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Act of bastardry: Australia destroys canoes


IN WHAT CAN only be described as a heavy-handed and unfriendly act, the Australian Immigration Department has destroyed boats used by around 130 people who sailed from PNG to Australia in December claiming Australian citizenship.

The 12 canoes and their outboard motors were seized and the group sent back to PNG from where they were trying to negotiate the return of the vessels.

Leader of the Papua Group, Jonathan Baure, said the people are extremely disappointed by the wanton destruction.

"There [are] families that depend on each dinghy for transporting not only families [but also] communities. It's quite a bit of a disappointment because we are in dialogue," he said.

The Department claimed that destroying the boats was a warning to PNG citizens not to try to enter Australia illegally.

It seems like a bloody-minded and arrogant way to 'educate' people who, while perhaps misguided, had no criminal intent.


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Reginald Renagi

KJ - Papua Besena was the first political party formed by Dame Josephine Abaija in the 1970s.

But it is also an everyday term used by Papuans in daily conversations amongst themselves when they want to promote their origins (links to the British crown and Australia),heritage, culture, customs, beliefs, family and generation values, kinship, etc.

Reginald Renagi

Papua Besena apologises for his mistakes here but Australia unnecessarily makes life difficult for its former territory, Papua.

My comments are a reflection of what the majority of PNG people think of Australia and the way it treats its own first Australians.

Papua Besena

Shame, shame, shame on you, Australia. You can't stop the Papuans. They will keep coming until you change your racist attitudes towards black people.

It is time the Aborigines, who are the first real Australians now ask their white government for "Independence" after over 200 years.

The country, Australia belongs to them, not the white race that have taken everything from them.

I want to make two points about 'Papua Besena's' contributions:

1 - I see nothing in either of these comments that would prevent Papua Besena from using his or her real name except, perhaps, a touch of cowardice. In future 'Papua Besena's' comments will not be published if a real name is not provided.

2 - Assertions of racism, to be considered as legitimate comment, should be supported by evidence. Unsubstantiated allegation is, in effect, no better than abuse and will not be published in future.

I have allowed such comments this time only to enable me to make these points of policy in the context of concrete examples.

And I thank the vast majority of readers for the fairness, transparency and acuteness of their own contributions to PNG Attitude - KJ

David Kitchnoge

I am personally indifferent on this issue of the Papua Movement or whatever it's called. Maybe because I'm Niuginian and it doesn't concern me.

But I can understand the push. The grass is always greener on the other side.

I think Australia over-reacted a bit. Is it true that the dinghies and motors were buried after being destroyed?

OK we got the message, thank you. Did you have to bury them to drive home your point?

Perhaps some farmer out there in Australia needs some good compost from PNG in their garden patch.

Harry Topham

Ross - I think you will find that the distance between the PNG and Australian border is is very close and in fact PNG citizens regularly make the journeys to the outer western Torres Strait islands with out any mishap.

Ross Wilkinson

Again I disagree but this comes from my background here in Australia dealing with liability issues.

Alex, you introduce a "what if" which is a separate issue altogether.

Torres Strait and island waters are dangerous and a number of people are lost every year going fishing or travelling between the islands in small or unsuitable vessels.

If Aussie government allows illegals to take unseaworthy or unsuitable vessels back and people drown or disappear because of this then government is accused of negligence.

The actions may seem unreasonable but are necessary for everyone.

Peter Kranz

I hope some Australian pollies are reading this.

These two actions - burning the boats and thus destroying the livelihood of Papuan people merely making a protest; and closing down TB clinics in the Torres Strait Islands, thus probably condemning some 60 people to death, have set back Australian-PNG relationship by many years.

Just read the comments on many PNG blogs including PNG Attitude) to judge the depth of feeling about this.

A country's underlying morality is revealed by such actions. Australia has shown itself to be morally bankrupt - willing to let people die for the sake of 'policy' and a small amount of money.

Australian politicians who are silent on these issues - J'accuse!

I am disgusted.

Peter Kranz

This is a petty and small-minded action by an Australian government running scared about the 'boat people' beat-up.

How much would a boat and outboard be worthy as a proportion of the earnings of a Papuan fisherman? I suspect it would be similar in relative value to burning down the house of an Australian person.

However a bigger act of bastardy is the closure of the Torres Trait TB clinics, which will probably mean a death sentence for the 60 PNG nationals currently being treated.

There's more on this in The Australian today, again by Sarah Elks - they seem to be the only news outlet covering this.

Again I say this is shameful and should be widely condemned.

AUSTRALIA's decision to axe tuberculosis clinics on its northern border by the end of the month will be a "death sentence" for 60 Papua New Guinean patients, a top doctor has warned.

In written advice given to Queensland Health in April, obtained by The Australian, thoracic physician Stephen Vincent said PNG's Western Province did not have the capacity to care for the TB patients.

"The patients on active treatment from our clinic will generally die off once their treatment is stopped," wrote Dr Vincent, one of the Cairns-based specialists who runs the clinics on two Torres Strait islands.

"Prior to their ultimate death, (drug) resistance will grow and no doubt they will infect others."

"The June 30 date is in effect a death sentence for these patients . . . some of whom are young children."

Reginald Renagi

KJ is right. It's in today's local newspaper and it does not make the Australian government look good.

The Papuans will keep coming. This action by the government won't deter them because there are other more compelling reasons to keep doing this.

Alex Harris

And what if they could prove political persecution in their home country? What if they were seeking asylum from such persecution? Would we not then have to accommodate them as we do others?

Harry Topham

Ross - Now before you go thinking that I may have gone soft in my old age, I think the whole incident was very badly handled by the Australian government in that the players involved are our nearest neighbours and dare I say it, still our friends.

Notwithstanding that the authorities in this instance have followed previous policies regarding their right to destroy the boats involved, one would have thought that a little bit of kind consideration may have been afforded as after all it was a symbolic gesture of protest only and those involved would have been well aware in advance of their eventual fate and subsequent return to PNG.

I note that the Australian government does not forcibly return PNG visitors to Saibai and Boigu islands nor destroy their vessels.

Apart from some minor expense, I believe it have been more diplomatically opportune to have simply put those illegal immigrants on a boat with all their refuelled dinghies in tow and taken them back to the PNG border.

The real act of bastardry relates to what happened in pre independence times when the PNG politicians sold out the Papuan people by denying them the right to decide their future by referendum.

As such the issue of Papuan rights to Australian citizenship would seem to be a dead issue with little chance of redemption.

The only option available to the Papuan people is that of making application for Australian citizenship, mindful that many Papuans would not be prepared to lightly relinquish their PNG citizenship.

The issue highlights the deteriorating relationship that has developed over the past 20 years between PNG and the Australian government and the associated lack of understanding and compassion by the mandarins in Canberra.

Relaxing the current stringent controls by the Australian government on visa approvals from PNG would, I feel, go a long way to improving relationship between both countries.

I recently saw it reported in the PNG newspapers that the first worker visas for 10 PNG guest workers have finally been approved.

The paltry number currently approved would seem rather absurd considering that the Australian business community is crying out for more overseas workers to sustain their business operations.

There is an odd paternalism that still suffuses the dealings between Australia and PNG which seems inimical to the interests of a proper relationship. The guest workers presently in Victoria (there was an article in PNG Attitude) are being 'nanny-stated' to within an inch of there being no exchange program at all - KJ

Ross Wilkinson

I have to disagree with you Keith as this is not an isolated incident (act of bastardry) but part of long-standing Australian government practice since immigrants started arriving by boat outside of the normal entry procedural requirements.

The Australian government has routinely confiscated and destroyed boats entering Australian waters since the 1970’s post-Vietnam.

As the entry is illegal, the boats are viewed as being implements of the commission of a crime and subject to confiscation.

To return them to the owners would be merely be the same as handing back guns to bank robbers.

Also, in many cases, (and not making an assessment from the photographs of the vessels that I have seen online), these boats are not seaworthy under Australian maritime regulations.

In terms of Reg’s comments and previous posts of mine, the issue of Australian citizenship for Papuans has been subject to previous actions in the Australian Supreme Court which has found for the present situation.

I refer to previous posts on this issue and without wishing to take sides, my advice is that Papuans need to take the issue up with their own politicians in the elected pre-Independence self-governing parliament who surrendered Australian citizenship for Papuans as part of the Independence process.

The fact that this was done without a referendum of Papuans does not alter the fact that this is the law of both countries and illegal entry will not alter this.

To burn boats as a matter of course, without any reference to the nature or severity of the offence or the plight and circumstances of the 'offenders' is, I repeat, an act of bastardry by Australian officials - KJ

Reginald Renagi

The issue of Papua is a long outstanding one and the recent boat landings by PNG people from Daru is not the last time.

There will be many more coming to Australia as conditions for Papuans living in PNG have become more intolerable under successive PNG governments.

The print media's reports about Jonathan Baure crossing the Torrest Strait were wrong. He never did this at all.

Mr Baure was all the time at Daru. The police tricked him and brought him to Port Moresby in a Australian-hired plane, and he was taken into custody.

His court-case has been adjourned four times already because the authorities do not know on what charges he should be tried with reference to this incident.

There is a good chance the case will be thrown out of court on grounds of some legal technicalities.

Watch for a separate story on this blog soon on Jonathan Baure and why some Papuans from Papua will continue to do this in future.

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