Blogging Senate #Estimates (Feb 2014) (Part 6)

One of the line of questions I think should be pursued more is how public expenditure relates to Operational Sovereign Borders. Kim Carr just asked a series of questions about the procurement and use of the orange lifeboats, one of which was discovered today.

Source: HVK/Barcroft Media (via the Guardian)

Source: HVK/Barcroft Media (via the Guardian)

The CEO of Customs, Michael Pezzullo, just said it is his judgement these questions fall within the public interest immunity criteria relating to Operation Sovereign Borders as the lifeboats are operational employment.

There is undoubtedly a public interest claim regarding parts of military operations. For example, routes and procedures used by Navy ships should probably not be advertised. However to claim this extends to the number of lifeboats on hand or their contractual obligations is a breach of public accountability.

These lifeboats were purchased with public funds. Reports (neither confirmed or denied by Operational Sovereign Borders command) suggest 11-12 have been purchased at a price of approximately $500,000.

“Is it your intention to purchase more?”

“Possibly.”

Mr Pezzullo then said he is willing to purchase as many as required. Another 20? 50? 100?

This level of classification is a sickness in our political system. Further, given the serious political implications for our relationship with Indonesia, the fact this is being covered up threatens ongoing tension. How many orange boats are going to wash up on the shore of Java? How does the Navy compel with Australia’s obligations under the Law of the Sea?

These are valid questions which fall outside of the public interest immunity claim by the government.

It’s time the Greens and the ALP worked out how to use their Senate majority effectively before it disappears. Instead of bickering, they have about four months to force as much information out of the government as possible. Narrowing the scope of the public immunity criteria should be a priority.

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