I was concerned, if not apoplectic, to read the comments from our defence minister, Senator David Johnston, on Friday, February 7. ‘I have not said much because I have to confess I was extremely angry and have required a period of time to cool off,’ he said.
The cause of his rage? The way the ABC had covered stories about the treatment of asylum seekers by ‘my [sic] Navy personnel’. In Johnston’s view, his navy had been ‘maliciously maligned by the ABC’.
Perhaps we should consider replacing such a minister with one who does not allow themselves the indulgence of being too overcome with anger to comment on relevant issues. It is hardly a comfort if a report that could reflect badly on some members of our defence force will force the minister to go AWOL for days on end to regain his composure.
The ABC reports that so antagonised Johnston, which concerned allegations that navy personnel were unacceptably aggressive towards unarmed asylum seekers in a boat on the high seas, would not look good for the Australian Navy if they were proved true. This is the same navy that evidently has difficulty understanding the navigational equipment in their crafts: despite initially denying the claims, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was eventually compelled to concede that the Australian Navy has recently – more than once – unintentionally and without permission strayed into Indonesian waters. As Laura Tingle wondered in the Australian Financial Review on January 24, ‘Sorry, but is the government and Defence seriously telling us that our Navy is so utterly incompetent that it keeps accidentally going into someone else’s sovereign waters?’
Is it any wonder, then, that I would feel more secure if our highly trained naval personnel were operating under the command of a minister who doesn’t need to take several days to compose himself before dealing with a serious allegation? One who, at the end of his self-imposed time-out, then outright rejects the allegations rather than have them investigated?