Interview with Alexandra Kirk, ABC AM Radio – 8 June 2012

Topics: People Smuggling

TONY EASTLEY: Questions remain about whether alleged people smuggling kingpin “Captain Emad” will have his refugee protection visa revoked by the Government. But at the moment it is a moot point. Captain Emad was allowed to leave Australia this week after he was exposed by the ABC’s Four Corner’s program.

The Opposition has blamed the Government for allowing him to flee, claiming budget cuts have tied the hands of police.

The Immigration Minister declined an invitation to be interviewed.

The Home Affairs Minister however, Jason Clare, who also has responsibility for border security, is speaking here to Alexandra Kirk.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Minister, police say that they don’t have enough evidence to arrest Captain Emad or prevent him from leaving the country. Are you absolutely sure nothing more could have been done?

JASON CLARE: I’ve got absolute faith in the Police Commissioner and the Australian Federal Police. They know they have got a high standard of proof that they need to meet. They have got to convince a jury of someone’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

What the Commissioner said yesterday is they don’t have that information at the moment. Unfortunately there is a difference between compiling information for a television program and compiling information for court. And that’s despite the work that the police have done over the last two years, the commissioning of a search warrant, interviews and so forth.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Tony Abbott isn’t blaming the police for letting Captain Emad leave the country. He says police do a good job in difficult circumstances. But he blames the Government for tying the police’s hands by cutting resources, in other words, cutting their funding.

JASON CLARE: Well Tony needs to look at the budget. The Federal Police now have $360 million more in their budget than they did when the Howard government was in power. And not only that, there’s 575 more federal police today than there were when Tony Abbott was in power. So more money and more police officers to do the work.

I agree with Tony on this, the Federal Police do do a good job and it’s proven by this fact – 99 per cent of the people they put before the court last year were convicted. But if we don’t have enough evidence they take the cautious and proper approach to keep collecting information before they put someone before a court.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now the rules around cancelling people’s visas etc are less stringent than police evidentiary ones. Captain Emad’s refugee status could have been revoked, could it not?

JASON CLARE: Well Alex you’re asking me a question in another portfolio, in Immigration. My advice is that the visa at the moment is being reviewed. The Minister for Immigration asked for that review on Tuesday.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But it’s a bit late isn’t it because Captain Emad has flown the coop and is unlikely to return.

JASON CLARE: We need to be, you’ve got to be careful here. You have got to be very careful because we don’t want to make the mistake the Howard government made on the Haneef case where – you’ll remember this – the visa was cancelled and then it was overturned by the courts.

There are in the Migration Act grounds to revoke a visa but it is appealable. And you do need to make sure that you’ve got the evidence and the information required in which to, in which to revoke a visa otherwise you’ll have repeat of what happened a couple of years ago in the Haneef case.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: If you could turn your mind to another issue, that of cuts to Customs staff at key regional ports, according to an internal document leaked to the ABC, 37 jobs will go. Unions and local councils are concerned that could make it easier for criminals. Considering that you’ve recently announced a crackdown on organised crime on the docks, how does this make sense?

JASON CLARE: That’s a good point Alex. It gives me an opportunity to provide this information.

We’ve invested more than $4 billion into Customs over the last four years and we’ll invest another $4 billion in Customs over the next four years.

We have more than 5,000 frontline staff in Customs and it’s important that we put them where they’re needed.

In some of the smaller ports where workload has reduced over the last year, the decision has been made to move them to some of the bigger ports – ports like Brisbane where I’m rolling out operation Polaris, expanding the work we are doing to tackle organised crime on the waterfront there. You mentioned that in your question.

And in places that are quieter because of decisions that industry has made or in places where you can do work at a lower cost in another location, we’ve made the decision to transfer some staff.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: If it’s about risk, the biggest risk being at the big ports, but as the union points out, low risk doesn’t mean no risk.

JASON CLARE: No, no, it’s all about allocating resources based on risk and that’s the decision that the chief executive of Customs has made.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Are you comfortable with that?

JASON CLARE: Yes, it’s a decision that needs to be made by the boss of the organisation and he’s made the assessment that we need to allocate more people to tackle organised crime in Queensland and I back that. The evidence says that that’s important.

TONY EASTLEY: The Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare speaking to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.