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Published in The Canberra Times 26 May 2011

ASIO has made adverse security findings against sixty individuals who have been granted refugee status. Once recognised as refugees they cannot be sent back to their home country. On the basis of the ASIO assessment the Department of Immigration have refused a residence visa and placed them in detention; this amounts to indefinite detention unless ASIO changes its assessment. On what basis has ASIO made these findings?

Daniel Flitton and Maris Beck writing on 16 May in The Age, said, “…a Tamil woman, Ranjini, and her two children were taken into custody at Sydney’s Villawood detention centre last week. It is believed ASIO found her former husband was a driver for Tamil Tiger separatists.”

If this is the case, how did ASIO obtain this information? From an admission by the former husband, from information obtained from its own endeavours and resources or from information provided by the Sri Lankan government, its agents and sympathisers? I have maintained for some time that ASIO is beholden to the latter for information relating to Tamils.

ASIO have accepted the line that the Tamil Tigers were terrorists and that all judgements relating to the conflict in Sri Lanka should be seen in that light. In fact the conflict was a civil war between unequal protagonists. The Tamils used whatever it took to maximise their military capacity in the context of the civil war within Sri Lanka.

For a number of years the AFP accepted advice from a so called terrorism expert, Rohan Gunaratna, based in Singapore. Gunaratna, a Sinhalese, worked with the Sri Lankan police in the 1980’s. This is the same police force which has conducted a terror campaign against young Tamils in Colombo by abducting them off the streets; few of them have been seen again.

One who did turn up alive was Premakumar Gunaratnam, an Australian citizen, who was abducted and tortured for three days in early April. As a result of considerable public and media pressure he was released and flown back to Australia.

In addition to maintaining that ASIO obtains information from the discredited Rajapakse regime, I also maintain that ASIO has instituted a program of preventive detention and can do so because of their lack of accountability. It is illegal under Australian and international law.

This contention was given weight by the ABC 7.30 Report on 21 May. Hayden Cooper interviewed Shanaka Jayasekara, based at Macquarie University; he is another Sinhalese making a career in the terrorism industry. Jayasekara argued a case that former members of the Tamil Tigers, who found their way to Australia, should be indefinitely detained as they constitute a threat to Australian security. Jayasekara claimed this threat was real because many former Tigers had been trained to use dangerous weapons and might seek to destabilise Australia by using these skills.

This patently overplays any threat that might exist. It is paranoid nonsense. Such concerns can be ascertained and monitored within the community by observation. There are many former service personnel in Australia, possessing sophisticated military skills, that ASIO does not feel constrained to lock up. Of course, for ASIO, the greater the claimed domestic threat from terrorists, the easier it is to justify their budget; accepting the line that the only good Tiger is one in detention, does ASIO and its capacity to analyse critical and complex security issues, little credit. But there is more.

ASIO, having decided that former members of the Tamil Tigers are an integral part of the continuing war on terror, and as such are inimical to Australian interests, personal animus appears to have entered into decision making with respect to at least one alleged member of the Tigers who sought asylum in Australia.

Sasikanthan was the spokesperson for refugees on the Oceanic Viking. The reason being that he spoke better English than the other asylum seekers; he was not the negotiator he was the translator, but he achieved prominence because of the presence of the media, particularly TV. You will recall that it was events associated with the Oceanic Viking that caused Kevin Rudd grief and in fact caused him some humiliation at the hands of the Indonesians who, despite his diplomatic background, he completely misread.

The word from within Canberra is that ‘they’ are out to make life as difficult for Sasikanthan as possible. And if you don’t believe ‘they’ could be as vindictive and petty as that, then you have never worked in the Federal Public Service. Sasikanthan, found to be a refugee, is locked up because he constitutes a threat to our state. I call that an abuse of power, akin to the actions of a police state – worthy of apartheid South Africa.

Sasikanthan has lost his mind.

So now we have a situation where Tamils are terrorists or have the potential to become terrorists and Sinhalese, because they were on the other side in the civil war, are experts on terrorism; a simplistic notion which ASIO has bought.

The Director-General of ASIO, David Irvine, might have given more enlightened leadership to his organisation, but only the other day he signed off on a review of the security status of Ranjini and had her locked up at Villawood with her two children aged 6 and 8. She had only been remarried for six weeks.

It is time ASIO had a new Director-General and time the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, got on top of her portfolio, applied a critical mind and stopped swallowing some of the nonsense being dished up to her as considered analysis.

Bruce Haigh