OSB and Public Interest Immunity

Recently published Senate Interim Report on DIBP's bribery payments to smugglers [#1] enlighten a bit further on why Australian Government would want to keep secrecy on the OSB and DIBP bribery. As you are all aware, that Senate Inquiry had decided to referred all matters to considered by the next 45th Parliament. Here are some extracts on explanation made by DIBP/JATF officials regarding the need for secrecy.

Mr Puzzello, Head of DIBP, reassuring lawfulness of 'any operation' under OSB as (see 2.23 of Report)

"Setting aside any particular operational method, because neither General Bottrell nor I can confirm or deny that any such activities took place, for reasons that have been explained previously; but any operational method, tactic, technique, manoeuvre, procedure is conducted within the auspices of the Operation Sovereign Borders policy, yes—and then, obviously, within the further framing reference of applicable legislation, be it the Migration Act, the Maritime Powers Act or other acts of parliament."

When and if any secrecy were required, the Senate committee did offer the DIBP/JATF to explain 'in camera' or closed-door session. However, this also was refused as (see 4.8 of Report)

"in order to obviate the government's concerns, as expressed in the minister's public interest immunity claim, about 'operational matters' becoming known to people smugglers. Major-General Bottrell responded that '[g]oing in camera does not change my ability to disclose any information based on the minister's public interest immunity claim"

The Government primary concern, as it claimed, was that the 'on-the-water' procedures of OSB might have been disclosed to people smugglers. Major-General Bottrell said (see 4.23 of Report)

"…I fully expect that people smugglers will continue to attempt to use the divergence of views and will continue to peddle misinformation on Australia's policies, operations and tactics to cultivate their illicit trade. In the current environment, working within the Joint Agency Task Force and with our international law-enforcement counterparts, we have information superiority over the people smugglers, which means that we maintain a high degree of situational awareness that enables us to employ a variety of operational responses. It is my intention to keep it this way."

In Mr Dutton's letter to the Committee, the elements of OSB which government wanted to keep secret from public/smugglers as (Page 74 of Report)

"Impact upon Australia's relations with foreign States. Australia relies heavily on the ability and motivation of neighbouring sovereign States to contribute and cooperate in respect of search and rescue and/or safety of life at sea activities. The confidentiality of communications and information between the Commonwealth and the sovereign States is essential to the candid and collaborative liaison between the respective government agencies that undertake such activities."

Whist such explanations were being given for public interest immunity, the logic simply doesn't stacked up.

1. We can take the view that OSB (boat turn backs) may require some secrecy. However, in earlier boat push backs since commencement of OSB, there were to have been no payments made. Why, so sudden, DIBP decided to give such money to smugglers in May 2015 ?

2. Protecting OSB's operational details and DIBP payment to smugglers are two separate issues and the government is not entitled to secrecy on DIBP payment to smugglers.

3. The alleged ASIS participation on bribery payment can be merely smokescreen to protect the conduct of DIBP. Prof. Cassimatis -- the inquiry participant -- said:

"As to the scope of the immunities, plainly we are a society under law, and so statements cannot just be taken at face value if there is fundamental undermining of the standards through conduct that could not possibly be authorised. It may be possible that the immunities could be out manoeuvred."

My friend, there are ample signs of irregularities on this claim for public interest immunity. The Senate Committee had asked ASIS directly about whether they were involved in this. The Committee got no reply. Why couldn't ASIS just say 'we were in it'? This would save us some work. But they didn't.

Again, is this be just normal practice or something else ? The official letter of reply to Senate Committee by Immigration Department, both Minister Peter Dutton and Assistant Minister Michaelia Cash "DID NOT SIGNED". Haven't they read the letter they sent ?(check the last section of the Report) It could be an ominious sign for DIBP/JATF officials.

I would reassert that the secrecy surrounding OSB is favouring LNP electorally. The LNP puts their trademark on OSB and claiming it has resounding success! Has this really been the case ? My Friends, you must try to see through lies and spins.

In Solidarity, U Ne Oo, Sydney.

[#1] Download Senate Interim Report ( 4/5/16: www.netipr.org/saorg/docs/20160504_senate-interim-report.pdf )

[#2] Senate Inquiry Page:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and_Constitutional_Affairs/Payments_for_turn_backs/Submissions

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