Settlements Works report, refugee resettlement in regional areas, humanitarian intake, Tony Abbott in Indonesia, boat arrivals, Malaysia Arrangement, the Newman Government
Monday, 15 October 2012
Doorstop interview, Rockhampton
Chris Bowen: I'm delighted to be here with Kirsten Livermore to launch this Settlement Works report. Around the country, there are lots of regional centres, lots of towns that have talked about attracting more people into their communities to work and to live. Rockhampton is one community which has not just talked about it, it's done it. And this is a tribute to government agencies working together with local private employers, with settlement services, to make sure that there's enough support, enough connections in place. This means that everybody wins. The community wins, the individuals win, employers win in filling jobs that are very difficult to fill and of course giving people who have come to Australia under our humanitarian program, the chance to live, work and prosper in a great regional community setting like Rockhampton.
Now Kirsten is often telling me what a great place Rockhampton is, and she's right, and it's a pleasure to join her here today to launch this report. Happy to take some questions.
Journalist: Where are people coming from?
Bowen: People who come to Australia under the humanitarian program come from a whole range of countries that have been in difficult circumstances - not just the ones that are high profile like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iraq, but also throughout Africa, from Burma and around the globe. Now here you see a cross-section of people from those very difficult circumstances across the world.
Journalist: What's the estimated number of refugees moving to regional centres?
Bowen: Well, around 15 to 20 per cent of our refugees that come into Australia move to regional centres. But in Queensland the figure is higher than that; it's over 50 per cent. So we're talking about many hundreds of people who have moved to different regional centres, not just Rockhampton of course, but different places around New South Wales and Queensland have worked very hard to attract humanitarian entrants to work in jobs which are, frankly, difficult to fill, particularly in abattoirs and meatworks and other similar places.
Journalist: What does central Queensland offer?
Bowen: Well I think what central Queensland offers - apart from being a wonderful place to live, a great environment, access to some of the most beautiful parts of Australia - is a holistic service matching our settlements services, our English language training, with our employers. And I think MDA (Multicultural Development Association) and other settlement service providers, together with the Federal Government and local chambers of commerce have worked very well to put this together.
Journalist: Has the report identified any extra services that are needed here?
Bowen: Well no, I don't think this report has identified any extra services. I think what this report identifies is what can work and what can be taken to work more broadly across the country.
Journalist: So what's the general response been from the people in the area to refugees coming here?
Bowen: Well I think Kirsten might be best placed to answer that, being the full-time local representative.
Kirsten Livermore: Well I think the stories speak for themselves. The refugees who speak as representatives of the larger population of migrants who have come here in recent years, talk of the community being very welcoming. Obviously, the employers who have been involved are very, very committed to making this work and providing the support that's required.
As the local member, all I see is that welcoming and acceptance from the local community. We had a march for refugees earlier in the year here that was very well supported, people from the broader Rockhampton community wanting to show their support for the success of this program and showing their welcome to these migrants who have settled in our community. So all I see are good things for our community - it's a true win-win for employers, for the migrants themselves and our broader community that are welcoming very hard-working and community-minded people to live in our town.
Journalist: Minister, we're hearing incredible stories about men who have settled here. Why are we seeing more men than women?
Bowen: Well because the majority of our refugee intake in recent years has been single men, for a whole range of reasons. But of course one of the things I have endeavoured to do is to make sure we see more women represented because women are in very difficult circumstances right around the world. We have a Women at Risk program. One of the advantages of the changes we've made to our refugee programs - increasing the intake to 20 000, trying to take more people out of camps and difficult circumstances around the world - is that we can prioritise and target those women that are in very difficult circumstances who may have lost their partner, lost their husband through war and are bringing up families by themselves.
There are many hundreds of thousands of women in that situation around the world. They are people who will be very heavily represented in the increase in the program that I've already announced and then you'll see that flowing through of course to various regions in terms of resettlement.
Of course the work that's done here in Rockhampton, work that these men have undertaken is work that they feel that they can - as fit young men - undertake in that environment. And that's entirely up to them, but of course we'd also encourage women to take up all those opportunities that are available in Rockhampton and elsewhere as well.
Journalist: I have some questions for Canberra. Are you surprised the Indonesian President is meeting Tony Abbott?
Bowen: No, not at all. It's common practice for leaders of the opposition to be extended courtesies when visiting other countries, including meetings with heads of state and heads of government. The challenge is, here, will Mr Abbott actually raise the things with President Yudhoyono that he failed to raise last time he met with President Yudhoyono. He met with him a few months ago and didn't even raise what he says is the cornerstone of his policy: turning back the boats.
Now, Mr Abbott needs to explain to the President of Indonesia, will he do it with or without Indonesia's agreement, or will he try and only do it if Indonesia agrees? He's taken multiple positions on this. It'd be good if he could clarify it, not only to the President of Indonesia but also to the people of Australia.
Journalist: Could the meeting, diplomatically, be a slap in the face though to the government?
Bowen: Oh not at all, not at all. As I say, it's common practice for leaders of the opposition to meet with heads of state and heads of government. Labor leaders of the opposition did it when we were in opposition, Mr Abbott and other Liberal leaders have done it when they're in opposition.
It's common practice and courtesy for heads of government to meet with alternative Prime Ministers, but it would be common courtesy for Mr Abbott to talk to Mr Yudhoyono about the policy that he insists that he will implement - as I understand it - regardless of the views of Indonesia. He says, now, that they'll workshop issues with Indonesia, when Indonesia's made it very clear they want nothing to do with Mr Abbott's policy.
Journalist: The Prime Minister was in Indonesia recently. Why didn't she meet with the President, given the issue of asylum seekers is still unresolved?
Bowen: The Prime Minister is in regular talks, regular discussions with the President of Indonesia - including in New York recently. Of course Mr Abbott said that - he tried to pull off a stunt and said she shouldn't have gone to New York and she should've gone to Jakarta to meet with President Yudhoyono, when President Yudhoyono was in New York at that very time.
Journalist: Minister, a question in regards to the Malaysia agreement. What work have you done to progress the agreement…?
Bowen: Well the Malaysia agreement is a very, very important one in breaking the people smugglers business model; very, very important as recognised by the independent panel.
Now, we have been in discussions with the Malaysian Government, of course that's no revelation, I've said that several times. The real question is: if we bring this back to the Parliament will the Liberal Party actually allow the Malaysia agreement - which everybody admits, everybody admits, would act to break the people smugglers business model - will they allow it to be implemented?
They say they oppose the Malaysia agreement because Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention at the same time as they argue that boats should be turned back to both Indonesia and Sri Lanka - neither of which are signatories to the Refugee Convention. Their argument against the Malaysia agreement is in tatters. The best thing they can do is let the government get on with the job of implementing the Malaysia agreement, so that we can actually break this pernicious trade.
Journalist: When will it be put to Parliament?
Bowen: Well, I will provide further updates. Of course, we're in discussions with the Malaysian Government and I'm not going to provide a running commentary on them. Very clearly, Malaysia is committed to implementing this, the Australian Government is committed to implementing this. We want to see the Australian Parliament have the same commitment to saving lives as the Malaysian Government and the Australian Government have shown.
Journalist: Minister, some Sunshine Coast homestayers are waiting up to four months to receive a refugee, when reports claim that we're being inundated by them. What's happening there?
Bowen: Well we've had the Homestay program in place for some months now. It's worked very successfully. There are checks that have to be undertaken with anybody who offers to host asylum seekers under the Homestay program, and then people need to be matched to the program. It's been a successful program but of course there are, sometimes, issues that need to be worked through.
Journalist: What's the average waiting time?
Bowen: I'd need to get an update on the average across the network but you have seen people settle with Homestay quickly and it's been working very successfully, despite some of the fear campaigns that were run by the Opposition and others when I announced this.
Journalist: Will the Newman Government's policies have a negative impact on the Coalition at the next Federal Election?
Bowen: I think what people are seeing, here in Queensland more than anywhere else in the nation, just what a Liberal Government means. A Liberal Government means cuts. A Liberal Government means cuts to services, and I note that Mr Newman said he would get a Commission of Audit; he got Mr Costello to do it and he only revealed the cuts after the election.
Now, we have a pattern here because Mr Abbott has also said that he'll have a commission of audit. So I think you can look at what Mr Newman has done here in Queensland and you can see that writ large across the country under the model that Mr Abbott has appropriated from Mr Newman - and I do think that the people of Queensland are rightly outraged by many of these cuts. They're outraged by the cuts themselves and outraged that Mr Newman wasn't honest with them before the election; and we're seeing the same model from Mr Abbott.
Journalist: Going back to a former issue, there've been three more boats over the past 24 hours. Clearly Nauru and Manus Island are not a deterrent are they?
Bowen: Well I've always said that Nauru and Manus Island can be a deterrent if put in place with a full suite of other measures. That's what we're doing, implementing all of the recommendations from the Houston Panel. Now, all of those recommendations need to be implemented and the Parliament needs to give us the authority to implement them.
Of course, we are in a battle with people smugglers who are out there spinning that somehow you'll only be on Nauru for a short time. We're seeing, from those people who've been sent to Nauru, or supposed to be sent to Nauru, that it is a deterrent because many of them have chosen to go home and many others are saying they don't want to be sent to Nauru.
Now, that is a tough message for us to have with those people but it's an important message in terms of saving lives. We're increasing the refugee program to 20 000, we've made changes to the family reunion program, we're implementing those recommendations which we can get on and implement without the approval of Parliament; and there are others, like the Malaysia Arrangement, for which we will need the approval of Parliament.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Monday, 15 October 2012 at 16:45 AEST