Interview with Karina Carvalho ABC News Breakfast – 27 June 2012

Topic: Asylum Seekers

KARINA CARVALHO: Now to get the latest on that third boat within a week to have sent out a distress call, we’re joined from Parliament House by the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare.

Good morning. Thanks for your time, Minister.

JASON CLARE: Good morning, Karina.

KARINA CARVALHO: Can you just tell us the latest on that boat that sent out the distress call late yesterday?

JASON CLARE: Sure. Yesterday we had reports of another vessel in distress, twenty nautical miles south of Indonesia.  It came from a fisherman that had rung the Indonesian police, and is being managed by Indonesian search and rescue.

They’ve been tracking it overnight.  The latest advice that I’ve got from Border Protection Command is that we think that this is a false alarm.  We hope it’s a false alarm, but we’re continuing to liaise with Indonesian search and rescue to make sure that that’s the case.

KARINA CARVALHO: When you say false alarm, do you mean that there aren’t asylum seekers on board or that…

JASON CLARE: No, no.

KARINA CARVALHO: …the boat isn’t in distress?

JASON CLARE: The boat is not in distress.  The fisherman said he observed a boat in distress, told the Indonesian police, who then passed that onto Indonesian search and rescue.

The advice that we’ve got from Indonesia is that they haven’t identified a boat that is in distress. That’s good news after the events of the last week, where we’ve had four people die yesterday, ninety people die last week.  We’ve had three hundred people or more die in the last twelve months.  The last thing we need is more people dying at sea.

We’ve got a chance to stop that by passing legislation in the Senate today.

KARINA CARVALHO: And just give us an update as well on the boat that was intercepted last night.

JASON CLARE: Sure. Well, I guess, two things.  Let me give you an update on the boat that was the subject of the search and rescue yesterday.  We’ve managed to rescue one-hundred-and-thirty people, including two girls and twelve boys that were on that boat. 

Unfortunately, the latest advice I have is that there were a hundred and thirty-four people on that boat, which means that four people perished yesterday. 

You asked me about the other boat.  Another boat reached Christmas Island last night with one hundred people on board.  It’s all a reminder that people are continuing to take that dangerous journey and risk their lives at sea with the real risk that more people could perish and the real imperative that this Parliament needs to act today to try and stop more people dying at sea.

KARINA CARVALHO: Have you had any contact with your Indonesian counterparts who might be suggesting that  this might be a tactic on behalf of the people smugglers and the people who move people on these boats to try and send people as soon as possible before there’s a change in policy?

JASON CLARE: I haven’t had contact with my Indonesian counterparts about that.  I wouldn’t be surprised.  Indonesian people smugglers know that it’s only a matter of time before the politics ends and the Parliament gets its act together and passes legislation to stop the practice of putting people onto boats.

They know because they’re on the internet.  They know what’s going on in Australia today.  I’m certain that they’ll be encouraging people to get onto boats before we get our act together as a Parliament, and pass this legislation to try and put them out of business.

KARINA CARVALHO: You went through the horrific death toll from just the last year.  Is that really an indication of the failure of Labor’s policy in winding back offshore processing?

JASON CLARE:  What it tells us is that this is a really dangerous thing.  People are dying on their way getting to Australia.  We can stop this with offshore processing, and we made that case yesterday.

There’s a big debate here happening about what’s the best way to do it. The Labor Party says that it’s offshore processing in Malaysia.  The Liberal Party says the best way to do that is offshore processing in Nauru. 

The bill that was passed by the House of Representatives last night said let’s do both, put them together.  It’s a good compromise proposal. 

The challenge for us as a Parliament today is to live up to the expectations of the Australian people, and pass this legislation through the Parliament.  It is necessary to make sure that we don’t have a repeat of this, that we don’t have more people dying at sea.

KARINA CARVALHO: But do you concede that these boats may not have taken this treacherous journey and these people may not have lost their lives had the offshore processing policy not been retracted by your government?

JASON CLARE: My view, and I think this is shared by all members of Parliament, is that the people that are responsible for these loss of lives are the people smugglers who take ten thousand dollars apiece off people and put them on the boat. 

The sooner we pass this legislation the better, and if we leave the Parliament today with nothing, if the bill doesn’t pass, then I think that that’ll be a sad indictment on the Parliament.

Tony Abbott – the ball is in your court.  It’s not good enough to just say no when there are people dying out there.  You’ve got an obligation to pass this legislation through the Senate. Pass it through today.  It’ll help to stop a repeat of what we saw yesterday, and a repeat of what we saw last week.

KARINA CARVALHO: Because, Jason Clare, even members of your own party, Stephen Jones, said there are pull factors, we must acknowledge that as a party and as a country and we have done that.

So if this doesn’t pass, which it’s pretty much everyone is saying that it’s unlikely to pass the Senate, what’s the next step?

JASON CLARE:  I think Stephen made the point that Australia’s the best country in the world, of course people will want to come here.  The reason the plan with Malaysia is so important is because, why would you give a people smuggler ten thousand dollars if you were going to get sent back to Malaysia?

The debate in the Parliament yesterday was really between Malaysia or Nauru.  The legislation that was passed by the House said let’s do both of them.  The debate in the Senate today is either we do both or do nothing at all.

If the Senate decides to do nothing at all then it’s failed the Australian people, and it’s failed people who are potentially going to get onto boats and risk their life at sea.

KARINA CARVALHO: Jason Clare, we’ll have to leave it there.  Thanks for your time.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Karina.

 – ENDS –