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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

How many refugees are still drowning?

I think that everyone knows that the Coalition's ugly terminology and uglier techniques for stopping refugee boat arrivals has been prima facie successful in that we have had no new refugees arriving in Australian territory by boat since July 2014. The cost of this success - if you think it is a success, and personally I don't - is that refugees still living in offshore detention camps in Nauru and Manus Island (a part of Papua New Guinea) are being treated abominably, and with no respite in view.

The solution for those in the community who want the government to stop mistreating refugees however is to show how many of their coevals are still drowning at sea in boats because they should be being greeted by Australian coastal forces and brought ashore safely. We need to know. How many refugee boats are there leaving Indonesia still? How many refugees are being drowned because the boats they have left Indonesia on are turned back to Indonesia? What about boats that founder and sink soon after leaving Indonesia? These things are important for the community to know because knowledge of them is the only way that Australia can judge the success of Operation Sovereign Borders. Judging the success of the operation is critical to being able to choose the next government later this year. Therefore it is time for the Coalition to start telling the truth about refugee boats, and to start releasing figures to the media in Australia.

Hiding behind some form of lame excuse grounded in the rhetoric of war is not enough. War is an ugly business and I want none of it. The Australian people have a right to know everything about on-water matters. This is because of what in our country is called the implied freedom doctrine. The doctrine says something like this: the Constitution says that there must be responsible government therefore freedom of political speech must exist. If we don't have freedom of political speech we cannot have responsible government. This is a High Court ruling from 1992 and by extension it must be true that in order to be able to choose a government prior to the election the community must have access to the full facts surrounding each political party. Therefore the government must release information about turnbacks, continued deaths at sea, and numbers of boats intercepted at sea.

Anything less is simply not acceptable. You cannot hide behind the screen of "operational matters" forever. At some point there must be an accounting. Otherwise it becomes impossible for the electoral system to work and democracy becomes a mere label applied to any form of government you wish to conduct because you don't want to be accountable.

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