Editorial: Shipping news bad news for Abbott

Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott

Our Aussie friends know when they're being disrespected.

The Abbott Government attained power, in part, by hauling the problem of asylum seekers into the intense election spotlight. But now, electoral mission accomplished, it's trying to drag the problem into the darkness.

The previous government issued media alerts each time a boat of asylum seekers arrived. Each announcement was fodder for the Opposition and a worsening headache for the administration, but it was rightly deemed to be public information.

No longer will this be automatically disclosed. There will be no more announcements of asylum seeker boat arrivals and activity unless it strikes the Government, for some reason, as a good idea.

So move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

What during the campaign was a border protection issue so important that it spoke to an administration's very fitness to govern, is now being trivialised as a disinclination to release something so tedious or inconsequential that it's being called "the shipping news".

That's a particularly offensive wisecrack, given that, according to Monash Australian Border Deaths Database, 877 asylum seekers died between 2008 and 2013. Tens of thousands of people have attempted the trip, typically ending up on detention at Christmas Island, a mere 400km from Indonesia.

To shut down legitimate public information is a decision audacious only in its ineptitude.

The news will still come out, not just in bucketloads but in boatloads.

And each and every time it does it will effectively be prefaced with the introduction: The story the Government didn't want you to know.

Far from starving this issue of oxygen, the Abbott Government has added fuel. If anything, the inevitable detonation of ridicule is only part of the self-inflicted damage. There are worse things than being gormless.

The Opposition has been gifted an opportunity to portray this as a Government contemptuous not only of the public's right to know, but the public themselves.

As it happens, more than a few people from the uglier side of the Aussie psyche would be only too happy not to be troubled by harping reminders of any unpleasantness deemed necessary to protect their borders from the human tide of immigrants ready to bring the country to rack and ruin.

Others will agree with the Opposition rhetoric that this is a downright sinister indication of a new culture of secrecy.

A substantial middle group, however, will simply feel disrespected. The Coalition promised, pretty flatly, to stop the boats. Hiding unwelcome information is not an acceptable step one, let alone a substantive alternative.

The plan, as stated under the rather grandiose title Operation Sovereign Borders, includes not only turning boats back to Indonesia but buying old boats from Indonesian fishermen and paying Indonesians to spy on people- smuggling operations.

Funnily enough, Indonesian authorities are feeling that their own sovereignty is being slighted here. And Mr Abbott's soothings that they should see this as a willingness to "share the burden" have failed to persuade them.

People smuggling is a cruel and mendacious business. It should be confronted.

But not concealed.

The Southland Times