Returns to Sri Lanka, boat arrivals, Manus Island, Gorgon Project
Friday, 02 November 2012
Doorstop interview, Sydney
Chris Bowen: Thanks for coming everybody.
Last night the Department of Immigration removed 26 Sri Lankan nationals back to Sri Lanka. These are people that arrived in Australia over the last week. They did not make any case, any claims which meant Australia had any international obligation to them.
Clearly, we're seeing people smugglers selling a product, telling people that even if they're not refugees, even if they want to move for economic purposes, that they can get a visa in Australia.
The action that we are now taking is sending the clearest possible message, that people smugglers are lying. The action that we're taking is sending the clearest possible message that Australia will not accept economic refugees through our refugee program. We have, of course, developed robust procedures for dealing with genuine claims for asylum, but we will not have people who do not have genuine claims to make be going through our system.
Now, of course, since August 13, we've now seen 116 people returned to Sri Lanka, either voluntarily or involuntarily. This will continue. We'll continue this policy of ensuring that only people with genuine claims are able to be processed through our system. And of course, we'll also continue to transfer people to Nauru and Manus Island under our regional processing arrangements. It's very important that we do everything possible to break this people smugglers trade.
Now we have seen, since August 13 – the announcement of our suite of measures – either a reduction or a stabilisation in the number of asylum seekers from most countries – from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran – b ut we've continued to see an increase from Sri Lanka. So we'll continue to take the steps necessary to ensure that people in Sri Lanka are very, very clear – very, very clear – that people cannot come to Australia with non-genuine claims of asylum and they will be returned swiftly after their arrival.
Happy to take some questions.
Journalist: What reason did they give for travelling to Australia?
Bowen: We'll I'm not going to go into details about individual matters, but clearly people come to Australia for a whole range of purposes – from their point-of-view, I'm sure, legitimately wanting a better life, wanting better economic opportunities. But we have a program for people who want to come to Australia for economic opportunities, that's called our skilled migration program. The refugee program is not for that purpose.
Journalist: These people were flown back to Sri Lanka, surely it's not a feasible thing to do this every time we get illegitimate arrivals?
Bowen: Well I think, obviously, if this continues the message will be very clear that there's no point paying a people smuggler, simply to be flown back immediately – and I make very clear, flown back with no reintegration assistance, no support. If you come and you don't have a valid claim you're flown back to Sri Lanka and you are returned, and what's the point of paying a people smuggler to do that when simply you are getting absolutely nothing out of it?
So it's essential that that message be put very clearly. Hence, yes, it is – there are costs involved obviously in returning people, but it is a cost well-worth paying if it helps break that people smugglers spin.
Journalist: What cost are we looking at when you're talking about –
Bowen: Oh you are looking at several hundred thousand dollars for charters generally speaking. That is expensive – it's expensive regardless of how you do it, but it is, as I say, important that we do what is necessary to return people. The Australian people would expect that anybody who is not a genuine refugee is returned and returned swiftly, and that's what we're doing.
Journalist: You mentioned there was a spike in – with Sri Lankan's coming. Why is that?
Bowen: Well I think what we're seeing is people smugglers seeing a good opportunity to sell a product that doesn't exist, and clearly in Sri Lanka they have decided on a business model which says to people, ‘Look, we can take you to Australia and even if you're not a genuine refugee we can get you in'. This is a business model they've come up with. Well, they're lying and we're going to show they're lying.
Journalist: Any idea yet when we're going to see the offshore processing on Manus start?
Bowen: Shortly, shortly. There's been good progress, we're working with the Papua New Guinea Government and I expect transfers to occur shortly.
Journalist: Before the end of the year, or...?
Journalist: One of these people who were flown back apparently was part of that crew that hijacked the ship –
Journalist: What's going to happen to that person?
Bowen: Okay, so in relation that person, now he wasn't one of the 26 to be clear, but he was returned. He is in addition to the 26.
Last weekend we returned the 14 people who were on the boat Chejan, which was alleged to have been involved in a hijacking incident. There was one person who we needed to make further inquiries with and about before we could return him, to ensure that his return was appropriately undertaken. We did that and he was also returned. He has been returned to Sri Lanka. If he's charged by Sri Lankan authorities, that will occur under normal Sri Lankan law.
Journalist: Just in regards to Chevron, that deal struck – why did you grant that company the deal?
Bowen: Well, lets' be clear: this is not an Enterprise Migration Agreement, this is a very standard labour agreement of which there are many around Australia. Labour agreements are agreements between the Department of Immigration and employers about how to handle labour shortages.
Now this is an agreement which allows 140 457 workers across a very large program – a very large project, over three years. As I understand it, there is currently 4000 workers on Barrow Island, so this is a very small percentage of the number of jobs created by the Gorgon Project which are being filled by Australians.
Now there are necessities to show companies and work at companies who are making a very major investment, if they have genuine labour shortages we will work with them to fill them. There was consultation with trade unions about this labour agreement, as there normally is and it was done under the normal processes that we have in place that employers around the country talk to my department about every day.
So this is not anything new. It is not a substantial labour agreement in terms of the size, compared to some of the others, but it's a perfectly appropriate way to work with Chevron and the other people working on the Gorgon Project to ensure that they can fill skilled and semi-skilled occupations which they are having difficulty finding from the Australian workforce.
Journalist: Do you know that they have looked for Australian workers?
Bowen: We work with Chevron and with any company that wants a labour agreement asking them to show us why there is a shortage and how there is a shortage, and how it can be filled and why it should be filled through 457 workers. So, yes.
Journalist: So you have proof that they did look for workers?
Bowen: Well, as I say, look it's well known there are labour shortages in the resources sector. That's established. But we do work with companies to make sure they are making every step to employ Australian workers – we have the Jobs Board, we have other mechanisms.
But there are times when resources companies, where mining companies and others just can't fill that work. And sometimes it's quite specialised work. As you know, there are a lot of mining companies, a lot of resources projects going on at the moment and sometimes there's specialised fields in which it's difficult to fill. So, yes, we do ask companies to show us why they need a labour agreement and we work with them on it.
Anybody else? No? All good.
Journalist: Great, thank you.
Bowen: Enjoy the lovely day, thank you.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Friday, 02 November 2012 at 15:50 AEST