Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National – 5 June 2012

Topics: People Smugglers

FRAN KELLY: That’s Scott Morrison speaking to us earlier, so do we now need to question the entire refugee assessment process if people smugglers have got through? Jason Clare is the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice. Minister, good morning. Thanks for joining us.

JASON CLARE: Not a problem Fran, good to be on the program.

FRAN KELLY: Is the system broken?

JASON CLARE: Well I don’t think it is but it does need serious action. We want to introduce offshore processing. You know that very well and we’re being stopped at every attempt by Tony Abbott. We tried to get legislation passed through the Parliament last week and Tony Abbott voted against offshore processing again.

FRAN KELLY: So let’s go to the allegations we saw on Four Corners last night uncovering people smuggling rings operating in a number of our cities, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra just three of them, from cafes on the street. Did you have any knowledge of this?

JASON CLARE: Look I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t surprised by what I saw because of this simple fact – in the last few years the Federal Police have arrested 14 alleged people smugglers in Australia. Five of them have been convicted and are serving sentences up to seven years in jail and the rest of them are before the court now. So we do know that there are people in Australia who working with syndicates overseas try to organise to get people on boats and we’ve got Federal Police that are involved in a number of investigations targeting them.

FRAN KELLY: So did we know of these people that Four Corners turned up in a relatively brief space of time, operating in broad daylight almost, charging people eleven thousand dollars a pop to get their loved ones from Afghanistan or Iraq?

JASON CLARE: Fran, I’m constrained here. I’ve got to be very careful in what I say because I don’t want to compromise anything that the Federal Police are doing or any of their investigations, so let me speak more broadly and just say that the Federal Police are conducting a number of investigations into people-smuggling operations in Australia and they do that not on their own.

They do that with the Australian Crime Commission and with ASIO as well. We’ve extended ASIO’s powers so that they can collect intelligence on people in Australia that are involved in people smuggling syndicates and we’ve also seen the Australian Crime Commission conduct – I think it’s now seventeen coercive hearings over the last 12 to 15 months and that’s led to the arrest of a lot of the people I spoke about a moment ago.

FRAN KELLY: And Minister, meanwhile the people that Four Corners filmed are still out on the streets and isn’t the issue here not that the AFP might not be tracking some people smugglers here, but that these people are arriving here by boats posing as asylum seekers, getting through the security check process, getting their refugee status – sometimes being given public housing, bringing their family in?

I mean this is a failure of that intelligence checking system at the assessment stage isn’t it?

JASON CLARE: It’s a good question Fran and I asked this question of police when I spoke to them about this and they said often one of the problems they’ve got is that people that are on the boat are too afraid to give information when they arrive at Christmas Island that that person over there in the corner is a people smuggler or that person over there was the one driving the boat.

You don’t find this information out until sometimes months or years afterwards, but the important point here is if there are grounds for reconsidering whether someone is in fact a refugee, then subsequently that visa can be revoked. That’s a matter for DIAC but if the person, after being granted a refugee visa is found not in fact to be a refugee but in fact a people smuggler, that visa can be revoked.

FRAN KELLY: I’ll come back to that in a second, but meanwhile the person named by Four Corners as Captain Emad who came to Australia on an Indonesia fishing vessel – in fact he steered the vessel for much of the voyage according to those on board, then posed as an asylum seeker and is now working as a trolley collector at a shopping centre in Canberra while charging people enormous amounts of money to bring people over here.

He got through the security checks not just because people on that boat didn’t finger him, but presumably those checks failed to turn up the fact that according to Four Corners he runs jewellery shops in Malaysia, he had this business operating in Indonesia. Why would he have been eligible for asylum?

JASON CLARE: Well – and again Fran, two things. One I’ve got to be…

FRAN KELLY: It’s a failure of the checking process isn’t it?

JASON CLARE: I’ve got to be very careful about what I say in relation to this case and as you know I’m the Minister for Home Affairs, not the Minister for Immigration. Let me say this more generally and that is that we arrest people smugglers here in Australia and we arrest them overseas as well.

My view on this is this is a little bit like putting your thumb on the end of a hose. If you want to stop people like that from plying their trade, if you want to turn that tap off, then you need offshore processing.

Why would anybody pay people smugglers ten or fifteen thousand dollars if they knew they weren’t going to end up in Australia? They were going to end up in Malaysia. That’s the real way to stop the sorts of things that we saw last night.

FRAN KELLY: I accept that’s the Government’s position but it still raises questions about the capacity of the security checking here.

Some of these people are held for a long time, this man apparently only three months. Nevertheless enough time you would have thought for the police or ASIO to realise he’s a businessman operating still a number of commercial enterprises, legal and illegal apparently, in Malaysia and Indonesia.

JASON CLARE: I don’t have specific details on that. I’m not the Minister for ASIO, but I guess the important point that police have advised me this morning is that where they do get additional information, those Visas can be revoked and in addition to that ASIO have been given additional powers to collect intelligence on people in Australia that they believe are involved in people smuggling.

FRAN KELLY: Can you tell us whether this man was known to officials, whether he’s being monitored or will you recommend to your colleague, the Minister for Immigration, that his refugee Visa be revoked?

JASON CLARE: Fran, you’re inviting me to answer a question I’d like to give you the answer to but I’ve got to be careful acting on advice from police. I can’t go into the details of this case other than to answer that question by saying in general terms police are very active in this area. They’re conducting a number of very serious investigations into people smuggling in Australia and perhaps in expanding on that answer to make this point – we’ve got AFP teams that are focussed on this in Sydney, in Melbourne, in Perth, in Brisbane and in Canberra. There’s over a hundred police investigators that are working on this here in Australia and overseas, supported by ASIO and supported by the Crime Commission. I make that point just to tell you that nothing that I saw last night surprised me. The Federal Police investigate matters like this very seriously all the time.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, it’s almost time for the news but another disturbing element to the story last night was the number of boats that are disappearing, people drowning never to be seen of again. That is the human tragedy here apart from any law breaking going on here and one report in the newspapers over the weekend suggested that one boat in 2009 disappeared because Australian Federal Police and Customs were slow to advise the boat was in distress.

JASON CLARE: Fran, four percent of people who get on a boat to come to Australia never get here. They end up at the bottom of the Java Sea and this is what it’s really all about, you know. Two hundred people died in December. Four days after I got this job I had to advise the Australian people that two hundred people had died.

We had eleven people die off the coast of Malaysia back in February. We can stop this happening. We can stop people dying. Don’t just think about this. Think about what happened after the Vietnam War and the thousands and thousands of people who drowned. The way to stop this is offshore processing.

People won’t get on boats if they think that they won’t end up in Australia, they’ll go back to Malaysia. Both sides of politics agree to this. This is what frustrates me so much. Both sides of politics want offshore processing. We’ve said Malaysia. The Opposition have said Nauru. We’ve agreed to do both. We’ve agreed to do Nauru, we’ve agreed to implement Liberal Party policy and the Opposition Leader is still saying no.

FRAN KELLY: Just very briefly Minister, do you think the revelations on Four Corners last night will wear away at people’s general – the general population’s support for the asylum seeker program?

JASON CLARE: Well Australians are generous people. They want to help refugees, but they want to make sure that people do it in a safe way. Going on a boat to Australia is not a safe way, especially when we see people drowning at sea all the time.

FRAN KELLY: Alright. Minister, thank you very much for joining us.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Jason Clare is the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice.

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