INTERVIEW WITH MONIQUE WRIGHT AND ANDREW O’KEEFE
21 July 2013
Topics: Nauru, Agreement with Papua New Guinea, Bounty on people smugglers
MONIQUE WRIGHT: As we saw in the news earlier with Jess, asylum seekers have caused $60 million worth of damage during a huge riot at the Nauru Detention Centre. Detainees burned down new accommodation blocks, a medical centre, vehicles and offices and it’s believed to be in response to the Federal Government’s new deal to send asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea. Under that hard-line policy people who arrive by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.
ANDREW O’KEEFE : So here to discuss that decision, amongst other things, is the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice Jason Clare. Thanks very much for joining us Jason.
JASON CLARE: No problem. Thanks guys.
ANDREW O’KEEFE : First of all quickly, your reaction to the Nauru riot. I mean these people having arrived before the establishment of this new rule won’t be subject to the rule but it’s obviously a sign of their desperation around Australia’s immigration policy.
JASON CLARE: A lot of damage and a number of people have been arrested and they’ll go through the legal system in Nauru now. It’s still not clear whether this is the result of the announcement we’ve made that people who come by boat will be transferred and settled in Papua New Guinea or not. We’re still waiting on more information from our officials in Nauru. But the bottom line is no-one should doubt our resolve. We’re going to fully implement this policy. If people come by boat from now on without a visa to Australia they’ll be transferred to Papua New Guinea and they’ll be settled there. It’s an important part of making sure we don’t have a repeat of what happened last week. We had more people drown in the middle of the ocean.
MONIQUE WRIGHT: Now we know the voters in marginal seats have nominated the asylum seeker issue as being very important to them. That’s why you’ve brought about this policy, isn’t it?
JASON CLARE: I am less interested in the politics and more interested in stopping people drowning. When I talk to people in my electorate in Western Sydney, where you’ve got a huge number of number that have come and made Australia their home, a lot of refugees from Vietnam who came by boat. They’re telling me they’re sick of seeing people drowning. Last week I had to tell the Australian people that we had two young women in their twenties/early thirties who drowned on their way to Australia, a young bloke in his twenties, a young bloke in his thirties. We’ve had hundreds of people drown in the last few years. We’ve got to remove the incentive for people to get on a boat and instead go to the UN to seek refuge in Australia.
ANDREW O’KEEFE : Yeah. I mean, is this really going to stop them coming to Australia? I mean if as the Government claims and it’s still not entirely, you know, we’re not entirely convinced of it. You know, PNG is a safe place for these people to be resettled. Why wouldn’t they come anyway, if it’s safer than their countries of origin, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan or wherever they’re coming from?
JASON CLARE: The short answer to that Andrew is: not straight away. People smugglers will still put people onto boats. They make $1 million a boat, they’re going to lure more people to get on the boats. We’ve got to get the message back up the pipeline to people that are in Indonesia now, or in Afghanistan, or Pakistan or Iran: don’t get on a boat because you’ll end up in Papua New Guinea. If you want to seek refuge in Australia, the way to do that is through the UN system. We’ve increased the number of refugees we take every year to 20,000 last year, and if this works, then we’re looking at increasing that to 27,000.
MONIQUE WRIGHT: We’ll come back to PNG in a moment, but you’ve also announced today a hard-line stance – a bounty if you like – on people smugglers. Tell us about that.
JASON CLARE: We’ve got people smugglers here in Australia – we’ve got a lot of them. We’ve got to shut that market down and that’s why we’re putting a bounty on their head. It’s a bounty of up to $200,000 for information that leads to their arrest, and their conviction. What we’ve got at the moment are people smugglers that are part of an international syndicate. They operate out of Australia, but also out of Indonesia and other parts of the world. They help to organise people to get onto the boat, and they collect their money. They’re trading in human beings here. The agreement with PNG will help to take the product that they’re selling off the shelf, but we’ve also got to lock these people up. And that’s what this bounty is designed to do.
ANDREW O’KEEFE: Those people who are – as we call them – people smugglers working out of Australia, are subject to various laws already. So the bounty does smack of just a massive publicity stunt to relaunch a refugee policy that is going to be very popular amongst those who take a very hard line towards refugees.
JASON CLARE: Andrew we’ve got a lot of police at work on this at the moment. Their advice is that there are a lot of people that are involved in organising boats here in Australia – often people that’ve come by boat many years ago – and that they need information to help to lock these people up. And by offering a reward, offering a bounty, we increase the chances of getting these people off the street. If that saves a life, if that stops someone getting onto a boat and drowning in the middle of the ocean, then that’s money well spent.
MONIQUE WRIGHT: What about the appropriateness of Papua New Guinea as a place to send some of the most vulnerable people in society. We know that there’s high crime, high unemployment, it’s an extremely expensive place to live, it just doesn’t-
ANDREW O’KEEFE: The Government’s own travel advisory warns against going to Papua New Guinea.
JASON CLARE: I’ve been to Papua New Guinea quite a bit. You’d know that I’ve taken young people from here in Sydney to do the Kokoda Track and the Black Cat Track. I’m there all the time. We’ve got a problem. We’ve got a problem with people smuggling, PNG have got problems as well. They’ve got big challenges with health, with education, and law and order. That’s why we announced last week 50 extra Australian Federal Police that are going to go and work in PNG as well, extra money to help them with health and education – this is what friends do.
We’re next door neighbours. They’re helping us with the problem we’ve got of people drowning at sea, we need to help the people of Papua New Guinea with the problems and the challenges that they’ve got – health, education, infrastructure, law and order.
MONIQUE WRIGHT: What about the malaria situation at the moment – we know that it’s not appropriate for children under seven and for pregnant women to go there. How is that going to remarkably be changed in future? How are you proposing to send a pregnant woman with a small child there, when we know that there isn’t a malaria medication that’s safe for them to take?
JASON CLARE: When we have the appropriate facilities and it’s safe for people to be transferred to PNG, everyone will be, initially men. Families and young children will be transferred when we’ve got the right accommodation to make sure they can be transferred safely.
MONIQUE WRIGHT: Alright. Thank you.
ANDREW O’KEEFE: Sadly we have to leave it there because we’re out of time, but obviously there’s a lot more discussion to be had on this issue.
JASON CLARE: Absolutely.
ANDREW O’KEEFE: And we’ll hear a lot more about it over the coming weeks. Thank you very much, Jason Clare.
MONIQUE WRIGHT: Thanks for coming in, thanks Jason.
JASON CLARE: You’re welcome.