Doorstop Interview – Canberra

Topics: Houston Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers

JASON CLARE: Today’s a really important day. Politicians have been fighting about this issue for too long. Next week is the eleventh anniversary of Tampa. Politicians have been fighting about this issue for over a decade and while politicians keep fighting more people keep dying.

The people of Australia have had a gutful of this. They want us to take action and they want us to fix this. Today the Parliament has the chance to do just that. We need to take action. We need to pass legislation through the Parliament today to stop people risking their life at sea and stop people dying.

REPORTER: What’s the latest on the sixty-seven missing people?

JASON CLARE: Over the course of the weekend we received information that suggested that a boat was missing with sixty-seven people on that boat. The information that I have from Customs is that they have checked a list of names they’ve received of people that were potentially on that boat. And there’s no evidence that those people have arrived in Australia. So we now have very grave fears for the safety of those people.

REPORTER: Could those lives have been saved if you had this policy in place six weeks ago?

JASON CLARE: I’m not going to play blame game here. There will be some people that will try and blame the Government. There will be some people that will want to blame the Opposition. There will be others who want to blame the Greens.

The fact is we’ve been fighting about this issue for too long. While politicians fight, people die. That’s not good enough. The people of Australia want us to fix this. We can do that by implementing the recommendations of Angus Houston.

REPORTER: Is this a massive back flip for Labor?

JASON CLARE: It’s a compromise. We’ve got two choices. We can either do this, or do nothing. If we do nothing, more people die. That’s not an option.

REPORTER: Could this have been done earlier then, given that Chris Bowen put it to Cabinet in October last year? That’s almost a year ago.

JASON CLARE: Oh, we’ve been fighting about this for longer than that. We’ve been fighting about this for over ten years. That’s why I say the time for fighting must be over now. We’ve got to pass legislation through the Parliament now.

Politicians on all sides have got to put their swords down and stop fighting. If we stop fighting, it will help to stop people getting on boats and risking their lives.

REPORTER: If legislation is passed by the end of the week as you hope, how long will it take in practical terms to get Nauru at least up and running?

JASON CLARE: Yeah, we’re talking weeks, not months. First step is to get the bill through the House of Representatives. We want to get that done today. Then we’ve got to get it through the Senate. The sooner we get the legislation through the Parliament, the sooner we can establish a facility at Nauru and Manus and the sooner we can stop people risking their lives.

REPORTER: What’s the…

JASON CLARE: But let me also make the point that Chris Bowen made yesterday and that message needs to be very clearly made. If you’re thinking of getting onto a boat, you run the risk, if you arrive in Australia, of being transferred to Nauru or transferred to Manus Island.

REPORTER: And just to clarify, the boat that arrived last night on Christmas Island with eighty-seven asylum seekers, they won’t be…

JASON CLARE: No, that’s right. I think Chris explained that on 7.30 last night. That boat was intercepted at around about one o’clock yesterday before the Government made its announcement.

REPORTER: Can I just clarify the timing of PNG? How soon it would be getting that up and running?

JASON CLARE: As soon as possible. We’ve given directions to the Australian defence force to take the action necessary to establish facilities there as quickly as possible.

First and foremost we need to come to an agreement with both of those nations to establish facilities and then establish facilities as soon as we possibly can. Angus Houston’s report says, as soon as possible and as soon as practicable. That’s what we’re going to do.

REPORTER: Are there any estimates on how much this will cost in reopening Nauru?

JASON CLARE: Well, to implement the entire Houston package it will cost something like one billion dollars per annum. That’s what Angus Houston’s report says. The cost of doing nothing is a lot more. The cost of doing nothing is more people die at sea.

REPORTER: You say weeks for Nauru, but are we talking months for PNG?

JASON CLARE: I’m not going to put a timeframe on that. The report says, do it as soon as you can. That’s what we’re going to do.

REPORTER: What does the Government do now? Do they resume negotiations? Do they start talking to Malaysia again about putting some more of these safeguards in place?

JASON CLARE: Yes, we do. You make a good point. Angus Houston in his press conference yesterday said, it’s the best model for the future. Says that it needs to be built on, not discarded. The report itself says it’s vital.

So we need to do that work. We need to do that work with Malaysia to build those safeguards, particularly in that area of unaccompanied young people. Angus Houston made that point in the press conference. And we’ll do that work because, as the experts said, you need a regional solution and that’s a key part of making sure that people don’t get on a boat and risk their lives.

REPORTER: Did you think six years on you’d be reintroducing the Howard Government policies?

JASON CLARE: This is much broader than what people describe as a Pacific Solution. There are a couple of key differences. One is independent oversight at Manus and Nauru. The other key difference is we’re doubling the number of refugees that Australia will take. So it’s an integrated package.

Angus Houston made that point yesterday, that it involves incentives and disincentives. The Pacific Solution never involved doubling the number of refugees Australia will take. This does.

REPORTER: Is this going to make your job easier from now on? This has obviously been a large part of your portfolio. Do you think other areas of your portfolio have fallen by the wayside because this has been such a huge issue?

JASON CLARE: It’s not about making my job easier. It’s about stopping people dying. I’ve got a big portfolio with a lot of responsibilities. This is my top priority. I want to make sure that the Parliament passes laws today, not to make my job easier, but to stop people dying.

REPORTER: Does Labor now admit that pull factors are the most important factor?

JASON CLARE: We’ve been making the point now for over a year that you need off-shore processing, that you need regional processing. We’ve been trying to pass legislation for over a year. We tried to pass laws last year. They were rejected. We tried to pass laws only a couple of weeks ago. They were rejected.

Now is the time. If ever there is an opportunity to pass laws, to stop people dying at sea, this is it. And the Parliament needs to act today. People are dying. We’ve got people missing at sea as we speak. This is no time for politics. We’ve got to pass laws to stop people dying.

REPORTER: You say no one should be blamed. But isn’t it the Government’s job to get legislation to save people’s lives through the Parliament?

JASON CLARE: It is. It’s the Government’s job to make sure that we’ve got the laws in place to stop people dying. And it’s the Opposition’s job to support laws that will do that.

Our big criticism of Tony Abbott has been that he says no to everything. He’s got the chance to prove us wrong today and support laws that do what he wants. Support laws to implement Nauru and support laws to implement Manus Island. He’s got no excuse not to support laws like that. And we call on him today to pass this legislation.

REPORTER: Should the Rudd Government have ever abolished off-shore processing? Was that a mistake?

JASON CLARE: I think I made that point a couple of questions ago. Today’s not the day for blaming any side of Parliament. You can mount an argument to blame anybody in this debate. It’s not going to save people’s lives. I’m focused on fixing this. Every Member of Parliament needs to be focused on fixing this. We can do that today if we all work together, if we put our swords down and if we stop fighting.

The people of Australia are screaming at their television sets – stop fighting and fix this. That’s what we need to do. Thanks very much.