Interview – The Today Show, Channel Nine


The Today Show

Channel Nine

26 July 2013

LISA WILKINSON: Welcome back to the show. The heavyweight political battle over who has the toughest asylum seeker policy has come down to this – Kevin Rudd’s hardline PNG solution versus Tony Abbott’s plan to call in the military with a 3-star General to lead a taskforce called Operation Sovereign Borders. Meanwhile, two more boats arrived yesterday.

BEN FORDHAM: They certainly did. It’s time for In the House with the Minister for Home Affairs Jason Clare, and the deputy leader of the Opposition Julie Bishop. Welcome to both of you. Thanks very much for being here. First up, let’s have a look at what Tony Abbott had to say just on this issue just yesterday.

TONY ABBOTT: The operational control of Operation Sovereign Borders will be in the hands of a 3-star military commander who will be reporting directly to the Minister for Immigration under the overall supervision of the National Security Committee of the Cabinet.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay, Jason, you first of all. What is wrong with the Coalition’s idea?

JASON CLARE: It’s an organisational structure rather than a solution. I’ve got a 2-star Admiral that reports to me, the Prime Minister has got a 4-star General that reports to him. You can have different organisational structures but ultimately you need something that’s going to remove the incentive for people to get onto a boat. That’s what the decision to make an agreement with PNG’s all about. If you come to Australia by boat, you will be transferred and resettled in PNG.

BEN FORDHAM: Just trying to understand, though, what’s wrong with what Tony Abbott announced yesterday?

JASON CLARE: You can have whatever organisational structure you like. I think it’s a distraction from the main question – what’s going to support people drowning? Ultimately, that’s what all policy needs to be designed around. It’s as simple as that.

LISA WILKINSON: Julie Bishop, what’s your response to that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, we have a 4000-word policy on how to stop the boats and dismantle the people smuggling trade. We took to it the 2010 election. On top of that, we believe that because we are seeing these tragic deaths at sea we’ve got to have flexible and rapid deployment capability.

Currently, a number of our assets, whether they be border protection or defence, report to different people. The Federal Police report to the Attorney-General. ASIS, the offshore intelligence, report to the Foreign Affairs. ASIO, onshore, report to the Attorney-General. Defence reports to Defence. Customs reports to Customs – Home Affairs.

So what we want to do is bring it under one chain of command so that we can have flexible and rapid response, and there’s a long history of military leadership in civilian emergencies, whether it’s the NT intervention, the Queensland floods or, in this case, border protection.

BEN FORDHAM: Let me ask the same question I asked Jason: what is the wrong with the Government’s policy on this? Because you are both presenting different plans. What’s wrong with the PNG plan and the broader policy of the Labor Government?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, first Labor have to admit that they got it wrong. Kevin Rudd got it wrong – tragically, terribly got it wrong – in 2008. Once they can admit that they got it wrong then they can see that the Howard Government’s solutions will work and that that’s what should have been implemented six years ago. We have a proven history of success in this area. Labor has a proven history of failure, and we don’t believe that Labor’s got the commitment, the competence or the will to properly implement this, and it’s not right to say and put out ads to say that no one that comes by boat will end up in Australia. Already this announcement’s starting to unravel, as it has on so many occasions in the past.

So we just don’t believe Labor’s got the will or the competence to implement a policy like this. The logistics of it are so incredibly complex and detailed and it hasn’t been thought through.

LISA WILKINSON: Your response, Jason?

JASON CLARE: First thing’s first about the Pacific Solution. Both sides of politics, Labor and Liberal, decided to get rid of the Pacific Solution because circumstances had changed.

JULIE BISHOP: There was no-one in detention, that’s why. When we left office…

JASON CLARE: The decision was made by Labor and Liberal.

JULIE BISHOP: Well, only four people in detention.

JASON CLARE: Circumstances have changed now, and to be honest, I’ve changed my mind as well. When you get reports about people dying and you see photographs of people that have died, you know you’ve got to take action and unfortunately we’ve been denied the powers we think we need to take action.

On this point here, the Government’s policy is that people will be resettled in PNG. It’s the only policy that means people will be resettled overseas. Julie’s policy says you’ll have a temporary protection visa. Those people will ultimately be settled in Australia.

Turning back boats, we know what happens there – the boat is sabotaged and sinks and you can’t turn it back. So there’s only one policy here that means people will be settled overseas. The Liberal Party supported it last week, now it looks like they are opposing it. We need to work together on this if we’re going to stop people drowning.

LISA WILKINSON: You sound like you are approaching it from a humanitarian standpoint, but the people who are settled in Papua New Guinea, they have no freedom of movement and they really have no hope for a future. We have a history in Australia of refugees being assimilated into the community and building lives and not being on the welfare system. Does that sit comfortably with you?

JASON CLARE: Two points. There’s nothing compassionate about people drowning, and over the last week or so I’ve had to tell Australia about two young women in their 20s and 30s that have drowned, as well as children. They will have freedom of movement, Lisa. They’ll have all of the rights that you’d expect: the ability to work to, be able to get accommodation, access to education and health.

But we need to make this point.

There is nothing compassionate about people drowning. The latest reports I have got are that people smugglers are telling people in Indonesia now – and remember you have thousands of people in Indonesia who have bought tickets already – they are saying get on a boat now before the first plane goes to PNG, or this won’t go through the Parliament, it won’t survive the High Court. Every lie you can think of is now being told to encourage people to get onto boats. That’s why you can expect more boats to come over the course of the next few weeks, just like boats came after Tampa. They are pushing people on to boats because they make $1 million a boat, sometimes more.

BEN FORDHAM: Can I just ask you, Julie, something about something Jason has raised about pushing back boats, as you say we’re safe to do so. How does it sit with you, the concern that there may be cases where you’re pushing back a boat and that boat starts sinking and people die?

JULIE BISHOP: The Coalition plan is to stop people getting on the boats in the first place. The plan is to work with countries like Indonesia and Malaysia to stop them getting on boats in the first place, but this is…

BEN FORDHAM: Sure, but let’s just use that scenario that we’re at sea and there is a leaky boat and you’re pushing it back. In the event that that sinks and people die, how is that going to…

JULIE BISHOP: This is the point I am trying to make, that we will dismantle the people smuggling trade. This is the first point. You’ve got to dismantle that people smuggling trade to stop them getting on the boats in the first place, stop them making that terrible journey.

LISA WILKINSON: How will you do that?

JASON CLARE: How will you do that?

JULIE BISHOP: What we did – well, I’m not going to go into the operational aspects of it and give the people smugglers a handle on how to do it.

LISA WILKINSON: But the trouble is…

JULIE BISHOP: But just a minute, I’m not…

LISA WILKINSON: This has become such a hot issue, if you don’t give detail…

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I’m not going to give the people smugglers a handbook, but what we will do is get our military assets used in a way that turns back boats…

LISA WILKINSON: I’m sorry to do this to you, Julie, if you can just wait one second because there’s something quite serious that’s just happening. We have to go straight to Georgie Gardener.

[Breaking news – unrelated]

BEN FORDHAM: Look, I know that it’s a shorter version of our conversation today, so I hope you don’t mind us wrapping it up. Is there any prospect – just lastly, is there any prospect of both of your sides – considering we are talking about life and death here – coming together and working out a solution together, or is it beyond that?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, first we need to know a lot more about the announcement that Kevin Rudd made in relation to PNG. We need the detail, how much it is going to cost, for how long are people going to be supported by the Australian taxpayers as they try and live in PNG.

BEN FORDHAM: Would you be open to that? Would the Opposition be open to getting together…

JULIE BISHOP: We want to hear the details. Absolutely.

BEN FORDHAM: Would the Government be willing to get together with the Opposition and sort something out?

JASON CLARE: The Labor Party and the Liberal Party, in reality, aren’t that far apart on this issue. The problem is it’s been poisoned by politics and people wanting to win votes on this issue. If we work together, we can stop people drowning.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. We do have to run.