Independent australia Wednesday, 22 January 2014 $7.30’s : Lee Sails interviews Tony Abbott over reports three Indonesian Naval vessels have entered Australia’s territorial waters near Darwin.
Studio: And now to some breaking news. Reports are coming in that three Indonesian Naval vessels have entered Australia’s territorial waters near Darwin. Eyewitnesses report the vessels were escorting four boats containing asylum seekers that they had towed from Indonesia to Australia.
We cross now to our chief naval reporter, Lee Sails, in Canberra where the Prime Minister has agreed to come out of hiding to answer some questions.
Lee Sails: Good morning Prime Minister. What can you tell us about the presence of the Indonesian Navy in Australian waters?
Tony Abbott: Well, let me make this crystal clear, Lee, crystal clear. Australia will not tolerate any unauthorized incursions into Australian territory. I’ve written a letter to President Yudhoyono, making that crystal clear. We have put the entire Australian fleet on standby and many ships on duty in the Middle-East have been recalled to defend the homeland.
Lee Sails: Isn’t that an over-reaction, Prime Minister?
Tony Abbott: No, it’s not an over-reaction, Lee. This is a very serious matter. It is an incursion into our sovereign territory. Darwin could be wiped off the map. That is why our response has been to work our way slowly, and carefully, and methodically through the situation as it now stands.
Lee Sails: So what exactly are you proposing to do?
Tony Abbott: We have a plan, Lee, we have a plan. A positive plan for Australia’s defence. I have put the country on a war footing and upgraded Operation Sovereign Borders to Operation Homeland Defence. Scott Morrison has been appointed Minister for War and First Lord of the Admiralty.
Lee Sails: First Lord of the Admiralty? Isn’t that a British appointment?
Tony Abbott: That’s right, Lee. But under my emergency powers, I’ve made a leader’s call and reinstated the British Honours System. Lord Morrison will make a statement soon. I understand he has promoted Lieutenant General Angus Campbell to Generalissimo in charge of Operation Homeland Defence.
Lee Sails: But Mr Abbott, isn’t it possible that this intrusion may have been inadvertent, perhaps as a result of a navigational error?
Tony Abbott: Well, frankly, that’s a ridiculous proposition, Lee, if I may say so. Heh, heh. You don’t have to be a tech head to know the Indonesian navy has all the latest satellite navigational equipment. You wouldn’t exactly be a suppository of wisdom if you thought that they didn’t know exactly where they were. I think you insult your viewers’ intelligence if you are asking them to believe such a ludicrous suggestion.
Lee Sails: When it’s all boiled down, isn’t Indonesia just doing what your government did in turning asylum seeker boats back to Indonesia?
Tony Abbott: Not at all. There’s a world of difference, a world of difference, between the way boats were turned back to Indonesia and the way the Indonesians are turning them back to Australia. For a start there is no bilateral agreement on them doing this. It all seems very high-handed and belligerent of them to be acting in this way.
Lee Sails: How is it different? You didn’t seek Indonesia’s approval before you imposed your policy of turning boats back on them, despite their clear and strong objections.
Tony Abbott: Now, Lee, heh heh, I think you are, ah, confusing the issue here. I don’t want get bogged down in the technicalities. The point is not to provide sport for public discussion; the point is to stop the threat to our borders. And Lee, Lee, … if I may just add another point there. And it’s an important point. When we turned boats back to Indonesia, it was always under the proviso that it was safe to do so. Now, if Indonesia has towed these boats all the way from Java to Darwin, that’s hardly a safe undertaking at sea.
Lee Sails: So what will Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s role be in this emergency?
Tony Abbott: Well, combat is no place for a woman, Lee. Now I know Julie has, if I may say so, a bit of sex appeal, but everyone knows women can get overemotional in these situations. So, at this time, I’ve suggested she may like to catch up on some ironing in Perth while the rest of the cabinet looks after this matter. She’ll have free travel entitlements to fly home, of course.
Lee Sails: You say that combat is no place for a woman. But didn’t you tell a group of young netballers during the election campaign that a bit of body contact never hurt anyone?
Tony Abbott: Now you are twisting my words, Lee. Can I just scotch this idea that the Coalition’s policy is or ever has been to exclude women. Our policy, which we’ve repeated till we’re blue in the face, is that we reserve the right to appoint people on the basis of merit. Besides, as Andrew Bolt says, the blokes get on a lot better when there are no women around.
Lee Sails: So, who will take the role of acting foreign minister?
Tony Abbott: I’ve appointed Senator Bernardi to that position. He’s been waiting in the wings for a long time now. This is a delicate situation where we needed someone with widely recognized diplomatic credentials who can deal sensitively with the Indonesians.
Lee Sails: Mr Abbott, can you assure the Australian public that you will not raise tensions between Australia and our nearest neighbour over this matter?
Tony Abbott: I can give Australians an absolute rolled gold cast-iron clad guarantee that I won’t keep making grandiose promises that I can’t keep. I’ve never done it in the past and I’m not going to start now.
Lee Sails: I’m sorry, Prime Minister, we’ve just had word that the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, is in our Jakarta studio. So I’ll just cross briefly to him.
Mr Natelegawa, a lot of Australians are asking why Indonesian naval vessels have breached our borders near Darwin to tow four flimsy boats on a dangerous voyage to Darwin. How do you explain your country’s actions?
Marty Natalegawa: Well, the boats weren’t flimsy at all. We found these people drifting off shore in Indonesian waters in brand new state of the art lifeboats. When we checked, we discovered that the lifeboats were owned by the Australian Navy and registered in the name of the Australian Government.
So, we are just doing the neighbourly thing and returning them to their rightful owners.
I can’t see why Australia would have a problem with that.
Lee Sails: So, are you saying these boats carrying the asylum seekers were the ones purchased by the Australian Government recently to ensure the safety of asylum seekers at sea?
Marty Natalegawa: That is correct.
Lee Sails: So, how do you respond to that, Mr Abbott?
Tony Abbott: Can I get back to you on that, Lee? I’ll have to take advice from Peta to know what the government’s position is on this one ….