Interview with Marius Benson
10 April 2013
E + OE
Topic: Asylum seekers
SANDY ALOISI: The Gillard Government is under new pressure today over asylum seeker arrivals following the appearance of a boat carrying 66 Sri Lankans on the West Australian coast. The boat went undetected until it arrived at the regional port of Geraldton and that’s prompted claims from the Opposition that the government has lost all control of our national borders.
Jason Clare is Home Affairs Minister and is responsible for border security. He’s speaking here to Marius Benson.
MARIUS BENSON: Jason Clare, good morning.
JASON CLARE: Good morning, Marius.
MARIUS BENSON: How did this boat make its way – all the way to Geraldton undetected? Does that mean something went wrong with Border Protection?
JASON CLARE: I was briefed by Border Protection Command last night and I’ve spoken to them again this morning. Their initial advice is they believe the vessel travelled directly from Sri Lanka to Geraldton, which meant that it travelled in a way which is south of the main surveillance area, south of where most of our planes and most of our patrol boats are focused.
But we’ll have more information, we’ll know more about this, when the people that were on the boat have been interviewed by DIAC officials as well as Customs and Border Protection officials.
MARIUS BENSON: Will you be reviewing that surveillance given this arrival?
JASON CLARE: I’ve asked Customs to have a look at this. I’ve asked them to review the circumstances of this case. And if changes are required to the way in which they patrol, then that should occur. I’ve got to say Customs and Border Protection do a very good job. This is the first case of a vessel making the mainland in now about five years.
They do a very good job of intercepting vessels but this case deserves review to see if any change in patrolling activities is required.
MARIUS BENSON: Colin Barnett, the West Australian Premier, calls it a serious unprecedented and unacceptable break of border security. Do you agree?
JASON CLARE: Well, we’ve been in contact with Mr Barnett’s office yesterday giving him information on this case. Obviously it’s a concern and I can understand that people would be concerned about this. We’ve got a big coast line and Customs and Border Protection do a good job of intercepting vessels based on intelligence and based on the surveillance work that they do.
We need to interview the people on the boat to understand what direction they came in. We saw that sign that said they were heading for New Zealand. They were on the boat, we believe, for up to 44 days. So it seems like a very unusual circumstance in which people have travelled directly from Sri Lanka to the southern coast of Australia, which means that instead of heading towards Cocos Island or Christmas Island, which 99.9 per cent of vessels do, they’ve travelled in a southerly direction and arrived at Geraldton.
MARIUS BENSON: What will happen to these people now? Will they be processed in Christmas Island as is being reported or are they – because they landed on the mainland – entitled to be processed on shore?
JASON CLARE: No, Marius. My advice is that DIAC intends to fly these people to Christmas Island and they’ll be screened and processed there.
MARIUS BENSON: So it’s just the same as arriving on Christmas Island? The mainland gives them no different entitlement?
JASON CLARE: Well, I think that’s right. There’s – most of our processing facilities are at Christmas Island so there’s a logic in flying them there. The other point is they’ll be screened by DIAC officials. If they don’t meet the requirements to be treated as refugees, then they’ll be flown home to Sri Lanka.
You’ll know that last year a lot of Sri Lankans were flown back to Sri Lanka on the basis that they didn’t meet Australian requirements to be considered – international requirements to be considered – a refugee and they were flown home. The same tests will apply to the individuals on this vessel.
MARIUS BENSON: In fact, the Sri Lankan High Commissioner says just send them home. There’s no reason for anyone to be a refugee from Sri Lanka.
JASON CLARE: Well, one of the most successful things we’ve done in this wretchedly difficult area of public policy is say that if you don’t meet the test of being a refugee then you’re flown home. And a lot of people were flown back to Sri Lanka last year and it helped us to significantly stem the flow of boats from Sri Lanka. It’s been very successful.
What I have argued is that the Malaysian Agreement is something very similar. A lot of people come to Australia via Afghanistan or Iran. It’s very difficult to fly people back to Afghanistan or Iran but you can fly them halfway back by sending people back to Malaysia. It’s an important part of a regional solution to stop people risking their lives and getting onto boats.
MARIUS BENSON: Jason Clare, thank you very much.
JASON CLARE: Thanks very much, Marius.
SANDY ALOISI: The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, speaking to Marius Benson.