Michael Gordon: Coalition stumbles on high moral ground
Everyone, from the Chief of the Australian Defence Force down, has sprung to the ramparts to pour boiling oil upon the head of Senator Stephen Conroy for having had the impertinence to offend Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, the lion of Operation Sovereign Borders.
General Campbell, you might have imagined, was amply equipped to defend himself, even from Senator Conroy’s overenthusiastic charge that he was involved in a cover-up concerning Manus Island.
He is, indisputably, a courageous man. Apart from working alongside the zealous crusader of the high seas, Scott Morrison, he was a member of the Special Air Service Regiment, commanded the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in East Timor and was Commander of Australian Forces in Afghanistan, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
His credentials for bravery, however, were altogether confirmed when he travelled recently to Papua New Guinea and Manus Island.
We need only study the Australian government’s own alarming warnings about such a perilous journey to understand the level of boldness required. ”We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Papua New Guinea because of the high levels of serious crime,” begins the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s official advice.
”Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
”Large crowds and public gatherings should be avoided as they may turn violent.
”Ethnic disputes continue to flare up … Disputes can quickly escalate into violent clashes. Such clashes not only create danger within the immediate area but promote a general atmosphere of lawlessness.”
There’s quite a bit more about carjackings and gang rape and the need to travel in convoy at night, all of which suggests that General Campbell is adept at surviving peril.
It remains unclear, however, whether he will be reporting these horrors when it comes to his part in reviewing the suitability of Manus Island, an outpost of apparently lawless PNG, as Australia’s chosen detention centre for asylum seekers.
He wasn’t entirely forthcoming about his investigations into recent violence and death on Manus when he spent Tuesday afternoon being browbeaten by senators keen on extracting information.
Perhaps, having read the government’s own warnings about regular violence at large PNG gatherings and having inspected the place himself, he was surprised at the senators’ apparent naivety.
No cover-up here, despite Senator Conroy’s accusation. PNG, clearly was chosen by both Labor and the Coalition to frighten hell out of anyone but a battle-hardened general.
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