Interview with Paul Bongiorno, Jessica Wright and Mark Kenny – Meet the Press Channel Ten – 6 October 2012


Topics: Terrorism, National Security, People Smuggling, Asylum Seekers, Border Protection budget, Alan Jones, Tony Abbott and Women, Defence ‘valley of death’, Peter Slipper.


PAUL BONGIORNO: You’re on Meet The Press and it’s welcome to Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare. Good morning, Minister.

JASON CLARE: Morning, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Going to that big story in the Fairfax papers this morning that a radical Islamic preacher, Abdul Rahman Ayub says that – and he left Australia in 2002 – he said there are at least thirty violent jihadists in our midst. He claims he doesn’t like violence any more but these people have been trained that way.

How concerned should we be about this?

JASON CLARE: Well the threat is still real. It’s the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombing this coming week, eighty-eight Australians died. Over the course of the last few years we’ve seen more terrorist attacks across the world than there were ten years ago. They’re of a different size and scale now but the threat is still real.

We saw that in Melbourne only a couple of weeks ago when ASIO and the Federal Police were involved in arresting an individual. So we do need to remain very vigilant in this area.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well these people who are here apparently, in a sense, offered asylum because they were anti-Suharto so one would imagine wouldn’t – that our security people would know who they are?

JASON CLARE: And you’d understand that I can’t go into the details of this area but, yes, ASIO and the Federal Police do a lot of work monitoring individuals to make sure that people who might be up to no good aren’t able to execute the activities that they might wish to and we’ve seen that recently in Victoria but we also saw that with the attempted attack on the Holsworthy Army Base.

The threat is real and we’ve got to be up to the task.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, you say the threat’s real, ASIO is quoted in those reports today saying that it’s real, persistent and prevalent. Has the community and the Government become complacent?

JASON CLARE: The Government certainly hasn’t. I’m a member of the National Security Committee of the Government. We see reports all the time that press on our mind how important it is to remain focused in this area.

I think the community understands that we live in a dangerous world. Australians, when they travel overseas, get worried about the risks that they might face. Risks can occur here too and that’s why we have the work of the Federal Police and ASIO making sure that they can identify people before they can make good on terrorist attempts.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The High Court decision on Friday, does it mean that people assessed by ASIO as a security threat, however can also be in the community?

JASON CLARE: Well, no it doesn’t. The High Court decision doesn’t mean that people are automatically released. The Minister for Immigration retains the power to refuse to give somebody a visa if they’re determined to be a refugee if he believes they shouldn’t be granted a visa for national security reasons. So it doesn’t automatically mean that a person would be let out and released into the community.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Now, we saw some claims during the week from the Opposition that budget cuts to the AFP and to Customs – I think one release claimed in the order of about three-hundred-million dollars – those sort of cuts must have an impact on our operational capability, mustn’t they?

JASON CLARE: Well, two points on that, Paul. One is the Federal Police budget is about three-hundred-million dollars bigger now than it was under the Howard Government. We’ve got six hundred more sworn Federal Police now than there were back in the Howard era. The Customs budget is bigger too. The second point is this, for all the work that our Customs and police do in this area of border protection it’s a bit like putting your thumb on the end of a hose. If you want to stop people getting on boats and risking their lives you’ve got to turn the tap off.

You’ve got to remove the incentive for people to get in the pipe line in the first place.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But we’re failing to do that, aren’t we?

JASON CLARE: Well, don’t underestimate the size of this task. Think about what’s at stake. You’ve got people smugglers who make a million dollars a boat, they’re making more money than drug smugglers.

Some of the information we’re now starting to get at Christmas Island are the stories of people smugglers telling people lies, saying don’t worry, get on the boat, you’ll go to Christmas Island. You’ll only be in Nauru for a couple of weeks and then you’ll end up in Australia.

We’re also starting to see information about some senior people smugglers in Indonesia that are packing their bags and going back to places like Iraq and Pakistan. We’re involved here in a communications war.

You’ve got people smugglers telling people don’t worry you’ll only be in Nauru for a couple of weeks, we’ve got work to do on the ground running town hall meetings in villages and towns in Indonesia with asylum seekers to get them the truth.

We’ve got to do this in Sri Lanka as well. Tell people there’s no special treatment. If you get on a boat then you’ll end up in places like Nauru, Manus Island, hopefully Malaysia in the future as well or you will risk something worse and that is potentially drowning at sea.

So if you want to seek asylum, you want to seek asylum in Australia, do that through the UN in Jakarta, not by getting on a boat.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well how long do you give for this to work? This suite of measures to work? Is the Opposition right, do you need to do even more?

JASON CLARE: Well what we do need to do is implement every single one of the recommendations that Angus Houston has recommended. He recommended Nauru, he recommended Manus Island but they are only two of twenty-two recommendations. We’ve got to implement all of them, including Malaysia. Angus Houston looked at the Opposition’s measures, he recommended in favour of Nauru but he rejected temporary protection visas and he rejected turning back the boats.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Time for a break. When we come back with the Panel, is Labor crazy brave for antagonising broadcaster, Alan Jones? Online, Mr Jones is almost beyond parody?

[Commercial break]

PAUL BONGIORNO: You’re on Meet The Press, with the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare and it’s welcome to the Panel. Mark Kenny, The Advertiser and Jessica Wright from The National Times. Good morning to you both.

JESSICA WRIGHT: Good morning.

MARK KENNY: Morning, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were at one during the week, agreeing to a boycott of the Alan Jones show.


JULIA GILLARD: No, I would not. I haven’t spoken to Mr Jones and I don’t intend to.

KEVIN RUDD: I certainly won’t be going on it and usually for my better health over the years I’ve not listened to it either.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: The grotesque sucking up to Alan Jones by Kevin Rudd on his program was slightly vomitous when he was leader of the Opposition.


MARK KENNY: Minister, you used to work for Bob Carr, he of course feted Alan Jones when he was Premier. How important is that Western Sydney struggle street market to Labor and can you really afford to ignore it?

JASON CLARE: Well, I represent Western Sydney so I know how important the issues are in Western Sydney but this is not about a market, it’s not about an audience. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got ten people watching or ten million people. It’s not about politics, it’s about standards. You don’t pick on people’s families, you don’t pick on people’s parents or their children, particularly if they’ve just passed away. Particularly you don’t pick on people who can’t respond. So this is a question about standards.

MARK KENNY: But he’s had a long record of saying controversial things. Is this just the last straw and will you be boycotting the program? Is that what you’re saying today?

JASON CLARE: Well, I think there’s a difference between having a go at politicians, we’re fair game but having a go at families, you should leave families out of it. Once we go down the path where you start attacking families you’re not going to get the right people getting involved in politics. If you’d asked me that question a couple of weeks ago I’d say yes, but now I want to see standards improve.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well Minister, on the Bolt Report this morning Tony Abbott explained why his wife, Margie, has entered the political fray. He says it’s to counter a Labor smear campaign against him. Here he is:


TONY ABBOTT: This is typical of the contemporary Labor Party when you can’t defend your record, when you’ve got nothing of substance to say you – you go personal and that’s what they’ve been doing.


JESSICA WRIGHT: Minister, is this the end of the handbag hit squad or will Labor ignore Tony Abbott and continue with Tony Abbott has a problem with women folk?

JASON CLARE: Let’s get real here, politicians are going to be judged on what they say and what they do and Tony Abbott’s got a long record of saying some pretty extreme, some pretty out there things. If you want my view, my view is that what’s more important than what you watch on television is what you’re going to do and if you look at what Tony Abbott would do if he was Prime Minister, it would mean that he would cut the pension for millions of pensioners, he would increase income tax for seven million Australians.

They’re the sorts of things that are important to ordinary Australians. Tony Abbott says what about Labor’s record? Well I’d point him to the fact that unemployment here is half of what it is in France and most of the rest of Europe and interest rates…

JESSICA WRIGHT: But this is a very specific argument you’re pushing. You’re pushing that Tony Abbott has a problem with women. Is this cynical politics at its best? Julia Gillard’s polling doesn’t show she does too well with men. Is it time to roll out Tim or is it time to argue the case based on politics, not gender?

JASON CLARE: Well, look Tim’s been out there before, I’m sure he will again. Mrs Abbott’s been out there before, I’m sure she will again.

I make two points, and that is that politicians are going to be judged on what they say and do and Mr Abbott needs to expect to be judged on some of the extreme things that he’s said in the past but more importantly people need to know what Tony Abbott would do as Prime Minister and things like cutting the pension and increasing income tax are pretty extreme things that people need to be aware of.

MARK KENNY: Minister, in your capacity as Minister for Defence Materiel can I ask you a question about the air warfare destroyer?


MARK KENNY: There’s talk of a fourth vessel being built to bridge the skills gap to the future submarines project. How realistic is that and can we afford it?

JASON CLARE: Yeah, it’s a good question. We’re building three big warships at the moment in Adelaide as well as in Melbourne and in Newcastle. That wraps up at about the end of this decade. Then we build submarines after that but there’s a gap between the warships and the submarines – what people call the ‘valley of death’ – and I think we do need to build a bridge across this valley of death to make sure that we retain the workers and the skills to build what are very complicated military weapons.

Submarines are like underwater space ships, we need a lot of skill to build them, so we’re looking now at what we need to fill the gap to make sure that we retain those skilled workers in Adelaide as well as in other parts of the country so that we can build the submarine.

MARK KENNY: Presumably you’d need to do that fairly early, give the industry a lot of notice that that’s going to be the case so they can retain those skills?

JASON CLARE: Yeah, Defence, myself and Australian Defence Industry are working on a plan to do this right now. They’ll present it to me in December and that will then be fed into the Defence white paper that will be released in the first half of next year.

MARK KENNY: Just quickly on Peter Slipper, given the controversy surrounding him, is he really viable now as a Speaker to return to that job as chief protector and umpire of standards in the Parliament?

JASON CLARE: Well, that’s a matter for the Parliament to decide. They’ll have to make that decision once the court case that’s in the court at the moment is decided.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well, Minister, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

JASON CLARE: Thanks, Paul.


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