Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Abbott pays a heavy price to stop the boats

  • 28 January 2014

Tony Abbott has kept his pre-election promise to stop the boats, but at what huge cost! Let me count the ways.

1. Violation of international law and human rights law obligations

International maritime law — It is illegal to stop boats in international waters and then forcibly to transport these boats or their passengers through international waters without their informed consent. It is not unreasonable to define such actions, which violate the right of innocent maritime passage, as piracy or even as people trafficking. Yet Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) is doing this.

Refugee Conventions — It is illegal under the Refugee Conventions which Australia has signed, forcibly to return to Indonesia passengers in boats that have entered Australian territorial waters, and there requested consideration of their claims to be admitted as refugees under the Conventions. Every forced towback or escort out of Australian waters gravely transgresses our obligations under the Conventions. Yet OSB is doing this.

2. Offending Indonesia

It is diplomatically offensive to our important near neighbour Indonesia either to abandon boatloads of returned asylum seekers at the outer edge of Indonesian territorial waters, or to violate Indonesian sovereignty by trespassing in their territorial waters without prior permission. OSB is doing both these things.

In the latter case, OSB has confounded the offence by an insincere 'apology' that claimed falsely that our Navy ships made 'positional errors' in Indonesia's complex archipelagic waters: a lie so readily refuted by commonsense logic and seamanship as to be grossly insulting to Indonesia.

There was a thorough discussion of the impact of such acts on Australian-Indonesian relations by an Indonesian academic on the ABC 7.30 Report on 22 January. I will return to this point later in this article.

3. Human rights violations

OSB has violated Australia's human rights obligations to asylum seekers in various reported ways: by lying to them and tricking them as to where they were being taken; by various reported acts of abuse and cruelty during interceptions and forced returns; and by leaving them in life-at-risk situations without due care when abandoning them either within or at the outer edge of Indonesian territorial waters.

Again, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has insulted Indonesia, by claiming that multiple Indonesian police reports of such acts of Australian cruelty are not to be given credence.

The reported decision by Senator Eric Abetz, the Government's leader in the Senate, to grant OSB personnel immunity from prosecution for any acts done in the course of their border protection duties as