Not Quite An Act Of War: Analysing Australia’s Push-Back Against Jacinda’s Manus Island Outreach

By   /   November 18, 2017  /   19 Comments

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YOU HAVE TO GO BACK A LONG WAY to find anything remotely resembling Australia’s current treatment of New Zealand. For a supposedly friendly government to deliberately inject inflammatory disinformation into the political bloodstream of its supposedly closest neighbour is an extraordinarily provocative act. Not quite an act of war, but the sort of intervention that can all-too-easily provoke a catastrophic loss of trust.

YOU HAVE TO GO BACK A LONG WAY to find anything remotely resembling Australia’s current treatment of New Zealand. For a supposedly friendly government to deliberately inject inflammatory disinformation into the political bloodstream of its supposedly closest neighbour is an extraordinarily provocative act. Not quite an act of war, but the sort of intervention that can all-too-easily provoke a catastrophic loss of trust.

It’s the sort of thing that the Soviets and the Americans used to do to one another all the time during the Cold War. Except, of course, those two superpowers were ideological and geopolitical rivals of the first order. It takes a real effort to re-cast the relationship between New Zealand and Australia in similar terms. Nevertheless, it’s an effort we are now obliged to make.

So, what is it that Australia has done? Essentially, its national security apparatus (presumably at the instigation of their political leaders) has released, mostly through media surrogates, a number of related stories calculated to inflame the prejudices of a certain type of New Zealander.

Like Australia, New Zealand harbours a frighteningly large number of racists. Politically-speaking, such people are easily aroused and have few qualms about setting-off ugly, racially-charged, debates on talkback radio, in the letters columns of the daily newspapers and across social media. These individuals are trouble enough when all they have to fight with are their own stereotypes and prejudices. Arm them with the carefully assembled disinformation of “fake news” and they instantly become quite dangerous.

And yet, this is exactly what the Australian authorities have done. Planting stories in their own press (knowing they will be picked up almost immediately by our own) about at least four boatloads of illegal immigrants that have set out for New Zealand only to be intercepted and turned back by the ever-vigilant officers of the Royal Australian Navy and their Coast Guard comrades. The purpose of this story (unsourced and lacking in detail, making it, almost certainly, fake news) was to paint New Zealand’s prime minister as an ill-informed and ungrateful diplomatic naïf: an inexperienced young idealist who doesn’t know which way is up when it comes to dealing with real-world problems.

This, alone, was an extraordinary intervention. To gauge how extraordinary, just turn it around. Imagine the reaction in Australia if some unnamed person in New Zealand’s national security apparatus leaked a memo to one of this country’s daily newspapers in which the negative diplomatic and economic consequences of being tainted by association with Australia’s flouting of international law is set forth in clinical detail. If the memo also contained a collection of highly critical assessments of Turnbull’s cabinet colleagues, allegedly passed-on by a number of unnamed western diplomats, then so much the better!

Canberra would not be impressed!

If the Australians had left it at just one intervention, then perhaps New Zealanders could simply have shrugged it off as yet another case of bad behaviour from the land of the under-arm bowlers. But when have the Aussies ever left it at “just one”?

The next intervention came in the form of “Ian” – formerly a guard (or so he said) at both the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres. For reasons it has yet to adequately explain, RNZ’s Checkpoint programme provided “Ian” with nearly ten, largely uninterrupted, minutes of air-time during which he poured-forth a stream of accusations and characterisations which, to put it mildly, painted the protesters occupying the decommissioned Manus Island facility in the most lurid and disquieting colours. The detainees were criminals, drug-dealers – paedophiles even! Not at all the sort of people New Zealanders would want in their country.

“Ian”, it turns out, is a “witness” well-known to the many Australian NGOs that have taken up the cause of the detainees on Manus and Nauru. They have noted the curious similarities between “Ian’s” supposedly personal observations and experiences, and the inflammatory talking-points constantly reiterated by Australia’s hard-line Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton. A cynic might describe the grim “testimony” of “Ian” and Dutton as mutually reinforcing.

No matter. New Zealand’s racist, Islamophobic and militantly anti-immigrant community had been supplied with yet another truckload of Australian-manufactured ammunition.

Enough? Not hardly! Only this morning (17/11/17) New Zealanders were fed the shocking “news” that the protesting Manus Island detainees are harbouring within their ranks an unspecified number of men guilty of having debauched and prostituted local girls as young as 10 and 13!

Too much? Over the top? Redolent of the very worst instances of the murderous racial-incitement for which the Deep South of the United States was so rightly infamous? It sure is! Which is why we must hope that the Internet does not operate on Manus Island. Because, if the local inhabitants were to read on-line that the detainees were responsible for prostituting their daughters, what might they NOT do?

One almost feels that the Australian spooks behind this extraordinary disinformation campaign would actually be delighted if the locals burned down the Manus Island detention centre with the protesting detainees inside it.

“This is what comes of 37-year-old Kiwi prime ministers meddling in matters they know nothing about!” That would be the consistent theme of the right-wing Australian media. It would not take long for the same line to be picked up here: first on social media, and then by more mainstream media outlets. Right-wing outrage, mixed with a gleeful “we told you so!”, could not, however, be contained within the news media for very long. Inevitably, the more outré inhabitants of the Opposition’s back bench would take possession of the controversy, from there it would cascade down rapidly to Opposition politicians nearer the front.

Before her enemies could say: “It’s all your fault!”, Jacinda would find herself under withering political fire from both sides of the Tasman. Canberra would register her increasingly fragile government’s distress with grim satisfaction.

As the men and women responsible for organising “Operation Stardust” deleted its final folder, and fed the last incriminating document into the paper-shredder, one or two of them might even have voiced a judiciously muted “Mission Accomplished!”

 

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19 Comments

  1. Historian Pete says:

    Chris: Do you have any real hard evidence that the stories emanating from Australia are “False News” or are they wild conjectures of yours ?!

  2. Hemi says:

    Gr8 article. I too was wondering why rnz would interview such a openly bigoted uninformed clueless parasite to peddle the far right narrative. No it’s all to clear. Australia is an embarrassment to the South Pacific. Ongoing human right abuses not to mention the detention facilities for troubled indigenous youth.

  3. Ovicula says:

    I agree with Chris Trotter for once. This is a disinformation campaign originating in Dutton’s office. I hope our government refuses to accept this bullshit and stands firm. Maybe even a bit firmer than they have so far.
    Ian and the other person who talked about drug dealing and child prostitution are no doubt working among the fascist dog Dutton’s hundreds of spin doctors. Where the hell would concentration camp inmates get marijuana? The guards are far more likely to be a threat to the kids of Manus.

    The good thing in all of this is that Dutton is not likely to be a minister for much longer.

  4. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    Which all just goes to show that we need to cultivate a very healthy cynicism to everything we hear, read and see (videos, TV etc) and take nothing at face value.

    Sadly this can only be applied by people with brains and an education; the bovine classes will just have to rely on their social media contacts…

  5. Jeff Foley Jeff Foley says:

    I was revolted by Guyon Espiner’s soppy treatment of “witness Ian” on RNZ’s Checkpoint last night – so much so that I turned the radio off just before Espiner brought on some National Party spokesperson.
    Witness Ian was so blatantly a liar – you could hear it in his voice, and in his concocted answers to Espiner’s pathetic questions. I found myself willing Espiner to ask Ian what was motivating him … surely not some genuine concern for New Zealand.

    Witness Ian’s fake account was sickeningly similar to a certain “witness” interviewed back in 2006 on ABC’s current affairs program, Lateline. The man, face concealed, introduced as a youth worker who had been living in Mutitjulu (an aboriginal community), told of how drunk, aboriginal fathers were sexually abusing their own children. The aboriginal affairs minister, then – Mal Brough – had been claiming that the “children were being abused by paedophile gangs in unthinkable numbers”. The Howard government sent in the army to “rescue” the children (incidentally, there was also a side issue involving allocation of mining rights to the land beneath the same community).
    I was taken in – I trusted in the ABC and in the Government – only to discover years later (a John Pilger investigation) that it was all lies – nothing was true. The witness was actually a senior government official who reported directly to the minister. All of the claims (by the witness, the minister, and the prime minister) were discredited by the Australian Crimes Commission, the Northern Territory police, and a medical investigation that reported: of the several thousand children examined, though most had ailments of some kind – none were of a sexual nature.

    The horror of such terrible, false, unjust allegations should have had redneck Australia on its belly begging those aboriginal men for their forgiveness – but white Australia feels no shame.
    To all reasonable minds, the Australian government must surely have lost all credibility. For me in particular, not only do I have absolutely no respect for it – I actually loath it.

  6. J says:

    I expect the less informed and judgmental of New Zealanders to take issue with humane treatment of refugees but our journalists like Guyon Espiner feeding us Australian fakenews? On a New Zealand tax paid radio station. Who owns the airwaves? Not rational thinkers. It used to be owned by New Zealanders that valued the truth above everything. When did we join the american/aussie copier think tanks?

    If any people on Manus are killed I hold the New Zealand national party and Australian governments wholly responsible because all they care about is their own self interested politically motivated agendas. Despicable, but what else would I expect from the greedy.

  7. Alan M says:

    Do you think these 150 who tried to get into Australia illegally, would be good for NZ?

  8. Mike the Lefty says:

    I would also question if the New Zealand National Party has some connection to the Australian government position.
    National have already shown they intend to be the dirtiest, most deceitful and treacherous opposition yet seen in this country and a lot of this sounds like what National have been saying.
    The two Tory wannabe parties are colluding to bring down Jacinda.

  9. david says:

    If the offer from Jacinda was really genuine it would be different. What I mean by genuine, is that NZ would underwrite any consequences of taking from Manus Island. If there were more asylum seekers as a consequence, it would be NZ taking the lead and responsibility. If there more deaths at sea, it would be NZs responsibility.

    Otherwise it looks like Jacinda is taking cheap shots at Australia’s expense.

  10. david says:

    Jacinda should say, any new asylum seekers heading by boat to Australia would be NZ responsibility. Australia would say yes thank you and say how wonderful NZ is.

  11. Andrew says:

    Look at it from the other side of the Tasman.

    A newly minted and oh-so-naive Prime Minister rushed headlong into someone elses business in a ‘virtue sigalling’ exercise and got her head handed back to her on a platter.

    This overgrown school girl has some lessons to learn.

    • Andrea says:

      Didn’t John Key the Great Bloke make the offer first? Virtue signalling in his own cute-gauche fashion?

      Didn’t notice him wandering about like a spare ghost at the castle – head on platter.

      Or doesn’t this apply to undersized persons – and the political innocent that was Key had no lessons to learn? Aw jeez, mate he wuz a natural! Yeah, right.

      PM Ardern has probably been in politics for a whole lot longer than John Key – and she has smarter mentors. Nor does she come with the sobriquet ‘Smiling Assassin’. Unless you think that’s an endearing title for the head of the country, and you yearn for the Strong Chap assertiveness of the likes of Duterte?

      Go back to screaming at the telly, Alf.

    • Bully Beef and Chips says:

      Agree. If Jacinda wants a second term, globalist virtue signalling and naive idealism is not the way to get it. NZ has problems of its own without importing them.

  12. Benn says:

    Not everything is a racist conspiracy Trotter.

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/2018620063/man-jailed-for-largest-collection-of-child-abuse-images-ever-found-in-nz

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/98443105/lower-hutt-mans-child-abuse-image-offending-largest-internal-affairs-has-prosecuted

    Contrary to his description as a Lower Hutt man, Salman Jabbar Alhisaynawi is actually a refugee.

    Defend Jacinda as you please Chris, but who will take responsibility when the Manus Island queue jumpers engage in similar criminality on our shores? After repeated warnings Jacinda will deservedly cop the blame. In opening the door for the illegal immigrants on Manus she has opened the door for National next election… Perhaps Labour and the MSM will cover it up as happened during the aftermath of the Tampa boat crisis under Clark… Either way ruining relations with Australia and forcing dangerous people into our communities (no doubt the same poor communities I voted Labour in hopes of protecting from bad Govt policy), is not what I voted for and i’m already consigned to scuttle my vote next election.

  13. Jeff Foley Jeff Foley says:

    I was revolted by Guyon Espiner’s soppy treatment of “witness Ian” on RNZ’s Checkpoint last Friday evening – so much so that I turned the radio off just before Espiner brought on some National Party spokesperson.
    Witness Ian was so blatantly a liar – you could hear it in his voice, and in his concocted answers to Espiner’s pathetic inquiry. I found myself willing Espiner to ask Ian what was motivating him … surely not some genuine concern for New Zealand.

    Witness Ian’s fake account was sickeningly similar to a certain “witness” interviewed back in 2006 on ABC’s current affairs program, Lateline. The man, face concealed, introduced as a youth worker who had been living in Mutitjulu (an aboriginal community), told of how drunk, aboriginal fathers were sexually abusing their own children. The aboriginal affairs minister, then – Mal Brough – had been claiming that the “children were being abused by paedophile gangs in unthinkable numbers”. The Howard government sent in the army to “rescue” the children – the community was destroyed (with there being, by some strange coincidence, a side issue involving allocation of mining rights to the land beneath the same community).
    I was taken in – I trusted in the government and in the ABC – only to discover years later (a John Pilger investigation) that it was all lies. The witness was actually a senior government official who reported directly to the minister. All of the claims (by the witness, the minister, and the prime minister) were discredited by the Australian Crimes Commission, the Northern Territory police, and a medical investigation that reported: of the several thousand children examined, though most had ailments of some kind – none were of a sexual nature.

    The horror of such dishonest, unjust, terrible, false allegations should have had all decent Australian’s on their bellies begging those aboriginal men for their forgiveness – but white Australia feels no shame – the aboriginals have not even had as much as an insincere, superficial apology.
    To all reasonable minds, the Australian government must surely have lost all credibility a long time ago. For me, I find that I am unable to have any respect for it – and that rather, I loathe it.

  14. Sally's Husband says:

    “For a supposedly friendly government to deliberately inject inflammatory disinformation into the political bloodstream of its supposedly closest neighbour is an extraordinarily provocative act. Not quite an act of war, but the sort of intervention that can all-too-easily provoke a catastrophic loss of trust.”

    The bullshit from Australia reminds me of the babies-overboard lies told by the Australian government to demonise the Tampa refugees. Quite simply, the Aussies are not to be trusted. They make John Key look almost honest by comparison.

  15. OCON says:

    Chris. You criticise the Australian government for its “extraordinarily provocative act” towards NZ and the damage it may cause to the relationship between our two countries.

    From Australia’s perspective it may equally be the view that Adern’s comments on the Manus Island refugees and her pontification on the matter from the moral high ground as also ‘extraordinarily provocative”.

    Given that the Australians are likely to view this as interfering in their domestic politics, would not they feel, with some justification, that we are meddling in a way that has the potential to damage the relationship between our two countries.

    Adern should be mindful of untended consequences. For instance if NZder’s ‘rights’ to enter Australia are weakened or taken away altogether;most NZders will be pretty pissed off. If NZders rights are reduced in value, whilst the ‘right’s of Manus Island refugees are increased in value (i.e. they can enter NZ) – then this government will put itself at serious risk of not being re elected in 2020 (if it lasts that long).

  16. Anthony says:

    Until reading further, I was thinking he opening paragraphs were about Chris Hipkins and Barnaby Joyce

  17. Andrea says:

    “New Zealand harbours a frighteningly large number of racists.” From many backgrounds and ethnicities, too.

    We have a fair number of wasps, also. And the place is over-run with litterbugs.

    C’mon Chris. That’s frighteningly vague. Who are these people – and who do they influence? What are the consequences of their outpourings on minor radio stations? How do we know? And is anyone responsible for ensuring the sewage doesn’t meet the freshwater supply? (So to speak.)

    I know that the word ‘racist’ has now morphed to include aversions and distaste for assorted religions – probably because xenophobia is too hard to spell, and parochialism is a toughie, too. And claiming it’s all ‘anti-Christian’ by the ‘once a year, and maybe funerals’ crowd is just asking for splats on the windscreen.

    It’s just the usual partisan fears of loss and differentness parading as nationalism. We’ve been doing it for centuries in this country.

    What is clearly on show are the limits of our parliamentary system. There’s too much self-interest which readily comes ahead of the needs of the country.

    Time to clean the Augean stables in the Beehive, for sure.