Piddling into the wind

by on 1 September, 2013

New MH2

Let’s buy all the boats in Indonesia

What a jolly good idea, they proudly thought. “Australian taxpayers would purchase leaking fishing boats from poor fishermen where intelligence identified they planned to sell them to people smugglers,” was announced with all the excitement of a first newborn.

Another stupid thought-bubble from Kevin Rudd, I thought with a smile. A final nail in the Labor coffin it would be. No, it was not Rudd’s gaff! This madness came from; Scott Morrison the Coalition’s Shadow Immigration Minister whom I thought had more sense. Where were you during John Howard’s gun buyback Scott?

This stratagem to buy old boats from Indonesian peasants will fail. In fact, it will be a political nightmare, as anyone who has been to Indonesia would know and two words cover it aptly—poverty and corruption. 

Jakarta is furious over Abbott’s buyback plan and has responded already with its customary, “get stuffed Australia” response. Mahfudz Siddiq, the head of Indonesia’s parliamentary commission for foreign affairs said, “The Coalition wants to make Indonesia look inferior because they just want to provide money and ask Indonesians to get the job done for the sake of their interests.”

Image18But Siddiq went further to press a strong diplomatic warning, “It’s an unfriendly idea coming from a candidate who wants to be Australian leader…This is really a crazy idea, unfriendly, derogatory and it shows lack of understanding in this matter.” Indonesia views us as jerks, with increasing good reason.

Poverty and corruption: Australia gives Indonesia aid, upwards of $2 billon with the many “add-ons.” Australia’s 12 largest bilateral aid recipients in Asia and the Pacific are: Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Afghanistan, Solomon Islands, Vietnam, Philippines, Bangladesh, East Timor, Pakistan, Cambodia, Burma and Vanuatu.

Ironically, all (in bold) but Bangladesh featured on are within the top 85 of 180 “Most corrupt countries in the world.” That, of course, raises questions about how our tax money is being spent, rhetorical as that question may be. It's no accident that Bob Carr runs that department.

The Coalition pledged $420 million to stop people smuggling. That includes paying Indonesian villagers for information about smugglers and those who buy anything that might remain afloat for more than an hour at the dockside.  Ineptitude in this matter is astounding.

Scott Morrison: “We want to have a program that reaches out up to 100 villages across Indonesia.” According to Australian Government AusAID more than 120 million Indonesians live on less than $2 per day. They are poorer than church mice, smarter and more desperate.

To poor Indonesians the smell of Australian government money will prove more alluring than the stench of a rotting pig is to a starving blowfly. Such a wild concept will also be a lottery for criminals that will surely out-fox our functionaries – as they always do. Having witnessed firsthand the gun buyback as officials handed out fantasy sums for rubbish without question, I can only imagine the same rules being applied to boats—in a foreign country.

Government buybacks of whatever do not achieve the noble goals promised by their inventors. The John Howard gun buyback, for example, did collect certain firearms from civilian hands but failed to lower private ownership numbers overall. Half a billion dollars were blown via outrageous prices for junk, much of which was well beyond use.

But, to bribe local peasants living on $2 per day with financial reward from a foreign country to rat on their fellow villagers will likely lead to the most violent of reprisals. Don’t forget the corrupt coppers’ grab. Jakarta will be right to view this plan as a very dangerous foreign intervention to their sovereignty—serious stuff.

The immediate and to the point backlash from Indonesia must have the Coalition calling halt to this idiotic notion. And, to its Coalition creator should go dismissal for announcing the madness within days of an important election when bad moves could have cause loss of faith.

Labor gave a figure of some 750,000 boats that would have to be bought. Given that boats for coastal Indonesians are more common the cars that number is a gross underestimate. Also underestimated is Indonesian peasant ingenuity in league with an accommodating Australian bureaucrat.

The promise of instant riches will see every piece of flotsam resembling a boat being paraded for cash. Hulks rotting in the sand and in the jungles will be dragged to the water’s edge regardless of holes and worms. Those that won’t float will be buoyed from beneath by airtight, 20 litre plastic drums to create freeboard.

Others that sunk decades ago will be beached high on the sand and sold there. No boat will be tested in any way, nor will any engine, not that any will work. The cries of a family business of 200 years ended by the sale of what looks like a piece of driftwood will assure top dollar—no argument.

If Australia truly wanted to get serious about securing its borders, and send a message to both smugglers and Indonesia, it needs to get tough which is its absolute right.

Withdraw from the UNHCR either temporarily or permanently.

Place a moratorium on unauthorised entries until the backlog is settled.

Deduct full costs of every boat person processed from our foreign aid to Indonesia.

It’s time to address Australia’s needs, not those who take us for a ride and abuse us in the process.

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