So who’s right then? A Greens MP, desperate for publicity as she faces an election in three days time, crew members on an oil and gas boat, or the Australian government?
Yesterday afternoon, the NSW Greens Senator, Kerry Nettle got a lucky break when she jumped on a story about sixteen Indonesians whose boat was sinking, 650 kilometres off the coast of Darwin. Workers on a nearby vessel, the Jabiru Venture, say that they wanted to rescue the desperate men, women and children, but that their bosses in Perth told them not to because of the migration laws.
Senator Nettle moved quickly onto on the front foot to claim that it was Australia’s immigration laws which prevented the Jabiru Venture crew members from doing the right thing, and rescuing the asylum seekers. Well, she said, that’s what crew members were saying.
But did Senator Nettle bother to check the crew members’ claims against the Migration Act? It’s unlikely. Because if she had she would know that there is nothing in that weighty piece of legislation which could be construed as supporting the claims of the crew members.
A point confirmed last night from Alan Bond’s former lawyer, Julian Burnside, who, according to this morning’s Australian newspaper, said “there as no part of the Immigration Act that would have prevented the Jabiru from taking the group aboard if they needed rescuing.”
Mr Burnside is correct, and one might add that there are also over riding international law obligations which the crew members of the Jabiru could have acted under to perform a rescue operation.
The Howard government and the Rudd opposition are both guilty of emasculating the Migration Act in recent years to ensure that refugees and asylum seekers are stripped of their fundamental rights. But even they have not been cynical and opportunist enough to throw in to the Act a provision that would penalise people from rescuing asylum seekers in leaky boats.
Senator Nettle was simply milking an issue yesterday because she wants to get re-elected on Saturday. Her claims were wrong. Next time Kerry, check your law before you make headline grabbing claims. Senator Nettle was the one being cynical and manipulative yesterday, not the Howard government.