Immigration is always a big issue during a federal election, so it’s no surprise the government is once again ripping out hair trying to solve the problem of boat people. One possible solution we Navy patrol-boat guys are hearing about is something they’re calling Turnaround Policy. If Turnaround passes in parliament, it will give the Australian Marine Customs Unit and Royal Australian Navy the power to order the master of any illegal vessel to turn around and float the fuck back out of Australian waters.
Now, these boats carry average of 120 people who have each paid about US$20,000 for the trip. Being told to go back the way they came is going to piss a few of them off. It’s a dangerous voyage. Picture yourself running across a minefield and making it to the end, only to have someone say go back to the start. Would you want to risk your life again? I've dealt with sick children before who upon further examination needed blood transfusions to stay alive. Imagine if that was your kid and it died on your way back to Indonesia. Some shit is going to go down.
I can’t say if it’ll pass or not but I do know it’s looking likely as the government has funded new training for all boarding party members borne on HMA patrol-boats. People like me will take courses in military self-defence and protective population control (which you should read as riot training). Both courses are very intense for the Navy given we’re not used to such operations. The courses are run by the Australian Army and upon successful completion, we’ll all be listed on a government register which will be kept on record with the Australian Federal Police in the event we commit a violent crime and use the techniques we’ve been taught.
This sounds cool in a Con Air type way, but what it all points to is us members of Boarding Party having to use force on asylum seekers. Use of lethal force is definitely something that could occur in desperate situations. Under the Op Resolute Individual Orders For Use of Force, we’re authorised to use lethal force to achieve the mission, protect Australian Defence Force property, or in self-defence or defence of another person. I agree that something needs to be done to better manage the chaos on our borders, but if my guys one day have to kill someone just because they’re looking for a place they can live, something is seriously wrong.
And while Turnaround is designed to slow down the people smuggling trade, the short term effect is that we’ll see a huge number of boats trying to get here before it’s enacted. As soon as word spreads to the smugglers that the laws are changing, hundreds if not thousands of asylum seekers will start rushing over. There were similar policy talks in parliament late last year, and I was on patrol at the time. In four days I conducted seven SIEV boardings all because there were talks. That policy didn’t even pass. If this one does, we’re going to be extremely busy.
A bunch of you reading this are probably thinking I’m a whingeing lefty. But it’s one thing to pass these laws when you’re sitting in Canberra, or make smart-ass Facebook comments about boat people from your office computer. Our borders need patrolling and we’re the ones who signed up to do it. We’re fine with it being hard and we’re fine with it being dangerous. But turning people back in the full knowledge that some of them will die is bullshit. And if you think I’m being a pussy, you’re welcome to come try it for yourself.
Woody is the pen name of a Navy patrol-boat sailor assigned to border protection duties with Operation Resolute. He’ll be writing to us from time to time because he’s one of the few Australians who has actual experience with boat people, people smugglers, and other hot immigration topics that everyone pretends to know about.