Sri Lankan voluntary returns, people smugglers, regional processing at Nauru
Tuesday, 25 September 2012
Interview with John Laws, 2SM Mornings
John Laws: I think there's a lot of hysterical information being spread around, so we need the correct information regarding the spending of taxpayer's money, and I'm sure the Minister can give it to us. Minister Chris Bowen, good morning and welcome to the program.
Chris Bowen: Good morning John. I'm not sure I can be as interesting as your last caller, but I will try and give you the correct information.
Laws: I hope you were laughing; were you?
Bowen: I did have a little chuckle to myself.
Laws: Good, that's very generous of you. But why are you offering every Sri Lankan asylum seeker on Christmas Island as well as the ones you sent home up to $3300 to resettle in their own country? As I say, it's a very pleasant gesture, but it's taxpayer money.
Bowen: It is taxpayer's money but it's not so much a gesture, John. Everything we do here costs money. The previous government - the Howard Government - introduced these payments and we've kept them because helping somebody to return is cheaper than a) returning them involuntarily or b) keeping them in Australia, whether it be in detention or elsewhere.
It's still not in their economic benefit to come to Australia though, they still pay much more than this to a people smuggler to get them to Australia.
Bowen: But it's been a longstanding process to say to people, 'Look, you really need to look to go home, we may return you involuntarily, but it's much easier if you just go back voluntarily and there will be some assistance for you to reintegrate back into the community, whether it be in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. And as I say it's been a policy that's been around for a long time and we've kept it in place.
Laws: Okay. Do you consider it some sort of victory that these 18 chose to be sent home to Sri Lanka rather than be processed on Nauru? Does it mean we're getting somewhere?
Bowen: Well I think it's an important step, John. I think it's a significant step. I think that it showed that the people smugglers have been out there telling lies and these guys have said, 'Well, we thought we were told we'd come here and we'd get a visa and we'd get all these things and obviously that's not the case and we want to go home'.
So I do think this has been a good step. There's a long way to go, the people smugglers will really push - there's a lot of money at stake in this for them - they'll really push in the region. We're in a battle of wills, there's no doubt about that, but this is a good step.
Laws: They're pretty bad people aren't they, people smugglers?
Bowen: They are. Some people say they are Oskar Schindlers, they're helping people out - they're not, they're criminals and they're attempting to make money out of good people who are in desperate situation; and they're just trying to make money out of them. They pile them onto unseaworthy boats, they don't care how many people are on the boat, they don't care really whether the boat makes it or not, they're just in it to make money.
Laws: Yeah. A lot of people ask me, what happens to the boats after you take possession of the boats? I believe they're burnt aren't they?
Bowen: Yeah, the Navy sinks them. They sink them, normally by burning them. They take them out and get rid of them.
Laws: The locals on Nauru are saying that they're not receiving the benefits they were promised, including the produce used in the detention facility being sourced from the island. Is that true, or is that just another grizzle?
Bowen: Look, certainly we do take things in from Australia, and Transfield Services is running the contract for us, but we also want to make sure the locals get benefit out of it, that's only fair.
There is strong benefit for Nauru out of this, obviously. It creates a lot of activity on the island, and the Nauruan economy has seen better days in the past, but obviously we'll talk to them and make sure that's all working smoothly and obviously in my experience it does work smoothly; there's a few wrinkles along the way here and there but we get there and things get sorted out.
Laws: Are you worried about the locals on Manus claiming they're going to refuse to let compounds be built unless they're not reimbursed, and can they stop compounds being built?
Bowen: No, look we've got a very good relationship with the Papua New Guinean Government. We've signed the MOU, the army is already there and work is underway to get the Manus Island site up and running - so that's all happening. Again, we want to make sure the locals get some benefit out of it, that's fair enough. But we have had no obstacles or problems, and as I say, the work is already underway.
Laws: Okay. Another question that I get asked often is the state for women and children. Is the accommodation suitable for women and children?
Bowen: It needs to be and we'll make sure that it is. Look, this is the most difficult area of all John. Everybody wants to do the right thing by children, but you can't have a rule that says, well if you send children they can stay and everybody else goes - you just create a loophole for the people smugglers, as tough as that sounds.
You do need to take a pretty tough approach here. We do keep families and children separate from adult men, for reasons that I would have thought would be pretty obvious.
Bowen: - And we've got that work underway to make sure that there's separate accommodation for them. It's not a luxury camp, they're not luxurious facilities but of course we'll make sure they're appropriate.
Laws: Did the kitchen cost $2 million?
Bowen: Yeah, well we flew it in from Australia, and of course, we do feed people. As I understand it, it was a kitchen that had been used in a mining camp in the past and it was a good opportunity to have that available and was cheaper than any other way of doing it, was the position -
Laws: Okay, so second hand it was $2 million. I wonder what it would cost new.
Bowen: Nauru is a long way away, of course John.
Laws: That's right, you've got to get it there.
Bowen: Yes, you've got to get it there as well.
Laws: Okay, good to talk to you. It always is, I appreciate it.
Bowen: Good to talk to you John. As I say, not sure I was as much fun as Mr Burns, but anyway I hope I've provided some useful information.
Laws: Thank you very much, Minister.
Bowen: Good on you John, nice talking to you.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Tuesday, 25 September 2012 at 11:52 AEST