Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 14:29 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 14:29 | SYDNEY

Navy held hostage to politics


James Brown


24 January 2012 13:40

Remember Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel 36? It seems the federal Opposition doesn't. That's the boat which was boarded in 2009 by Royal Australian Navy crew operating under Operation Resolute, the Navy's contribution to Australia's border protection. During the boarding a suspected illegal immigrant sabotaged the engine and lit a quantity of fuel which exploded the boat and led to the deaths of five people and injury to many more.

The coronial investigation (see p.19) identified that, upon boarding the boat, Navy personnel were required to read to passengers a warning and detention notice which began:

The government of Australia is determined to stop illegal migration to its should now consider returning to Indonesia with your passengers and not enter Australian territory.

And that it seems, is where the rubber meets the road in Australia's border protection policy debate – young naval officers and sailors reading farcical political statements in potentially life threatening encounters at sea.

Now the Opposition Leader wants the Navy to turn around more suspected illegal entry vessels and send them back to Indonesia. In the case of SIEV 36 the Northern Territory coroner concluded that this fear of being sent back was the catalyst for the unrest that followed. Such political statements sound tough, but they are toughest for the Royal Australian Navy, which must enforce them at sea.

Last week the Opposition was asked for its policy on the future submarine, Australia's most costly defence capital project. It demurred. Such is defence policy in Australia, where the Defence Force can be waved around like a political piñata while there seems little political interest in the details of long-term defence policy.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.