MEET THE PRESS
INTERVIEW WITH KATHRYN ROBINSON, LANAI SCARR AND CLAIRE HARVEY
07 July 2013
Topics: Asylum seekers, Customs reform, Kevin Rudd, Drugs in Sport
KATHRYN ROBINSON: In the last four days, three boats carrying more than 200 asylum seekers have been intercepted off our shores. The Federal Government has long been under pressure to find a safe solution to the problem. Now, the first measure of its so-called get tough approach has been announced. Asylum seekers who arrive without identification or refuse to cooperate with authorities will be sent to the back of the queue. A range of other measures are expected to be unveiled before the next election. Our guest today is Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, and our panel today, Claire Harvey from The Sunday Telegraph, and Lanai Scarr, national political reporter with News Corp Australia. Good morning to you all.
Minister, I’ll begin with you. The Opposition has said today, Scott Morrison in fact, that Labor’s no-doc policy for asylum seekers is a pale imitation of Liberal policy released three years ago. Is this a rebadged Liberal policy?
JASON CLARE: Well, they’re different. This is a pretty straightforward measure that says if you’ve destroyed your documents and you don’t cooperate with Australian authorities then we’ll process you last. The Liberal policy says if you don’t have the documents then we’re just going to presume or have a presumption that you don’t have the right to asylum. I think that’s a too simple approach to this because, as we all know, a lot of people lose their documents and in that case, there shouldn’t be a presumption that they can’t seek asylum or receive asylum. But where people destroy the documents and they don’t cooperate with authorities, provide the necessary information, that we need to contact their embassy or their consulate to confirm identity, then we’ll process those people after we’ve processed the people that do have documents or are willing to assist and cooperate with authorities.
CLAIRE HARVEY: The practicalities of this throw up a couple of humanitarian questions. One is what do you do with this presumably not very happy population of people who are waiting a long time to be processed without documents? The other is the Government’s talking about releasing children immediately from detention. How do you make both of those things work? Who’s going to look after those children for example and what about work rights for the others?
JASON CLARE: Well, just on this first point, cooperation’s the key. So the individual concerned that’s seeking asylum needs to give us the information we need to contact their embassy to get the necessary information we need to confirm their identity. That’s important as part of the asylum seeker process. We don’t want children in detention. We want to get them out of detention as quickly as we can, and Minister Burke has made that point this week. But we need to be very systematic about how you do it because if you’re going to put a young person into foster care, you need to make sure that you can give them the sort of care and support that they need. So you can’t do it straight away. It does take some time, but Minister Burke has said that this is one of his priorities.
LANAI SCARR: Is this a concession that the Malaysian Solution is now dead? And also is this policy a lurch to the right?
JASON CLARE: Well, let me take the second point first. This is not about right or left. It’s about what’s going to work. Now, the Malaysian agreement is a good start but we need more than that. It’s about flying people back and what we’ve found over the course of the last few years is that the fear of dying and drowning at sea hasn’t stopped people wanting to get onto a boat. People are still getting onto boats even though so many people have died. The fear of being flown off to Nauru or to Manus Island hasn’t stopped people getting onto boats.
But one thing that has had a big effect is flying people back home. We had thousands of people come from Sri Lanka to Australia last year, then we started flying people back that were economic refugees, people looking for a job, and that’s had a big impact on the number of people coming by boat from Sri Lanka to Australia. Now what I’ve said – what the Government has said – is that we need to expand that, fly people back. A lot of people are coming to Australia from Iran at the moment and Iran refuses to take people back unless they voluntarily want to go back to Iran. So what I’ve said is let’s fly them halfway back. Fly them back to Malaysia and that’ll remove the incentive to get onto a boat in the first place. But we need to do more than just Malaysia. We need to set up that sort of agreement with other countries of the region.
LANAI SCARR: So the Malaysia Solution is not dead?
JASON CLARE: No, not at all. What I’m saying is we need that plus more. Remember, Lanai, almost 40 years ago after the Vietnam War, Saigon fell. Lots of people got onto boats and they went to places like Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, and the solution there was refugee camps run by the UN in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. And the UN ended up winning a Nobel Peace Prize for the work they did. What we need to do is the same thing. The countries of the region, countries where people are coming from as well as transiting through like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the UAE – working together with countries like Australia to set up a similar type of solution that worked 40 years after the Vietnam War.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: This idea though I guess would involve a number of countries coming to the party to make a deal on this. We’ve seen Kevin Rudd in Jakarta this week. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has announced this multilateral summit if you like. The Opposition has said why does it take the President of another country to determine our border protection policy? Is that a fair point?
JASON CLARE: Well, I think we should congratulate the President of Indonesia for putting his hand up and saying we’ve got to work together on this. The idea that Australia can just make a policy in Canberra and it can stop the boats is ludicrous. This is a big problem for all countries of the region. People are moving from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, through the UAE then to Malaysia, sometimes Thailand, then to Indonesia and then getting on a boat to come to Australia.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: But is it embarrassing…
JASON CLARE: We’re not going to fix it unless we all work together on a solution, like the one I’ve been talking about.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Is it embarrassing that President Yudhoyono took the front step on this, though, and the Australian Government didn’t?
JASON CLARE: The Australian Government has been saying for a long time we need a regional solution to this, and I’m sensing now a greater level of urgency and attention from other countries of the region saying yes, we need to do something about this as well. That’s the way to fix it, not the idea that Mr Abbott’s talking about where you can just push a boat back to Indonesia and that’ll solve the problem. The President of Indonesia was pretty clear last week. He said Indonesia is not going to tolerate or support that.
CLAIRE HARVEY: Labor’s come a long way ideologically since 2007 when, to great acclaim, the Howard Government’s policies were unravelled and the left celebrated. Do you feel that Australians who are – who think of themselves as Labor voters have come with you yet, or is there more persuasion to do?
JASON CLARE: When I talk to people about it, most people will say there’s too many people dying, stop this happening. If Australia wasn’t an island then you might be able to deal with this issue in a different way, but we are an island. People are getting on boats and they’re drowning. We’ve had hundreds of people drown. Keynes used to say when the facts change you change your mind, and that’s what the Labor Party’s done. We’ve seen people getting on the boats and drowning, and in the face of all of that you’ve got to implement whatever policies you think will work to stop people dying at sea.
Now, from what I can tell analysing this issue, it’s flying people back. That’s what’s going to remove the incentive for people getting on a boat in the first place.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Okay, we’ve got lots more to talk about but we do need to take a break, and after that short break Jason Clare on the new age of customs and border protection.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Well, over the next five years the number of people flying in and out of Australia is expected to increase by eight million, and by 2017 the amount of air cargo crossing our borders is expected to triple. To cope with the influx and ensure Australia stays protected, the Federal Government is dramatically overhauling the Customs and the Border Protection Service. Our guest today is the man behind the reform, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare.
Minister, you’ve announced these raft of reforms during the week. In a nutshell, what are they?
JASON CLARE: Well, they tackle three things. First: corruption. You’ll remember in December I announced that a number of people had been arrested for trying to get drugs into the country, including Customs officers that were trying to break the system, and I put together reforms with Justice James Wood, the man who headed up the New South Wales Royal Commission into the Police Force, including things like drug and alcohol testing as well as integrity testing, so the next time you take a bribe it might be from a police officer. Things as basic as banning the use of personal mobile phones in the custom-controlled areas at international airports, but also restricting the amount of time that you spend in any given job.
What we found in New South Wales with the Police is that if you work in one place for too long, like King’s Cross, you can become susceptible to corruption. The same problem has emerged here, so these reforms are designed to tackle that but on top of that, as you said in your introduction, we’re going to see a big increase in the amount of cargo coming to Australia, driven in part by people buying things online, and a big increase in the number of international passengers, driven in part by the Asian century, more Chinese tourists than ever before, and we need to use technology to target the right packages that might have drugs in them and also make it easier for passengers, when they get off a plane, to speed through customs and get onto a train or into a taxi and out for their holiday.
LANAI SCARR: Those corrupt Customs officials that have been caught, they have been linked to bikie gangs. Do you think there’s a need for a blanket ban on all people who’ve been linked or in some way have ties to bikie gangs being able to apply for jobs in Customs?
JASON CLARE: The first thing I should say is that the overwhelming majority of Customs officers are good, honest, hard-working people and they’re the people that have said go get them. They wear a blue uniform with pride and they often say they bleed blue, and they’re the men and women that have said we want you to implement these reforms. I had one bloke ring my office after I announced these arrests and he said I’ve been in the service for 20 years and I always wear my uniform when I get a cup of coffee in the morning, but that morning back in December he put a jacket over his uniform. He was that embarrassed and that disgusted with what somebody else that swore the same oath had done.
So they want us to get this done, and that’s why we’re doing it. On that point, I think it is right that we need to lift the standards for recruitment, something equivalent to what the Federal Police do, and I’ve said to Customs I want to implement the same reform there.
CLAIRE HARVEY: We’re 12 days into the new Rudd Government. Has the Prime Minister changed? Is he a changed man? Is this a more consultative, less angry government than it was the last time around?
JASON CLARE: I’ve seen evidence of that already, just with the conversations that I’ve had with the Prime Minister on these big issues, the sort of things that we’ve been talking about today, and I think Australia’s changed too. They’ve giving us a second look and they’re looking harder at what Tony Abbott stands for and they’re seeing that the Liberal Party don’t have any policies.
I think the big change that I’ve noticed is – talking to people in Western Sydney where I represent people – is people have said to me – a bloke said to me the other day I’m glad Kevin Rudd’s back, now I don’t have to vote for Tony Abbott. And it seems strange, but a lot of people have felt like they didn’t have a choice, that they had to vote for the Liberal Party. Now they don’t, and there’s a real competition between the two parties.
CLAIRE HARVEY: And is there now a mind shift for people like you, for Labor people who were staring down the barrel of unemployment not so long ago? You know, does Labor have to start believing that it can win again now?
JASON CLARE: Yeah, I think there’s a real boost of enthusiasm within the Labor Party, and the Liberal Party is a bit rattled. They thought they could coast to victory with just a few slogans. Now they realise they’re going to have to come up with some policies if they want to win the next election.
LANAI SCARR: One of the other key areas of your portfolio is the drugs in sport ASADA investigations. Do you think that Australian sport is dirty?
JASON CLARE: Well, no one wants drugs in sport, and that investigation showed there were links between organised crime and organised sport, and we’ve been talking about this for a long time. People have been talking about it in dark corners, but not enough has been done to get rid of drugs in sport, and that’s what this investigation’s all about. The Tour de France is on our TVs right now, and I suspect a lot of fans of the Tour de France would say I wish they did this 15 years ago.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Minister, we are out of time but thank you very much for joining us today on Meet The Press.
JASON CLARE: Thanks very much.
KATHRYN ROBINSON: Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare.
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