Interview with ABC 24 News Breakfast – 28 March 2012

Topics: People smuggling arrests and Customs corruption.

PAUL KENNEDY: For more, the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, joins us now from Sydney. Thanks for your time this morning, Mr Clare. You must be pleased with the news that this has seemingly been a fruitful operation.

JASON CLARE: Yeah, thanks Paul. It has been a major breakthrough by the Australian Federal Police. And they’ve done this work, working very closely with police in Indonesia, as well as Malaysia and Thailand. You can only do this work working together. And it’s a good example of what you can achieve when law enforcement agencies across the region work together.

PAUL KENNEDY: So I’m just trying to work out who was driving this. This was the Australian Federal Police operation and they were able to get in the other countries and the other bodies to help them.

JASON CLARE: Yeah, they were. Federal police work with Indonesian authorities on a day-to-day basis in Indonesia. They also work very closely with the Malaysian special branch police on a regular basis. The Federal Police led this investigation. As you’ve just heard, it led to the arrest of four people in Australia – two in Sydney, two in Melbourne. It’s also led to the arrest of two people now in Thailand, with the prospect of potentially more arrests.

PAUL KENNEDY: And so, with four people arrested in Sydney and two in Thailand, what can you tell us about this so-called people smuggling ring? Is it an Australian based ring?

JASON CLARE: Well these are individuals, Australians, that have been very involved in organising people to make their way to Indonesia or to Malaysia or to Thailand to get to Australia. It’s a ring that’s been in operation now for about 12 months. So it’s a very important breakthrough. These people now have the prospect of potentially spending up to twenty years in jail.

PAUL KENNEDY: And what do you say about future operations such as this, with this seemingly successful outcome?

JASON CLARE: Well this is just one example of the work that federal police do. They do this sort of work all the time. There’s more investigations like this going on at the moment.

But I do need to make the point that it’s one thing for police to stop and arrest people smugglers. The best way to stop people getting on a boat is to remove the incentive to give people smugglers $10,000 in the first place.

Last time I was on the program, in December, I had to report that 200 people had died off the coast of Indonesia. What we really need to do here is remove the incentive for people to pay $10,000 to these people to get on a boat. And the best way to do that is by telling people that, if you get on a boat, you’ll end up in Malaysia rather than Australia.

That’ll stop people giving people smugglers $10,000 and it’ll put these people out of business once and for all.

PAUL KENNEDY: Well it’s interesting because the first thing that I thought this morning, when I heard about these arrests, was that, if the AFP can work so well with bodies overseas, why then do we need a Malaysia solution? Why can’t we go down this path of attacking the problem from a policing angle and an investigations angle? Then you certainly wouldn’t need this Malaysian deal, which has been trouble from the start.

JASON CLARE: Well this is a little bit like putting your finger or your thumb on the end of a hose, stopping people from getting on boats and risking their lives by arresting the people smugglers. But what I would argue is what you really need to do is turn the tap off, stop people from wanting to get on a boat in the first place. And the way to do that is by telling people that, if you get on a boat, you’ll end up in Malaysia rather than Australia.

Now if someone told you that, if you got on a boat, you’d end up in Malaysia rather than Australia, I suspect you wouldn’t hand over $10,000.


JASON CLARE: That’s the way to stop people risking their lives and dying at sea. And it would certainly put people like the people we’ve arrested yesterday out of business.

PAUL KENNEDY: Yes. But if I was a people smuggler and I heard that the people were being arrested and imprisoned for that sort of stuff, then I might think twice about going on with that.

JASON CLARE: That’s a good point. And hopefully it will make sure that a few people that are involved in this enterprise or thinking about getting involved in this sort of work in Australia stop it before they even begin. But I think we can go one step further. And that is by implementing the Malaysian agreement.

It’s about time that Tony Abbott stopped saying no and give it a chance. Let it have a go. If it doesn’t work, he can criticise us. But if it does work, then it will mean that a lot of people risking their lives won’t potentially end up losing them at sea.

PAUL KENNEDY: Okay. Let’s move on to another story that’s been written about in the Fairfax Press today. And allegations that there’s an investigation into customs officers and border security employees for being corrupt and allowing the drugs to be brought into this country. Why would the government not have an independent inquiry into this and, as you say, turn the tap off on that particular problem as well?

JASON CLARE: It’s a good question. There’s no place for corruption in the public sector, whether it’s in customs or whether it’s in the federal police or the Crime Commission. It is a sad fact that organised criminals target our law enforcement agencies because of the nature of their work.

We’ve got an organisation that’s been established called the Australian Commissioner for Law Enforcement Integrity. It’s the corruption watchdog in this area, a little bit like ICAC or the Police Integrity Commission. And we’ve extended their responsibilities now to incorporate Customs.

I’ve been in the job now for three months. Last month, I ordered a review of their powers and their resources to make sure they’ve got everything they need to oversight not only customs, but also to make sure they’ve got what they need in respect of the Federal Police and the Crime Commission as well.

Now that’s an important review. That’ll make sure that we’ve got the watchdog the resources they need. But I’m less interested in reviews and more interested in action. There’s been a lot of work done here in the area of corruption resistance already. But I do believe there’s more that needs to be done. And I stand ready to do that.

PAUL KENNEDY: We’ll wait to see what action is taken there. Just one final one, Mr Clare, you’re the minister for defence materiel as well. And we heard from Stephen Smith earlier in the hour, talking about the possibility of drones on the Cocos Islands and a beefed-up presence of US military at HMAS Stirling. What have you made of that speculation?

JASON CLARE: Well I think Stephen made some comments on the program earlier today. We are in discussions with the United States in respect of their global forced posture review. But that and Cocos Islands is a little bit further down the track.

PAUL KENNEDY: Okay. Thanks very much for your time this morning, Mr Clare. We do appreciate it.

JASON CLARE: Not a problem. Thank you.