Papua New Guinea designation, polls
Tuesday, 09 October 2012
Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM
Sabra Lane: I interviewed the Minister as he's just signed the paperwork this morning, designating Manus Island in Papua New Guinea as an offshore processing centre. He expects that there'll be a debate on this in Parliament later today.
Chris Bowen: I have designated Papua New Guinea as an offshore processing country this morning and I'll be moving the relevant resolution in the House of Representatives this afternoon, after question time, that's correct.
Lane: How many people will Manus Island take and how soon?
Bowen: In total, the total capacity will be 600. I would hope for the first transfers to occur in coming weeks, subject to this being approved by both houses of the Parliament.
Lane: Do you expect that, have you spoken with the Opposition this morning?
Bowen: I have briefed the Opposition, obviously, they would, they're on the record as supporting the proposition of Papua New Guinea as a regional processing centre. I'll leave them to make further statements on their own behalf, I'm not going to speak for them.
Lane: The boats still keep coming despite this. When will the boats start to slow?
Bowen: Well look I think we are seeing our message cut through in the region. It was very clear to me, has been very clear to me for some time, that we're in a battle of the truth with people smugglers, people smugglers out there saying don't worry about it, even if you get sent to Nauru, it'll only be for a short time.
And I think the people who've arrived in Australia have learnt that that's not the case and several of them have taken the decision to return back to their country of origin.
Look I've said all along that this is a complex question and that those who say there's some simple answer like pick up the phone to the president of Nauru are wrong, but that if we implement all the panel's recommendations, the increase to 20 000, pursuing the agreement with Malaysia, the family reunion changes, all of which we have accepted, then I think you will see an impact, but it does take time.
Lane: Only a handful of people, though, have opted to return home; we're still seeing hundreds arrive by boats.
Bowen: Well, I'm not overstating the number who've returned home but I am pointing to that as something we haven't seen before in very significant numbers. Of course we continue to talk to people about their options, but the fact that we've taken two relatively significant groups of people home to their homeland is I think a significant development.
It just points to the fact that they believe they've been misled by the people smugglers and that's clearly what's going on.
Lane: You say all options of the Expert Panel need to be recommended before there is some sort of deterrent effect. What's happening with the Malaysia deal, are you progressing talks there, is that a realistic option?
Bowen: Just to be clear, Sabra, I didn't say that all options need to be implemented for some sort of deterrent effect, I said that it's important that we implement all recommendations to have the maximum effect.
Look we've been in discussions with the Malaysian Government. I think the key question here is if we do go back to the Parliament with an updated Malaysia agreement, would the Opposition's support what is very clearly recommended by the Expert Panel and what would very clearly provide a deterrent? Given that their supposed reason for stopping this agreement, that Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention lies in tatters, given their rather bizarre policy to return people to Sri Lanka on the high seas, which is not a signatory either.
Lane: But it's a fanciful suggestion on your part, isn't it, just to say that if Malaysia was adopted, this would slow the process? The Opposition has said that it has long term issues with that option and constantly talking about it isn't necessarily going to make it past Parliament.
Bowen: Well we believe in it and the Expert Panel recommends it and you know the Opposition's fanciful position is that all they need to do is introduce temporary protection visas and somehow get some magical agreement with Indonesia, or not, to turn boats around. Either get an agreement with them, which they're not going to get, or turn boats around to Indonesia without their agreement.
The difference between the Malaysia agreement and turning boats around to Indonesia is that we have Malaysia's agreement to do it and it's safe, unlike turning boats around on the high seas.
Lane: Nauru asked the government to slow the number of people being sent there, no women and children have been sent there yet. When will that happen given that the people smugglers might start skewing the numbers on boats coming to Australia.
Bowen: Oh well, look people smugglers will always maximise any loophole, that's why I made it very, very clear and I'm happy to do so with you this morning again Sabra, that we will be sending families to regional processing arrangements, that we will be doing that.
Now of course I believe in getting it right, I don't believe in sending families to accommodation which is not ready for them, particularly young children, so we will be doing it at an appropriate time.
Lane: Newspoll figures out this morning have shown the Government's primary polling has gone down three points, that its two-party preferred vote is down four points. They're still catastrophic numbers for your party. Is Julia Gillard safe?
Bowen: Yes, we've made our position clear and made that decision way back in February and all of us are committed to getting on with the job and working with the Prime Minister to deliver the plans that we put in place, whether it be dental health, whether it be national disability insurance, whether it be school funding - all the big issues that Australians want the Government to be tackling and that's what we're doing.
Lane: You've been talking about those plans and policies now for some time and it's not having any impact.
Bowen: Well not only are we talking about them, we're implementing them and that's the important thing.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Tuesday, 09 October 2012 at 11:33 AEST