Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News – 22 December 2011

Topics: Asylum seeker meeting.

KIERAN GILBERT: Sydney’s CBD Studio as the Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare. Minister thank you very much for your time.

You’ve heard what the Opposition Leader has to say. Even before the talks are held, the prospects of a compromise don’t look good.

JASON CLARE: Well I think the people of Australia are demanding that we compromise. They’ve had a gutful of the politics, they’re sick of all of this.

Most people that I speak to say that the Government believes in Malaysia, the Opposition supports Nauru, why don’t we just do both and we’ve made a very big compromise overnight. We need the Opposition to do the same and we can reach an agreement potentially today.

KIERAN GILBERT: The Government said yesterday all options were on the table Minister, only to then rule out temporary protection visas in this compromised proposal. Hasn’t the Acting Prime Minister contradicted himself within just a couple of hours?

JASON CLARE: Well we offered to sit down and talk about all options. The Leader of the Opposition wanted a written proposal so we’ve provided one.

It’s our view that temporary protection visas do more harm than they do good. We’ve seen 200 people die over the weekend. It’s the second largest tragedy at sea in the last decade.

Ten years ago Kieran, you’ll remember SIEV X where 350 people died. That included 140 odd women and 140 children.

Now they were women and children that were coming to Australia because their husband or their father was on a temporary protection visa and the only way to get here was by boat because they couldn’t get family reunion.

So, we are concerned that a temporary protection visa will do more harm than good. It actually could encourage people to get on a boat because it’s the only way to get to Australia to be reunited with your father or with your husband.

But the core element of this agreement Kieran is the Government is committed to Malaysia. We think that’s what will stop people from getting on a boat because they’ll end up in Malaysia rather than Australia.

We understand that the Opposition are committed to Nauru. We’re not sure that it will work, but we’ve seen 200 people die over the weekend. There’s a risk that more people will die and the common sense compromise here is to do both, get it done.

If we can make an agreement today, we can reduce the risk of more people coming by boat over the next few weeks and more people potentially.

KIERAN GILBERT: Is the Government’s position on the TPVs though is that open – is it open to compromise, is that on the table?

JASON CLARE: Well, look I’m hopeful that people of goodwill, good people that will be around the table today – and I include in that Scott Morrison sitting together with Chris Bowen – can talk through all of these issues and come to an agreement and shake hands.

I’ve got to tell you Kieran that my department is telling me that there’s a potential for more boats and the potential for several hundred more people to try and make a journey to Australia between now and New Year’s Eve.

If we can get Tony Abbott to say yes and if we can agree on a compromise, then it will take effect immediately.

Now that means that anyone that comes to Australia by boat from the time that the two major parties shake hands and agree, will end up in Malaysia or Manus Island or Nauru.

Now that sends a very strong message to the people smugglers and the people that are thinking about getting on a boat right now that you won’t end up in Australia, so don’t take that risk. Don’t take the risk of getting on a boat right now, particularly with the bad weather conditions that are forecast over the next few days.

KIERAN GILBERT: So what is your – but what is your department telling you about the number of boats? How many boats or how many people?

JASON CLARE: What they’re telling me is a number of boats over the – between now and New Year’s Eve – there’s the potential for a number of boats and several hundred people to be on those boats.

Now if we can put down our swords, if we can get rid of the politics and compromise and, you know, the essence of this compromise, the common sense solution is if we support Malaysia and the Opposition support Nauru – do both.

If we can say yes today and reach an agreement, then it will take effect immediately.

That will mean that anyone that’s thinking about getting on a boat now will have second thoughts about paying ten thousand dollars to a people smuggler because they’ll end up in Malaysia or Nauru or Manus Island.

It will reduce the risk of people getting on a boat and potentially dying at sea.

KIERAN GILBERT: Indonesian authorities who’ve arrested eight, including four soldiers Minister, that would be a major concern would it not if soldiers were involved and I suppose it would explain in part the relative impunity many of these syndicates have been operating with in recent times?

JASON CLARE: Well if it’s true it is a concern and Indonesian National Police are conducting an investigation into that and Australian Federal Police are assisting with that investigation.

It would be premature for me to comment anymore, we’ve got to let that investigation take its course.

More generally though Kieran if we’re going to solve this problem, the way to solve it is with offshore processing.

You’ll solve it by removing the incentive to even pay any money to a people smuggler to get on a boat and as I said earlier – we think that the best option, the one that will work is Malaysia. But I accept that Scott and Tony Abbott believe that Nauru is the best option to do that.

When I talk to people in the street, I suspect people at airports and people that are watching this program now, are saying if the Government believes Malaysia is the best option and the Opposition believe that Nauru is the best option – then the common sense compromise here is just do both.

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare, appreciate your time.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Kieran.