Interview with Sabra Lane – ABC AM – 10 April 2013


Interview with Sabra Lane


10 April 2013


Topic: Asylum seekers

TONY EASTLEY: The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, was briefed about the arrival last night and again this morning. Mr Clare is speaking here to chief political correspondent Sabra Lane in our Canberra studio.

SABRA LANE: Jason Clare, good morning and welcome to AM.

JASON CLARE: Good morning, Sabra.

SABRA LANE: How is it that a boat of – with 66 people on board can sail straight into Geraldton Harbour undetected by Australian officials?

JASON CLARE: Sabra, I was briefed by Customs and Border Protection last night and again this morning. Their preliminary advice to me is they think the vessel travelled directly from Sri Lanka to Geraldton so they travelled much further south than vessels normally travel when they’re travelling a shorter distance to Cocos Island or to Christmas Island.

All of our patrol boats and surveillance aircraft are targeted at the northwest where 99 per cent of vessels arrive and are intercepted and the early advice is we think the vessel took a much longer southerly route but we’ll have more knowledge of that when we interview the people that were on the boat.

SABRA LANE: Could it be a deliberate tactic then by would be asylum seekers to come directly to the mainland and travel further south than where the Border Protection boats and assets are based?

JASON CLARE: Well, it means a much longer journey, 44 days in this case, and so a much greater risk of people perishing at sea. It’s possible that the people on this boat took this southerly route because they were wishing to travel to New Zealand. There was a sign on the boat that said they wanted to go to New Zealand. But we’ll have much more information about that when we interview the people on the boat.

The point to stress is this is very unusual. We haven’t had a boat head for the mainland and make the mainland now in about five years. It’s a much shorter journey for people to travel to Cocos Island or to Christmas Island and so when we interview the people on the boat we’ll understand what their motivations were.

SABRA LANE: Well, you’ve heard what the WA Premier, Colin Barnett, had to say. A serious and an unprecedented breach. Tony Abbott says Australia has effectively surrendered. How do you respond to those things?

JASON CLARE: Well, I’m concerned. I’ve asked Customs and Border Protection to review the circumstances of this case and advise me whether there needs to be changes to the way in which we patrol the seas in the northwest. But the sort of language that we’ve heard from Tony Abbott is not helpful. It’s indicative of the bigger problem with this debate.

The political parties have been fighting about this now for more than a decade and it’s politics that have poisoned this debate. My view is whatever you think the solution is to this wretchedly difficult problem, the government of the day should be given the power that it thinks it needs to stop people dying at sea. And that’s what we’ve been denied both from the Liberal Party and by the Greens Party.

SABRA LANE: If you have to move assets and facilities further south now to deal with this, that will add millions now to a portfolio that’s already experienced a huge budget blow out.

JASON CLARE: Well, let’s take this step by step, Sabra. All of the early advice to me is that this is highly unusual. We’ll interview the people on the boat to see what their motivations were, but 99.9 per cent of vessels that are intercepted are headed to either Cocos Island, Christmas Island, or Ashmore Island. People do that because they’re seeking the shortest trip possible.

We’ll need to better understand what the motivations were of the people on this boat.

SABRA LANE: Sri Lankan analysts are saying that this could lead to a new level of planning by would be asylum seekers. How are you going to deal with that?

JASON CLARE: Well, what we’ve seen over the last few months is a dramatic drop in the number of boats from Sri Lanka to Australia and that’s been driven by a decision by the government to fly people back to Sri Lanka where they don’t meet the refugee requirements. The risk of death hasn’t stopped people from getting on to a boat, but the prospect of being flown home within a couple of days back to Sri Lanka has. And if these people don’t meet the refugee requirements, then they’ll be flown back to Sri Lanka.

It’s the most effective thing that we’ve been able to do in the last few months and the point I’d make is this; it’s very difficult to fly people back to Afghanistan, it’s very difficult to fly people back to Iran where most people are coming to Australia from. The next best step is to fly them half the way back. Fly them back to Malaysia, the route that they take to get to Australia, and we’ve been denied the opportunity to implement that policy by the parliament, by the Liberal Party, and by the Greens.

It’s important that we do that. Angus Houston and his panel of experts have said this is critical if we’re going to stem the flow of people making that risky journey, risking their life at sea, to come to Australia by boat.

SABRA LANE: And that panel also said though that the mainland should be excised from the migration zone. The legislation is now in before parliament. You haven’t put it through the Senate. Haven’t you effectively brought this problem on yourself and will you try and have it passed in the five remaining weeks that parliament has?

JASON CLARE: It’s a strange beast, the Senate. I don’t have carriage of that legislation but the government is committed to passing it. It’s passed through the House of Representatives. We want it passed through the Senate as quickly as possible. And that legislation will be before the Senate for it to debate and pass when Parliament returns.

SABRA LANE: Where will this go – group be processed? Will they be processed at Christmas Island or will they be sent to Nauru and Manus Island?

JASON CLARE: Well, first they’ll be transferred by plane if they’re fit to fly to Christmas Island. That’s where they’ll be screened. If at that point it’s identified that they don’t meet the requirements of the Refugee Convention then they’ll be flown back to Sri Lanka. But they’ll be processed…

SABRA LANE: They won’t go to Manus or Nauru?

JASON CLARE: No, but they do have – the conditions of the no advantage test apply to them as well. So they wouldn’t be processed any quicker than people at Nauru or Manus Island. But the primary point to make, Sabra, is they’ll be transferred to Christmas Island. If they don’t meet the requirements of the Refugee Convention then they’ll be flown back to Sri Lanka.

SABRA LANE: This group was holding up a sign saying that it wanted to go to New Zealand. Australia now has a deal with New Zealand where Australia can resettle 150 asylum seekers in New Zealand. Will we be approaching New Zealand about whether they can take this group?

JASON CLARE: Well, that’s a matter for the Department of Immigration. The point I’d make is this; if they don’t meet the conventions of – if they don’t meet the requirements of the Refugee Convention – then they won’t be going to Australia or to New Zealand, they’ll go back to Sri Lanka.

SABRA LANE: Minister, thanks for your time this morning.

JASON CLARE: Thanks, Sabra.

TONY EASTLEY: The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, speaking with chief political correspondent, Sabra Lane.