Interview with Marius Benson – ABC Newsradio – 14 August 2012


Topics: Houston Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers

MARIUS BENSON: Let’s go now to the story which will dominate Federal Parliament today because the Federal Government is hoping that in Parliament it will be able to finally move to resolve an issue which has done more damage to Labor than any other in recent years.

The Government is introducing legislation to reinstate offshore processing of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and it’s hoping the Opposition will back the plan.

For a Government view on the about face on the crucial asylum seeker issue I’m joined by the Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare.

Jason Clare, good morning.

JASON CLARE: Good morning, Marius.

MARIUS BENSON: The headlines today seem to be using the phrase cave-in a lot to describe what the – the change in the Government’s position has been.

Would you differ with that description?

JASON CLARE: It’s a compromise. I think it’s a fair description to say it’s a compromise. We’ve got two options. We can either implement the recommendations of the Angus Houston report or we can do nothing and if we do nothing more people will die.

So it’s very clear what we need to do. We’ve been fighting about this issue for two long. Next week is the eleventh anniversary of the Tampa. Politicians have been fighting about this for eleven years and while politicians have been fighting people have been dying.

We’ve got to pass legislation through the Parliament this week to stop that.

MARIUS BENSON: Sure but a compromise simply doesn’t describe it because you have adopted the Pacific solution holus-bolus, a situation, a John Howard policy, that was not just criticised by Labor but there was a degree of sanctimony about Labor’s belief that it was an immoral policy, now you’re adopting it?

You were against offshore processing, you’ve adopted that. You were against Nauru, you’ve adopted that?

JASON CLARE: Well there’s a few things I’d say about that, Marius.

First when the facts change your views change and the facts have changed. Three hundred people are dead. Three hundred people have died in the last seven months and if you don’t respond to that then you’re not doing the right thing.

I’d make this point though, what the Angus Houston report recommends are some of the things that the Government has proposed, some of the things that the Liberal Party’s proposed and some of the things that the Greens have proposed as well.

No political party has got all the answers and unfortunately it’s descended into a political dog fight that’s been going on for way too long.

MARIUS BENSON: But it’s about ninety-five per cent Opposition policy and about five per cent Labor, isn’t it?

JASON CLARE: No, I’d disagree with that. You mentioned John Howard’s Pacific solution. What that was about was Manus and Nauru with no independent oversight.

This is Manus and Nauru, with independent oversight. The report also recommends that we should be proceeding with the Malaysian agreement once we’ve built in more safeguards and very importantly it also says, and let me make this point Marius, that we should be doubling the number of refugees that we take.

It’s about incentives and disincentives. You never saw any of that in the Pacific Solution.

MARIUS BENSON: Now this depends on the cooperation of a lot of people. It depends on the cooperation of the Opposition and international – other nations internationally. Have you discussed it with them?

JASON CLARE: Contact was made yesterday through Australian officials with PNG as well as Nauru. The Prime Minister made reference to that in her press conference yesterday and I would assume more contact will be made with those countries over the course of the next few days.

The most important thing here is of course that the Parliament passes legislation to facilitate that and I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to do that this week.

MARIUS BENSON: But you haven’t – have you spoken to the Opposition about it?

JASON CLARE: Well, I haven’t myself. I can’t speak for other members of the Government.

MARIUS BENSON: Well you’d – you’d be aware if you’d had discussions with the Opposition. Have you?

JASON CLARE: No, I haven’t had discussions with the Opposition myself but I’ve been listening to the things that my colleague, Scott Morrison has said. They’re promising. I think both sides of politics, at least both of the major parties, realise that while ever we keep fighting more people keep dying and that a compromise needs to be reached.

Angus Houston has done a very good job I think of preparing a report that helps to break the deadlock and it does it in this way. It says introduce legislation that would allow the Federal Parliament to designate a country for offshore processing by regulation.

We’ve said that we’ll do that for Nauru and we’ll do that for Manus Island and if we can establish the safeguards that Angus Houston and his colleagues have said are necessary for Malaysia then we would bring that forward for the Parliament at a later time.

MARIUS BENSON: And what about a court challenge? The Malaysian solution floundered in the High Court before. Are you concerned there may be a challenge in that area again?

JASON CLARE: I think that’s almost certain. You can assume from some of the things that people have said over the course of the last twenty-four hours that there would be a court challenge and that’s why it’s important in preparing the legislation that it meets any of the potential challenges that might come before it.

MARIUS BENSON: You reckon you can make it High Court proof?

JASON CLARE: Well, we’ll do the very best we can.

MARIUS BENSON: Jason Clare, thank you very much.

JASON CLARE: Thanks very much, Marius.

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