Tow back the boats? Our sailors would be extremely negligent if they didn't remove all the asylum seekers to the towing vessel / Photo: Honi Soit

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Like a leaky asylum seeker boat floundering in a modest swell a couple of hours after leaving an obscure Indonesian port, the Abbott Government is already at panic stations.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Senator George Brandis are in trouble for claiming something like $3,000 in travel expenses to attend the wedding of rabid shock jock Michael Smith. Their defence is that they were courting Mr Smith so as to deepen their attack against former Labor MP Craig Thompson for, among other things, rorting expense accounts.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne is in trouble with Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce for his rabid ideological line against student unionism. Tony doesn’t like student unionism, but he doesn’t want to get offside with Barnaby, who, understandably, wants regional universities to get every dollar they can get their hands on, no matter how. The only shot in Christopher’s locker is cutting back higher education places and reserving more of them for the overseas market and that’s understandably as popular as cat shit with the bogan aspirationals he courted in opposition.

And Environment Minister Greg Hunt is in trouble over climate change. Poor Greg. Under close questioning he just babbles and babbles. He knows man-made climate change is a fact but cabinet discipline means he can’t say that because he’d be in deep do-do with Tony and George and Barnaby and Christopher and Julie and nine-tenths of the back bench.

But that’s nothing compared with the trouble Tony Abbott is going to be in with Barnaby Joyce and the Nats if he decides to sign off on Indonesian capitalists buying a vast whack of northern Australia to raise cattle for their own market.

And Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott are in deep shit with the Indonesians over asylum seekers.

The boats are continuing to arrive at Christmas Island and their occupants will continue to pile up at whatever Pacific Solution hell-hole Abbott shifts them to. We’re going to end up running, literally, a vast Gulag Archipelago populated by desperate people who want to be Australians.

What about Abbott’s tow back the boats solution? Ocean towing is a highly technical operation. If you don’t believe me, go online and check the International Maritime Organisation’s protocols. It places great stresses on the towed vessel and a hell of a lot of things can go wrong. Your average Indian Ocean fishing boat is so flimsy that it’s more than likely to break up under tow.

Just for starters, our sailors would be extremely negligent if they didn’t remove all the passengers to the towing vessel and put a crew aboard to supervise the seized vessel while it was under tow. Under the International Maritime Organisation Guidelines for Safe Ocean Towing: “If the towed object is manned, the number of personnel on board the towed object should, as far as possible, be limited to the necessary crew only”.

Let’s say we intercept one of these vessels just inside our territorial waters near Christmas Island. It’s going to be a 300 kilometres plus tow back to Indonesia. The chances of the boat going down while under tow are very great. But assuming the seas stay calm and the boat doesn’t break up, at the maximum advisable towing speed for a 40-metre boat, it’s going to take you 12 days to get it back to the edge of Indonesian waters.

But what if the towed boat sinks, short of Indonesian territorial waters? Once that boat has gone down and the souls taken off it are on HMAS Hapless, we own them unless the Indonesian Government graciously accepts them back and the indications are that they won’t (maybe, just maybe, unless Abbott lets them buy an awful lot of Northern Territory and Queensland cattle country against the opposition of Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce and most of the National Party).

And what if the intercepted boat comes from Sri Lanka? Well that’s a 4700 kilometres tow and it’s going to take HMAS Hapless six months, not counting the return voyage.

Theoretically Abbott could operate an intensive blockade of the Indonesian, Arabian, Indian, Pakistani, Burmese, Sri Lankan and African coasts, attempting to intercept any fishing vessel possibly carrying asylum seekers, but this would tie up all the navy’s ships – plus many yet to be built – would be as popular as cat shit with the governments fronting the Indian Ocean, and would break the budget.

All the vultures hatched by Abbott’s demagoguery are coming back to roost.