OSB secrecy is the enemy

Marg Hutton
6 February 2014

I was outraged when I first read Paul Toohey’s report of 3 men dying crossing a river in the jungle after having been dumped on a beach in West Java on a pushed back lifeboat, courtesy of Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB).

But now, five days after that report was published, I’ve reached the tentative conclusion, that the deaths most likely didn’t happen. My reasons are as follows:

Fairfax Indonesian correspondent, Michael Bachelard interviewed the asylum seekers from that lifeboat soon after they made it back through the jungle to their villas in Cisarua. When Bachelard spoke with the asylum seekers after their perilous journey he was not told anything about people dying. After Paul Toohey’s story broke, Bachelard went and checked with his people on the ground in Indonesia and reported on Twitter: ‘My sources (one of whom was on the boat) deny the second-hand report here saying three people died after turn-back’.

Yesterday, Al Jazeera reported the story and included interviews with two men who had been on the lifeboat - neither of them mentioned deaths in the jungle.

ABC Indonesian correspondent, George Roberts tweeted that he had been ‘trying to verify the reports of the deaths’.

So it’s not as if other journalists have discounted or ignored the story. I believe the reason it hasn’t been followed up in the press is that no one has been able to find any evidence to support Paul Toohey’s claim.

It is inevitable in the current climate of OSB secrecy with its absence of accountability and transparency that rumours and hearsay will abound. Rather than castigating journalists for not getting their stories one hundred per cent correct, we should be demanding the government open the windows on OSB and let the people know what is happening to vulnerable asylum seekers in our name.



For a table in PDF format containing all the known turnback incidents to date under Operation Sovereign Borders, see here

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