Topic: Asylum Seekers
ADAM SPENCER: Jason Clare is the Federal Home Affairs Minister and he joins us now. Thank you very much for your time, Minister. You’re busy this morning.
JASON CLARE: G’day, Adam.
ADAM SPENCER: You’ve just been briefed about another boat arrival.
JASON CLARE: Yes, I have. I can give you an update on yesterday’s boat…
ADAM SPENCER: Please.
JASON CLARE:…first if you like. One-hundred-and-thirty people were saved. Unfortunately, we recovered one body. The latest information is that there were one-hundred-and-thirty-four people on board. That means that four people perished in the disaster yesterday.
The people that survived – the latest information I’ve got is that there were one-hundred-and-thirteen men, three women, two girls and twelve boys that were rescued as part of that massive search and rescue operation yesterday.
As that search and rescue operation was underway yesterday, another boat arrived at Christmas Island. A hundred people have now been transferred onto the island late last night.
ADAM SPENCER: Is that the one you’ve been briefed about this morning?
JASON CLARE: Yes, that’s right.
ADAM SPENCER: And as far as we know, are they all of the boats that have arrived or are in transit at the moment or are there any other boats on the way?
JASON CLARE: I haven’t been advised if there are other boats on the way, but I think we’ve got to expect that there are. Sometimes the information on this can be a bit fuzzy. Late last night I was advised that there was another boat that was potentially in distress off the coast of Indonesia. Through the course of this morning we haven’t been able to confirm if that’s correct. The latest information I have is that that’s unlikely to be the case, but we’re still working with Indonesian authorities on that.
ADAM SPENCER: But certainly in the last week or so, one-hundred-and-fifty, one-hundred-and-thirty, a hundred, there’s been in the vicinity of three-hundred-and-eighty people…
JASON CLARE: That’s right.
ADAM SPENCER: …on the water on the way to Australia. Tragically almost a hundred of those have died.
JASON CLARE: We’ve had four people die yesterday. We had about ninety people die last week. We’ve had more than three-hundred people drown in the last twelve months.
We’ve got a chance in the Senate today to try and do something about it.
ADAM SPENCER: Of course what was agreed to last night after a long and emotional debate in the Lower House?
JASON CLARE: Ostensibly, a compromise bill that puts in the Labor Party’s policy, the Liberal Party’s policy, as well as ideas from the independents. The Labor Party has argued that we need offshore processing in Malaysia. The Liberal Party have argued equally strongly that it needs to be in Nauru. The bill that was passed by the House last night was do both of them. The independents also said let’s trial it for 12 months, so let’s have a sunset clause that will see if it works for 12 months and then come back.
It really was a genuine compromise bill that said this is a big problem. People are dying. Throw everything in the bill and see if we can do something about it.
ADAM SPENCER: We saw the images on ABC News last night of MPs reduced to tears in the House. What was the mood like for someone like yourself that’s close to these discussions in both your portfolio, as well as just a human being and a Member of Parliament? What was the mood like yesterday?
JASON CLARE: It was different to what you’d normally find in Parliament, normally yelling at each other, behaving like children to be honest. People were quiet and listening to each other.
Regardless of people’s views, I think people understand that everybody takes a very, very serious approach to this debate.
We had people that were prepared to cross the floor. Mal Washer said that, if the votes were needed, he was prepared to switch from the Liberal Party to vote with the bill to make sure it passed. He’s a doctor. He, more than anybody, knows the importance of human life, he sees it up close in his other profession.
ADAM SPENCER: And coming off the back of a period in Parliament that many people have described before the last few days as, as toxic as they’ve seen on a range of different issues, which we won’t go into here, that must have been an almost bizarre counter position to be in all of a sudden.
JASON CLARE: Yes, it is, but we’ve got the potential to be a good parliament, to be a parliament that actually gets something done. That’s the big challenge for today. We can’t fail the Australian people today.
ADAM SPENCER: But do you accept, Jason Clare, that the Greens are intractably opposed to any processing that is not entirely done onshore? The Liberals are strongly opposed to Malaysia as an option. It is almost certainly not going to get through the Upper House.
JASON CLARE: We just can’t let that happen, Adam.
ADAM SPENCER: Then how is it not going to happen?
JASON CLARE: Well I think Rob Oakeshott said it best on Lateline last night, when he said, look, discuss it, amend it, improve the bill, but just don’t block it. When this debate happens in the Senate today, I think senators need to think about the same things we thought about in the House yesterday, and what must be on the minds of every listener – that is, if the bill doesn’t pass, then there’s the real risk that more people are going to die.
ADAM SPENCER: When Geoff Kitney, writing in today’s Australian Financial Review, and I think he believes strongly that this will not get through today, describes yesterday as Federal Parliament’s day of shame, saving political face trumped people’s lives, he concludes what an appalling state of affairs the nation has come to on an issue which challenges its moral fibre. Do you think at least some of the people of Australia would share Geoff’s views?
JASON CLARE: I think they’re holding judgment until today. The real test will be whether the parties can come together in the Senate and pass this bill. I said it was a genuine compromise and I think it is. We’ve got to throw everything at this. We’ve got people dying at sea. The best way to stop this is to say, get the politics out of it. No-one has to win. No-one has to lose here. Get the Labor Party policy, the Liberal Party policy, the ideas from the independents, if the Greens have got good ideas put it in as well today, but pass legislation.
One thing that we all agree on, is that doing Malaysia, and offshore processing in Nauru and passing legislation to do that today is going to be a hell of a lot better than doing nothing, than voting this down and the Parliament rising without having done something to stop people dying.
ADAM SPENCER: If I can talk on a more broad issue. And in doing so, I don’t want to diminish how far more important the deaths of people at sea are. But the current Federal Government’s predictions on budget et cetera for boat arrivals are based on Wayne Swan’s predictions of four-hundred-and-fifty per month, I believe. We’ve had more than three-hundred attempted arrivals in the last couple of days.
People look at these numbers and say that the Labor Party’s policy on this just completely misunderstands the reality of what’s happening at the moment, that there are thousands of people attempting to arrive, encouraged whether they are by the Labor Party’s policies or not, but that quoting a figure of four-hundred-and-fifty a month, for example, on the part of the Treasurer, just shows a policy that’s completely at odds with what’s going on. Do we need to over – once we’ve dealt with this urgent short-term issue, look more generally at the long-term policy?
JASON CLARE: That’s what the bill does as well. To Rob Oakeshott’s credit, what he says, in addition to offshore processing in Malaysia and Nauru, is this is a regional problem and we’ve got to tackle it with all of the countries of the region working together as part of the Bali process.
That’s what we did after the Fall of Saigon, Adam. It was the countries of the region that worked together. There was offshore processing in the Philippines, in Thailand and Malaysia. Australia took a heap of refugees, so did America, so did Canada. That’s a genuine regional solution and that needs to be the next step.
ADAM SPENCER: Okay. Look, thank you very much for your time this morning, Jason Clare.
JASON CLARE: Thanks, Adam.
ADAM SPENCER: Jason Clare is the Federal Home Affairs Minister.
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