Alan Jones, Dutch politician Geert Wilders, Nauru
Tuesday, 02 October 2012
Interview with Julie Doyle, ABC News 24
Julie Doyle: Chris Bowen, thanks for joining us on News 24.
Chris Bowen: Pleasure.
Doyle: We'll get to issues in your immigration portfolio soon, but I wanted to ask you firstly about the comments by broadcaster Alan Jones, about the Prime Minister's late father. Now we've seen Tony Abbott speaking this morning and he's said as far as he's concerned, what Alan Jones said was wrong, unacceptable and offensive. Are you satisfied with what you've heard from Tony Abbott this morning?
Bowen: Well it's a bit late, he could've said that on Saturday – or Sunday when this story was first broken. He's –
Doyle: Well he did put out that statement saying that it was out of line?
Bowen: He put out a pretty weak statement frankly, you know, he clearly – and then he disappeared. Clearly he was worried about offending Alan Jones when really Alan Jones offended, I think, the whole nation with those comments; and I think the nation was looking for leadership and looking for people to very clearly to say how unacceptable those statements were, and Tony Abbott failed that test.
Doyle: Well he did, as I mentioned, put out a statement saying it was completely out of line, it was wrong, so didn't he fulfil that on Sunday, now he has followed it up with this?
Bowen: Look, I thought personally, I thought his statement on Sunday was pretty weak, given the nature of Mr Jones' comments and just how repulsive they were. I would have thought the decent thing to do would be something quite a bit stronger than that.
Doyle: Now, has Labor been trying to make political mileage out of this though by trying to link Tony Abbott to these comments, because he can't be held responsible for what Alan Jones says, the same way that you can't be held responsible for what a left-wing commentator may say?
Bowen: Well we're not suggesting that he's responsible, but very clearly as leader of the Opposition and leader of the Liberal Party, and this was a Liberal event – it was a Liberal students event, it was clearly a Liberal event – to make very clear what the view of the Liberal Party about these statements was and is, and to say how they're going to deal with Mr Jones in the future. And I just don't think that's happened frankly.
Doyle: Some of your colleagues though yesterday said things like '... If you strike a match and fire starts you can't be surprised if it spreads off in a direction'. They've described it as an insight into the modern Liberal Party or the culture of the Liberal Party. So isn't that directly trying to link these comments to Tony Abbott?
Bowen: Well Tony Abbott has really pushed the envelope in terms of his comments about the Prime Minister over the last two years, things likeshe won't lay down and die, and I think he's called her a 'toxic' Prime Minister at one point, and really the political discourse has taken a turn for the more aggressive under Mr Abbott's leadership – that's just a statement of fact I think.
Doyle: Alan Jones has spoken about some of the response that he's received on social media, and he's pinpointed or highlighted a tweet from your wife that she'd retweeted, saying that it was tasteless. Should she have done that?
Bowen: Let's be very clear here, my wife has been appallingly misrepresented in a pretty ordinary attempt at a diversion by Mr Jones and by senior members of the Liberal Party, to point at something else other than Mr Jones' comments. My wife did not tweet herself that comment, she retweeted somebody else's comment, over a month ago – if it was such a big issue, this could have been raised over a month ago.
As it is well known on Twitter, a retweet is not necessarily an endorsement, things get retweeted all the time, and for people to suggest that somehow she was expressing a view about Mr Jones that she did not hold is frankly a pretty appalling attempt to misrepresent her to try and change the subject away from Mr Jones; and I think that's pretty ordinary.
Doyle: So you're saying it's not an endorsement, but it's certainly not a good look to retweet something like that?
Bowen: Well, as I say, if people had an issue with this it could have been raised a month ago. My wife retweeted something over a month ago, and now it's being raised in order to create a diversion and people – I've seen senior members of the Liberal Party commenting on that. Well it's not my wife, frankly, who has to explain Mr Jones' comments, he's raised this as some sort of defence for himself, to say, 'It's ok for me to say this about the Prime Minister because something was retweeted by somebody who happens to be married to a Cabinet Minister'. I just think that's a pretty transparent attempt to try and change the subject.
Doyle: Do you think – there's been calls for a Government boycott of his program. You haven't been on his program for a long time, do you think there should be a boycott?
Bowen: Well I haven't been on because I haven't been invited on, because he won't have me on, maybe because I point out things to him which he doesn't like to hear. I would be not inclined to go on his program if he did choose to invite me on because his comments were so appalling. I think that, you know, going on his show for me would be problematic. But as I say, it's quite a hypothetical moot point because it's been several years since I've been on because he simply won't invite me on.
Doyle: Well, let's move on to things in your portfolio now, and you've decided you won't block a visa for the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, an anti-Islamic campaigner. There has been cause to deny him a visa. What did you base your decision on?
Bowen: I considered this very carefully and I've weighed it up over a period of time since he first applied. And there's always a balance here between freedom of speech, concerns that he may say something which would offend a segment of the Australian community. Very clearly, his views are extremist and offensive. That's a statement of fact, I think.
But I've taken the view in the end that I didn't want to make him a cause celebre and I think probably what he would like me to do is refuse his visa so he can make a hero of himself and get his cause more attention. I think the way to deal with Mr Wilders is to defeat him with the force of our ideas and the force of our lived experience of multiculturalism. And I think our society is robust enough to withstand a visit from this fringe commentator from the other side of the world.
People will be entitled to peacefully protest when he comes to Australia and they'll be entitled to put alternative points of view. And I think Australia has a very good lived experience of multiculturalism and we should celebrate that and talk about that when Mr Wilders visits, and point out that we don't share his views.
But he's entitled to his views and people in Australia will be entitled to go and hear them.
Doyle: Where do you draw the line, though, on what's acceptable to be expressed in public and what's not? He's likened Islam to fascism, for example, so how do you make that judgement call?
Bowen: Well, we have a Racial Discrimination Act and racial vilification laws, and he'll need to comply with those. The Act does provide a significant subjective judgement to the minister to invoke those powers, which have not been invoked in the past. There are different tests which have been invoked. The character test often comes into play when somebody's been convicted of a criminal offence.
He was acquitted of a criminal offence. He is an elected Member of Parliament. So on balance, I've taken the view that it would be counterproductive to intervene here. It was a difficult decision which I mulled over, and I make no apologies for mulling it over. But in the end, it's the view that I've come to.
Doyle: Now, you've said too that he'll have to abide by our laws here, like racial vilification. Does that mean authorities will be monitoring his speeches very closely?
Bowen: Well, that's a matter for those authorities. But I'm sure that he will be seeking to get attention. Our laws are pretty clear and he'll be obliged to comply with them.
Doyle: Now, just briefly on Nauru, there's been an incident where three asylum seekers have been held by police overnight. What can you tell us about what happened there?
Bowen: Well, look, we did have a disturbance on Nauru. It's unsurprising; people don't want to be on Nauru. They will take various forms of protest, including unacceptable forms of protest. There was some damage. I'm advised the vast majority of the damage has now been fixed and they have been returned to the centre from their cells.
Three were taken to the Nauru police holding facility overnight and they've now been returned to Nauru. Whether there's any charges laid will be a matter for the Nauru police. They are responsible for law and order on Nauru, and they'll no doubt be conducting an investigation and will make a decision about charges.
I'm advised nobody was injured during this disturbance.
Doyle: What will happen to their claims, then, for asylum? Will it have any impact on that?
Bowen: Well, it depends whether they're actually charged and convicted with anything. We can take that into account. But this is a long way from that and Nauru police will make the decision as to whether they're charged, and then obviously there's a process which would lead to conviction or otherwise.
More generally, of course, there's the 'no advantage' test, which means that they would not have claim for resettlement in Australia in any event, up until they would have if they were waiting in a centre in our region for resettlement to Australia. That is what would have the most impact on their chances of resettlement in Australia.
Doyle: Chris Bowen, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you very much.
Bowen: Thank you.
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Last update: Tuesday, 02 October 2012 at 14:44 AEST