Interview with Karina Carvalho – ABC News Breakfast – 14 August 2012

Topics: Houston Expert Panel on Asylum seekers

KARINA CARVALHO: Well the Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare joins us now from Canberra.

Good morning. Thanks for your time.

JASON CLARE: Good morning, Karina.

KARINA CARVALHO: I understand you have an update on the boat that’s been missing.

JASON CLARE: Yes, I do. There were reports over the last few days of a boat missing with sixty-seven people on board. Customs are still investigating this but they hold grave fears for the safety of the people on the boat.

We’ve been given a list by people in Australia of some of the people on the boat. We’ve checked that against immigration records here in Australia and unfortunately they’ve not found any evidence that those people have arrived in Australia.

We’re checking with Indonesian officials as well but, unfortunately, at the moment there’s no evidence that those people have arrived in Australia, so sixty-seven people for whom we hold very grave fears at the moment.

KARINA CARVALHO: And that’s that boat that went missing on June 28, is that correct?

JASON CLARE: That’s right. That’s right. This is a boat which, from information we’ve received from people in Australia, we understand may have left Indonesia at the end of June, early July and there’s been no evidence of it ever since.

KARINA CARVALHO: Now the government’s first step in these twenty-two recommendations that it’s adopted in principle is to reinstate offshore processing in Nauru and PNG. This was, of course, a policy that the Coalition brought to the table.

First, if the government had adopted this some six weeks ago, this boat that probably wouldn’t be missing now, would it?

JASON CLARE: Well today’s an important day, Karina. Politicians have been fighting about this for a long time, not just over six weeks. We’ve been fighting about this for over ten years. Next week is the eleventh anniversary of the Tampa. Politicians have been fighting about this for eleven years.

The people of Australia are sick of it and they want us to get this fixed. We’ve got legislation that can be amended in the Parliament today to finally fix this and stop people risking their life, stop people dying at sea. We’ve seen too much evidence of that over the past few months.

KARINA CARVALHO: So what does this mean for the people-swap deal with Malaysia? If you don’t get the assurances from Malaysia will you dump the Malaysia solution?

JASON CLARE: Well what Angus Houston said was that that’s a vital part of stopping people risking their lives in coming by boat but more work needs to be done on providing safeguards, in particular for young people who are unaccompanied.

Chris Bowen and the Prime Minister yesterday said that more work will now be done with Malaysia on that front. The first step is to introduce regional processing in Nauru and to introduce regional processing at Manus Island.

We’ll also do more work with the Malaysian Government based on the advice of Angus Houston and the expert panel that that’s an important part of stopping people from risking their lives and coming to Australia by boat.

KARINA CARVALHO: Paris Aristotle on Lateline last night was keen to emphasise that offshore processing doesn’t necessarily mean that people will be housed in detention centres. So how will they be housed on Nauru and on PNG?

JASON CLARE: Well there’ll be housing made available in both locations for individuals but they’re not in a detention facility. They’ll be allowed to move freely in those locations. So it’s not a detention facility like you would see at Christmas Island or you would see at Darwin or Scherger or any of the detention facilities in Australia. It’s an open facility where accommodation is provided as well as educational and training facilities and so forth.

KARINA CARVALHO: So how soon will Nauru and PNG be up and running?

JASON CLARE: Well as quick as possible. The sooner we’re able to implement this, the sooner we can stop people risking their lives and coming to Australia by boat. If we can pass legislation through the Parliament this week, we can take action with the support of Australian authorities to set up facilities in Nauru and in Manus as quickly as possible. That’s the challenge. That’s one that we need to meet.

KARINA CARVALHO: And does the Government have the resources to do the oversight and the monitoring that Paris Aristotle was talking about that makes this different to what happened previously under the Howard Government?

JASON CLARE: I saw Paris’s interview on Lateline last night. He made the point that an important part of this has to be independent oversight. In addition to what you saw under the Howard Government, you need independent oversight.

Paris also made the point and included it in the report that you also need to increase the number of refugees that Australia takes. So under this plan we would double the number of refugees that we take as part of the humanitarian program and that’s an important part of encouraging people not to get on a boat and not risk their lives by trying to come to Australia in such a risky way.

KARINA CARVALHO: But who will the onus be on to maintain asylum seekers’ wellbeing while their claims are being processed? And not just while their claims are being processed, while they’re housed on PNG and Nauru because they will have to wait there even once their processing has taken place, won’t they, because there’s effectively they need to stay the length of time that they would if they’d applied in their home country.

JASON CLARE: That’s right, Karina. A key principle in the report that Angus Houston handed down yesterday was what he called the no-advantage test, so that anybody that chooses to come to Australia by boat won’t have an advantage over somebody who tries to come to Australia through a process through a camp in Africa or through the process using the UN in Indonesia.

So there’s no advantage in going one way or the other. The disadvantage is if you come to Australia by boat you’re paying a people smuggler ten thousand dollars and you’re risking your life.

In answer to your first part of your question, the Australian Government will have the principal role. They’re supported by the UNHCR as well as the IOM.

KARINA CARVALHO: And Angus Houston says the cost of adopting all these recommendations will be about a billion dollars a year. What impact is that likely to have on the Federal budget?

JASON CLARE: Well the cost of doing nothing is a lot more. The cost of doing nothing is that more people die. We’ve seen more than three hundred people die in the last seven months. Australian people have seen this on their TV screen all too often and they’re screaming at their television sets. They’re saying just fix it. The Australian Parliament, fingers crossed, will do just that today.

KARINA CARVALHO: Jason Clare in Canberra, thanks for your time.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Karina.