Friday, December 05, 2014

This horror at sea is what the Abbott government put a stop to

But Labor "meant well" so that's all OK, you see?

Men and women who served on Operation Resolute - the Navy's contribution to Operation Sovereign Borders - have spoken publicly for the first time about what they have witnessed while boarding and intercepting asylum seeker vessels off Australia's northern coast.

In a series of interviews with the ABC, they described the horrendous task of retrieving the bodies of dead asylum seekers and of coping with sick and distressed children in squalid conditions.

They also alleged decisions made in Canberra directly led to the deaths of asylum seekers.

All of the personnel the ABC spoke to served on Operation Resolute during the Rudd/Gillard Labor governments.

Troy Norris was recently discharged from the Navy suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He spent 13 years intercepting and boarding asylum seeker vessels, rising to the rank of chief bosun's mate.

"It was extremely difficult, especially if the people had been in the water for quite a period of time ... they become quite bloated and there's only one way to pull them in and that's to grab them and try and chuck them in the boat.  "Sometimes you'd go to pull these people in the boat and all you'd end up with is a handful of flesh. It'd just strip to the bone."

All the Navy personnel the ABC spoke to said they believe the secrecy surrounding border security operations exacerbated the trauma they suffered.

'Fiona' is a serving Navy officer, so the ABC must obscure her identity. She worked at the Northern Command in Darwin, which directed the Navy ships intercepting asylum seeker boats.

"I would say that the secrecy surrounding the operation, and the fact that the public has very little information about what these people are actually doing - other than what they see as them failing to rescue people at sea, failing to take into account human rights - for the sailors to do these operations and then face that from the public, essentially they're the Vietnam veterans of our time," she said.

Fiona said she was also aware of the level of indirect political pressure applied to border protection operations.  She said the captains of naval ships were told not to board asylum seeker vessels until they were in Australian waters, and the crews and passengers were then subject to Australian migration law.

She claims that on at least one occasion, an asylum seeker vessel sank as a result.  "In the incident that I've described where the boat overturned and people died, that pressure came from Canberra," she said.

Another serving Navy officer, 'Michael', also said he witnessed occasions in which unseaworthy asylum seeker vessels were not boarded because of decisions made in Canberra.

"Our vessel was delayed 15 hours for a boarding on one occasion and we got reports in from surveillance aircraft that that vessel had sunk 13 hours ago," he said.  "All we found was probably a line about 70 miles long of bodies. We fished them out for as long as we could, 'til we were full. And that wasn't uncommon."

"[At the] end of the day, if this does come out it'll be a witch hunt. The people who'll get caught are the people who made the decisions, and the people we're talking about now are the captains of boats. And the captains of boats, really, are they to blame?"

'Greg', a former Navy officer who was recently medically discharged, has asked that he not be identified because he still lives in a town with a significant number of Defence personnel.

He also retrieved bodies during his time boarding asylum seeker vessels.

"Basically you are greeted with a sensory overload. You jump on and you can smell three days worth of human faeces, you can smell vomit, you can smell diesel fuel, you can smell rotting wood, you can smell people, there are children screaming. Ah, there are people, you know, crying. There are people, um ... desperation, I would say," Greg said.

"There are people suffering from exposure. Occasionally if you'll board and there will be a vessel with deceased people on. They'll be crammed in with them, because they can't move them. They're just there. So it obviously makes the head count difficult when you can't ascertain who's alive and who's not."

Greg also feels he was badly let down by the Navy. He says the extent of his PTSD only became clear when he tried to commit suicide last year.


Australia to Slash Funding for U.N. Environment Program

Already reviled by green groups for repealing its predecessor’s carbon tax, Australia’s center-right government is stoking fresh controversy with plans to slash funding to the U.N.’s top environmental body.

Coming at a time when a U.N. climate conference in Peru is firing up activists, the decision by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s government to cut funding to the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) by more than 80 percent has drawn sharp condemnation.

Critics already view Australia as a “global pariah,” going against the tide of progress in the drive to tackle climate change.

Cutting funding to UNEP also comes amid a growing international campaign to upgrade UNEP from its current status as a U.N. “program” to a more powerful and better-funded “specialized agency.” Some activists even want it empowered to impose sanctions on countries that don’t implement environmental agreements.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported Tuesday that the government will cut A$4 million ($3.4 million) in funding for UNEP over the next four years, reducing this year’s contribution from A$1.2 ($1.01 million) to just A$200,000 ($169,000).

It quoted Environment Minister Greg Hunt as saying UNEP was not a budget priority for the government, and defending the decision by pointing to greater funding being directed at environmental challenges in the region.

“I would imagine that most Australians would think that putting [A]$12 million into coral reef protection within our region, and combating illegal logging of the rainforests of the Asia Pacific would be a pretty good investment, rather than [A]$4 million for bureaucratic support within the U.N. system,” he said.

Set up in 1972, the Nairobi, Kenya-based UNEP describes itself as “the voice for the environment within the United Nations system.”

Since it is a U.N. program and not a specialized agency, UNEP has relied on voluntary donations from member-states rather than “assessed contributions” (the formula that sees the U.S. liable for 22 percent of the budget of agencies like the Worod Health Organization.)

UNEP executive director Achim Steiner told ABC he was disappointed at the decision, as member-states contributions enable the organization “to fulfil its mandate and be of service to the global community.”

Big contributors to UNEP include European countries and the United States. The State Department’s fiscal year 2015 request for UNEP is $7.55 million, although the actual amount U.S. taxpayers will likely account for is higher, as the State Department is only one of several agencies through which funding is channeled.

Abbott’s decision to reduce funding to this body drew sharp condemnation from political opponents.

“This is a program that helps developing countries develop in a way that is environmentally sustainable,” Tanya Plibersek, the Labor Party’s foreign affairs spokesman, told reporters, calling the cuts “petty” and accusing the prime minister of “taking Australia backwards on climate change.”

“Tony Abbott has made Australia an international laughing stock with his backward policies on climate change and the environment,” said Labor’s environment spokesman, Mark Butler.


Barossa Valley wine called 72 Virgins sold as fundraiser for anti-Islamic organisation, Q Society

A BAROSSA wine called Hal & Al’s 72 Virgins is being sold as a fundraiser for an anti-Islamic movement that is worried about a “culture war”.  The virgins are a reference to the rewards jihadis believe they will receive in Paradise once they kill others and themselves.

Profits from the “fine Australian sparkling wine” will go to the Q Society, which bills itself as “Australia’s Leading Islam-critical Movement”.

The Q Society warns that Islam is linked to discrimination and violence and run lectures teaching about “the true nature of this totalitarian theocratic ideology”.

They could not tell The Advertiser which winery produced the 72 Virgins, but said they put the labels on themselves.

“With our own special label … this is a guaranteed conversation starter and lighthearted take on an otherwise serious subject,” the advertisement reads.  “Satire and a good laugh are valuable weapons in this culture war.”

Q Society President Debbie Robinson said sales were going well and people were stocking up for Christmas.  “I think it’s a little bit tongue in cheek … not something that’s meant to be taken too seriously,” she said.

Asked whether she thought people might find it offensive she said people were “offended by all sorts of things”.  “I don’t find it offensive. Everyone’s an individual,” she said.

Ms Robinson said the funds would help them bring in overseas speakers.  “We are involved with educating Australians about the Islamisation of the country,” she said.

One of the controversial speakers the Q Society has brought to Australia is Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who has called for a ban on building mosques and an end to Muslim immigration. He has referred to Islam as a “great sickness”.


Blatant labor party corruption

A CANCER centre, outreach services for disadvantaged youth and critical road upgrades were among projects the former federal Labor government rejected in preference for projects in must-win electorates.

In what the government claims is evidence of blatant pork-barrelling by the Rudd and Gillard ­administrations in the lead up to last year’s federal election, millions were allocated to projects in Labor-held marginal seats that an expert panel recommended not be funded.

The Australian has obtained full details of Regional Development Australia Fund grants that were awarded in May and June last year which have been heavily criticised by a National Audit Commission report.

Yesterday, Treasurer Joe Hockey called on the former minister for regional services Catherine King to apologise for having “rorted the Australian taxpayer”.

Ms King claimed she had been misrepresented, and told parliament that two thirds of the projects funded had been in non-Labor seats.

But the audit of the final rounds of the RDAF shows almost half of the grant money and one in four projects funded by Labor were not supported by its appointed expert panel. Thirty-three projects judged “not of sufficient quality” to receive grants won 48 per cent of $226 million awarded just four months before the election.

The $1 billion fund was a key commitment made by Julia Gillard to secure the support of independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor to form minority government in 2010.

Details of the successful grants show that two western Sydney projects were among those the government approved to receive regional grants against advice.

In June last year, the federal Labor government announced $12m towards the development of the Western Sydney Community and Sports Centre in Penrith, which was in the marginal seat of Lindsay, held by Labor’s David Bradbury.

In the seat of McMahon, held by Labor’s Chris Bowen, the government allocated $7.3m for the Fairfield youth and community centre.

Both had been rejected by the panel, which advised Ms King that they were “not strong” and had “no identifiable positive impact on the broader community” to justify the grant.

Yet while Labor funnelled money to projects in marginal electorates that were not deemed appropriate, The Australian can reveal that a wide range of worthy projects missed out.

Most of these were in ­Coalition-held electorates.

A small community hospital in Keith, in the safe Liberal seat of Barker in regional South Australia, had its application for $200,000 knocked back, despite the panel recommending it ­receive $400,000.

In the southern NSW region of Riverina, a program for disadvantaged, homeless and drug-­dependent youth was set to receive $500,000 in round four of the project, but the decision of the panel was also ignored.

Just days before the election, Labor announced it would fund the project under round five of the grants scheme after the election.

Member for Riverina Michael McCormack said revelations that the project had earlier been ­rejected against the advice of the panel showed Labor had deliberately diverted funding away from the regions. “People in regional areas missed out because Labor wanted to cling on to power, and they did it at the cost of regional people so desperately in need of those services,” he said.

Other unsuccessful applicants included the Can Assist Sydney Accommodation Facility, which was advanced by The Cancer ­Patients’ Assistance Society of NSW. It had sought $10m. It was unsuccessful despite the panel ranking it more “suitable” than 33 other projects funded.

Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs told parliament yesterday that the report demonstrated the desperation of the former government in its dying days.

“It revealed that the Labor Party in government ... knowingly went out of their way to abuse taxpayers’ money for their own political benefit,” he said.


How union greed torpedoed our submarines

The much-needed and long-overdue debate about replacing the nation’s ageing submarine fleet is too important to be jettisoned because of a single misguided comment.

Defence Minister David Johnston was flippant when he said the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) couldn’t be trusted to build a canoe. His verbal torpedo could have been more accurate. Properly on course, it should have targeted the militant ­unions in the ­enterprise and the Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) project rather than the workforce.

Created by Labor in 1987 to build the Collins-class submarines (so plagued with problems no other nation ever bought them), the ASC was always going to be a floating mine. Its international shareholders had jumped ship by 2000 and it is now wholly owned by us — the taxpayers — and operated by skilled workers belonging to unions firmly locked into the hand-out mentality.

Senator Johnston’s remarks were made in a debate on the ASC and the AWD. Both operations have contributed new phrases to the national lexicon.

Take The Last Ship Syndrome — the go-slow by union members when a project is nearing completion and no new work is on the horizon. In effect the completion date never ­arrives as make-work schemes are developed to keep union members happy. And naturally the cost inevitably blows out.

If no new projects are available, the workforce enters The Valley of Death and mass lay-offs and potential losses of shipbuilding skills ensue.

These two issues are highlighted in a still-unreleased ­report by former US Navy secretary Don Winter and former shipbuilder John White into the $8.5 billion AWD project commissioned by the government. It recommends slowing the completion of the AWD project and speeding up plans to build replacement frigates for the ageing Anzac ships, to keep the workforce employed and avoid skills losses.

When the Coalition came to office last year, the AWD program was running 21 months late and was more than $360 million over its target costs. It is now understood to be at least $600 million over budget.

The problem was not helped by Labor ­defence minister Stephen Smith’s 2012 decision to try to “right”’ the timeline for the three AWD’s in an attempt to avoid the Valley of Death. All it did was help Labor further delay the decision on the ­future submarine replacements that Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd promised in 2007 would have first pass approval by 2011.

Defence was just a cash cow for Labor. Forget the crocodile tears over the defence pay rise now, or their claptrap about the 4.6 per cent efficiency dividend over five years imposed on the ABC workers collective. In 2012 Labor slashed 10.5 per cent from the defence budget in a single year. In just one term, ­defence spending under Labor dropped to pre-WWII levels.

Labor was too busy sorting out its internal woes to seriously address defence. The issue of national security was placed in the too-hard basket. Yes, the nation wants a ­viable shipbuilding industry but it wants an ­efficient operation, not a union-controlled, featherbedded one.

We welcome more jobs, but we expect value for our money and defence workers are paid by the taxpayers.

The Abbott government commissioned the Winter ­Review to identify problems within the AWD program and recommend solutions. It has put $78.2 million into the Anzac frigate program to bring forward preliminary engineering and ­design a workable operation to build future frigates here. This will focus on the continued production of the AWD hull, using ­cutting-edge Australian companies, including our own radar electronic systems.

Johnston must be able to present Cabinet with a productive shipbuilding industry so he can prosecute the case to have the frigates built here.

Labor’s failure to do anything has left Australia facing the very real risk of a capability gap in its submarine defence.  The Collins-class subs are due to be phased out from 2026. Lead time for new submarines is 20 years. Constantly patching up the Collins subs is no longer an option. The government must get it right. It has to ­ensure the future frigate program is expedited without loss of integrity as the Valley of Death has already arrived, Labor blew the opportunity.

The government must do the best it can. Vested interests, particularly the South Australian Labor government, have no regard for the national ­security aspects of the program.

A harder line is needed to ensure that non-performers in Left-leaning unions with a hand-out mentality don’t scupper our national defence.


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