Asylum seekers
on SIEV 4 “irresponsibly sank the damn boat, which
put their children in the water,” John Howard claimed in The Australian yesterday. Well, everybody seems to agree today, the Prime Minister has a memory
like a SIEV. As watertight as a refugee boat.

And leading the charge is The Oz. “Defence sources
have queried John Howard’s claim that the asylum-seeker vessel SIEV 4 sank as a
result of deliberate sabotage by those on board,” National Security Editor
Patrick Walters reports.
“‘It’s a subjective judgment. SIEV 4’s longevity as a seaworthy platform was
suspect,’ one source observed yesterday.”

The real scorn, however, is on the leader page.
“John Howard has succumbed to hubris in the way he expects history to reflect
what he wishes had happened, instead of the truth,” it opens – no doubt much to
the chagrin of indymedia conspiracy theory types:

In an interview with George Megalogenis, published in The Australian
yesterday, the Prime Minister said he owed no apology to the refugees he
falsely accused of throwing their children into the sea during the 2001
election campaign because “they irresponsibly sank the damn boat, which
put their children into the water”. As self-serving spin this is hard to
beat: an attempt to assert that while his Government may have got the initial
detail wrong, the overall message was right – that refugees were so cynical as
to sink their own boat in an attempt to force the navy to rescue them and bring
them to Australia. Except that
Mr Howard is still not telling the whole story…

Mr Howard says he only repeated what he was told. Fair enough, there is
no evidence against this and it appears the Prime Minister was gulled, as were
many other Australians, by mendacious ministerial offices. But this neither
excuses nor explains why he is rewriting the record some five years later with
a version that still appears to conflate different events on separate days and
present desperate people as monsters ready to put their children at risk of
drowning.

Two
important things. Let’s remember who had the ultimate power over those
“mendacious ministerial offices”. John Winston
Howard.

Then
there’s this angle Walters raises, too: “The subsequent
senate investigation into the children overboard affair failed to establish
conclusively what caused the sinking of SIEV 4, although the inquiry heard that
extensive sabotage had been carried out.” We still have not been told the
details of the people smuggling disruption program that
Immigration and Australian national security agencies led by the AFP were
conducting clandestinely in Indonesia.

You can
read the relevant part of the Senate Select Committee Inquiry on A Certain
Maritime Incident – Chapter 3, The “Children Overboard” Incident: Events and
Initial Report on the Parliament House website here.

But you
don’t need to go to all that effort to reach two conclusions. The Prime
Minister isn’t telling the truth – and we haven’t been given it.

Peter Fray

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