Changes to the Migration Act, Expert Panel, Malaysia Arrangement
Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM
Sabra Lane: Chris Bowen, back in 2006 you said the Coalition's idea to excise the mainland from the migration zone was, '- a bad bill with no redeeming feature', and, '- a stain on our national character'. By your own words, you're now responsible for staining Australia's national character, aren't you?
Chris Bowen: I've changed my mind, Sabra. A couple of points I'd like to make: firstly, yes, this is a change in position. Yes, you can go back and look at what I said as an opposition backbencher a long time ago and you can compare it to what I'm doing now as Minister for Immigration; that's perfectly legitimate.
Now I've changed the Labor Party's position and I've changed my mind based on the evidence, based on the recommendation of the Houston Panel and based on the evidence that this will save lives. If I've got a choice being consistent with something I said six years ago and saving somebody's life, well I'll save somebody's life.
Secondly, this is part of an integrated package, unlike this one-off measure that the Howard Government proposed in 2006.
Lane: This bill that you're introducing though today really relates to a small percentage of the overall problem -
Lane: Not many people actually make it to the mainland.
Bowen: That's correct.
Lane: Is this more about sounding tough?
Bowen: No. Firstly, as I say, we previously have said we'd implement every recommendation of the Houston Panel; this is one of the recommendations of the Houston Panel. I don't believe you can cherry-pick and say, 'Oh, we'll do this bit but not that bit'. You've got to have a fully-integrated, determined approach. The Houston Panel, for example, said this will be important to ensure that the introduction of processing outside Australia does not encourage asylum seekers to avoid these arrangements by attempting to enter the Australian mainland: 'Such attempts would increase existing dangers inherent in irregular maritime travel'. I was quoting there from the Report.
So the evidence is pretty strong here. Yes, the numbers involved are small, about 1500 people have attempted to make the mainland since 2008, and a smaller proportion of that have actually succeeded. The arrangements in place now could create the perverse incentive to strike for the mainland to avoid being processed offshore. That wasn't the case in the last couple of years where the numbers arriving at the mainland are small.
Lane: Labor's 'Pacific solution' so far has failed to slow the arrival of boats to Australia. The number of boats arriving here has actually increased since the government embraced offshore processing; I think it's 30 per cent more since the changes were introduced, compared with the same comparable period - the boats aren't slowing.
Bowen: Let me make a couple of points. Firstly, yes, we have seen a continuing increase, particularly from some cohorts, particularly from Sri Lanka for example. Some other types of arrivals have reduced since we made those changes, but I've consistently said we need a fully-integrated, total package. It's not me who said for years, 'Well, why don't we call Nauru and that will fix the problem?' I said -
Lane: Well when will it work Minister? It's now your responsibility, when will it work?
Bowen: Well Sabra, as I was just saying, I think we need a completely integrated package being introduced and implemented and clearly communicated in the region.
Lane: The government keeps clinging to the idea of the 'Malaysia solution', what active talks are actually continuing now with the Malaysian Government to negotiate the strengthened protections that the Expert Panel called for?
Bowen: Not sure I share your language there, but nevertheless I take your point.
The point is here: we could have all the discussions with Malaysia we like, we could enter into all the increased negotiations and conditions that we like; I would want to see some sort of evidence from the Opposition that they would do what I've done and the Labor Party has done and said, 'Well, we'll do what it takes to save lives here, even if it means changing our position'.
We can't implement the Malaysia agreement without the agreement of the Parliament, which means we need a change of position from the Greens party or the Liberal Party, and the Liberal Party previously has said, 'Oh, we could never enter into an agreement with Malaysia or approve an agreement with Malaysia because they're not signatories to the Refugee Convention'.
Well, they want to turn boats around to Indonesia, which is not a signatory, and they want to turn boats around to Sri Lanka, which is not a signatory. So their argument, frankly, lies in tatters. You raised with me earlier -
Lane: - The allegations of hypocrisy though, sounds hollow, given what the Labor Party has just done regarding the excision of the mainland -
Bowen: No, quite the contrary Sabra, I'm making the point that the government has said we'll do what it takes to save lives, even if it means taking positions that we've opposed before, even if it means people trawling through our speeches and pointing out what we've said before, because we're determined to save lives. And the Opposition can show a similar determination to try and save people's lives and to actually do something to back up their sloganeering.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Wednesday, 31 October 2012 at 10:40 AEST