Democracy — who writes the script?

“It is not enough that some succeed, others must fail” — Gore Vidal

While hunting down the facts behind loss of lives of refugees near the Cocos (Keeling) islands I was confronted by the question “Who is writing the script in the lead up to the 2010 federal election.

I had found that the Home Affairs Minister’s media spokesperson told The AUSTRALIAN more than she told me. This is what she told The AUSTRALIAN on 10 May:

“Australian authorities became aware of the vessel after a caller, claiming to be in London, rang the Customs and Border Protection Command hotline on April 30. A customs officer spoke to the boat’s passengers via a satellite phone and was told the vessel had run out of fuel”.

What Home Affairs Minister’s media spokesperson told me was that she had been talking with AMSA [Australian Maritime Safety Authority] and that I would have to ring them.

I asked her if she had any source documents. She was silent to that question.

I asked if she had a name on source documents. She said “no, I don’t have an officer’s name”. She said “I wouldn’t be able to provide you with the name of a person in AMSA who provided that information, anyway”. I aksed “Why not?”. She said: “We’re getting the information from AMSA and they have a system for co-ordinating search and rescue and they have done that”.

AMSA’s ‘system’ is silence.
I rang AMSA first and then wrote to them but received no answer to my questions.

The Home Affairs spokesperson also stated that she had been speaking to Customs and Border Protection and gave me a Sydney number.

The same spokesperson made no mention of having spoken to Defence. It was the Australian journo, Paul Maley, that was given the ‘exclusive’ as claimed by the Australian on 11 May. Maley got onto Defence. The Home Affairs spokesperson did not tell me that it was a Defence plane had spotted the body of ‘a motionless person’ on a ‘tyre tube’ more than a week ago.

Instead Belinda Cole told me that the ‘spotting’ of objects (lifejackets and tyres) was ‘not a confirmed report’.

She told me the reason she associated 5 missing passengers with the ‘lifejackets’ and ‘tyre tubes’ was ‘the information that we had was that the ‘life jackets were associated with the people who went missing’. She had simply restated my original question in a different form. So much for transparency in government.

She also told me the Home Affairs Minister was trying to give as much information as possible.

A Home Affairs spokesperson gave more to Paul Maley of ‘The Australian’ than me — this despite my putting my questions in writing. But then Paul Maley has been writing these stories on Tamil refugees for a long time and he has News corp behind him. His paper claims the exclusive on this story. Maley’s article states:

The ship’s third officer, Smarven Demegillo, said the five men had fashioned a life raft from tyre inner tubes and taken to the water to try to find a passing ship to rescue their fellow passengers.

If you believe the precise information given by the Australian —

‘On Wednesday, Customs and Border Protection Command alerted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority that the boat, which Customs had been tracking, was missing’

— the five men have already seen Australian Defence force planes fly over. They had already been visited ‘by a Panamanian-flagged vessel’ which ‘provided food, fuel and water’.

So why would the five then leave a seaworthy vessel?

What was said to them over the satellite phone with the Australian authorities and why?

Has this story been written to a script? If so, Whose? What has been edited out?

Or does the Government budget matter more than five desperate lives lost at sea?

I have read the sixteen comments on ‘Perth Now’ that published the Australian article by Paul Maley— these commentators have no sympathy for the refugees, one, if believed, actually hoped they had been taken by sharks. The storm has been whipped up. Opponents of refugees have been let loose in cyberspace.

These people need to be challenged.

Rudd should open Australia to refugees as our international convenants say we will.

Sure the Labor government would take a lot of flack from racists.

But the alternative is worse — to live in a land with a system that rejects those whose lives have become so intolerable that they risk death at sea rather than stay in Sri Lanka.

But in a democracy who writes the script and for whom is it written? For refugees? For battlers who have just coped another interest rate hike on their mortgage?

As governments bail out big banks in another crisis;  refugees, be they fleeing for economic reasons or seeking escape from civil strife, drown at sea.

Ian Curr

May 2010

One thought on “Democracy — who writes the script?

  1. Velankanni Matha says:

    The refugees that died were on the MV Velankanni Matha an 18 metre fishing vessel.

    The MV Velankanni Matha was reported as being seaworthy by the captain of the MV Postojna, the ship that rescued the people, .

    The name of the boat, Velankanni Matha, means ‘Our lady of Good Health’.

    The small town of Velankanni in Tamil Nadu, India is located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. Churches in Tamil Nadu bear the same name as the boat.

    Our Lady of Good Health is also unique since it is one of only two icons where Mother Mary is shown wearing a sari.

    Ian Curr
    May 2010

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