Once again, we witness the plight of asylum seekers immediately being latched upon by the Liberal party as an opportunity to score some political points.
The truth, they say, is the first casualty of war, and I think the same can be said when it comes to asylum seekers seeking respite in Australia.
From various sources, here is what we know so far.
News.com.au reports that more than 30 asylum-seekers are being treated for serious injuries in Australian hospitals after their boat exploded off the northwest coast.
Three people were killed and dozens were injured, including three Australian Defence Force personnel, when the asylum-seekers’ boat exploded as it was being escorted to the Christmas Island detention centre yesterday morning.
The cause of the blast remains unclear.
Emergency flights took 31 of the worst hurt to the remote Truscott air base – a landing strip roughly halfway between Broome and Darwin – for treatment.
From there, eight people with the most severe injuries were taken to Darwin hospital for emergency treatment. One was taken to Broome for emergency surgery. The other 22 were taken to Perth for treatment for burns and other injuries.
The worst of the injured suffered severe burns similar to those sustained in the first Bali bombing, a Darwin doctor has been reported as saying.
Investigations are under way into the “manner and cause” of yesterday’s explosion. Headed by Assistant Commissioner Mark McAdie from the Northern Territory’s regional crime service, the task force could lay charges if it finds the explosion or fire was deliberate.
Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett said yesterday that the explosion was caused by petrol, driving speculation that it was an act of sabotage.
“What I think is clear is, the refugees spread petrol on their boat, the vessel they were on,” Mr Barnett said.
Mr Barnett said the information had been relayed from the Northern Command (NORCOM), which included naval and other Defence Force personnel.
How can Mr Barnett make such a categorical claim that it was sabotage when the cause of the explosion is still unclear?? Is it appropriate for politicians to be commenting and drawing their own ill-founded conclusions in relation to this humanitarian issue when so much remains unclear?
Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the cause would not be confirmed for some time and there should be no speculation.
“Politicians shouldn’t be making claims about the things they don’t know. I think it would be wise if everyone stopped pretending they knew,” he said on ABC radio this morning.
Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus said it the blast might have been caused deliberately. “Of course it’s possible. It’s either an accident or it was deliberate. Everybody can see that. The real question is to determine which was the actual situation,” he said on Sky TV this morning.
Senator Evans said all would be processed as normal on Christmas Island once they had been treated and had recovered from their injuries.
The confusion that surrounded the children overboard controversy during the 2001 election was clearly on the minds of Defence and government officials, who yesterday were reluctant to release information that had not been confirmed.
“I’m not prepared to speculate on the cause of the explosion,” head of Border Protection Command Rear Admiral Allan du Toit said in Canberra more than six hours after the blast.
The vessel, believed to have originated in Indonesia, was intercepted on Wednesday afternoon two nautical miles off Ashmore Reef.
The boat was the sixth to arrive this year and its passengers are among 455 suspected asylum-seekers since September.
The Opposition said the Government’s immigration policies had caused a hike in arrivals. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said this in turn was putting more lives at risk, as more people resorted to dangerous journeys to get to Australia.
“The more boats that come, the more accidents that will arise, the more lives that will be put at risk,” he said on ABC radio.
Mr Turnbull disagreed with the Government’s claim that asylum-seekers often have no knowledge of a countries’ immigration policies, saying people-smuggling is an “evil business”.
“Our laws, depending on how strictly they are enforced.. .offer greater or lesser incentive for people smuggling to go on,” he said.
This morning on Channel Seven’s Sunrise Show, Joe Hockey put the blame fair and square in the hands of the Federal Labor Party for “relaxing” the previous Governments stricter border patrol policies and initiatives.
While few people would argue that people smuggling is an abhorrent business, it is presumptuous for the Liberal party to presume that these asylum seekers are part of a people smuggling exercise and for Joe Hockey to immediately seize upon this development as a political football.
As Chris Evans says, it is inappropriate for politicians to be commenting on this matter until investigations have been completed.
Let’s not forget that these people may well be fleeing hardship and persecution and Australia has international obligations, not to mention moral and ethical obligations to treat these people with compassion.
Oh dear, it looks the the rabid Liberals have worked themselves into a frenzy over this:
This from The Australian:Within minutes of news of yesterday’s tragic explosion aboard an alleged people-smuggling vessel off Ashmore Reef, Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone began the recriminations, squarely placing the blame for the deaths on Labor.
“You can’t slash funds, you can’t take your eye off the ball, you can’t announce a softer policy and then expect people not to lose their lives through people-smuggling,” she told Sky News. “Which, of course, is all about cash, nothing to do with getting an individual, a young person, a family safely to Australia.”
Dr Stone’s strongly worded attack drew a sharp rebuke from the Government and caused her leader, Malcolm Turnbull, to tone down the Opposition rhetoric by insisting that the Opposition did not want to make political points over the tragedy.
I think it’s too late Malcolm, your Ministers have already blabbered all over the media “incandescent with rage!”