Interview with Carrie Bickmore, David Hughes, Charlie Pickering and Megan Gale
Channel Ten – The Project
10 April 2013
Topic: Asylum seekers
CARRIE BICKMORE: Jason Clare is the Minister for Home Affairs. Minister, this is the first time in five years refugees have arrived on the mainland. Do you think seeing these desperate asylum seekers up close changes the terms of the debate?
JASON CLARE: Well it’s a debate that’s been poisoned by politics. Politicians have been fighting about this for 10 years, and while we’ve been fighting people have been dying. The people of Australia, whether they’re in Geraldton or whether they’re here in Sydney or in Melbourne, want us to work together to sort this out. But given the things Tony Abbott said today, I’m not hopeful at all.
DAVE HUGHES: Mate, on the boat itself arriving at Geraldton, I mean, it’s – is that a worry that it was able to evade all Australia’s, you know, defence forces? It didn’t look like a fast boat. I mean, how did it do that?
JASON CLARE: The preliminary advice to me from Border Protection Command is that the boat probably travelled directly from Sri Lanka to Geraldton which is a lot further south than Christmas Island. Most of our patrol boats and our surveillance aircraft are targeted at Christmas Island, and the area between Christmas Island and Indonesia.
That’s why I’ve asked Customs to review this, talk to the people on the boat, understand why they travelled in this direction, and whether we need to reposition our boats and our planes to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.
CHARLIE PICKERING: Now you say that politics has poisoned this. Thankfully the law, including the High Court, helps clarify those things without politics getting in the way. And legally, people landing in Australia do have a right to apply for asylum. So can I ask, those that landed at Geraldton, did they ask to be accepted as refugees in Australia?
JASON CLARE: Charlie, I don’t think they have, at least not at this point in time. Because they’ve landed at Geraldton they won’t be transferred to Nauru or to Manus Island. They’ll be flown to Christmas Island…
CHARLIE PICKERING: So sorry, why were they flown to Christmas Island when they landed on the mainland?
JASON CLARE: Most of the processing of people seeking asylum occurs at Christmas Island. All of the experts and all of the immigration officials are there. So subject to their fitness to fly, they’ll be flown to Christmas Island for that processing to occur.
CHARLIE PICKERING: But Geraldton isn’t considered outside an exclusion zone that we know about yet?
JASON CLARE: No, it’s not. And to pick up that point Charlie, legislation is in the Parliament at the moment that would mean that if a boat arrives on the mainland then people can still be transferred to Nauru or Manus Island. That legislation has passed through the House of Representatives, it’s in the Senate at the moment, and when Parliament returns in May that legislation will hopefully be passed. And that will reduce the incentive for people to try and travel more days at sea to hit the mainland to avoid being transferred to Nauru or to Manus Island.
MEGAN GALE: Okay Jason, and lastly but perhaps most importantly, what’s to become of these desperate people?
JASON CLARE: Well they landed at Geraldton yesterday. They’ve been bussed down to Perth and they’re receiving health checks and fitness to fly checks now. And subject to their fitness to fly, they’ll be transferred to Christmas Island. And if they’re found not to be refugees then they’ll be flown back to Sri Lanka.
CARRIE BICKMORE: Thank you for speaking with us tonight.
JASON CLARE: Thanks everybody.