Interview with Marius Benson. ABC Radio National – 8 June 2012

Topics: People Smuggling

MARIUS BENSON:Let’s go to that story of the people smuggling.

The Federal Government is under fire again over the border protection issue following the departure of an alleged people smuggler, Captain Emad, from the country.

Captain Emad was identified in a report on ABC TVs Four Corners as having entered the country by passing himself off as a refugee and then setting up a people smuggling operation here with other fraudulent entrants.

His ability to simply fly out the day after the TV report was aired has deepened the government’s embarrassment.

So Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, is the Minister responsible for the Federal Police who allowed Captain Emad to go, and he joins me now.

Jason Clare, good morning.

JASON CLARE: Good morning Marius.

MARIUS BENSON:Thanks very much indeed for joining us. Can I begin by asking you a question that was put just a few minutes ago on Newsradio by the Opposition Shadow Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, who says, firstly, when did the government know about Captain Emad?

JASON CLARE: Well the Federal Police made the point yesterday, in fact the Commissioner made the point, that we’ve been investigating this bloke for over two years.

The Commissioner made the point that we’ve been investigating him since he arrived. I can give you a bit more information if you like Marius.

MARIUS BENSON: No, can I just stay with that point. When you say the police knew, the government knew, because the follow up point is why didn’t you cancel his visa?

JASON CLARE: Well this is a question for the Minister of Immigration. But the point he’s made is that the visa is now being reviewed. He made the decision to order a review on Tuesday, and Mr Bowen’s made the point very clearly that if there are grounds for the visa to be revoked it will be.

But we do have to be – we’ve got to be careful here, you don’t want a repeat of the mistake that was made by the Howard Government Marius.

You’ll remember the Haneef case where a visa was cancelled and then it was overturned by the courts. That was a stuff-up. We can’t let that sort of thing happen again.

MARIUS BENSON:Fairly different cases. Is there much point in reviewing the visa of someone who has fled the country? Shouldn’t the review be done before they go through the airport?

JASON CLARE: Well the review was commissioned on Tuesday and the Minister has made the point that you do need to make sure you’ve got grounds to revoke a visa. If you don’t have the grounds, based on the Migration Act, then that revocation can be overturned and we saw that in the Haneef case.

MARIUS BENSON: But the review was initiated on Tuesday, is the government simply waiting to watch TV to find out what’s going on?

JASON CLARE: No, well police will continue their investigation into this Marius. The investigation doesn’t stop. If we can get enough evidence against this person we can arrest him and you can seek to extradite him if he’s overseas.

If he returns to Australia and we’ve got enough evidence then he can be arrested here. That’s the point. It’s the evidence, ultimately, that catches criminals and it’s potentially the evidence that he’s left behind.

MARIUS BENSON:Okay. You’ve been watching him for two years or the Federal Police, who report to you, have been watching for two years. How big was he in the set up? Was he a kingpin?

JASON CLARE: Well I’m not going to go into that level of detail Marius. The Federal Police Commissioner gave some information about this individual yesterday. He made the point that we’ve been investigating him for two years.

Federal Police interviewed passengers that were on the boat, none of them provided substantial evidence against him. So that limited the Federal Police’s ability in this area.

They continued their investigations, and I am constrained from going into the detail of the investigation. But the Commissioner did make the point yesterday that they executed a search warrant late last year and collected evidence in that case.

MARIUS BENSON:Can you say if it’s true that twelve other syndicates are being investigated?

JASON CLARE: It is true.

The Commissioner made that point yesterday. We’ve – the Federal Police have arrested fourteen people like this over the course of the last few years. ASIO, in addition to that, have stopped eight people from getting in the country by issuing adverse security assessments against people that they believe might be people smugglers.

We’ve got over one hundred police that are working this task across the country. They’re based in strike teams in Sydney, in Melbourne, in Brisbane, in Canberra and in Perth. And they’re working about a dozen serious investigations across the country now with the support of ASIO, as well as the support of the Australian Crime Commission.

MARIUS BENSON:But are you on top of the problem with all those forces or are you scrambling to catch up? And clearly damage has been done, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, has been very critical.

JASON CLARE: Well you know the facts speak for themselves. We’ve arrested fourteen of these individuals. It’s frustrating when you don’t have enough evidence to arrest somebody that you think is involved in people smuggling.

No one wants to arrest crooks more than I do or more than the Federal Police Commissioner does, but you’ve got to have the evidence. The burden of proof rests with us and we need to prove that someone is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

MARIUS BENSON:Can you give us a broad idea of how bit the problem is? Have you broken the back of it with fourteen arrests or are you just cutting at the edges?

JASON CLARE: Well I tell you how to break the back of it. You stop people smugglers from working in Australia or overseas if you remove the incentive to give them ten thousand dollars to get on a boat. You stop their business in their tracks if no one wants to give them money.

At the moment, there is an incentive to give them money because the legislation that we’ve got in the Parliament is being refused or rejected by the Opposition. That makes it very hard to do the job that we want to do when you’ve got an Opposition that are refusing to support us.

You’ll remember Marius, after Tampa – the Howard Government wanted to introduce offshore processing, we supported that legislation. And you’ll remember after September eleven they introduced counter-terrorism legislation, we supported that.

Now can you imagine, can you imagine what would have happened if the Labor Party opposed that? We would have been condemned. We would have been scarified by the media.

The same situation is happening now and we are being denied laws that we believe will not only put people smugglers out of business but, most importantly, will save people’s lives.

We’ve got hundreds of people drowning in the Java Sea because we’re not able to introduce legislation to implement offshore processing.

MARIUS BENSON:Jason Clare, many thanks.

JASON CLARE: Thanks very much Marius.

MARIUS BENSON:Jason Clare is the Home Affairs Minister.

– ENDS –