Asylum seeker transfers to Nauru, Malaysia Arrangement, people smugglers, Coalition hypocrisy
Tuesday, 11 September 2012
Interview with Paul Henry, Ten Breakfast
Paul Henry: Chris Bowen joins us now. Chris, good morning to you.
Chris Bowen: Good morning to you, Paul.
Henry: Who will go?
Bowen: Well under the Act, everybody who comes to Australia is obliged to be removed to another country to be processed unless I, as minister, issue an exemption. And let's be clear Paul: I know there's challenges here but this is a policy yet to be actually implemented and all the advice to me is that until you actually see planeloads go off to Nauru in the first instance, and then Papua New Guinea, and you see all the other recommendations of the Panel implemented, you're going to continue to see people smugglers out there trying to spin and lie in the region and tell people it doesn't affect them.
So we have to take a step back and actually let this policy be implemented and let it work.
Henry: The thing is, I mean, you're entirely right, what you're saying is this is all about image; it's all the way a hard-line attitude is portrayed overseas. So who will go?
Bowen: Well what we're up against is people smugglers who will make up anything or exaggerate anything, so I'm not going to provide a people smugglers 'how-to guide'. If I start issuing blanket-exemptions and say, 'Well this type of person won't go or that person won't go', well then the people smugglers will be out there using that –
Bowen: These are hardened criminals we are dealing with – they're hardened criminals with very close links to organised crime who will have no compunction in lying or spinning any government action –
Henry: No, you're right.
Bowen: So I do need to deal with this with caution, and that's why I'm saying at this point that everybody who arrives in Australia is at risk of being transferred to Nauru or Papua New Guinea. The Act's very clear about that. Obviously there's some challenges here, just as there would be challenges for anybody implementing this policy, but it does take time to do–
Henry: Alright Chris, I'll rephrase the question.
Henry: Will women and children go?
Bowen: Yes, under the Act everybody who arrives in Australia is eligible to be transferred to Nauru and Papua New Guinea; yes. I know some people will say that sounds very harsh, but for the reasons that I've said, I'm not going to let people smugglers be out there saying, 'Look, it's okay, put your wife, put your kids on the boat, it'll be alright' –
Henry: Because that is definitely what they would try and say, because there are –
Henry: – lots of people who think that your government is soft, and I actually know that you are not, but I think there are a lot of people around you, in your Caucus, that are soft and I don't think they will want to see one child or one woman placed on one boat or plane and sent to Nauru.
Bowen: Well the government supports this policy Paul, as a whole. All my colleagues support this policy. I know –
Henry: Ok, so will there be women and children, will there be women and children tomorrow heading off to Nauru?
Bowen: Well just to be clear Paul, nobody is going tomorrow. I said in the latter part of the week, that doesn't necessarily mean Wednesday. We've still got to get through the –
Henry: Ok, Thursday. Will there be women and children on boats or planes on Thursday?
Bowen: Well look Paul, what I haven't done yet, and what I won't do this morning, is provide sort-of further details about the first transfer. The first transfer is just the first transfer, it'll be followed reasonably quickly by other transfers after that. But yes, there is what some people would call a hard message that you can't get an exemption by sending women and children, and I know some people say that's terrible –
Henry: So there will be women and children, there will be a few women and children?
Bowen: Not necessarily on the first transfer Paul, I'm not –
Henry: Here's the thing Chris, the thing is – and it comes back to what you said originally – it is the image of this that is the message that you're sending that is vitally important –
Henry: – Now I know we would never do this, and I'm not condoning it, but if you saw women and children being whipped as they got offshore in Nauru, that is the kind of thing that sends a strong message as they're pushed into holes on Nauru. Now obviously we would never do that but the stronger the message you send, the more effective it's likely to be.
Bowen: Well obviously you're right Paul, we would never ever do that.
We need to treat people humanely and with respect, but we do need a clear and strong message in the region. The types of people we're dealing with here are, a) people smugglers who will capitalise on any situation –
Bowen: – for their own profit, and then, b) asylum seekers who really are wanting to hear that message, they're looking for that message that says they can get through; and we just really can't let that message get through.
Henry: So it would be irresponsible of you and your government not to send the strongest possible message on Thursday when the first of these people leaves. So I'm recommending that women and children very much make up a percentage of the people that you send.
How are you actually going to do it? I mean, you – is it, as the Opposition suggests, is it just a lottery?
Bowen: No, no, it's not a lottery and that's not a very helpful term from the Opposition. Obviously the Parliament has endorsed this and now we want to see it work.
Now, as I say Paul, the first transfer will get a lot of interest, and yes we'll be communicating throughout the region: through Sri Lanka and Pakistan and Iran and Iraq and Indonesia and Malaysia, where people smugglers operate and where asylum seekers are concentrated; we'll be publicising the fact that the first transfer has occurred, but also the second and the third and the fourth transfers, it's not all just about the first transfer. And of course there's a lot of detailed planning that has gone into this, a lot of work into how the transfer will occur: very, very detailed work indeed.
My focus at the moment has been getting through the Parliament and I'll provide those further operational details a little bit closer to the time.
Henry: Alright, you are still looking at the 'Malaysia Solution', whether it's a solution or not we don't know, but you're still looking at Malaysia, as indeed you have to because since you've announced this new plan, since the Report came out more asylum seekers have arrived and are currently on Christmas Island than will fill Nauru and Manus Island.
But the 'Malaysia Solution' isn't a solution in that you will never get it through Parliament because the Opposition made it clear they're not going to support and you've still got issues with the United Nations.
Bowen: Well yeah you're right, the Opposition has said previously they won't support it. But they've said they wouldn't support it because Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. Now that's a very hypocritical position for them to take, because their policy is to turn boats around to Indonesia, which isn't a signatory, and also to send people to Sri Lanka which isn't a signatory.
So how can it be okay to send people to Sri Lanka and Indonesia, but not Malaysia? Frankly, I think their opposition to the Malaysia agreement has been because they think it will work, and they don't want it to work because they want this political issue to continue –
Henry: But even if you're right, the fact that they won't support it means you'll never get it through; so the crisis remains with you.
Bowen: Well my responsibility as Minister is to make sure the policy is as good as is possibly can be and to argue for it. Now, the Houston Panel said that the Malaysia agreement was very, very important, pointed out that, really, it's a very strong disincentive because most people start their boat journey in Malaysia, so if you spend your money and get sent back to Malaysia, you've done your dough, and that's a very strong disincentive indeed.
Henry: But as I say, you can put the best argument forward but if the Opposition won't support it, which they won't, you're wasting your time.
Henry: Can I just ask you very, very quickly one final question, because I know you've got – you've got to head off –
Bowen: That's alright.
Henry: In your quiet moments Chris, when you're just at home – if you ever have quiet moments, I don't know – do you sometimes sit back and think, 'Why didn't my colleagues listen to me, we wouldn't be in the crisis we're in now if eleven months ago they'd done what I suggested?'
Bowen: Well Paul, obviously I don't talk about Cabinet decisions, but this is a tough area. The Labor Party's full of people wanting to do the right thing, and of course we sometimes have a debate about what the right thing is –
Henry: But you are doing now exactly what you suggested eleven months ago should be done.
Bowen: Well I've always argued that you needed a suite of measures, including Malaysia and including other measures, and yes, I offered the Coalition to open Nauru before Christmas, and I'm very – you know, I really wish we'd had it open before Christmas last year –
Henry: So say all of us.
Bowen: – because this situation would be very different.
Henry: Have you ever used the word's, 'Told you so'?
Bowen: It's not a term that I generally use Paul, and of course, as I say, before Christmas we approached Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison and said, 'Look, let's get Nauru open, let's do Malaysia as well', because we can argue about whether Malaysia would work, whether Nauru would work; I don't think anyone could argue Paul, if you did both it wouldn't work, of course it would.
Henry: Alright Chris, well the ball is very much in your court and you know we're all watching you very, very closely. Thanks for joining us this morning.
Henry: Thank you Paul.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Tuesday, 11 September 2012 at 12:54 AEST