Boat arrivals, regional processing on Nauru, returns to Sri Lanka, humanitarian intake, Tony Abbott in Indonesia
Monday, 15 October 2012
Interview with Marius Benson, ABC NewsRadio
Marius Benson: Chris Bowen, good morning.
Chris Bowen: Good morning marius.
Benson: Can I begin with the issue of people arriving in Australia - more than 500 over the weekend. Is there any sign in your mind that your offshore detention policy is deterring arrivals?
Bowen: Well look, there's no doubt that there is wide awareness now of our new policies and that they are being noted. However, as I've consistently said, we have a very significant challenge in that we are tackling the lies and the spin of people smugglers; and also tackling the experience of the last time the Pacific Islands were used as offshore processing centres - in that people were resettled into Australia.
As I've consistently said for some time, marius, Nauru by itself is not an effective deterrent. But Nauru as part of a proper response - and we are implementing all of the recommendations of the Expert Panel, including furthering discussions about the Malaysia agreement which everybody I think would accept would be a very significant deterrent; all those things need to be implemented to have full effect.
Benson: But would you have expected some effect by now from offshore detention as a policy? It appears to have had no effect.
Bowen: Well we have seen of course people returning to Sri Lanka, for example marius, that's obviously -
Benson: - A handful of people.
Bowen: Well, a bit more than a handful. But we've seen more people return to Sri Lanka under these new arrangements than we've had certainly previously, marius - and that's a significant step forward. Of course we continue to talk to other people about their options, of course.
Look, we do have a challenge here marius, I'm not stepping away from that for one second. We have people who are in a desperate situation - as was made evident in your clip just a few minutes ago - and also people smugglers who are making a lot of money out of this and are determined to keep that business going by lying to their customers.
Benson: So as things stand right now, are you claiming any success apart from these handful of people - or this number of people - who have returned, in terms of discouraging arrivals?
Bowen: Well I don't talk about the intelligence that I see in detail, marius. Of course, the government doesn't comment on that other than to say of course that our policy is being noticed and it will take time to have full effect, and all the recommendations will need to be implemented to have full effect.
Benson: So to those people who say, 'This policy has failed'?
Bowen: Well, you've got the situation, marius, where some people have said all you need to do is increase the refugee intake to 20 000 and it will work. Well, we've increased the refugee intake to 20 000 and of course we'll have more to say about that - we've already seen people transferred to Australia.
You have other people who've said all you need to do is implement Nauru and that will work. I've consistently made the point that this is a very complex undertaking which will take time and full resolve to have its full impact. And that's the point I continue to make.
It's all very well for people - others in the political discourse - to point to other solutions which they say would work; we are the ones implementing all the recommendations of the policy that was implemented to us by the Houston Panel.
Benson: How concerned are you by the reports of self-harm in detention centres? In fact, what's the extent of the self-harm that's been reported to you?
Bowen: Well, of course, again we have people who do not want to be on Nauru and we are managing a difficult situation there. We have had two people who were involved in self-harm incidents in recent days - their health has obviously been managed by the professionals on the island. We also saw a peaceful protest yesterday on Nauru, and we've seen people on Christmas Island who do not want to be taken to Nauru protesting about that. Again, that just underlines the task that we're undertaking.
There is a difficult message that we're giving to people, that they've been misled by people smugglers. People smugglers have told them, 'No worries, you won't be sent to Nauru'; and we are clearly making the alternative point to them.
Benson: Tony Abbott is in Indonesia today, he's having talks with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that's seen by some as quite a coup for an Opposition leader to have that level of contact with the President of Indonesia for such an extended time. And the proposal according to reports in The Australian from Tony Abbott is that he's promising 'no surprises' and that he will workshop policy with Jakarta. Is he making progress in an area where you've been less successful?
Bowen: Oh not at all, marius. Let's just look at this for what it is. You've had Tony Abbott engaging in megaphone diplomacy with the Indonesian Government for a long time now, saying it was Indonesia's problem and that we would turn the boats back regardless of whether Indonesia agrees or not. Now we've got him saying, 'We'll workshop it with Indonesia'. Well Indonesia have made their views on turning back the boats eminently clear, crystal clear.
Now, if Mr Abbott has the guts to raise turning back the boats with Mr Yudhoyono, that will be a significant development considering he didn't have the guts to raise it last time they met.
I would like to see Mr Abbott put his policy very clearly out there with the Indonesian Government and with the Australian people. Will they only turn boats back with the agreement of the Indonesian Government? Or will they insist on doing it without the agreement of the Indonesian Government? They've adopted both policies in recent months.
Now let's be clear about this, marius - turning back the boats is a dangerous policy, it's a policy which the Indonesian Government has rejected consistently. Unless Mr Abbott can change that position then he is just all talk about turning back the boats.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Monday, 15 October 2012 at 12:49 AEST