Interview – The Today Show, Channel 9

The Today Show

20 July 2013

CAMERON WILLIAMS: Kevin Rudd’s most ambitious policy since returning to the Prime Minister’s office. It’s a new plan to turn back asylum seeker boats.

KEVIN RUDD: From now on any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees. The Australian government, in support of the PNG government, will provide comprehensive service settlements to ensure that these refugees can live safely and with security and in time, prosperity, within PNG.

CAMERON WILLIAMS: And joining us now, the Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare. Jason, there’s been very, very strong reaction to this idea as you’d imagine. A lot of people have described it as inhumane.

JASON CLARE: There will be people on the right that will say it’s not tough enough. There will be people on the left that will say it’s too tough. What I’m interested in is something that works. We have had too many people drown off the coast of Australia. And this is about removing the incentive for people to get on to a boat in the first place. The message is very simple. If you get on to a boat, you come to Australia, you won’t be settled in Australia, you’ll be settled in Papua New Guinea and we hope that that will remove the incentive for people to risk their lives at sea.

CAMERON WILLIAMS: The Prime Minister himself has said that initially this could cause even more boats as people try to beat the system. What do you say to that?

JASON CLARE: That’s not exactly right, Cam. What the PM has said is that we expect that people smugglers will continue to try to put more people onto boats, continue to lie to people. They make a million dollars a boat. And so you’ve to expect that people smugglers will continue to try and get people to get on to boats. We’ve got to get the message back up the pipeline and tell people that if people smugglers are selling you a ticket to Australia – well, that’s wrong. That product doesn’t exist anymore. It’s been taken off the shelf.

CAMERON WILLIAMS: He did say that initially there could be even more boats. So how long do you think it takes for this message to get back up the pipeline?

JASON CLARE: This is going to take some time, and it’s going to take a lot of effort. We’ve got to get the message to people that’re sitting in Indonesia right now, that if you get on to a boat you will not end up in Australia, you end up in PNG and the International Organisation for Migration will play an important role in getting that message to people. Whether they’re in Indonesia or right back up through the pipelines. Things like Facebook and Twitter are just as important as the sort of ads that you see in the newspapers today. There are a lot of people in Australia today who will look at those ads and hopefully will get on to Facebook and tell family and friends that might be in Indonesia, or might be in Malaysia, or back in Pakistan or Iran – don’t get on to a boat because the rules have changed and you won’t up here, you’ll end up in Papua New Guinea.

CAMERON WILLIAMS: And that starts – effective immediately?

JASON CLARE: That’s right. So any boats that arrive from now on will be subject to these rules. So from the next boat that arrives, the people will be transferred to Christmas Island. There’ll be health checks and security checks done. And as the Minister for Immigration said I think yesterday, he said in about two weeks the first planes will take off from Christmas Island to Manus Island. And those people will be processed there. If they’re determined to be a refugee, then they’ll be permanently settled in Papua New Guinea.

CAMERON WILLIAMS : Papua New Guinea, I imagine of its own resources wouldn’t have the ability to meet this new demand. So how much is it costing Australia to have PNG absorb all these people?

JASON CLARE: You’re right. This is something that the two countries need to do together. We’ll only going to tackle this properly if the countries of the region – Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and other countries work together. The fact is this is costing us billions of dollars already, and it’s costing us hundreds and hundreds of lives. If this works, it has the potential to reduce the cost that we currently pay for processing asylum seekers. And if it works it has the potential very importantly to reduce the number of people that are losing their lives in the middle of the ocean.

CAMERON WILLIAMS: You say if it works. I guess that’s the big question that a lot of Australians are wondering. Because there has been a lot of bungling. This could be the most expensive bungle yet.

JASON CLARE: Lives are at risk. We’ve seen too many people die. This time last week, Cam, you’ll know I had to tell the Australian people that our naval officers recovered the body of a one-year-old boy clinging to a life-jacket. That’s what’s at stake here. We’ve got to remove the incentive for people to risk their lives and get on to a boat. This is a practical, simple idea that says if you get on to a boat then you’ll end up in PNG. The risk of death hasn’t stopped people getting on to a boat. Nor has Nauru, because people know that if you go to Nauru, you stay there for a while, then you end up in Australia. That’s the difference here.

It’s different to the Malaysian Agreement too because this is unlimited. There’s no cap. So people will know, and we’ve got to get the message to people right through the pipeline that if you get on to a boat, not only do you risk drowning in the middle of the ocean, but if you get to Christmas Island, you’ll be transferred to Papua New Guinea, and that’s where you’ll stay.

CAMERON WILLIAMS: Jason, do you think this is a move that can win an election for Labor?

JASON CLARE: I’m less interested in the politics and more interested in implementing something that will work, something that will stop people risking their lives. If that’s what happens, then I think the people of Australia will say that’s a good thing. It will also mean that the men and women that I oversee who work so hard rescuing people will have less work to do and that’s a very good thing.

CAMERON WILLIAMS: Well, that is a very good thing. And our thoughts are with them. It does seem strange that Kevin Rudd wasn’t able to develop this scheme before he became Prime Minister again. But we do thank you for your time, Jason Clare.