It was with some trepidation that I read an article by Peter Westmore entitled "The facts behind the ‘people overboard’ affair" (News Weekly, April 6).
"People overboard"? No one had ever called it that before. It was always "children overboard", because the whole point of the allegations was the abuse and immoral manipulation of children.
"Children overboard" was the cry of choice by the Government during the election campaign. The allegation turned out to be untrue, and then "children overboard" became the cry of choice of those focusing on the lie. A headline that played down the gravity of the offence did not bode well in a journal that once had a proud history as a defender of the rights of refugees.
My fears proved well-founded. After a cursory acknowledgement that the "children overboard" allegations were untrue and false, I found myself reading an account that repeated official innuendo directed against asylum seekers as a group, and made highly selective use of the known hard facts to give the false impression that just maybe there was some truth in the allegations after all.
It seemed to be saying that despite the fact that the asylum seekers did not throw their children overboard and there was no basis for thinking they had, the Government cannot really be blamed for saying they did because "these asylum seekers are the sort of people who might have done it. So there!"
The article also gave every appearance of condoning the fact that the Royal Australian Navy now fires shots across the bows of nearly-derelict refugee boats and tries to push them out of Australian waters so that Australia will not be called upon to meet its commitment to asylum seekers under Australian law (though I would be happy to be told that no such approval was implied).
I find myself comparing News Weekly’s current treatment of refugees with that of the News Weekly I knew during the 1970s. The similarities are uncanny. In the 1970s the refugees paid people smugglers to take them from Vietnam and Cambodia, past Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, so they could arrive in Australian waters to apply for asylum. In the 1970s they were welcomed in Australia by a Liberal-National Country Party Government, a courageous stance that was enthusiastically endorsed by News Weekly.
What has changed in principle between the 1970s and now? Very little as far as I can see.
Perhaps it is time for News Weekly to give some serious consideration to its position on asylum seekers. Does it endorse detention camps? Does it endorse the "Pacific Solution"? Does it endorse pushing refugee boats back out to sea? Does it endorse the Government’s actions regarding the Tampa? These are pressing matters on the Australian agenda, but I see no evidence that News Weekly has even given them more than a passing thought.