Update on Christmas Island incident, Regional Protection Framework
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Interview with Marius Benson, ABC News Radio
Marius Benson: Chris Bowen, good morning.
Chris Bowen: Good morning, Marius.
Benson: You have said the situation is difficult at the centre: there has been a sequence of disturbances, these pellets were fired, tear gas was fired on Sunday night. What was the situation last night, overnight in the centre?
Bowen: The situation last night is calm and we had no violent incidents last night. We had a small, peaceful protest in the detention centre, but certainly no confrontations, and no violent incidents over the course of the evening, last night.
Benson: So are all the detainees back in detention or are some still outside?
Bowen: Certainly, my advice is that the vast majority are in. Of course, there are ongoing head counts, just to confirm that everybody is in, but certainly my advice is that almost all detainees are inside the centre.
Benson: Almost all?
Bowen: All or almost all. Certainly, if there are any outside the centre, it's a very small number.
Benson: So there's no public protest or any violent action being conducted by anyone there at the centre?
Bowen: As I say, we had a calmer night, Marius, and I've said, as you've pointed out, that the situation for several nights has been tense and difficult at Christmas Island, but certainly last night we had a calmer situation.
Benson: Have tear gas and shotgun pellets, have they been used since Sunday?
Bowen: No, and let me make it clear, Marius, as I announced – as I recall, it was Monday – that tear gas had been used. And the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have confirmed, as I understand it, that what is termed a beanbag bullet has been used and that is not a shotgun pellet as such, but as I'm advised the worst injury that it could create would be bruising, and the AFP have confirmed that in line with their use of force guidelines, which is that use of force should be the minimum required to restore order, that those two options were used by them.
Benson: Why was it necessary for police to take those options? What were the demonstrators doing?
Bowen: Well, certainly, there was a fear and an indication that there was a violent protest on that particular night, that it was necessary to do that, and that DIAC and Serco officials needed the assistance of AFP, because there was a very volatile situation on that evening, and therefore those options were needed by the AFP, in line with their use of force guidelines.
Benson: How violent was the situation? Was any official or any detainee injured?
Bowen: No, but as I've made clear, one detainee had a broken leg, as I previously announced, no official was injured, as I've made clear previously. There were officials who were in need of assistance, they were in the middle of a violent protest, and they were in need of assistance by the AFP, but there were no injuries.
Benson: You've said there's a minority on Christmas Island who are orchestrating these protests. But you've said that minority numbers are sometimes up to 300, a pretty big minority.
Bowen: And I haven't walked away from that, Marius, I recognise that. But I was also making the point – and it's important that Australians watching this understand that we have 1800 people in this detention centre – the majority of people have said they want nothing to do with this protest action, that they don't regard this as appropriate behaviour, they just want to conduct themselves appropriately inside the detention facility, and that's an important point.
We have 1800 people at this particular detention centre and I wouldn't want people to think that everybody is involved in this protest action. It is significant protest action, I've acknowledged that freely, and it is a difficult situation, as I have said freely. But I wouldn't want people to think that all of the 1,800 asylum seekers on Christmas Island, in this particular centre, are engaging in this sort of activity because they are not.
Benson: You've said that the solution, the more permanent solution to this issue is the establishing of an offshore processing centre, and you say there will be an agreement on that before the next election in 2013. Are you talking there about East Timor agreeing to that?
Bowen: Well, Marius, you and I have discussed this many times, and my answer to you is the same as it has been on the previous occasions: that we need an international solution to an international problem. That involves the establishment of a regional framework; that takes time.
But we are making progress: we're in discussions with our regional partners, and there are a range of discussions going on, and those discussions will continue at the Bali Ministerial Meeting in a few weeks’ time, and we're making good progress. And I remain confident that we will achieve an international framework, and as is well known, our view has been that a regional processing centre is part of the regional framework.
Benson: The Opposition's position is that you are better taking tough action to prevent people arriving here, rather than taking action involving tear gas and pellets when they get here.
Bowen: Well, you know, there were plenty of opportunities, plenty of occasions when there were difficulties at detention centres during the Opposition's time in government, no question about that, and the Opposition's position, you're quite right, is that we should make our regime more punitive and harsher as a deterrent to come to Australia. I don't think that's a sustainable solution. I think the sustainable solution is an international framework.
They have their cheap slogans, and their policy of a harsher regime, and taking people to Nauru. I don't think that's a sustainable way forward; I don't think it makes any difference.
Benson: Chris Bowen, thank you very much.
Bowen: Nice talking to you, Marius.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Wednesday, 16 March 2011 at 11:49 AEST