Abbott's turn back policy, asylum seeker processing, adverse security assessments and regional processing
Tuesday, 16 October 2012
Doorstop interview, Sydney
Chris Bowen: Thanks for coming, everybody.
I wanted to make a few brief remarks.
Of course, we saw yesterday the Leader of the Opposition meet with President Yudhoyono. It's quite apparent that the Leader of the Opposition did not raise the matter of turning back the boats with President Yudhoyono. This is a very significant failure by Tony Abbott. He said he believes in a policy of 'no surprises' when it comes to relations with Indonesia. Well, the only surprise is that he didn't bother to raise the issue of turning back the boats with the President of Indonesia.
Now, Tony Abbott has taken many various policy positions here. He said that he'll turn back the boats, regardless of what Indonesia says. And then he says he'll workshop everything with Indonesia. But he didn't bother to workshop what is - he says - the centrepiece of his policy with the President of Indonesia.
Now, this is just clearly unacceptable. Tony Abbott is normally all talk when it comes to asylum seekers. Now he's not even that. He didn't even talk to the President of Indonesia about the centrepiece of his policy. Now, it's quite clear why he didn't. He didn't because he didn't want it known that the President of Indonesia had said no. The government of Indonesia has made it crystal clear what they think about this policy. They've made it crystal clear that they will not cooperate with the policy, and yet Tony Abbott didn't even raise it with the President of Indonesia because he wouldn't like the answer.
Now, I see Mr Morrison saying that he's had private discussions with Mr Natalegawa and he's not going to reveal what was in them. Well, that's unusually retiring for Mr Morrison. It's not like the Liberal Party not to shout from the rooftops their views about these issues. They've engaged in megaphone diplomacy on this issue now for months and months. They've said that this is Indonesia's problem, Indonesian boats disgorging people, Indonesian-flagged vessels disgorging people onto Australian shores.
So I think this underlines that this turn back the boat policy lies in tatters. This turn back the boat policy lies in tatters because Tony Abbott didn't even have the guts to raise it with President Yudhoyono.
Happy to take questions.
Journalist: Minister, we've seen 4500 boats arrive since Labor reinstituted offshore processing. Does that show that your policy is the one that really isn't working?
Bowen: Well, very clearly, we need to implement every recommendation of the Houston Report. Very clearly, that will take time to work. Very clearly, we have said for some time, for example, that the key to deterring boat arrivals would be the implementation of the Malaysia agreement.
So it's quite unusual to see Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison jumping up and down, saying, 'Look, Nauru and Manus Island aren't working.' Well, we are implementing Nauru and Manus Island, but we're also implementing all of the recommendations of the panel, and I'll be providing regular updates on that, as I have done up to this point.
Journalist: But the nation's most senior judges knocked back Malaysia, the High Court.
Bowen: Well, the High Court interpreted the Migration Act and we've since amended the Migration Act.
Journalist: Minister, you say Tony Abbott should have raised his tow back policy with the Indonesian President, but it was raised by Scott Morrison with the Indonesian Foreign Minister. What's the difference?
Bowen: Well, Mr Abbott is the alternative Prime Minister. Mr Yudhoyono is the President of Indonesia. It is a complete cop out for Mr Abbott not to raise what he says is the centrepiece of his policy. And then Mr Morrison says he had a private meeting with Mr Natalegawa. Well, it's simply not good enough to say, 'Well, Tony Abbott didn't raise it with Mr Yudhoyono but I raised it with Mr Natalegawa, but I'm not going to tell you what I said or what he said.' That is simply a cop out.
Journalist: Minister Bowen, when does the government plan to start processing the 4600 asylum seekers asylum seekers who have arrived since 13 August?
Bowen: Look, our policies are being very clearly implemented. We've had a number of transfers to Nauru and we will progress the establishment of Manus Island. I'll be providing further updates on progress in terms of all the recommendations and how we're handling the situation in due course.
Journalist: Is it purely for domestic consumption, Mr Abbott's policy?
Bowen: Absolutely, absolutely. He talks tough in Canberra but doesn't talk at all in Jakarta. He's a lion in Canberra and a mouse in Indonesia. He is simply not willing to try and talk to the President of Indonesia about this policy, which he beats his chest about whenever he's got TV cameras in front of him in Australia, but won't even raise it with the people who are the key to making it work.
Journalist: Mr Bowen, given that the number of asylum seekers that have arrived since mid-August is about double the capacity of the new processing areas we've set up in Manus Island and Nauru, does the government accept that some of those people will be processed in Australia?
Bowen: Well, the law is that people who arrive in Australia by boat are then transferred to offshore processing places, that is the law at it stands. Now, of course, as I say, I freely acknowledge there are, of course, real challenges in terms of implementing all the policies with the number of arrivals.
I will make further statements about that in due course, but let's be very clear: those people smugglers who are out there saying, 'Don't worry about it, you won't be sent to Nauru' are wrong. The law is very clear and we will be implementing the law in relation to offshore processing and regular transfers to offshore processing countries.
Journalist: Minister, the government has announced plans for an independent review system to look at cases where ASIO has found asylum seekers who are a security threat. Is Australia lagging behind a lot of other countries like the UK?
Bowen: No, I think this is a good development which I support and I've worked very closely with the Attorney-General on, and I certainly welcome her announcement. I think, very clearly, national security always comes first, but we also need to ensure that people who are having decisions made about them have an opportunity to put their case and to put their case in a review. And I think this is a good development which will see these cases being dealt with in a very considered way, which is an appropriate way, which the Attorney-General and I - particularly the Attorney-General - have been working on for some time.
Journalist: The Opposition are planning to go to Sri Lanka to hold meetings with government representatives. Isn't that a clear indication that foreign governments are taking the Opposition seriously?
Bowen: Oh, no, look, it's very common for shadow ministers and leaders of the Opposition to visit other countries and to be treated with courtesy and respect.
But in relation to Sri Lanka, let me say a couple of things. I've been to Sri Lanka, I've met with very senior Sri Lankan Government officials and we have good cooperation with them. But they are going to talk to Sri Lanka about implementing their turn back the boats policy to Sri Lanka; one they didn't bother to raise with the head of the Indonesian Government.
Secondly, their policy is to turn back boats to Sri Lanka, which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. So they say, 'It's okay to turn boats back to Sri Lanka, which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention; it's okay to turn back boats to Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention; but we couldn't possibly approve an agreement with Malaysia where there are protections negotiated and written down because it is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.'
And in relation to Sri Lanka, they are returning people directly to the country that they're leaving, which is a clear breach, a clear breach of the Refugee Convention. There is no way of arguing otherwise, and for them to then use the Refugee Convention as an excuse for opposing the implementation of the Malaysia agreement shows how hypocritical their position has become.
Journalist: What firm guarantees, though, have you got from the Malaysian Government that asylum seekers would be treated humanely there?
Bowen: Well, we've been around this track a few times. With respect, we have an agreement in writing with the Malaysian Government in relation to non-refoulement - the fundamental principle of the Refugee Convention - and people being treated with dignity and respect. Much more - where is the agreement with Indonesia? Where's the agreement with Sri Lanka that the Opposition has negotiated that they say would allow them to turn back boats?
Journalist: Given that there's been no real slowdown in [inaudible] arriving since the Manus Island and Nauru policies have been announced, when do you expect the public can see the results of the offshore processing policies?
Bowen: Well, look, obviously we are working to implement this policy. It takes time to work; no question about that. I'm not going to provide sort of a regular running commentary on what we see in intelligence reports or what we're seeing in terms of the impact, other than to say I think it is clearly being noticed around the region.
But we are in a real battle with people smugglers who are saying, 'This policy won't be implemented, you won't be taken to Nauru; if you're taken to Nauru you'll only be there for a short time.' That is a challenge for us in terms of communicating the government's resolve but it is not a challenge that we are walking away from.
Journalist: Minister, the Refugee and Migration Review Tribunal says its caseload has jumped by more than 50 per cent in the first three months of the financial year. Does the tribunal need more government funding to be able to do its job effectively?
Bowen: Well, we've increased the resources to the tribunals and we've increased the number of tribunal members quite substantially over the last few years. I meet regularly with the head of the tribunals and talk to her about the challenges. There has been an increase, which goes to a whole range of issues, including students then appealing migration decisions when their student visa has run out, etcetera. I believe, obviously, that we're working closely with the new chair who I've appointed, the new Principal Member of the Migration and Refugee Tribunals on all those questions.
I appointed, of course, the Honourable Michael Lavarch to review work processes and resourcing issues. He didn't recommend any substantial increase in resourcing, so we are implementing the Lavarch recommendations, but I continue to talk to the Principal Member about all those issues.
Journalist: Why has the government appointed G4S - the same company that botched Olympic security in London - to run Manus Island processing centre?
Bowen: Well, we are in the process of talking to a range of companies about a range of service provisions in Nauru and Manus Island. It's well known that we've got a letter of intent with one particular provider. We have a particularly strong contract management regime in place for those, to ensure that the services that we require to be delivered would be delivered. When we've signed a contract, then I will say further about that at that point.
Thank you very much, cheers.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Tuesday, 16 October 2012 at 14:38 AEST