Foreign Ministers’ quiet voice of reason

Amid all the shrill and often disingenuous comments thrown around by politicians and many media commentators, it was comforting to listen to the quiet voice of reason of our own Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, speaking on the 7.30 Report last night, and that of Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, on Lateline.

So many of the facts of this matter seem to have been forgotten by so many.  78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers on a boat coming from Sri Lanka found themselves in a hazardous maritime situation and also had an ill child on board, not in Australian waters, not even in Indonesian waters, but in an area for which Indonesia is responsible for search and rescue.  As there were no Indonesian vessels in the area of the distressed boat, Indonesian authorities asked Australia if it could assist.  As there were no Australian commercial vessels in the vicinity, it agreed to send its customs vessel, Oceanic Viking, which was near, to rescue the asylum seekers and bring them to a port designated by Indonesian authorities.  It was carrying out a humanitarian exercise under its obligations under maritime law to go to the assistance of those in peril on the seas.  There was nothing political about the rescue at all, despite all the uninformed media comment and Coalition hyperbole.

Australia is now caught with 78 asylum seekers insisting that they will not voluntarily disembark at an Indonesian port in Bintan and go into detention there, and this dilemma has given every critic of the Government a chance to vent spleen, no matter what the facts of the situation are. 

The media ought to know better than to misrepresent the situation to push its political agenda, but it’s not surprising that Coalition members have been out in droves trying to garner any political advantage no matter how deceptive their claims might be.  We have had a range of views from Wilson Tuckey’s ‘send in the armed forces to remove the Sri Lankans’ to new-found sympathy for asylum seekers from a range of Coalition members who seems to be trying to establish an argument that Kevin Rudd is ‘less humane’ than John Howard; even ‘brutal’ says Malcolm Turnbull.  It’s so laughable that only rusted-on supporters could swallow their inconsistent policy-free spiel.  And despite being asked scores of times what they would do, they have no answer, except the specious one that, as Turnbull insists, he would not have ‘unpicked the Howard policy in the first place’.  Yet when asked whether a Coalition government would reintroduce TPVs and the ‘Pacific Solution’ they run a mile rather than say they would.

We can ignore the Coalition’s contribution to the dialogue knowing we will not have missed any important debating point.

For his part Kevin Rudd has decided that he must talk to that part of the electorate that wants secure borders and an orderly immigration policy – thus the ‘tough’ line, while also talking to those who would prefer more open borders, including some of his back benchers and some union officials who are advocating the ‘humane’ line.  Because of his desire to accommodate both views, he has made himself more vulnerable to attack from both sides.  Whether he can fashion policy that can achieve this accommodation remains to be seen.  The week in QT has been rowdy, angry and unedifying.  The real asylum seeker debate has been sidelined by the cut and thrust of the Opposition and the counter-thrust of the Government.

It is not my intention to add to the confusing discourse on this matter, but rather to point visitors to two people who have injected balance and commonsense into the convoluted debate.  They are Stephen Smith, and Marty Natalegawa, recently- appointed Indonesian Foreign Minister.

What Stephen Smith had to say on the 7.30 Report is recorded in a piece on ABC News 'Patience' needed on asylum solution.  You can hear what he said via the video recording of his interview with Kerry O’Brien on that page.  I believe you will agree that what he said was sensible, lucid and plausible. 

Then on Lateline there was Marty Natalegawa talking for fifteen minutes with Leigh Sales, in what was one of the best interviews on Lateline I’ve seen for a while.  Indeed he would put many of our politicians to shame. He explained every aspect of what is an enormously difficult and convoluted exercise in international diplomacy as well as domestic politics, and emphasized the importance of ‘an abundance of patience’.

You can hear him by going to the Lateline page for 28 October and selecting the Indonesian foreign minister discusses asylum seekers video near the top of the page.  So far there is no transcript.

If only all others involved in discussing this matter could bring such calm and balance to the debate.

What do you think?

Please note that this is my last post for four weeks, as I’m leaving tomorrow for Thailand and Singapore to meet up with friends.  It would be too difficult to continue posting while overseas, or to respond to your comments.

I look forward to rejoining you in around four weeks. 

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Sir Ian Crisp

29/10/2009Ah yes, Stephen Smith, the voice of reason. AA, there is no need to rush off and join the Oceanic Viking as it does its 13-day island cruise because the ship’s captain seems to be in no hurry. Could you let us know how that ‘sick girl’ is fairing. Last we heard the captain was ordered to make good speed to the nearest port that could offer her medical attention. The captain of the Oceanic Viking has defied those orders and is instead sailing in circles and is probably relying on some ancient seafaring folklore that will somehow cure the poor lass. I’m no medico but I don’t think this type of treatment (spinning the patient in circles) will gain much currency in modern (2009) medical practice. Our dear leader’s ‘Indo Solution’ has become quite rococo and expensive and it must be time that he hoisted either the white flag or the jolly roger. If it’s to be the jolly roger the ship’s captain should be ordered to sack Jakarta and reclaim and repatriate our treasure.

Lyn 1

29/10/2009Hi Ad We will miss your quality and fair opinion columns, while you are away, but have a nice holiday with your friends you deserve it. We will be back on your blog quick smart when you return. Steven Smith is one of the many outstanding Labor Ministers, he made me very proud when I watched him in question time and on the 7.30 report. The frenzy of the Coaliton is just ridiculous, Malcolm Turnbull is so sure he is onto something. It is hard to believe every single question, in QT today, from the coaliton, about the Oceanic Viking. Kevin Rudd and his Ministers are beating the Liberals to pulp day after day, and back goes "STOP AT NOTHING TURNBULL". Julia Gillard gave an excellent performance on Punch Sky news active, this afternoon with David Penberthy and Tory Maguire. As usual all the political reporters are letting us down one example, there are heaps more : David Speers interviewed Sharman Stone on agenda yesterday, I thought his questions were reasonably unbiased for a change.

Ad astra reply

29/10/2009Sir Ian You seem to enjoy the situation in which the OV finds itself. You make fun of a Government that fulfilled its international obligations to rescue people in peril. Many though find it sad and tragic that people seeking refuge have ended up in such a predicament. Lyn 1 Thank you for your kind remarks and good wishes. I’m surprised by the Hartcher article; he’s a better journalist than this article suggests. He has obviously taken Howes’ spiel and reproduced it as if Howes had written it himself. People like Howes don’t have to run the country so can say as they please. The Coalition is not just inept; its strategic advisers are incompetent. Next week’s [i]Newspoll[/i] will be interesting. Any change will be interpreted in the light of the asylum seeker issue; all sides will be looking for signs of the public’s reaction to recent events, and for any changes in the public’s attitude to asylum seekers. This is my last post.


31/10/2009Enjoy the hol I shall miss the comments in the mean time from this blog


31/10/2009It's occurred to me watching Malcolm Turnbull over the last week that if he does lead the Coalition into the next Federal election, his mouth will queer any chance they might have from the day it's announced. The man can't settle to a single policy or party-agreed stance on anything. The heat in the kitchen will have him overboiling at the first campaign crisis. Every day a UteGate in the making. The famed and manifest lack of judgement will have him running after every hare that's been set a'racing, with not the first idea in his head which furry object ahead is a lure, and which a target! Still, the Coalition's written off the next one anyway - or they're acting like it, anyway.


13/11/2009We've been missing you Ad astra but I trust you are enjoying your time away. The Sri Lankan refugees have lost much of the sympathy they had when they first appeared sailing to their preferred country. Stupidly, they have resorted to holding this nation to ransom with their demands and emotional blackmail and appear not to realise that the Rudd Government (or any Australian Government for that matter) cannot condone this behaviour and happily accept such people to enter our communities and be welcomed as citizens. Their behaviour and actions will leave a sour taste in the mouths of Australians and all Sri Lankans will be tarred with the same brush which is unfortunate indeed. In the first place, I was particularly furious with the media reporting and over-the-top comments from the Coalition as it sought to score political points. While the Government rightly seeks the co-operation of Indonesia and other nations in our region, the media and Coalition were busy denigrating and accusing Indonesia of abusing and mistreating the refugees in their 'disgusting facilities' detention centres. Does the media think the Indonesians are unaware of what the Australian media are saying? Surely this is not the way to go about securing the co-operation and trust of Indonesia. If the boot were on the other foot I know full well that Australians would be up in arms and calling for an immediate cessation of diplomatic relations. Today it has been reported that there has been a breakthrough and that 20 refugees on the Oceanic Viking have agreed to disembark. No doubt the other 58 will eventually conclude that the Australian Government is not going to bow to their tactics. If reports are true, there is a cell of hard headed leaders in this group and I doubt very much if Australians will be willing to welcome them in this country and it is doubtful if any other country will consider them either. IMO they have cooked their goose.

Bushfire Bill

13/11/2009Janice, If they've disappointed someone as fairminded as yourself, then no wonder the voters are pissed off. Lovely post.


14/11/2009Thank you Bushfire Bill - I like to think I'm fairminded but I do draw the line at blackmail for any reason. I think your view that the ringleaders should be brought back here, prosecuted and gaoled before being deported as undesirables is the right way to go. (I hope I've read you correctly here). The media have been acting irresponsibly in my opinion in keeping this issue going with their usual mis-reporting and selective reporting. There is not one thought given to the national interest and the consequences to our relations with Indonesia when they declare that Indonesia's refugee facilities are disgusting and the refugees suffer abuse etc. The Coalition and their supporters are just as culpable.

Austin 3:16

15/11/2009I'm with Janice.

Ad astra reply

19/11/2009Hi Folks Back last night after three pleasant weeks in the warmth of Phuket and Singapore; I’ll try to get back to blogging at the weekend, or soon thereafter. janice Thank you for your comments. I have the same feelings. It’s a bit rich for the Sri Lankans to be rescued from drowning and then demand the rescuer take them to a destination of their own choosing. It seems the Indonesians asked the OV to take them to the nearest port, but some local officials flexed their little muscles to frustrate SBY’s wishes/promises. As usual, much of the media has been pathetic in covering the story, and has succeeded only in heightening the conflict. But as Paul Kelly asserts, conflict is what the media thrives on. As for the Coalition, it has abandoned principle in pursuit of political points scoring, as is its habit. But is anyone listening?

Sir Ian Crisp

21/11/2009There seems to be a trend developing to use this site to flog various goods and services. It started with USA real estate and it has now developed into aiding with homework and now we have a travel agent flogging trips to Griechenland (anywhere near Biddalonia?) Pretty soon we'll have the pre-paid funeral mob in here flogging their services. If people would like to advertise their services and products they should pony up the dosh and stick an ad in a newspaper or magazine or perhaps advertise on TV or radio.


21/11/2009Welcome back Ad, I look forward to the new post. Cheers Eb. :)


21/11/2009Hi Ad A big welcome back Ad, you have been missed. I visited here this morning to read Janice's comments. WOW a big suprise to see you back. Glad to hear you had a nice holiday. I am not going to comment on the past news while you were away, as I am sure your next post will give us plenty of conversation. We are anxiously waiting Ad.


21/11/2009Hi Ad I forgot to put Lyn1 on my comment, welcoming you back. The system took my first allocated gravatar away. I made another one, which is added to my first comment, for some reason or other the system wants to keep the new allocated ugly green gravatar. Oh well! we will see what happens next comment. The "Liberal Circus" is still staging a great performance, Labor will be clapping and cheering right up to the next election.
How many umbrellas are there if I have two in my hand but the wind then blows them away?