Truth overboard—again: Why should we believe the navy?

Scott Morrison has a problem with the truth.

When news surfaced that Australian navy warships had entered Indonesian waters, Scott Morrison and his three-star Lieutenant General Angus Campbell admitted that navy boats had entered Indonesia waters “on several occasions”, but insisted the incursions were “inadvertent”.

The general failed the common sense test. Even iPhones have GPS these days.

Now, The Guardian Australia has reported an Indonesian navy spokesman confirming the 6 January incursion was “a knowing and intentional breach”. Australian navy boats went 11 kilometres inside Indonesian territorial waters to push the asylum boat back to Indonesia.

The Indonesian intelligence corresponds to the asylum seekers’ reports—one boat was around seven kilometres off Rote Island and the other 14 kilometres.

Similarly, when asylum seekers reported that were mistreated by the navy, Tony Abbott unconditionally defended the navy saying, “Who do you believe? I trust Australia’s naval personnel.”

He insisted that there was no evidence. But facts are stubborn things and five asylum seekers had burned hands. And then Yousif Fasher was interviewed by the media: “I saw it with my own eyes because I was translating,” he said. One man stumbled onto the hot exhaust pipe after being blinded by capsicum spray and then three others’ hands were forced onto the hot pipe.

The government is careful with its words. They have not denied it happened. Navy Vice Admiral Griggs resorted to weasel words, “Based on everything I know there is no basis to these allegations—none.” While Scott Morrison blustered, “The government does not give credibility to malicious and unsubstantiated slurs…”

But disgraceful behaviour within the navy is nothing new. In November it was reported that staff on HMAS Ballarat were carrying out “hazing rituals” amounting to sexual assault. Male naval personnel were set upon, stripped naked and attacked.

The ship was taking part in Morrison’s border protection operations at the time. There have been numerous other instances of gross sexism and indecent assault of female staff in the past.

Last month the Fairfax press exposed at least 20 navy personnel as members of the Facebook page of the far right Australian Defence League, spouting foul racist attitudes towards asylum seekers.

Why should we trust them?

By Ian Rintoul

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