January 19, 2014
Australian naval personnel have been accused of behaving improperly towards asylum seekers, with Defence confirming it is investigating one of its members over allegedly inappropriate comments made on social media.
A spokeswoman said the navy was aware that a member had posted inappropriate material, and had begun an internal investigation.
”It would be inappropriate to make further comment about this matter until the assessment and any subsequent investigation is completed,” the spokeswoman said.
The man under investigation had commented on a friend’s Facebook post about asylum seekers. The friend, who claims to be a member of the anti-Islam Australian Defence League, posted on Facebook about asylum seekers whose boat had sunk. The navy member in question wrote: ”I’m about to head out today to deal with these f—ers”.
The navy member has since changed his employment status on social media.
Defence issued new guidelines for the use of social media in January last year, including private use where personnel can be identified as an employee or member of the Australian Defence Force.
Meanwhile, two Pakistani men on the Australian lifeboat sent back to Indonesia this week have alleged mistreatment by navy personnel.
Mir Abbas and Haneef Hussain, both from the war-torn Pakistani area of Gilgit-Baltistan, said they had thought they would die in rough seas on the small orange boat, and that everyone was distressed and vomiting within the enclosed cabin.
Mr Hussain said he had broken one of four windows on the boat and climbed onto the canopy because he felt he would die inside.
Mr Hussain alleged that the navy officers who had originally taken them from the ocean, then kept them on board HMAS Stuart for two days, had treated them badly.
Asked by one man for help for his wife, an officer had allegedly said: ”F— your wife and f— your mother”. Mr Abbas said they had asked the asylum seekers: ”Why you come this way?” ”He behave harsh,” Mr Abbas said.
The men, both members of a Shiite minority, said they had known about Australia’s tough policies, but that even going to Nauru or Papua New Guinea was preferable to being bombed or shot in their village by Sunni extremists.
Both men were on a boat that sank last year. They were rescued by the Australian navy and returned to Indonesia. They lost the $US4500 ($5100) they spent on that trip. The attempt last week, which ended in them being returned by lifeboat, had cost them $US3500. The Chief of Australia’s Defence Force, David Hurley, last week rejected any claims of mistreatment, saying his men and women ”consistently demonstrate great compassion and courage, often at great risk to their own safety”.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Saturday that she has personally apologised to her Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, over revelations Australian ships repeatedly breached Indonesian territorial waters in asylum seeker operations.
”I have contacted him in writing,” Ms Bishop said. ”I’ve sent a written apology on behalf of the Australian government and also personally.”
Australian navy and customs ships are suspected of having crossed Indonesia’s 12-nautical-mile limit at least five times in the past month.
In response, Indonesia on Friday said it would step up its own maritime patrols in a move that could heighten the risk of confrontation.
”The government of Indonesia has the right to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with international laws and the charter of the United Nations,” said Agus Barnas, spokesman for the Co-ordinating Ministry of Political, Legal and Security Affairs.
The English-language newspaper Jakarta Globe ran a front-page headline thundering ”A Deplorable Act”, and observed: ”In self-defence: Indonesia sends more naval vessels to its southern borders after Australian ships breach Indonesian waters”.
Asked whether she was tiring of apologising to Dr Natalegawa, Ms Bishop said: ”We are in regular communication. We are working together for the shared purpose of ensuring the people smuggling [model] is dismantled but also that the Australia-Indonesia relationship can strengthen. That’s our shared purpose.”
Meanwhile, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has revealed in a new book he felt betrayed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott over November’s spying affair, describing Mr Abbott as his best friend.
In the book, titled Selalu Ada Pilihan (There is Always a Choice), President Yudhoyono writes of a deep sense of regret over the spying controversy, which emerged in November, when relations between Indonesia and Australia were on a high. ”When my best friend Tony Abbott made several statements before the Australian Parliament suggesting the case was normal and refused to apologise, I could no longer stay silent,” Dr Yudhoyono wrote in the book.