there was barely a media appearance by the new PM. It was so quiet that we could start to suggest that soon there would be a newspaper headline along the lines of "The Prime Minister is Missing" - the headline marking the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt, following his disappearance off Cheviot Beach in December 1967.

The government silence became a policy of government secrecy in relation to boat arrivals, with the announcement that under Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) no announcements of boat arrivals, none at all, would take place, and that no answers would be provided in response to incidental media queries. Abbott's Immigration Minister Scott Morrison made it abundantly clear, with his characteristic brashness and authoritarian serve of arrogance, that only on Fridays his chosen hour would bring a Sydney-based press conference by OSB.

The weekly press briefings by Morrison and his OSB chief General Angus Campbell rapidly developed into a dismal scenario, replete with refusals to answer questions from reporters. Morrison made it abundantly clear that operations on the northern ocean and vessel interdictions were classed as 'secret military operations', and Campbell and Morrison's repeated use of the phrase "on-water events" were the stock standard response, code for the "we're not telling you" line.

The secrecy and repeated refusal to answer reporters' questions, combined with a perceived openly displayed disdain and brash arrogance in response to journalist queries by Scott Morrison, became disturbing characteristics of the televised briefings from October to December 2013.

Unsurprisingly, reporters stopped investing energy in these Micky Mouse press conferences. Instead, a silent agreement seemed to develop that journalists needed to conduct their own investigations. Indonesian reporters for Fairfax (Michael Bachelard) and for the ABC (George Roberts) dug up facts and stories regardless of Morrison's refusal to confirm or deny the voracity of what they found.

With the help of Indonesian reporters, government spokespeople and from the passengers on those boats that had been towed back under the secret Operation Sovereign Borders, they presented the material. They confirmed what Abbott had denied when he claimed no boats would be towed back, and then they found more damning facts and testimonies from passengers that suggested abuse by the Navy.

The ABC's Indonesia correspondent George Roberts was one of the journalists working to uncover the Abbott government's actions about secret boat tow-backs, and when the words 'abuse' and 'torture' were included in his report of an interview with one of the returned passengers, the anti-ABC hell amongst Abbott's conservatives erupted with scorn and fierce derision.

Fury inside the conservative Abbott bunker had already reached fever pitch since a joint investigation by The Guardian and the ABC in November had revealed that leaked documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that Australia had not just spied on Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono but also on his wife.

Abbott was absent and on a long holiday in France. Following the Christmas break - but much too late, Abbott clarified the secrecy in a TV interview by claiming to be at war with people smugglers. As the ABC reported, he regarded asking any questions as "idle curiosity":

"...if we were at war, we wouldn't be giving out information that is of use to the enemy just because we might have an idle curiosity about it ourselves."

No reporter accorded any consideration for Abbott's 'idle curiosity' slur. What had started as a weapon of coercive insistence by Abbott and Morrison to remain in full control of the message through a military regime of imposing full secrecy, had disastrously descended within months into a widely felt disdain for Morrison and his military commander.

It could even be argued, that Abbott and Morrison's extreme secrecy was directly connected to the investigative work that would from then on produce multiple reports - for not just the ABC, but also for Fairfax reporters and others in various news organisations around Australia.

Now that the Abbott government had entirely lost control of the message, the conservatives could only resort to their well-worn strategy of ABC-bashing, and that was what they did - until Michael Bachelard, Fairfax' Indonesia correspondent, interviewed asylum seeker Yousif Ibrahim Fasher at length, corroborating all the information produced by the ABC. Then the coalition hounds fell silent.

What's on this page

This page reprints all media coverage surrounding the ABC's Navy burns story claims and the ensuing fury by Abbott's conservatives - until February 7, 2014, when Fairfax reported its corroborating asylum seeker testimony. The next page in this 2-part series takes up the story from that point.

Quick links:

Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.


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This page is the first one in a 2-part series about the same topic - the 2014 asylum seeker burn and beating allegations reported by the ABC. Click on the 'forward arrow' image to go directly to the Next page.
 

Asylum seekers say they were burned and beaten during towback

Indonesian police back up allegations, saying 10 asylum seekers had to be treated by medical officers on shore

Bridie Jabour and Katharine Murphy
theguardian.com
Tuesday 21 January 2014 17.33 EST

The Australian navy has been accused of burning asylum seekers during a towback to Indonesia.

The asylum seekers claimed they were forced to hold on to hot pipes coming out of an engine when they were transferred on to another boat and taken back to Indonesia on 6 January. They also told ABC News they had been beaten.

Indonesian police backed up the claims, telling the ABC 10 asylum seekers had to be treated by medical officers on shore and seven of the people were assessed for burns.

The broadcaster has also obtained a video of what appears to be asylum seekers receiving medical assessments for burns.

The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, has flatly denied the claims, saying the Australian navy and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service had rejected any suggestion they behaved inappropriately when dealing with asylum seekers.

"Smugglers and their clients have strong motivations for seeking to discredit the activities of Australia's border protection operations in an attempt to undermine public support for the government's strong border policies," he said.

The allegations have come as Customs and Defence issued terms of reference for an inquiry examining how Australian vessels strayed into Indonesian waters.

In a statement issued about 10pm on Tuesday, Customs and Defence confirmed an investigation covering the period between 1 December 2013 and 20 January 2014.

The Abbott government has confirmed that Australian vessels made several inadvertent incursions into Indonesian waters. The embarrassing admission followed earlier declarations that Australia would not under any circumstances violate Indonesian sovereign territory as part of any efforts to return asylum boats.

The statement outlining the scope of the inquiry issued by Customs and Defence acknowledged "the seriousness of this matter and the urgency required as a consequence of the importance of our relationship with Indonesia".

"The joint review will focus on the circumstances leading to the entry of Australian vessels into Indonesian waters," it said.

"Specifically, the review will assess the sequence of events and cause of Australian vessels entering into Indonesian waters in connection with Operation Sovereign Borders."

The joint review would "identify any potential procedural weaknesses or deficiencies in maritime operations and make recommendations to ensure that any immediate operational policy or procedure issues are highlighted and rectified promptly," the statement said.

The terms of reference suggest the inquiry will have both classified and unclassified sections.

The report is due on 10 February but it is not clear whether the investigation will be released publicly.

www.theguardian.com/.../asylum-seekers-say-they-were-burned-and-beaten-during-towback

Truss defends Navy amid asylum seeker burn claims

Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss defends Navy amid claims asylum seekers beaten and burned

ABC News Online
By Indonesia correspondent George Roberts
First posted Wed 22 Jan 2014, 6:02am AEDT
Updated Wed 22 Jan 2014, 1:10pm AEDT

Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss has defended the Australian Navy over claims asylum seekers were beaten and told to hold on to parts of a hot engine on a boat being towed back to Indonesia.

The claims of physical abuse come amid warnings that Australia risks sea-going clashes with Indonesia over asylum policy, and the admission that Australian ships have entered Indonesian waters without permission.

ABC News has obtained video footage of asylum seekers receiving medical assessments of burns that Indonesian police say were inflicted by the Australian Navy.

Indonesian police say they had to get treatment for 10 asylum seekers, seven of whom had severe burns on their hands after they were picked up in Indonesian waters on January 6.

Mr Truss says he is confident Defence Force personnel acted responsibly.

"I regret the fact that some asylum seekers seem to have been injured but who knows under what circumstances that injury happened," he said.

"The Defence Force, as a routine, looks at its operations from day to day. I am confident that they have behaved responsibly and appropriately."

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison earlier issued a statement rejecting the asylum seekers' claims.

Burns from hot pipes: Indo police

Indonesian police say the asylum seekers suffered burns when Navy personnel forced them to hold onto hot pipes coming out of the boat's engine.

The video and the version of events given by the police seems to back up the claims of mistreatment made by the asylum seekers when they first spoke to the ABC a fortnight ago.

Boat passenger Merke Abdullah Ahmed, from Somalia, claims Australian Navy personnel punched some passengers and others were forced to hold onto the hot metal.

"They physically harmed us. Some of the passengers onboard, they tried to complain and speak about just their problems. They just punched [them] ... and, you know, fall down on the ground," he said.

Mr Morrison released a statement this morning, saying he would not confirm specific operations but, "the Government rejects any allegation of inappropriate behaviour by our Navy or customs and border protection personnel in the conduct of their duties".

"Smugglers and their clients have strong motivations for seeking to discredit the activities of Australia's border protection operations in an attempt to undermine public support for the Government's strong border policies."

Earlier this month, Mr Morrison confirmed Australian sailors were no longer personally liable for what is done under Operation Sovereign Borders.

Breaches 'unlikely unintentional'

Meanwhile, a former Indonesian general and current member of Indonesia's foreign affairs commission says it is impossible that Australian Navy ships ended up in Indonesian waters without intending to, as Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and his border protection chief have claimed.

Mr Morrison said in a briefing last Friday that the Australian Government had apologised to Indonesia after admitting vessels operating under its border protection policy had "inadvertently" breached Indonesian territorial sovereignty "on several occasions".

He said he was told last Wednesday that "border protection command assets had in the conduct of maritime operations associated with Operation Sovereign Borders inadvertently entered Indonesian territorial waters on several occasions" and blamed the incursions on "positional errors".

An inquiry into the incident has been given three weeks to report back.

Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, said that although an investigation had been launched into the breaches, he was confident they were unintentional.

"I believe our people were acting in good faith at all times," he said of the incursions, adding that the agencies involved in Operation Sovereign Borders regretted "any affront to Indonesia these events may have caused".

However, Tubagus Hasanuddin said experience and training told him that the incursions were unlikely to have been unintentional.

"I studied in Australia - in the military academy. The Australian Navy doesn't have wooden boats, they have warships equipped with modern technology," he said.

"They should have known which part of the water is Indonesia and which is not."

The Indonesian government is yet to say if it has accepted Australia's apology for the incursions, but it has sent four navy ships to patrol its maritime borders to the south.

The retired general says if Australia keeps forcing asylum seeker boats into Indonesian waters, it risks meeting the Indonesian navy head to head on the high seas.

"In my opinion, this will result in tension between nations," he said.

"And it's not impossible a clash between Indonesia and Australia national forces, and I believe that this needs to be avoided. It can't happen.

"So it's better that Abbott meets again with president (Yudhoyono) and sit together to find the best solution."

www.abc.net.au/.../2014-01-22/australian-navy-accused-of-beating-burning-asylum-seekers/5211996

Morrison hits out at Navy 'sledging' over asylum seeker accusations

Scott Morrison hits out at 'sledging' of Navy personnel over accusations asylum seekers beaten, burned

ABC Online News
By political reporter Eliza Borrello
Posted Wed 22 Jan 2014, 1:45pm AEDT
Updated Wed 22 Jan 2014, 5:23pm AEDT

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says he will not tolerate people "sledging" Australian Navy personnel amid allegations asylum seekers were burned after being forced to hold on to parts of a hot boat engine.

ABC News has obtained vision of asylum seekers being medically assessed for burns that Indonesian police say were inflicted by the Australian Navy.

The police say they had to get treatment for 10 asylum seekers, seven of whom had severe burns on their hands, after they were picked up in Indonesian waters on January 6.

Police say the asylum seekers suffered the burns when Navy personnel forced them to hold onto hot pipes coming out of their boat's engine.

Mr Morrison says the claims are unsubstantiated.

"The Australian Government is not going to put up with people sledging the Australian Navy with unsubstantiated claims when they have high levels of motivation for spinning stories in order to undermine this government's very successful border protection program," he said.

"There has been no police investigation in Indonesia, there has been nothing of that sort."

Local police probe passengers' claims

However, the ABC understands Indonesian police are investigating the allegations.

Local police from Kupang, where the asylum seekers were taken, say they have statements from the passengers.

Chief detective Sam Kawengian says the claims warrant investigation and he has invited Australian authorities to travel to Kupang and view the evidence.

Speaking to reporters in Sydney earlier today, Mr Morrison also attacked the ABC for broadcasting the claims.

"I think the mere publication of things that are clearly so unsubstantiated I think is very unfortunate," he said.

In an interview with Fairfax Radio, the minister repeated his concerns about the report.

"I want to address something pretty appalling that was being reported by the ABC this morning - airing unfounded, unsubstantiated, outrageous allegations against our Navy and our Customs and our border protection service," he said.

"I mean there [has] been no police investigation in Indonesia."

Truss: military acted 'appropriately'

Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss says he is confident Defence Force personnel acted responsibly.

"I regret the fact that some asylum seekers seem to have been injured, but who knows under what circumstances that injury happened," he said.

"The Defence Force, as a routine, looks at its operations from day to day. I am confident that they have behaved responsibly and appropriately."

But Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the Government is putting Australia's Defence personnel in a difficult position.

"Whilst the reports are concerning, and they are very concerning, we also stand up and recognise that our military personnel have an extremely tough job," he said.

"But their tough job is made even harder by the Abbott Government's policies."

The video and the version of events given by the police seems to back up the claims of mistreatment made by the asylum seekers when they first spoke to the ABC a fortnight ago.

Boat passenger Merke Abdullah Ahmed, from Somalia, claims Australian Navy personnel punched some passengers and others were forced to hold onto the hot metal.

"They physically harmed us. Some of the passengers onboard, they tried to complain and speak about just their problems. They just punched [them] ... and, you know, fall down on the ground," he said.

www.abc.net.au/.../2014-01-22/morrison-rejects-asylum-seeker-sledging-of-navy-personnel/5212942

Scott Morrison says burns allegations amount to 'sledging' of Navy

Immigration minister defends navy after allegations asylum seekers suffered burns while being towed back to Indonesia

Bridie Jabour and Katharine Murphy
theguardian.com
Tuesday 21 January 2014 22.40 EST

The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, has responded to reports of asylum seekers suffering burns while being towed back to Indonesia, saying he would not accept people "sledging" the Australian navy.

Morrison defended the conduct of the navy adding people smugglers had "strong motivations to fabricate stories".

The asylum seekers claimed they were forced to hold on to hot pipes coming out of an engine when they were transferred on to another boat and taken back to Indonesia on 6 January. They also told ABC News they had been beaten.

Morrison has emphatically rejected the claims saying it was "unfortunate" the ABC published the stories.

"The Australian government is not going to put up with people sledging the navy with unsubstantiated claims when they have high levels of motivations to spin stories," he said at a press conference on Wednesday.

"There is no substantiation to the sorts of allegations that are being made and publicised and put around."

Morrison said he had been personally assured the conduct of the navy and customs officers was appropriate at all times.

"I am assured about the professionalism and the integrity of the conduct of our officers and I have absolutely no reason to doubt it," he said.

"The people smugglers have strong motives to get people to fabricate stories."

The ABC has also obtained a video of what appears to be asylum seekers receiving medical assessments for burns.

The allegations have come as customs and defence issued terms of reference for an inquiry examining how Australian vessels strayed into Indonesian waters.

In a statement issued about 10pm on Tuesday, customs and defence confirmed an investigation covering the period between 1 December 2013 and 20 January 2014.

The Abbott government has confirmed that Australian vessels made several inadvertent incursions into Indonesian waters. The embarrassing admission followed earlier declarations that Australia would not under any circumstances violate Indonesian sovereign territory as part of any efforts to return asylum boats.

The statement outlining the scope of the inquiry issued by customs and defence acknowledged "the seriousness of this matter and the urgency required as a consequence of the importance of our relationship with Indonesia".

"The joint review will focus on the circumstances leading to the entry of Australian vessels into Indonesian waters," it said.

"Specifically, the review will assess the sequence of events and cause of Australian vessels entering into Indonesian waters in connection with Operation Sovereign Borders."

The joint review would "identify any potential procedural weaknesses or deficiencies in maritime operations and make recommendations to ensure that any immediate operational policy or procedure issues are highlighted and rectified promptly," the statement said.

The terms of reference suggest the inquiry will have both classified and unclassified sections.

The report is due on 10 February but it is not clear whether the investigation will be released publicly.

www.theguardian.com/.../..morrison-says-burns-allegations-amount-to-sledging-of-australian-navy

Navy chief expresses 'deep concern' over media's 'lack of respect' for officers

The Age
January 20, 2014 - 5:38PM
Judith Ireland
with Bianca Hall, Michael Bachelard

The chief of Australia's navy has issued a passionate statement, arguing that naval personnel are "worthy of more respect".

In recent weeks, there have been reports that naval personnel have sworn at asylum seekers, handled them roughly and fired shots into the air while carrying out border protection operations.

Naval personnel have also been subjected to ridicule and vitriol on social media, particularly in the wake of reports they mistreated asylum seekers.

The federal government has already denied reports that shots were fired and earlier this month Defence chief David Hurley and acting head of Customs, Roman Quaedvlieg strongly rejected mistreatment allegations made against Australian personnel.

On Monday, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs issued his own statement.

"It is important that I place on the record my deep concern regarding the reporting over the last few weeks in both new and old media that discredits the conduct of members of the Royal Australian Navy in Border Protection Operations," he said.

While conceding that his organisation was not "perfect," Vice Admiral Griggs said he was "exceptionally proud of the men and women of our navy, particularly the way they serve on operations".

"They serve at sea and ashore, at home and around the world, each and every day with great dignity and often with considerable courage," he said.

In his statement, Vice Admiral Griggs said that the current generation of navy personnel are "worthy of more respect than had been show to them in the past few weeks".

Fairfax Media reported on Sunday that the navy was investigating one of its members for allegedly making inappropriate comments on Facebook.

The man under investigation had commented on a friend's Facebook post about asylum seekers. The friend, who claims to be a member of the anti-Islam Australian Defence League, posted on Facebook about asylum seekers whose boat had sunk. The navy member in question wrote, "I'm about to head out today to deal with these f---ers."

Also on Sunday, Fairfax Media reported that two Pakistani men on an Australian lifeboat sent back to Indonesia last week have said they were mistreated by navy personnel.

Haneef Hussain said the navy officers, who had originally taken them from the ocean, then kept them on board HMAS Stuart for two days and had treated them badly. Asked by one man for help for his wife, an officer had said: "F--- your wife and f--- your mother."

www.theage.com.au/.../navy-chief...medias-lack-of-respect-for-officers-20140120-314l5.html

Asylum seekers' burns claims baseless, say Australian defence chiefs

The Age
January 23, 2014
David Wroe, Michael Bachelard, Deborah Snow

The Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs, has flatly denied that Australian sailors inflicted burns to asylum seekers' hands by forcing them to hold hot sections of a boat engine.

After footage and photos emerged showing male asylum seekers with burn-like injuries to their hands, Admiral Griggs took to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon to dismiss the claims as baseless.

''Based on everything I know there is no basis to these allegations - none,'' he wrote.

Challenged further by other Twitter users to deny them outright, Admiral Griggs replied: ''I just did!!!!''

Prime Minister Tony Abbott also spoke out in support of the navy when addressing reporters in Davos, Switzerland.

He said there was "absolutely no evidence" to support the claims made by the asylum seekers.

"Who do you believe?" Mr Abbott asked. "Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who are attempting to break Australian law?"

"I trust Australia's naval personnel."

Mr Abbott said the asylum seekers "should be able to produce some evidence and there's no evidence whatsoever to back them up".

Acting Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, joined the rebuttal of the claims, saying he had ''every confidence in the dedication of our people and their ethical approach to the conduct of operations in difficult and often dangerous conditions''.

One source told Fairfax Media the asylum seekers were believed to have suffered the injuries while trying to sabotage the boat's engine before they were intercepted by the navy.

Earlier in the day, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison stood firm in his refusal to hold an inquiry into the claims, which he blasted as ''sledging'' of navy personnel.

Mr Morrison said no inquiry was needed because the claims were unsubstantiated and the asylum seekers and people-smugglers had strong motivations to lie. ''I've been given assurances about [the navy's] conduct and I believe those assurances because I believe in those individuals,'' he said.

Photographs obtained by Fairfax Media show at least one man with burns on his hands. Bashka Ibrahim Nooris and Ahmed Ali Noor, from Somalia, said they had been made to put their hands on the boat's muffler.

Rote police chief Hidayat said: ''We did see burn injuries on their palm. It seems they were told to hold part of the boat engines; it was hot,'' he said.

The allegations relate to a boat that sailed from Kupang, in West Timor, bound for Darwin in late December.

The ABC on Wednesday aired footage of two male asylum seekers being examined by Indonesian officials for injuries to their hands.

Mr Morrison said there had been no police investigation in Indonesia. However, the ABC quoted Kupang Chief detective Sam Kawengian saying the claims warranted investigation and that he had invited Australian authorities to travel to Kupang to view evidence.

Professor Stephen Shumack, president of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, said the injuries could be burns from hot metal, though he stressed it was impossible to diagnose for certain from the images.

He said the injuries could also be friction burns or some other external trauma, but ruled out lesions caused by a skin disease. He said they appeared ''reasonably fresh'', estimating the injuries were five to 10 days old at the time the pictures were taken, which falls within the correct time frame for the asylum seekers' claims.

Meanwhile, the government announced that an urgent inquiry into how navy and customs ships breached Indonesian territorial waters would report back by February 10 - though the two senior reviewers could be granted extra time if they need it. But there is no guarantee the report into the incidents will be publicly released.

www.theage.com.au/.../...baseless-say-australian-defence-chiefs-20140122-3196l.html

Abbott: 'absolutely no evidence' to support asylum seeker claims

Tony Abbott says there is 'absolutely no evidence' to support claims asylum seekers were burned

ABC News Online
First posted Thu 23 Jan 2014, 12:01am AEDT
Updated Thu 23 Jan 2014, 8:01am AEDT

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says there is "absolutely no evidence" to support claims that asylum seekers suffered burns while under the direction of the Australian Navy.

ABC News has obtained footage of asylum seekers being medically assessed for burns on their hands after they were picked up in Indonesian waters on January 6.

Indonesian police say seven passengers suffered burns during a turn-back operation when Navy personnel forced them to hold onto hot pipes coming out of their boat's engine.

But Mr Abbott, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, told reporters "there's absolutely no evidence" to support the claims.

"These are just claims without any apparent facts to back them up," he said.

"I have complete confidence in the decency, the humanity and the professionalism of Australia's naval and customs personnel who I commend for a magnificent job."

Earlier on Wednesday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said people smugglers had a strong motivation for fabricating stories to discredit Australia's border protection policies.

Mr Abbott told reporters that people making allegations "should be able to produce some evidence".

"Who do you believe? Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who were attempting to break Australian law?" Mr Abbott said.

"I trust Australia's naval personnel."

Indonesian police detective Sam Kawengian says the claims warrant investigation and he has invited Australian authorities to view the evidence.

He said police had filed preliminary reports about what they had seen and been told by the asylum seekers.

MP: Australia must investigate claims

Indonesian MP Tantowi Yahya, who is a member of the country's foreign affairs commission, told ABC's 7.30 program that Australian officials must investigate the claims of abuse.

"I think we still need to clarify these allegations," he said.

"If it is true, then the government of Australia has clearly violated human rights of the asylum seekers and at the same time they have also violated the territory of Indonesians.

"I think it is a must for the Australian Government to investigate so the authority of Australia don't immediately make a statement to the world that there is no violations of human rights of the asylum seekers that was taking place on the oceans.

"I mean your government still has to clarify whether this is true or not."

The video and the version of events given by the police seem to back up the claims of mistreatment made by the asylum seekers when they first spoke to the ABC a fortnight ago.

Boat passenger Merke Abdullah Ahmed, from Somalia, claims Australian Navy personnel punched some passengers and others were forced to hold onto the hot metal.

"They physically harmed us. Some of the passengers onboard, they tried to complain and speak about just their problems. They just punched [them] ... and, you know, fall down on the ground," he said.

The claims of physical abuse come amid increased tension between the two countries over Australia's asylum policy and the admission that Australian ships have entered Indonesian waters without permission.

Mr Yahya says Australia should guarantee the safety of all asylum seekers.

"The country of destination should protect them. There should be a guarantee that they will not experience any physical abuse or torture or something like that," he said.

"Whoever comes to our country, regardless of their intention, they still need to be protected."

www.abc.net.au/.../2014-01-23/abbott-says-no-evidence-to-back-asylum-burns-claims/5214050

Asylum-seeker burns allegations are baseless, says Tony Abbott

'Do you believe Australian naval personnel or people who were attempting to break Australian law?' says prime minister

Bridie Jabour and agencies
theguardian.com
Wednesday 22 January 2014 18.13 EST

The prime minister and the Australian navy chief have dismissed claims by asylum seekers they suffered burns at the hands of navy officers during a tow back to Indonesia.

Indonesian police are investigating after the ABC aired footage of asylum seekers receiving medical treatment for burns they allege were inflicted when they were forced to hold onto hot engine pipes during a boat tow-back operation to Rote Island.

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has confirmed Australia will co-operate with the investigation as Tony Abbott joined the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, in rejecting the claims.

"There's absolutely no evidence for them," Abbott said from Davos, Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum.

"These are just claims without any apparent facts to back them up," he said. "I fully support the statement of the minister on this subject and I have complete confidence in the decency, the humanity and the professionalism of Australia's naval and customs personnel, who I commend for a magnificent job. A job which is increasingly effective and successful."

The ABC aired footage of the asylum seekers being treated for burns on their hands. When Abbott was asked if it constituted evidence, he said: "Who do you believe?

"Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who were attempting to break Australian law? I believe Australian naval personnel."

Okto George Riwu, a spokesman for Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara provincial police, said earlier officers were looking into the allegations but did not yet have evidence to back up the allegations.

Bishop said Australia was prepared to co-operate with Indonesia on the investigation though she did not believe the reports would be substantiated.

"I cannot imagine for a moment that the professional people that we have in our forces would have behaved in that fashion," she said in Washington. "But of course if there is any co-operation we can extend to ensure that these allegations are scotched then we'd be prepared to do it."

The navy chief, Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs, has also rejected the claims, tweeting on Wednesday: "Based on everything I know there is no basis to these allegations none."

The vice chief of the defence force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, said there had been misleading assertions Australian sailors were not personally liable for their actions under Operation Sovereign Borders.

He said Australian Defence Force personnel remain subject to criminal and general law under the operation.

Commenting specifically on the burns allegations, Binskin said in a statement: "I have every confidence in the dedication of our people and their ethical approach to the conduct of operations in difficult and often dangerous conditions."

He said navy, army and air force personnel conduct themselves in a humane and considerate manner that is a credit to them and to the Australian Defence Force.

"The safety of life at sea of all people, not just defence members, is and will remain, defence's paramount consideration in the conduct of border protection operations," he said.

Morrison said the claims amounted to sledging the Australian navy.

"The Australian government is not going to put up with people sledging the navy with unsubstantiated claims when they have high levels of motivations to spin stories," he said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"There is no substantiation to the sorts of allegations that are being made and publicised and put around."

www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/23/asylum-seeker-burns-allegations-baseless-tony-abbott

Indo police may not have jurisdiction to investigate claims

Indonesian police may not have jurisdiction to investigate asylum seekers' abuse claims

ABC News Online
By Indonesia correspondent George Roberts
Posted Thu 23 Jan 2014, 11:31pm AEDT

Indonesian national police have indicated that they may not have the jurisdiction to further investigate claims of abuse against the Australian Navy.

The police have been investigating claims made by asylum seekers that the Australian Navy abused them while forcing them back into Indonesian waters earlier this month.

Boat passengers told the ABC two weeks ago that they were beaten and told to hold on to parts of a hot engine on a boat being towed back to Indonesia.

National police spokesman Brigadier General Ronny Sompie says if the alleged instances of mistreatment occurred outside Indonesian waters, it is unable to take it further.

But he says police can refer the case and the alleged evidence it gathered from asylum seekers to the international criminal investigation organisation Interpol.

The Australian Government says it is willing to provide any documents and videos it has in order to refute the accusations.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison earlier issued a statement rejecting the asylum seekers' claims.

General Sompie says the United Nations Refugee Agency should be responsible for investigating.

www.abc.net.au/.../indonesia-calls-on-un-to-investigate-asylum-seeker-abuse-claims/5216348

UN investigating claims as Navy turned boat back

UN investigating claims of abuse as Australian Navy turned boat back to Indonesia

ABC News Online / AFP
First posted Fri 24 Jan 2014, 9:24pm AEDT
Updated Fri 24 Jan 2014, 9:56pm AEDT

The United Nations refugee agency is examining allegations that asylum seekers were abused by the Australian Navy as their boats were turned back to Indonesia.

Footage obtained by ABC News shows asylum seekers with severe burns to their hands, but it is impossible to verify how they received them.

Some of the asylum seekers who were turned back to Indonesia say they were abused and suffered burns after being forced to touch the boat's engine.

Indonesian police had indicated they did not have the power to investigate the allegations, and they wanted the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to investigate.

"UNHCR has heard serious allegations of boats carrying potential asylum seekers being pushed back from Australia to Indonesia and of mistreatment during the process," a refugee agency spokeswoman in Jakarta told AFP.

"We are corroborating these individual accounts. If confirmed, we hope that the Australian authorities will conduct a swift investigation into these allegations."

Indonesian police say so far the only witnesses are the asylum seekers.

National Police spokesman Ronny Sompie says it cannot be determined whether the alleged mistreatment happened inside Indonesian waters.

The Australian Government has said it is willing to provide any documents and videos it has in order to refute the accusations.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has emphatically rejected the asylum seekers' claims.

The UNHCR has previously warned that turning boats back to Indonesia may be in breach of international law.

www.abc.net.au/.../2014-01-24/un-says-it-will-investigate-claims-of-abuse-by-australian-navy/5218496

Govt to co-operate with Indonesian probe into burn claims

Abbott government to co-operate with Indonesian probe into asylum seeker burn claims

The Age
January 23, 2014 - 9:46AM
Jonathan Swan, David Wroe

The Abbott government has promised to co-operate with an Indonesian police investigation into asylum seekers' allegations that Australian navy personnel inflicted burns during a tow-back operation, despite the government's belief that the claims are wrong and unsubstantiated.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has framed the allegations as an honesty contest between asylum seekers and the Royal Australian Navy.

The asylum seekers say navy personnel forced them to put their hands on hot engine parts, causing serious burns, and kicked them.

''Who do you believe?'' Mr Abbott asked. ''Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who are attempting to break Australian law?''

''I trust Australia's naval personnel.''

Mr Abbott's comments echo those of the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who refused repeatedly on Wednesday to entertain the possibility that the claims should be independently investigated.

Mr Morrison said the ABC's reporting of the asylum seekers' claims amounted to "sledging" of the Australian navy.

Indonesian police are investigating the asylum seekers' claims. While the government has dismissed the allegations, Mr Morrison on Wednesday did not respond to questions on whether there should be an independent investigation into the reports.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters overnight in Washington that Australia would co-operate with Indonesia, but added: ''I cannot imagine for a moment that the professional people that we have in our forces would have behaved in that fashion.

''But of course if there is any co-operation we can extend to ensure that these allegations are scotched then we'd be prepared to do it.''

Mr Abbott, speaking to journalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said asylum seekers ''should be able to produce some evidence and there's no evidence whatsoever to back them up''.

The Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs, has flatly denied that Australian sailors inflicted burns to asylum seekers' hands by forcing them to hold hot sections of a boat engine.

After footage and photos emerged showing male asylum seekers with burn-like injuries to their hands, Admiral Griggs took to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon to dismiss the claims as baseless.

''Based on everything I know there is no basis to these allegations - none,'' he wrote.

Challenged further by other Twitter users to deny them outright, Admiral Griggs replied: ''I just did!!!!''

www.theage.com.au/.../...indonesian-probe-into-asylum-seeker-burn-claims-20140123-319xh.html

Australia to cooperate with Indo probe into asylum seeker claims

Australia will cooperate with Indonesian probe into claims asylum seekers were burned by Navy officers

ABC News Online
By Indonesia correspondent George Roberts, staff
First posted Thu 23 Jan 2014, 7:26am AEDT
Updated Thu 23 Jan 2014, 8:13am AEDT

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says Australia will cooperate with an Indonesian police investigation into claims asylum seekers were burned while under the direction of Australian Navy personnel.

Footage obtained by the ABC shows several asylum seekers - who Indonesian police say were on a vessel forced back by the Australian Navy on January 6 - being medically assessed for burns on their hands.

The asylum seekers say they were kicked and burnt when the Australian Navy forced them to touch part of their boat's engine, allegations which police in Indonesia say have been referred to the country's national police headquarters.

Ms Bishop defended the professionalism of Navy personnel but said Australia was prepared to send officials to Indonesia to examine the allegations of abuse.

"I cannot imagine for a moment that the professional people that we have in our forces would have behaved in that fashion," she told reporters in Washington.

"But of course if there is any cooperation we can extend to ensure that these allegations are scotched then we'd be prepared to do it."

Chief detective Sam Kawengian, in Kupang in Indonesia's east, says so far the only evidence to go by is the burns to the asylum seekers hands, and their statements to police but he is referring the case to the national headquarters.

"From the questioning we did the other day, some said they were tortured... [by] Australian police, or whatever, their authorities," he told the ABC.

"They showed the marks of what they said were inflicted upon them by Australian Navy - but we don't know for sure because the only witnesses are among themselves. That's the information we get from them.

"There were bruises in their arms, legs, some also said that their genitals were hurting - men - they say their genitals were kicked. This is what they said, it's not the result of our investigation."

Abbott: 'no evidence' of claims

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Tony Abbott disputed the accusations, saying "there's absolutely no evidence" of the claims.

"I think people making accusations should produce some evidence and there's no evidence whatsoever to back them up," he said.

"Who do you believe? Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who were attempting to break Australian law?

"I trust Australia's naval personnel."

Yesterday Rear Admiral Ray Griggs used Twitter to respond to the allegations, saying there is no basis for the asylum seekers' claims.

Based on everything I know there is no basis to these allegations - none.
-- VADM Ray Griggs (@CN_Australia) December 13, 2013

The claims have surfaced amid increasing tensions between the two countries over the Coalition government's contentious policy of returning vessels which have entered Australian territory without permission.

Indonesian MP Tantowi Yahya, who is a member of the country's foreign affairs commission, last night urged Australian officials to investigate the claims of abuse.

"I think we still need to clarify these allegations," he told ABC's 7.30 program.

"If it is true, then the government of Australia has clearly violated human rights of the asylum seekers and at the same time they have also violated the territory of Indonesians.

"I think it is a must for the Australian Government to investigate so the authority of Australia don't immediately make a statement to the world that there is no violations of human rights of the asylum seekers that was taking place on the oceans.

Yesterday, the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said people smugglers had a strong motivation for fabricating stories to discredit Australia's border protection policies.

www.abc.net.au/.../australia-to-cooperate-investigation-asylum-seeker-mistreatment/5214150

Claims navy assaulted asylum seekers may not get clear verdict

Indonesia's investigation has stalled and the government has denied the allegations.

The Age
January 25, 2014
Mark Kenny, Michael Bachelard

Claims the navy deliberately burnt the hands of asylum seekers intercepted at sea may never be conclusively disproved, with an Indonesian investigation stalling and the Australian government refusing to give a full account of what happened.

Indonesia has cited jurisdictional limitations over whether any crime took place in its territory, while the Australian government has emphatically denied the allegations, which relate to a vessel intercepted with 45 asylum seekers aboard and which set out for Australia on January 1 but returned to Indonesia five days later.

However, the Australian government refuses to offer an alternative explanation that might reveal so-called ''operational matters'' associated with its secretive boat turn-back policy.

Kupang police chief of detectives Sam Kawengian says he finished his investigation after taking statements and organising medical checks of asylum seekers.

''We handed the result to the Immigration Department and immigration will co-ordinate with the International Organisation for Migration about the claims,'' he says.

''According to the refugees, [the Australian navy personnel] questioned them about why they wanted to go to Australia ... and, while being questioned, they were hit. They were also made to touch the hot engine parts - that's how their hands got burnt.''

He says he cannot comment about the explanation coming from Australia that the asylum seekers had tried to sabotage their own boat.

''We can only comment on what we investigate,'' he says. ''We saw the injuries. Why would they harm themselves?''

National police spokesman Inspector General Ronny Franky Sompie says the police will communicate with the Australian Federal Police and Interpol.

''The problem is that the crime scene is in the ocean,'' he says. ''I haven't got any information about where the exact crime scene co-ordinates are - whether it's within Indonesian waters territory or not. That's why we need to work together with the AFP to find out the exact location, because they have better equipment.''

The lack of clarity means the incendiary allegations of assault by Australia border protection authorities may be left hanging, allowing a suspicious Indonesian public to form its own views and leaving Australian voters none the wiser. It could also stain the reputation of the navy, linking it to serious allegations of torture that were never substantiated but were never fully debunked in an open inquiry.

The issue has hastened an already steep decline in Jakarta/Canberra relations damaged by last year's phone-tapping revelations dating back to 2009 and continuing strain from the boat turn-back policy.

The government claims its policies are working. Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison announced the 36th consecutive day in which there were ''no persons illegally arriving by boat transferred to our immigration authorities''.

''This is the longest period of no illegal boat arrivals since March 2009, when arrivals first started to significantly escalate as a consequence of the former Labor government's decision to abolish the strong border protection regime they inherited from the Howard government,'' he said.

''In the first 100 days of Operation Sovereign Borders, illegal arrivals by boat declined by more than 80 per cent, taking us back to the levels being experienced at the time of the 2010 election ... While these results were pleasing, arrivals of around 300 per month do not constitute success. Being able to sustain a zero rate of arrivals for more than five weeks takes us further but these outcomes need to be sustained.''

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has attempted to cool the row by describing the bilateral relationship as in otherwise good condition.

Natalegawa, who has made no secret of his country's unequivocal rejection of the turn-back policy, struck a more conciliatory tone on the streets of the Swiss ski resort town of Davos, where he and world leaders such as Tony Abbott have been attending the World Economic Forum.

But while he refused to discuss specific operational matters, other Indonesian officials have been more bullish, threatening direct confrontation on the high seas if newly positioned Indonesian defence assets detect any likely approach by Australian vessels attempting turn-backs.

Abbott himself rejects the allegations of any wrongdoing by Australian naval personnel, pitching the original claims as a credibility contest between those enforcing the law and those breaking it.

''Who do you believe? Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who are attempting to break Australian law?'' Abbott said from Davos. ''I trust Australia's naval personnel.''

The asylum seeker group's spokesman, Yousif, said in early January his friends' hands were burnt after a dispute with navy personnel about the toilet.

''We have three young people, the army does not allow us to go to the toilet, only one time per day,'' he said. ''And they refused. They [were] insisting to go to the toilet. On the day four [out of five days during which they were being towed back to Indonesia], they asked to go to the toilet and they [navy] put their hands on the edges of the engine ... the pipe of the smoke out.

''They put their hands there by force, so the other people are afraid, so that no one will go to the toilet ... [it was] punishment and so people are afraid.''

Asked about government denials that anybody was mistreated, Yousif responded: ''No, no, they are lying, 100 per cent.''

The question of control over going to the toilet was also raised in 2003 when Afghan asylum seeker Abbas Ali Changizi alleged that, on a 2001 navy interception, ''passing water'' was strictly controlled by officers and asylum seekers asking to do so were mistreated.

Abbas, who also alleged he was subjected to a mock execution on board, made a police statement but his claims were later dismissed as unsubstantiated.

Bangladeshi passengers on another boat turned back on January 5 said they were forced by Operation Sovereign Borders staff to clean the toilet daily on the customs ship they were on.

And, during the same operation, Pakistani passenger Haneef Hussain said he had heard naval personnel using profane language to a man who had asked for help for his wife. ''F--- your wife and f--- your mother,'' they had said, according to Hussain.

www.theage.com.au/.../...asylum-seekers-may-not-get-clear-verdict-20140124-31e9c.html

Operation Sovereign Borders: flak flies, even when facts are so elusive

Thunderous outrage ensues when the only way of getting answers to important questions is to actually air the allegations

Katharine Murphy, deputy political editor
theguardian.com
Wednesday 22 January 2014 21.33 EST

OK, so here's the thing. When you sanction public policy being executed in a propaganda-rich, fact-free zone, perverse things do start happening. Every contention starts to equal every other contention, and facts? Even when they can be established, which is not all that often, they don't seem to stick.

I'm referring here of course to the culture of secrecy and obfuscation surrounding the "Operation Sovereign Borders" policy of the Abbott government. The current furore over whether or not the Australian navy subjected would-be asylum seekers to harsh treatment gives us a helpful moment to take a breath, and reflect.

The ABC's Indonesia correspondent, George Roberts, is taking flak for doing his job attempting to find out what might or might not be happening on the seas to our north. This is a necessary exercise even under a regime of routine disclosure. Reporters should always, where possible, reality check "facts" they are given rather than be state-sanctioned stenographers.

It is doubly necessary in an environment where it is apparently government policy not to disclose basic facts to the voters who pay substantial amounts annually for border protection operations through their taxes. Roberts, funnily enough, also has an obligation to the taxpayer to do his job to the best of his ability they pay his salary as well.

In any normal environment, the allegations aired by the ABC would prompt an orderly process where the claims could be put and answered. But having thrown out this most basic of public interest transactions in the quest to keep everything deemed operational under wraps, everything in this space is slightly off balance.

Reporters, declining to accept the terms of engagement for obvious public interest reasons, push harder for information. There's often no reliable way of determining veracity. Then thunderous outrage ensues when the only way of getting answers to important questions is to actually air the allegations.

The latest round of the blame game has triggered an outburst of "team navy" from team Abbott, and a less than subtle hint to the ABC to play a political game, and keep itself nice.

Well, let's try and cut through for a minute.

Reporters have an obligation to get things right. You would not find me arguing otherwise. I don't know if the latest allegations are correct, or not. But fact is, right now, the government is responding to a normal accountability dynamic by projecting its crusade and conflict culture onto everyone else. Everyone is styled as a combatant whether they are, or whether they are not.

It's unclear whether this is being done for basic damage control, or because of hard wired ideological preoccupations but as a consequence of swaggering "us or them", we are all wedged inside some post modern, post-truth pantomime.

And the roiling contention culture is actually hurting the government in a very basic sense. The boats are stopping. But in an environment with so much posturing, with so much "he said she said" that simple fact cannot pierce the daily clutter. Ray Hadley is doing his best, but I don't think the government has quite got the clean run it wanted.

Scott Morrison is correct to point out that having seen some masterful agitprop from Canberra in recent years, people smugglers and would be asylum seekers are no doubt intent on giving it back to try and counter the policy step change imposed first by Labor with the PNG solution, and subsequently by Abbott with Operation Sovereign Borders.

And the reflexive outbreak of "team navy" and "how dare anyone question our fine men on the high seas", could be perfectly fine of course if (as Michelle Grattan points out in The Conversation today) we hadn't recently stumbled accidentally into Indonesian territorial waters despite assurances that we hadn't, and wouldn't ... or if we apply brain bleach to forget previous incidents where either defence or immigration or customs have made mistakes or mis-steps ... being: 1. Large organisations where sometimes the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing, and 2. Well, human.

Rear Admiral Ray Griggs for his part made the following statement on Wednesday concerning the allegations. "Based on everything I know there is no basis to these allegations none." Translation: more than likely, this didn't happen, I'm almost certain it didn't but given the capacity for unpleasant surprise, let's leave a little bit of grey area.

The government might be well placed just as a point of principle, and as an investment in self-preservation over the long haul to listen to that tiny note of caution.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/23/operation-sovereign-borders-flak-flies

Secrecy on boat policy leaves navy vulnerable

The Age
January 24, 2014 - 6:26AM
Mark Kenny

On the two-way street of official secrecy, the government has learned, it is dark in both directions.

Its frustration is palpable.

Allegations of orchestrated abuse occasioning actual bodily harm have been made by asylum seekers against this country's Navy. The allegations are extremely serious and appear to be backed up by photographic evidence.

If proved, they would constitute torture by our military and would shred Australia's international standing.

The ensuing scandal would also end senior political and defence force careers and make news around the world.

But appearances can be deceiving and there is actually no chain of evidence yet furnished in the public realm to back up the claims. In fact, quite the contrary.

The whole thing seems decidedly implausible, from the allegation of asylum seekers being forced to hold onto hot pipes - how is that actually achieved, one wonders? - to the fundamental question of ''why?'' What would be the motive of Australian authorities for such a bizarre punishment?

Yet official efforts to dismiss the claims as completely baseless, are rendered impossible without an alternative account of what went on when the Navy apprehended the asylum seekers.

Here, the government and its military servants are caught in the secrecy bind of their own making. In short, they cannot provide a detailed account of their actions and those of the asylum seekers, without in the process admitting to operational matters which, until now have been ruled secret.

Did this interaction occur during a boat turn-back at sea? If so, where precisely and under what circumstances?

How many such situations have occurred? What is the protocol for ensuring human rights are respected?

What level of medical assistance was provided, assuming as has been suggested, that the burn injuries were incurred before Australian authorities even arrived on the scene?

And is there video evidence that would comprehensively refute the abuse claims?

It's a curious situation that even though turning back boats was an election promise, Australian voters are not allowed to know if they have occurred or are occurring.

The government notes that asylum seekers have an obvious motivation to discredit this country's authorities.

All the more reason why measures to refute such attempts should be robust and comprehensive. In the absence of an independent third-party witness to interactions at sea, our defence forces are vulnerable to false claims of abuse and assault.

This problem goes to the very core of the Abbott government's military-led Operation Sovereign Borders.

Perhaps the reputation of the country internationally and the good name of the ADF should take precedence over the claimed ''operational'' secrecy of OSB.

www.theage.com.au/.../secrecy-on-boat-policy-leaves-navy-vulnerable-20140124-31ccl.html

Somali asylum seeker claims he was sprayed in eyes by Australian Navy

Somali asylum seeker claims he was sprayed in eyes by Australian Navy; Government says claims of abuse 'baseless'

ABC News Online
By Indonesia correspondent George Roberts
First posted Fri 31 Jan 2014, 4:16am AEDT
Updated Fri 31 Jan 2014, 8:23am AEDT

New details have emerged about asylum seeker claims that Australian sailors mistreated them during a boat interception operation earlier this month.

A Somali asylum seeker has told the ABC that there were angry protests when people found out the boat was being turned around and they were being returned to Indonesia.

He alleges that during the onboard argument he suffered burns when he came into contact with a hot engine after an Australian sailor sprayed him in the eyes.

The fresh allegations come as Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirms the Government is determined to turn back asylum seeker boats where it is safe to do so.

Until now the Government has refused to confirm that the Navy has turned boats back to Indonesia.

"This government reserves the right to protect Australia's sovereignty by preventing any vessel illegally entering our territorial waters," Mr Morrison told The Australian last night.

"In these circumstances, it is the policy and practice of this government to intercept any such vessel and, where safe to do so, remove it outside Australia's territorial waters and beyond our contiguous zone."

He also told the Australian turning back boats is one of a series of measures that have seen no boats arrive in January for the first time in six years.

"I know for a fact that the way information is being handled in this operation is contributing to its success," he told AM this morning.

Mr Morrison is set to face a grilling today from Labor and Greens senators when he fronts a Senate inquiry into the Federal Government's refusal to release key documents about border protection.

The committee requested to speak to government representatives along with officials from Defence, Immigration and Customs.

Morrison rejects claims

The Government has emphatically rejected the latest claims of mistreatment.

Mr Morrison says it is normal for Navy personnel to carry personal defensive equipment and described suggestions that they had been used outside standard procedure as "baseless".

Until now access to the asylum seekers and more detail of their allegations has been hard to come by.

But four men managed to escape the watch of Indonesian authorities and leave their hotel to give the ABC a more detailed account.

Twenty-year-old Somali asylum seeker Boby Nooris was on a boat which was intercepted by the Australian Navy in the first week of January.

He says that when Australian Navy personnel came on board two of the boat's three engines were broken and a third was damaged.

However, Mr Nooris has told the ABC the asylum seekers did not break the engines.

"There was two arguments happening at the time. The first argument was happening down in the engine room; I was up and down to get a bag that has my stuff.

"When I got down I was sprayed in my eyes."

Other asylum seekers have alleged that they were forced to hold onto hot pipes but the 20-year-old says he suffered burns on his hands because he was blinded after sailors responded with force, using some sort of spray.

"There was an argument do you understand. When they spray me in the eyes I couldn't see anything.

"While I was looking for a way out I stumble on the engine and my hand got burnt."

Mr Nooris says he then threw himself into the sea.

"I felt pain like chillies went into my eyes. I could not see anything, it was dark, and I threw myself into the sea."

He says he was pulled back on board, his hands were bandaged, but he was refused painkillers.

He and the other three asylum seekers say they are prepared to cooperate with any Australian investigation.

Defensive equipment 'standard'

While not confirming the use of spray, Mr Morrison said in a statement that personal defensive equipment is standard issue in maritime operations.

"Such equipment is also commonly issued in domestic law enforcement across Australia," he said.

"Border Protection Command personnel are trained in the use of these devices consistent with the strict guidelines governing their use.

"If required, medical assistance is also provided to any persons who have been subjected to the use of this equipment.

"The equipment is used, for example, to bring people under control when they are engaged in non-compliant, threatening behaviour to other passengers or crew.

He also says any claim that such devices were used in a manner outside standard procedure is baseless.

"Any suggestion that the appropriate use of such devices would in any way legitimise baseless and offensive allegations of torture, recently made against our Navy and Customs and Border Protection personnel by people who have admitted to seeking to illegally enter Australia, are also rejected outright."

Before the onboard altercation the 20-year-old secretly recorded some of the Australian sailors on his phone.

The ABC has viewed this footage and at least one sailor can be seen carrying a camera.

Mr Nooris and the other asylum seekers believe the Navy will have evidence.

Full statement from Scott Morrison

Personal defensive equipment is and has been standard issue to those serving in maritime operations conducted by Border Protection Command. Such equipment is also commonly issued in domestic law enforcement across Australia.

Border Protection Command personnel are trained in the use of these devices consistent with the strict guidelines governing their use.

If required, medical assistance is also provided to any persons who have been subjected to the use of this equipment.

The equipment is used, for example, to bring people under control when they are engaged in non-compliant, threatening behaviour to other passengers or crew.

The Government rejects any suggestion that such devices have been used in a manner that was not compliant with standard procedures and training. Any such claim is baseless.

Any suggestion that the appropriate use of such devices would in any way legitimise baseless and offensive allegations of torture, recently made against our Navy and Customs and Border Protection personnel by people who have admitted to seeking to illegally enter Australia, are also rejected outright.

www.abc.net.au/.../asylum-seeker-claims-he-was-sprayed-in-eyes-by-australian-navy/5229362

Asylum policy 'morally corrupt, indefensible': Retired Navy officer

Stop the boats asylum seeker policy 'morally corrupt and indefensible', former Navy officer says

ABC News Online
By international correspondent Mark Corcoran
Posted Mon 27 Jan 2014, 5:33pm AEDT

A retired senior Royal Australian Navy (RAN) officer has hit out at the Federal Government's stop the boats policy as "morally corrupt and totally indefensible".

"For our leaders to proclaim personal and religious ethics amazes me," said retired RAN Captain John Ingram, recognised in yesterday's Australia Day honours with an Order of Australia Medal for his decades of work supporting the Indo-Chinese community, and also for leading a naval rescue of 99 asylum seekers from a sinking boat.

"The concept of turning boats back is absolutely abhorrent. I have an issue with the hardline approach, the fact that RAN sailors are (now) being used for political purposes," he said.

"And turning back boats on the open sea and pursuing towards Indonesia, which happened just recently, is not the naval way of doing things."

Mr Ingram says growing anger and confusion within Navy ranks was further exacerbated last week by reports of alleged mistreatment of asylum seekers aboard a boat intercepted by the Navy.

Asylum seekers claimed they were beaten and burned while their vessel was being towed back to Indonesia allegations rejected by the Navy.

"I think there has been a lot of unjust criticism of the way the Navy has handled it," Mr Ingram said, speaking from his home in Port Macquarie, New South Wales.

"I realise the Chief of Navy issued a statement last week denying malfeasance.

"It's my experience from 30 years in the Navy that sailors are extremely sympathetic towards all people in peril on the sea."

In 1981, while serving on the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, Mr Ingram led a dramatic rescue operation to recover 99 Vietnamese people from a fishing boat sinking in the South China Sea.

Those rescued became known as the Melbourne Group 99, or MG99.

The MG99 were put ashore in Singapore and sent to an overcrowded refugee transit camp.

Without waiting for approval from Canberra, Mr Ingram led Navy teams into the camp to ensure the welfare of the MG99.

There, he says, thousands of internees were living under plastic sheeting and were forced to boil grass for food.

Seventy-five of the group ultimately resettled in Australia, mainly in Sydney's Cabramatta area, and today second and third generations of the growing MG99 group maintain close links with Mr Ingram.

The MG99 story was featured in a 2012 Foreign Correspondent Online Special Report.

Parallels with 'Konfrontasie'

Last week there were warnings that Australia risks sea-going clashes with Indonesia and the admission that Australian ships have entered Indonesian waters without permission.

Mr Ingram sees parallels with the 1962-66 "Confrontation", when Australia and other Commonwealth nations fought an undeclared, largely secretive, low-level war against Indonesia, while simultaneously engaging in a high-level diplomatic slanging match.

"I actually served in the Navy's flagship during the Confrontation with Indonesia. I know what is involved," he said.

"I don't like the idea of creating mischief with our nearest neighbour, and a lot has been done since the East Timor situation and Confrontation with Indonesia back in the mid 1960s to restore harmony and goodwill between nations ... the last thing we need to do is jeopardise that relationship.

"It is claimed that the boats have stopped, and that may well be the case ... but that's not the way to solve that particular problem.

"That problem is a diplomatic one and not one that should be corrected by force alone."

Mr Ingram has four decades of experience in assisting refugees.

As the Vietnam War ended, he was a Navy logistics specialist on exchange in the United States, where he helped establish a refugee transit camp for 25,000 Indo-Chinese.

After returning to Navy headquarters in Canberra, Mr Ingram led a community group that successfully provided transit housing for newly arrived refugees.

"I'm not saying the system hasn't been abused by some, it has, but in the main most are genuine in their desire to avoid persecution, political, economic, whatever, in their homeland," he said.

"My immediate concern are the several thousand people currently incarcerated on Nauru, Manus and at Christmas Island, that they are brought to Australia as quickly as possible for orderly processing to occur and this plan that I've developed would enable that to occur."

Regional Australia

Mr Ingram proposes the establishment of a "contract of obligations", where asylum seekers are given the opportunity to live and work in regional Australia for five years, receive English lessons and skills training, and only be permitted to relocate to a major city on completion of the five-year period, when permanent residency would be awarded.

He argues that Australia has a strong track record in responding humanely to international upheavals and cites the success of previous Coalition and Labor leaders.

"Prime minister (Malcolm) Fraser displayed that leadership when he opened the doors to boat folk from South-East Asian refugee camps," he said.

"Prime minister (Bob) Hawke's eyes welled with tears after Tiananmen Square when he proudly announced those Chinese students in Australia who feared persecution would be granted residency status.

"These folk, as with earlier generations of displaced persons, have made massive contributions to our country.

"We've painted ourselves into a corner. We need an honourable way out. And we need a way out very soon."

www.abc.net.au/.../coalition-boats-policy-morally-indefensible-says-john-ingram/5220886

Next up on Your ABC: Abbott in Wonderland

The Age
February 1, 2014
Tony Wright

Nights in the winter of 1934 the children of the district and a few of their fathers in oilskins drifted across cold paddocks to listen to the world as they wanted it to be.

In those Depression days there was just one farmer for miles around who'd invested in a wireless. His farmhouse was the single link to Lord's - and Nottingham, Manchester, Leeds and The Oval, those impossibly romantic names - where Bradman and Ponsford stood for Australia and cracked the Poms all over the ground.

The boys, my father among them, and their dads puffing pipes, sat around the kitchen imagining the description of the Ashes series was coming directly through the wireless from Over There, complete with the satisfying sound of each ball rapped by willow.

The wireless, of course, was tuned to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. And the ABC was indulging in a deception.

A stream of cryptic telegrams from England informed the commentators stuck in a studio in Australia of the general state of play. The inventive voicemen then translated these bare bones into a creative description of what might be happening far away ... and simulated the sound of bat on ball by banging a pencil on a wooden desk - though some say a coconut shell was used.

The ruse has become a proud legend; something that cemented the nation to its ABC. Australia, the media, and just about everything else has changed since, in ways unimaginable to those who trudged miles to hear the faux broadcast of a cricket series.

ABC TV and radio reach more than 70 per cent of Australians in any given week, according to the corporation's own research. Such reach would make most media organisations puce with envy, even if it doesn't quite mean that 70 per cent of Australians are glued to the ABC: ''reach'' covers all those who tune in for five consecutive minutes or more in a week.

Regardless, it's a massive audience that polling shows trusts the national broadcaster two-to-one over its commercial rivals. Its privilege, and sometimes the weight on its back, is that unlike just about every other national broadcaster in the world, it gets its funding - $1.22 billion - entirely from the government (though about $5.5 million comes from its commercial activities).

Governments and their leaders tend to get proprietary about organisations that soak up government money. The problem for the politicians is that the ABC's independence is protected by law. The bigger problem is that as a media organisation, the ABC reports and comments and, worse, broadcasts satire about political stuff.

It was fine while the broadcasters were beguiling innocent cricket tragics with fake sounds of bat on ball. Finer still when government censors could and did totally control the show during World War II; and it was handy that for decades the Postmaster-General had the power to order the broadcaster to can embarrassing interviews for the national good. But that was then.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's recent caterwauling about the ABC's alleged lack of patriotism isn't all that unusual in the modern era, despite the obvious awkwardness in that he was once a journalist and thus knows better.

Labor prime minister Bob Hawke was given to rages at the ABC, particularly when he sent soldiers to the Gulf War against Iraq in 1991 and the ABC insisted on referring to ''Australian troops''. Hawke thought the ABC should barrack for the home team by using the fonder term ''our troops''.

John Howard's communications minister Richard Alston took a more direct approach. He filed 68 complaints in a single year against the ABC for what he considered - often risibly - to be examples of bias and anti-Americanism. The subject: reporting from the war in Iraq.

Governments, in short, are particularly jumpy about reporting concerning offshore adventures that have become tricky.

Australia's relationship with Indonesia and its treatment of asylum seekers are the current subjects most likely to get a government politician all dandered up.

And so we have Mr Abbott declaring ''I think it dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone's side but its own and I think it is a problem''.

It would be ... if the ABC's job were still to be official national barracker, given to tapping the pencil just that bit harder on the coconut shell when an Australian was thought to have hit the ball well.

But it is an independent news gatherer, among other things. It was doing what any self-respecting news gatherer would do if presented with the sensational mountain of leaks by the former National Security Agency contractor, now fugitive, Edward Snowden.

And even if the claims of asylum seekers that they were tortured by Australian naval personnel might have been treated more sceptically because they didn't pass the sniff test, a news gatherer could not reasonably ignore claims captured on film, complete with hands burned and an investigation by Indonesian police.

And in the new era of secrecy adopted by the government in relation to asylum seekers, with whom could reliable checks be made?

Whatever other agendas are at play - a softening up for a budget cut in funding, the abolition of the ABC's overseas network, a grovelling to Rupert Murdoch's obvious commercial outrage at a publicly funded rival - Abbott's howl about some kind of treason taking place within the ABC is as preposterous as Hawke's and Alston's were.

It is simply that he wants the ABC to deliver the world as he wishes it might be, just as those who once flitted across paddocks to tune in to a simulated cricket game willed themselves to believe they were listening to the real thing.

Make-believe is always more comfortable.

http://www.theage.com.au/national/next-up-on-your-abc-abbott-in-wonderland-20140131-31sbq.html

Abbott's ABC outburst sits uneasily with ideals of a robust democracy

The Age
January 29, 2014 - 2:28PM
Michael Gordon

Tony Abbott's tirade against the ABC betrays a deeply flawed view of the role of the Australian media in general and the national broadcaster in particular. Worse still, it doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

That it comes from a man who has always expressed pride in his past life as a professional journalist makes the outburst all the more puzzling and invites the conclusion that another agenda is at play here.

The Prime Minister's main concern is that the ABC ''appears to take everybody's side but our own'', and lacks ''at least some basic affection for the home team''.

This astonishing proposition that coverage should be somehow skewed by nationalism, or patriotism sits uncomfortably with the ideals of a robust democracy with a free, fair and fearless media.

As the Prime Minister knows, it is not the ABC's job to take sides, but to report fairly and accurately. Like any media organisation in the digital world, it is also to interpret, analyse and explain.

The accusation that appears to have triggered the outburst is that the ABC failed to meet the obligation of accuracy and fairness in its recent reporting of claims by asylum seekers that they had suffered burns due to mistreatment by the Royal Australian Navy.

While some aspects of that coverage are open to criticism, the argument that the ABC should have given the ''Australian navy and its hard-working personnel the benefit of the doubt'' is extraordinary. Should the same attitude be taken when young sailors make claims of being sexually abused?

A secondary complaint is that the ABC should not have published in conjunction with the Guardian Australia revelations of Australian spying on the Indonesian president and his wife late last year. My strong view is that publication in that case was very much in the public interest.

The bizarre irony is that the first topic discussed with Ray Hadley on Sydney radio 2GB on Wednesday was the gravity of ''frightening'' revelations about the level of corruption in the construction industry that emerged from a joint investigation by Fairfax Media and the ABC.

We can safely assume that Mr Abbott sees this reporting as in the national interest and can expect the investigation will bolster the government's case for the reinstatement of the Australian Building and Construction Commission and a wider inquiry into the bad behaviour of unions.

So what's the agenda here? Mr Abbott's view says the ABC should confine itself to being a ''straight news gathering and news reporting organisation'', but how does such an organisation simultaneously display its affection ''for the home team''?

Either the Prime Minister is out to deflect attention from other fronts like the secrecy that shrouds his ''stop the boats'' strategy or ABC funding is in his sights. Either way, he needs to come up with a far more cogent critique than the one presented to commercial radio listeners in Sydney.

www.theage.com.au/../..uneasily-with-ideals-of-a-robust-democracy-20140129-31mdl.html

Freedoms key to a robust debate

The Age
February 2, 2014
Bianca Hall

We hear a lot of grand rhetoric about free speech and freedom of the press in Australia, but in reality, we can be pretty rubbish at defending these basic liberties.

Quick to outrage, we confuse dissenting opinions with disloyalty to the nation, and abuse with freedom of speech.

Only a year ago, Tony Abbott was the media's great defender, thundering about Julia Gillard's ultimately doomed flirtation with media regulation.

''It is not, repeat not, the role of government to manage the day-to-day practices of journalism, to dictate who can and who can't control Australian media outlets or to 'score' media coverage against unavoidably subjective standards of fairness,'' he said.

''The job of government is to foster free speech, not stifle it.''

We in the media cheered, but on Wednesday, Abbott, a former journalist himself, sought to impose his own scorecard on the ABC. He sympathised when Sydney shock jock Ray Hadley complained that there was a double standard between the complaints levelled at Hadley's on-air comments, and what the ABC broadcast.

Hadley, who described himself as ''a bit to the right'', grizzled that he kept getting ''belted over the head'' by the government's media regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority - incidentally, for broadcasting claims that were factually incorrect.

Meanwhile, Hadley griped, ABC journalists were ''left to their own devices''.

''I can understand the frustration that you feel,'' Abbott commiserated. ''I think that there is quite an issue of double standards ... I think it dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone's side but our own ... You shouldn't leap to be critical of your own country.''

As the Prime Minister knows full well, it's not the ABC's role to be a cheerleader for Australia's national interest. It's the organisation's job to broadcast news in the public interest.

The next day, the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, announced that the government would launch an ''efficiency study'' of the ABC and SBS.

Turnbull assured there was ''no assault on the ABC'' and the government's terms of reference emphasise that the study is ''not a study of the quality of the national broadcaster's programs, products and services''.

But the announcement of a cost-cutting review after an extraordinary attack by the Prime Minister on the ABC sent shudders through supporters of independent journalism. This was compounded by the news on the same day that The Global Mail financier Graeme Wood was withdrawing support for the publication.

Running battles against media reporting often take a pernicious path. Last week, over a series of days, I was accused in online forums of being a traitor to my country after reporting that Defence was investigating members who joined an online anti-Muslim group, the Australian Defence League.

Discussion quickly turned to how I would better understand the issues if I were raped, my daughter raped and my husband beheaded by Muslims.

It's a dreary reflection of the nature of political debate these days that when a woman journalist writes or broadcasts something that someone, somewhere doesn't like (surely the definition of journalism), some keyboard warrior throws the spectre of rape at her.

It's a base method of trying to control women, but it's a diversion: the goal is simply to shut down debate.

In no way am I suggesting the Prime Minister's comments on the ABC are similar to the ravings of an online extremist group, but in a democracy like Australia, freedom of speech should involve having the maturity to debate ideas on merit, and defend the right of our media to air them, rather than resorting to appeals to patriotism or cheap abuse.

www.theage.com.au/.../freedoms-key-to-a-robust-debate-20140201-31tmp.html

Don't embellish asylum seeker facts, ABC warns staff

The Age
February 2, 2014
Bianca Hall

As the ABC comes under government scrutiny, staff have been warned not to ''embellish'' or add ''any flourish'' to asylum seekers' claims they have been mistreated by border protection forces.

Head of ABC news content Gaven Morris sent the directive to the organisation's top brass on Friday morning, less than 24 hours after the government announced it would conduct an ''efficiency study'' into the ABC's operations.

In an email obtained by Fairfax Media, Mr Morris instructed senior staff, including director of news Kate Torney and ABC News 24 editor Tony Hill, to provide advice to their teams about reporting on ''incidents at sea''. He said staff should ensure that the reports ''stick to the basics''.

''As you know we currently have a set of claims by asylum seekers our editorial teams are continuing to work hard to get an accurate account of and to verify,'' he wrote.

''During this process all our output should reflect the basic facts before us ... we don't need to interpret them beyond what we know, nor should be [sic] editorialising or seeking to add adjectives or any flourish.

''We're not seeking to describe or embellish the allegations with descriptions like torture or mistreatment or violence and we're not reporting whether we have proved or disproved anything the media has previously reported - the allegations and responses stand for themselves.''

When asked to comment on the email, Mr Morris said: ''The note was to senior editors on my team reinforcing the ABC's enduring editorial approach. Amid the continuing varying reports of what may or may not have happened at sea and the responses to it, it was intended as a reminder that ABC News should continue to do as we always do and report the facts before us.''

The government's efficiency study, announced on Thursday by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, will focus on the day-to-day operational and financial running of the ABC and SBS. The terms of reference stress ''it is not a study of the quality of the national broadcaster's programs, products and services, or the responsibilities set out in their charters, but of the efficiency of the delivery of those services to the Australian public''.

But the review's announcement came after a week of sustained pressure on the national broadcaster, including an extraordinary attack by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who suggested the ABC was being unpatriotic in its reports of asylum seekers' allegations against officials.

On Wednesday, Mr Abbott argued that journalists should give the navy the ''benefit of the doubt'' when it came to claims of wrongdoing, and said: ''A lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's.''

The ABC has come under sustained pressure from News Corp publications over its reporting on allegations by asylum seekers they were mistreated by Australian navy officers.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has described as ''a pretty poor effort'' the ABC's reports that asylum seekers suffered burns because of treatment by the navy, calling the claims ''unfounded, unsubstantiated, outrageous allegations against our navy and our Customs and border protection service''.

A ReachTEL poll conducted for Fairfax Media on Thursday showed the majority of Australians believed the ABC was politically neutral in its reporting.

That figure rose to 63.5 per cent among women, compared with 55.5 per cent among men.

Overall, 32.2 per cent believed the ABC was biased towards the Labor Party, while just 8.2 per cent said it was biased towards the Coalition.

www.theage.com.au//...facts-on-asylum-seekers-abc-warns-staff-20140201-31txl.html

ABC should have been more cautious, says Media Watch

'Even if the police did back the asylum seekers' claims, there was no way of then knowing they were true,' says Paul Barry

Paul Farrell
theguardian.com
Monday 3 February 2014 17.15 EST

The ABC's Media Watch program says the national broadcaster "overreached" and got it wrong in the reporting of asylum-seeker burns allegations against Australian navy personnel.

The program on Monday night dealt with the fallout from the story that contained allegations asylum seekers were deliberately burnt by navy personnel.

"This is where the ABC overreached, by essentially endorsing the allegations of navy mistreatment on radio, TV and online throughout the day," Media Watch's host, Paul Barry, said.

Barry said the ABC should have been more cautious because of the available evidence. The central allegation of the story appeared to be largely sourced from Indonesian police.

"Indonesian police say the burns were from being forced by Australian navy personnel to hold onto hot pipes coming out of their boat's engine," the original story said.

Barry said in response to this section: "Even if the police did back the asylum seekers' claims, there was no way of then knowing they were true."

"We believe the ABC should have been far more cautious given the evidence it had and given it was making such a big call against the navy," he said. "We believe ABC news got it wrong and if so, it needs to admit it, to find out how the mistake was made and to make sure it won't happen again."

Earlier on Monday, the ABC's managing director, Mark Scott, backed the ABC's reporting of the story in an interview on PM.

"It was an important story to report, the right story to report, the result of investigations by the ABC and what's very important in this context is that it's clear that the ABC was not judge and jury on that matter. The ABC did not say that matter had been proved," Scott said.

"We've continued to pursue it. We've never said that we know the answer to it. We've said that they are serious allegations. What takes place under the Australian flag on the high seas is clearly a matter of public importance. And it clearly has been important for us to continue to investigate this story."

The ABC has come under heavy attack for the story, and the communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, on Tuesday called on the ABC to correct the story.

"The parliament has given the ABC editorial independence by law," he said. "The same law has also required the ABC be accurate and impartial in its news and current affairs reporting 'according to the recognised standards of objective journalism'."

The ABC's head of editorial policy, Alan Sunderland, also defended the broadcaster's journalism on the Drum.

"From the moment the first claims emerged in this messy affair, it was clear there was a significant story. Thanks to the work of good journalists who did not stop chasing, the public now knows that," he said.

"When the ABC starts chasing uncomfortable stories, we expect criticism. But it is indeed a strange world when some of those who should be chasing the story seem to think the story is us."

www.theguardian.com/../..burns-abc-should-have-been-more-cautious-says-media-watch

Morrison says ABC should apologise to navy

AAP / news.com.au
February 03, 2014 10:41AM

THE ABC should apologise for its reporting of "outrageous slurs" against the Royal Australian Navy in its asylum seeker operations, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says.

The broadcaster has come under fire over reporting asylum seeker claims they burnt their hands when forced by navy personnel to hold onto hot engine parts on an asylum seeker vessel.

The ABC also cited Indonesian police reports referring to the claims.

A Somali asylum seeker later claimed his hand was burnt on the boat's engine when he was sprayed in the eyes by an Australian sailor during an angry protest.

The federal government has strenuously denied the allegations.

Mr Morrison on Monday said the ABC should apologise to the navy.

"People make mistakes, they should just simply apologise to the navy for that," he told Macquarie Radio.

"It's not about apologising to the government, I think that completely misrepresents the situation.

"This is about a slur against the navy, a report that said it backed up the claims of these sorts of outrageous torture allegations," Mr Morrison said.

He said it was wrong for the ABC to suggest that Indonesian police statements, which just repeated asylum seeker claims, in any way backed up "those outrageous slurs against our navy".

www.news.com.au/.../morrison-says-abc-should-apologise-to-navy/story-e6frfku9-1226816494078

ABC: Contested story should have been 'more precise'

ABC's Mark Scott and Kate Torney say wording in asylum seeker story should have been 'more precise'

ABC News Online
First posted Tue 4 Feb 2014, 6:13pm AEDT
Updated Tue 4 Feb 2014, 6:28pm AEDT

The ABC says the wording of a story which reported claims from asylum seekers that they were mistreated by Australian Navy personnel should have been "more precise".

In a joint statement, the corporation's managing director, Mark Scott, and its director of news, Kate Torney, say they "regret if our reporting led anyone to mistakenly assume that the ABC supported the asylum seekers' claims".

The ABC reported on January 22 that asylum seekers had accused Navy personnel of beating them and inflicting burns by ordering passengers on board a boat being towed back to Indonesia to hold on to parts of the engine.

ABC News obtained video footage of asylum seekers receiving medical assessments of burns that Indonesian police say were inflicted by the Australian Navy.

Indonesian police say they had to get treatment for 10 asylum seekers, seven of whom had severe burns on their hands after they were picked up in Indonesian waters on January 6.

The ABC reported that the video and the version of events given by the police seemed to back up the claims of mistreatment made by asylum seekers.

However, Scott and Torney now say "wording around the ABC's initial reporting needed to be more precise on that point".

"The ABC's initial reports on the video said that the vision appeared to support the asylum seekers' claims. That's because it was the first concrete evidence that the injuries had occurred. What the video did not do was establish how those injuries occurred," they said.

"The ABC has always presented the allegations as just that claims worthy of further investigation."

Scott and Torney say the ABC has pursued the story throughout as it was "in the public interest and remains so".

"Those personnel in a position to provide their own description or explanation of what happened on board the vessel under Navy control have not been in a position to resolve the uncertainty because of the ban on discussing operational detail," they said.

"The ABC has not attempted to play judge and jury on this matter. We have reported the asylum seeker claims, broadcast the video showing burns and consistently sought more detail from witnesses and officials.

"The release of the video, and asking further questions in the light of it, was in the public interest and remains so. Our journalists will continue to investigate and cover this story, and we will continue to urge Australian authorities and the Government to disclose more to the Australian public about the events on board those boats.

"Our intention is clear: to seek the truth on a matter of public importance, not to pre-judge any matters."

During an interview on the ABC's 7.30 program on Monday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott repeated criticism of the corporation's decision to air the allegations that asylum seekers were forced to hold on to hot engine pipes.

"If a very serious allegation was being made that Australian Navy personnel effectively tortured people, well you'd think any responsible news outlet, let alone the voice of Australia the ABC would have sought corroboration before broadcasting them," he said.

In their statement, Scott and Torney said: "Claims of mistreatment by the Australian military are very serious and a responsible media, acting in the public interest, will need to seek an official response and pursue the truth of the claims. This is exactly what the ABC has done throughout.

"Asking questions and seeking evidence is in no way disrespectful of such important institutions. It is because these institutions are trusted and important that any allegations concerning them are investigated."

www.abc.net.au/.../mark-scott-kate-torney-asylum-seeker-wording-more-precise/5238180

Julie Bishop still wants ABC to apologise to Navy

Julie Bishop still wants ABC to apologise to Navy for asylum seeker stories

ABC News Online
First posted Wed 5 Feb 2014, 6:28am AEDT
Updated Wed 5 Feb 2014, 8:35am AEDT

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has rejected the ABC's statement expressing regret over the reporting of abuse allegations by asylum seekers, saying the public broadcaster should still apologise.

ABC managing director Mark Scott and director of news Kate Torney released a statement yesterday conceding that the phrasing of the ABC's stories on the asylum seeker claims "needed to be more precise".

The statement says the ABC makes no apologies for covering the story, but the two senior ABC managers say they regret if the ABC's reporting led anyone to mistakenly assume that the ABC supported the asylum seekers' claims.

But Ms Bishop is not satisfied, maintaining that only an apology would be acceptable.

Shortly before flying out to Papua New Guinea for a two-day visit focussing on investment, aid and asylum seekers, she told the ABC that the Navy deserves an apology.

"Well it is a matter for the Navy to accept a statement of regret. I thought the ABC would do the right thing and having acknowledged that their reporting was substandard at best that they would apologise," she said.

"If the ABC refuses to do that, well I think that is a reflection on the ABC. It has been a very unfortunate incident."

Ms Bishop says the story reflected "very poorly" on the Navy.

"Our personnel are working in exceedingly difficult circumstances and to have the public broadcaster cast such serious doubts on the reputation and activities of our Navy was disturbing," she said.

The ABC reported on January 22 that asylum seekers had accused Navy personnel of beating them and inflicting burns by ordering passengers on board a boat being towed back to Indonesia to hold on to parts of the engine.

ABC News obtained video footage of asylum seekers receiving medical assessments of burns that Indonesian police say were inflicted by the Australian Navy.

Indonesian police say they had to get treatment for 10 asylum seekers, seven of whom had severe burns on their hands after they were picked up in Indonesian waters on January 6.

The ABC reported that the video and the version of events given by the police seemed to back up the claims of mistreatment made by asylum seekers.

However, Scott and Torney now say "wording around the ABC's initial reporting needed to be more precise on that point".

"The ABC's initial reports on the video said that the vision appeared to support the asylum seekers' claims. That's because it was the first concrete evidence that the injuries had occurred. What the video did not do was establish how those injuries occurred," they said.

"The ABC has always presented the allegations as just that claims worthy of further investigation."

Scott and Torney say the ABC has pursued the story throughout as it was "in the public interest and remains so".

"The ABC has not attempted to play judge and jury on this matter. We have reported the asylum seeker claims, broadcast the video showing burns and consistently sought more detail from witnesses and officials.

On Monday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott continued his criticism of the ABC's decision to air the allegations that asylum seekers were forced to hold on to hot engine pipes.

"If a very serious allegation was being made that Australian Navy personnel effectively tortured people, well you'd think any responsible news outlet, let alone the voice of Australia the ABC would have sought corroboration before broadcasting them," he said.

www.abc.net.au/.../bishop-wants-abc-apology-over-asylum-seeker-stories/5238788

Mark Scott defends ABC asylum seeker claims reports

Mark Scott defends ABC reporting of asylum seeker claims, resists calls to apologise

ABC News Online
First posted Thu 6 Feb 2014, 11:20am AEDT
Updated Thu 6 Feb 2014, 2:19pm AEDT

ABC managing director Mark Scott is standing by the broadcaster's reporting of asylum seeker allegations against the Navy and resisting calls to apologise.

The ABC has come under fire from Prime Minister Tony Abbott and several of his senior ministers over its reporting of claims by asylum seekers that they were mistreated by Navy personnel during a tow-back to Indonesian waters.

ABC News aired video footage of asylum seekers receiving medical assessments of burns that Indonesian police say were inflicted by the Australian Navy.

Mr Abbott says he is very disappointed with the ABC's story, which he said contained uncorroborated reports of alleged mistreatment, and has led calls for the broadcaster to apologise to the Navy.

Federal Labor frontbencher Jason Clare today joined those calls, saying that the ABC once apologised for putting "false" allegations to him during an interview.

"I was able to prove it with evidence that the information they provided was wrong and they apologised. It was the right thing to do then and it's the right thing to do now," he told Sky News.

Earlier this week, in a joint statement with ABC director of news Kate Torney, Mr Scott expressed "regret if our reporting led anyone to mistakenly assume that the ABC supported the asylum seekers' claims".

Mr Scott and Ms Torney have also conceded that "wording around the ABC's initial reporting needed to be more precise".

However, speaking to ABC Local Radio in Melbourne this morning, Mr Scott defended the way the story was handled.

"I think there are some suggestions here that those allegations should not have been reported, there's some suggestion here that that video tape should not have been aired," he said.

"We stand by that, we stand by the thrust of the story, and I think it is important that we be judged on that story.

"One of the reasons we've pursued this story is that we do greatly respect and admire the Australian Navy.

"I've pointed out to people the top-rating show on ABC television last year was the review of the Australian Navy.

"It's our role as journalists to ask those questions and that's what our news team has been doing, and I back them in doing it."

When asked this morning if he would "offer up a scalp" over the organisation's handling of the issue, he replied "no" and declared that he is standing firmly in the role and has not considered resigning.

He revealed that he had spoken to previous ABC general managers and delved into the broadcaster's history, and concluded that from time to time there were stories people disagreed with and which caused upset.

However, this was par for the course in all media organisations, he said.

www.abc.net.au/.../mark-scott-defends-abc-over-asylum-seekers-rejects-apology-call/5242058

ABC asylum coverage 'maliciously maligned' Navy: David Johnston

ABC asylum-seeker coverage 'maliciously maligned' Australian Navy, Defence Minister David Johnston says

ABC News Online
By political reporter Louise Yaxley
First posted Fri 7 Feb 2014, 12:25pm AEDT
Updated Fri 7 Feb 2014, 1:17pm AEDT

Defence Minister David Johnston says he is extremely angry about the ABC's coverage of stories about the navy's treatment of asylum seekers, saying he has not commented before now because he needed time to cool off.

Last week ABC managing director Mark Scott said the initial reporting of the mistreatment claims needed more precise wording, and expressed regret if it led anyone to assume the ABC supported the claims.

Today Defence Minister David Johnston said the ABC had maliciously maligned Navy personnel, who he described as heroes.

"The good men and women of the Royal Australian Navy have been maliciously maligned by the ABC and I am very dissatisfied with the weasel words of apology that have been floated around by senior management of the ABC," he said.

The Defence Minister said Customs and the Navy had saved "thousands of lives" between Christmas Island and Java over the last four years.

"My people have been spat on, abused, treated like servants, and have endured all of that to save more than a thousand lives, and yet they've also had to endure the horror of fishing out hundreds of people floating dead in the water," he said.

"I am absolutely sick to the stomach that this Australian iconic news agency would attack the Navy in the way that it has."

He described the Navy as "heroes", and called for an investigation into the ABC.

"If ever there was an event that justified a detailed inquiry, some reform, an investigation of the ABC, this event is it," he said.

"They themselves have cast a giant shadow over the veracity of their reporting and yet they've besmirched these hard-working people."

Senator Johnston says he has spoken to senior command and they have assured him that there is no substance to the allegations that asylum seekers have been mistreated.

A spokesman for ABC managing director Mark Scott has told The World Today that he will not be making any comment about Senator Johnston's comments.

Hearsay, innuendo and rumour'

Senator Johnston emphasised the difficult conditions the Navy experiences at sea.

"I have got people on nine-day turnarounds to Christmas Island, I've got post-traumatic stress to deal with... and I've got unsubstantiated allegations," he said.

"Let's get a bit real here and give somebody a bit of natural justice please.

"Let's see the allegations first, let's have more than just rumour, innuendo, and hearsay please.

"When you give me something to act upon that is more than just hearsay, innuendo and rumour we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Senator Johnston was asked about allegations in Fairfax papers today, including that the Navy turned off the lights on boats.

In response he asked "why would you view the glass half empty at every point?"

"I'm not aware of operational matters, you need to put that to Border Protection Command," he said.

"I have the greatest confidence in these people.

"I've travelled for a week on board an Armidale-class patrol boat, I've seen the level of professionalism.

"I'm backing them at every turn of every corner."

And the Defence Minister defended his lack of knowledge about the operations.

"On-water matters in this area, as I've tried to explain to you, are a civil public policy outcome," he said.

PM rejects call to release video

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has rejected calls for the Navy to release photos or videos to show exactly what has happened during operations to intercept asylum seekers.

He says he does not want to do anything that would cast aspersions on the professionalism of naval or Customs personnel.

"I have nothing but respect for them. They are doing a fine job, often under difficult circumstances. They act in accordance with the humanity which you would expect of Australian military and service personnel and I have seen nothing that credibly casts doubts upon that professionalism."

Asked if releasing footage could dispel ambiguity, Mr Abbott said it might also help people smugglers.

The Prime Minister also played down suggestions that the asylum seeker issue is inflaming tensions with Indonesia.

"I have nothing but respect and admiration for president (Susilo Bambang) Yudhoyono, who has not only been a great president of Indonesia, but he has been a very good friend to Australia," he said.

"The important thing here for both our countries is to stop the boats and I'm very pleased to note that today is the 50th day without an illegal boat arriving in Australia.

"I think you've got to go back to 2008 before you had a period like that.

"So, these policies are working.

"Yes, they are tough policies, but they are working."

Mr Abbott again criticised the ABC's coverage of the story, saying that allegations of such seriousness made by someone with such self-interest should have been corroborated before they were broadcast.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-07/defence-minister-hits-out-at-abc-for-maligning-navy/5245364

Johnston calls for ABC inquiry over Navy reports

David Johnston calls for inquiry into ABC over its reports of claims navy personnel abused asylum seekers

The Age
February 7, 2014 - 2:36PM
Leesha McKenny, David Wroe

Defence Minister David Johnston has launched a tirade against claims the navy abused asylum seekers, insisting Defence brass had assured him that the allegations were baseless and branding the claims ''hearsay, innuendo and rumour''.

But Senator Johnston refused to detail any measures taken to investigate the claims, deferring on that point to the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who has ultimate charge of border protection.

Instead he called for an investigation into ''the ABC commentary'' referring to the national broadcaster's reporting of the claims and slammed as ''weasel words'' ABC management's expression of regret over some aspects of its reporting.

Senator Johnston's angry remarks followed a report in Fairfax Media in which Sudanese asylum-seeker Yousif Ibrahim Fasher stood by and added considerable detail to his claims that three asylum-seekers had had their hands deliberately burned by navy sailors.

The Minister did not attack the Fairfax report, reserving his fire instead for the ABC.

However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott stopped short of backing Senator Johnston's call for an inquiry into the ABC, indicating he was satisfied by the criticism aired by the broadcaster's own Media Watch program on Monday.

Mr Abbott said on Friday that there was still no evidence that credibly cast doubt on the actions of navy personnel who turned a boat back to Indonesia about January 6 - when the abuse is alleged to have taken place.

Asked whether the government should release any video it had of the interception and turnback of the boat, Mr Abbott said that might help people smugglers and therefore hamper the job of stopping the boats.

''I don't want to do anything that might complicate that task of stopping the boats and frankly I don't want to do anything that would cast aspersions on the professionalism of our naval and customs personnel. I have nothing but respect for them ... and I have seen nothing that credibly casts any doubts on that professionalism.''

Senator Johnston also said he was happy with assurances given to him by Defence brass.

''I have discussed this matter with senior command,'' he said. ''They have assured me that there is no substance to these allegations.''

But he refused to detail measures taken to investigate the claims, instead calling for scrutiny of the ABC.

''If ever there was an event that justified a detailed inquiry, some reform and investigation of the ABC, this is it,'' he said.

He said the navy had been "maliciously maligned" by the ABC's coverage of the matter, dismissing the public broadcaster's apology as "weasel words" by its senior management.

''I have not said much because, I have to confess, I was extremely angry. I required some time to cool off,'' he said.

When asked why his department had not answered a detailed list of questions by Fairfax Media based on a detailed eyewitness account, Senator Johnston said it was a matter for Mr Morrison because it was a ''civil public policy issue''.

''When you give me something to act upon that is more than just hearsay, innuendo and rumour, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it,'' he said.

Asked to respond to specific claims the navy boats turned off lights at night, allegedly to avoid detection in Indonesian waters, Senator Johnston said ''I'm not aware of operational matters.

''You need to put that to border protection command.''

Nor could Senator Johnston explain the circumstances surrounding the asylum seekers' injuries.

''They're on water matters that are not my responsibility because it is civil public policy matter,'' he said.

He said the navy and Customs personnel carrying out border protection were heroes who had saved thousands of lives in recent years amid the spike in boat arrivals under Labor.

www.theage.com.au/../johnston-calls-for-inquiry-claims-asylum-seekers-20140207-325ze.html

David Johnston overboard with ABC criticism

The Age
February 7, 2014 - 4:57PM
Tony Wright

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''.

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.

www.theage.com.au/../david-johnston-goes-overboard-with-abc-criticism-20140207-326n9.html


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