Interview with Graham Richardson – Sky News Richo – 10 July 2013



10 July 2013

Topics: Asylum seekers; Customs reform; drugs in sport

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: I’ve got Jason Clare here in the studio.

He’s the Minister for Customs, Minister for Justice, minister of lots of things. Jason, I just want to start up by asking about boats. I mean your office must have been burning paper with the press releases because there’s one a day at the moment, one a day and something like 100 people a day in July.

JASON CLARE: Well this is the price you pay for political intransigence. We’ve got the Angus Houston report, we want to implement all the recommendations but we can’t, and as a result the cost is more money, more boats, more death.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well it’s been much more money, I mean every time you get 100 people I know it costs us a lot of money.

JASON CLARE: Of course it does and this is the frustrating thing about it. You could fix this if the political parties would work together. To get things done in Canberra you’ve got to be prepared to compromise, you know that. The Government’s been prepared to move and say we’ll try a bit of Liberal policy, we’ll see what ideas the Greens have got that work, but both the Greens and the Liberal Party have refused to compromise because they’re afraid of losing support from their base and so the Parliament’s failed to get the important legislation through which I think will work which is flying people back.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: But when you say flying them back, flying them back where?

JASON CLARE: Okay, I’m glad you asked.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Country of origin, Malaysia, what are you talking about?

JASON CLARE: In the best case scenario, country of origin. We’re flying people back to Sri Lanka. We had thousands of people come from Sri Lanka last year, we’ve flown more 1000 back and that’s seen a dramatic decrease in the number of people coming from Sri Lanka.


JASON CLARE: Iran is where the biggest cohort’s coming from at the moment and the Government of Iran refuse to take their citizens back unless they come back voluntarily. So you can’t fly them back to Iran unless they agree to go. The next best step is to fly them half way back. Fly them back to Malaysia or fly them back to other transit countries along the way and people are travelling from Iran to the UAE, then to Thailand or Malaysia, Indonesia then on a boat to get to Australia.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Jason, when they’re doing that they must have quite a bit of money. These can’t be some peasant – starving peasant, I mean it’s going to cost money to fly all those legs and…

JASON CLARE: That’s right.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …to feed yourself and accommodate yourself during the time.

JASON CLARE: That’s right, and Bob Carr’s made the point. A lot of these people are economic refugees. People who because of the sanctions hitting hard in Iran, are looking for a better life, a better life in Australia – we’re the best country in the world – they’re prepared to pay a people smuggler $5000 or $10,000 to get on a boat and risk their lives, and this is the interesting thing in my mind: the fear of death hasn’t stopped people getting onto a boat, Nauru and Manus Island hasn’t stopped people wanting to get onto a boat, but what has stopped people getting onto boats is the fear of being flown home within a week. So flying people home to Sri Lanka works. If you can’t fly them all the way back to Iran, fly them half way back to Malaysia, but because of the intransigence of the Liberal Party and the Greens we can’t get that law through the Parliament.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: When we look at the refugees, my understanding is that for those who get here, in the end after the appeals process, there’s something like 90 per cent get a tick…

JASON CLARE: Yeah, that’s right.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Ninety per cent.

JASON CLARE: Which is way higher than comparable countries around the world.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well why is that high? If we know some of these are economic migrants and they clearly are, why don’t we establish that and why don’t we say no?

JASON CLARE: The first time they’re assessed it’s about 50 per cent then it goes up to 90 per cent when the Refugee Tribunal looks at it which is why Bob Carr, I think Kevin Rudd mentioned this as well, has said that we’re going to conduct a review about how this system works and make changes if necessary.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well I certainly hope we make some. Now I’d like to go on about boats for a long time but I can’t do it forever. Do you believe – as a last question, that that meeting that Kevin Rudd had with the Indonesian President that there was a strong enough hint that they won’t cop the boats being turned back?

JASON CLARE: Absolutely. Indonesia is very careful about the words that they use and whether it’s the Indonesian ambassador, the foreign minister or, in the communiqué, the President himself, they’ve been as clear as the Indonesian government could be that they won’t cop boats going back.

There’s a few points here Graham. One, the Indonesians will refuse to take boats back, it’s happened before, they’ve said they won’t do it again.

But the people smugglers themselves are pretty switched on here. If the navy boat comes charging and they think their boat’s going to get turned back, then they’ll sabotage the boat, the boat sinks, all of the asylum seekers go into the water, our team have to go in the water to save them as well and then they get on the boat and they end up at Nauru or Manus Island or Christmas Island or flown to Malaysia. You can’t tow a boat back if it’s at the bottom of the ocean.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: I think Admiral Chris Barrie was on this show a year ago saying that they’re putting bungs and holes in the boat…

JASON CLARE: Of course…

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: They just pull them out when they think it’s time and that’s going to make life very difficult for anyone trying to turn a boat back.

But the intriguing thing is I hear all these experts saying; why don’t Indonesians use their army and use their navy I should say because they’ve got 150-odd vessels and we’ve supplied some of them as we know.


GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Why don’t they use an [indistinct] – I would have thought this is a low priority for a third world country where people are only earning a few dollars a week.

JASON CLARE: If you look at where the Indonesian Navy’s situated, it’s all looking north. Their navy’s not based south because they’ve got other priorities. But you’re right, the boat will be sabotaged and then it sinks, you can’t turn a boat back. Tony Abbott has said that this is his core policy to stop the boats. Well it won’t work because the boats sink. So he’s left with just a slogan. And the question is okay are you going to stop the boats Mr Abbott, how? How are you going to do it when the boats sink?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: And I think he’s having trouble answering it. As I said Scott Morrison did two press conferences in two days the other day so you obviously got them rattled.

JASON CLARE: Over the last few months people haven’t been listening to the Government. They’re giving us a second look and they’re asking harder questions of the Liberal Party now and they’re starting to ask the how. Okay, you’re going to reduce the debt. How? You’re going to stop the boats. How?


JASON CLARE: That’s right. So they’ve been able to give you the first sentence but now the Australian people are saying well give me the second sentence – tell me a bit more and there’s been a lot of umming and ahing.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Alright, let’s move on to Customs because I noticed last week that you announced that you were going to try and make sure we didn’t have any corruption. Now I just put this to you. I’m a Customs officer, I’m working on the docks or wherever – airport. I’m earning 80 grand a year something like that, and then a drug importer comes along and says listen mate, I’ve got 100 grand in cash for you…

All you’ve got to do is look the other way one night. How are you as a minister ever going to stop that? Because really if you’re offering that sort of money you’ll find someone who’ll say yes.

JASON CLARE: Well two points I guess. First is that most of the Customs officers are good, honest, hard working people, but there will always be weak people, there’ll be people that will susceptible to taking a bribe. The way to tackle that is the way that it’s been tackled in police forces in Australia and around the world.

Things like integrity testing and we’ve taken that from what James Wood recommended in the New South Wales Royal Commission. That means that you run a covert sting. You’ll never know if the money that you’re being offered in the bribe is an offer from a criminal or whether it’s an offer from an under cover police officer. So they’re the sorts of things I’ve implemented. Other things like drug and alcohol testing.

But we’ve also put limits on the amount of time that you can spend in one particular job. The Police Royal Commission in New South Wales showed that you had police officers at Kings Cross who stayed in the Cross for a long period of time, built up contacts, became corrupt, corrupted other police officers, we think that you need to limit the time that you spend in one particular job in an airport and move people around from the airports to the ports to other marine jobs. James Wood recommended that to me. He’s on a board that I’ve set up to look at this and we’re implementing his recommendations.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well you can drive out to Port Botany any day or down to [indistinct], all around Australia and you see massive piles of containers, thousands upon thousands of them. I mean you would need an army to try and check all those containers. How many are there? You’d only check a tiny…

JASON CLARE: It’d be about three million a year.


JASON CLARE: That’s right.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: You can only check a handful of those I’d imagine.

JASON CLARE: Well it’s how you check. So there’s x-ray, and there’s over 100,000 are physically x-rayed; the truck goes through the x-ray machine. But the key is working out which ones to x-ray, and that’s through intelligence work.

Most of the drugs we seize in Australia, Customs and the Federal Police, is through the work that we do with the police in Australia, and the DEA, and the FBI, and other police around the world to identify where the drugs are coming from, and who’s importing them. So before the container gets here, we know that that’s a dodgy container and it needs to be x-rayed. The more intel you get, the more drugs you seize, and the more crooks that you’ll catch.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well hopefully you get more and more dumb crooks that will expose themselves. But it still makes you wonder. I mean, I had a very senior New South Wales policeman say to me a few years ago that we’ve got the wrong priorities of all this; that drugs like ecstasy and cocaine aren’t killing people, and people don’t take them and then rush out and murder people.

But ice is an extremely dangerous drug. It gives psychotic episodes to those who take it, and of course it’s the most addictive drug known to humankind. Now, I’ve been up – I don’t want to see us legalise marijuana, because I think the mental health issues with marijuana are too great for me to give that a tick. Heroin – and I know you’re from Cabramatta so you’d know more about that than I do…


GRAHAM RICHARDSON: That’s an evil drug and you wouldn’t want to see that, you know

legalised. But shouldn’t we be able to spend more time on ice? In terms of crime in the streets, that’s far worse than any of these other drugs.

JASON CLARE: Oh, yeah.


JASON CLARE: No, I agree with you. All these shootings that are happening on the streets of Western Sydney, organised gangs, often outlaw motorcycle gangs that are involved in producing as well as selling things like ice and meth. And the police around the country are now closing down a record number of clandestine labs. You know, back yard laboratories that make ice and methamphetamine.

It’s a serious problem because when you’re on this drug, you act in a very aggressive way. And you see the bashings that happen in Sydney and other places in the middle of the night…

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Oh, if you go to St Vincent’s at Kings Cross they’ve had to build two padded rooms. Because the ice addicts take on greater strength than normal they sort of become supermen for a while and they can’t be contained. It takes – and I watched this once it takes three or four men big men to control one of these ice addicts.

JASON CLARE: A lot of the drugs we’re seizing at the border are precursor chemicals; pseudoephedrine and things like that which are designed to make these drugs. The customs officers we arrested at the border were importing amphetamines were importing pseudoephedrine to make drugs like this. So it is a serious problem and it’s got to the focus of law enforcement.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Alright, look, I can’t let you go without asking you the other question. You went to that somewhat notorious press conference where ASADA, yourself, and Kate Lundy, and the Crime Commission got together. Now, I don’t think that was your finest hour. How do you regard it several months on?

JASON CLARE: The hard part of this is I’ve got the classified report, so I know how serious the problem is, and I can’t tell everybody what I know. But what we do know, and what I said, is that we’ve got organised crime; outlaw motorcycle gangs involved in importing these drugs and providing them to organised sport, to our players.

My view’s pretty simple; we don’t want drugs in sport. Everyone knows it’s there, we’ve been talking about it in the shadows, but not enough has been done about it.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yeah, but a lot of these – a lot of the drugs that they were talking about were on banned lists but weren’t necessarily – they weren’t on a illegal list. You could import them legally.

JASON CLARE: Oh, no, no. A lot of these drugs are illegal. Some of the drugs we’re talking about haven’t even been approved for human use. ASADA banned six players in the Queensland Rugby League a couple of weeks ago that were using a drug which hadn’t been approved for human use, and which last year contributed to the death of a runner in the London Marathon.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yeah, well that’s terrifying.

JASON CLARE: Absolutely. And what the Crime Commissioner said was look, I’d rather sit here and explain why we released the report than explain to a coroner why we didn’t. We’ve got players that have been using drugs that aren’t approved for human use that could kill them. Now, because of this, we’ve seen a change in behaviour [indistinct]…

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: But most players aren’t in that category. And the – most of those players who may have been using some of those drugs in any event, they get told it’s okay by the coach. These are young blokes, and there’s not been a culture like there was in the Olympic movement in either the AFL or the NRL. In the Olympic movement you know there’s a culture which means you’ve got to check everything and athletes even from the age of 15, it’s drilled into them. It hasn’t happened in either the AFL or the NRL, which I think is a shame. And it is happening now, but that’s late. Should you really punish those guys?

JASON CLARE: This is the tough question, and I’ve got sympathy for players who’ve been told sign this, it’s all okay.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yeah, but I’m a 19 year old kid, I’m not educated the coach says this is okay…

JASON CLARE: That’s right.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …I take it. Surely I should not be punished for that?

JASON CLARE: Well the other side of the fence is you’ve got young gymnasts who win gold medals and are told that what they’re taking is okay…

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: I know that, that’s the Olympic movement.

JASON CLARE: That’s right.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: But all of them are educated about it. Whereas these kids – and they’re kids – I mean I suppose some of them are in their mid twenties you can’t call them kids – but these people – it is that not highly educated get told it’s okay. And they haven’t had anything drilled into them. That’s the difference.

JASON CLARE: No, no, I’ve got enormous sympathy for that. ASADA’s got to make up their mind about what they do, but I’d want the punishment to be focused on the people that know that these drugs are not approved for human use.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Exactly. But then if you tell ASADA just back off on the players. I think you’ll find a lot of this will go away. A lot of the people disappear – but listen, I’ve got to disappear as well…


GRAHAM RICHARDSON: We thank you very much for your time Jason, I appreciate it…

JASON CLARE: No worries.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: …and I know it’s a busy period. Thank you.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Graham.