Australian Government - Department of Immigration and Border Protection

The Hon. Scott Morrison MP

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Freedom of information disclosure log

Operation Sovereign Borders, offshore processing, High Court case, passport cancellations, government flights, baby Gammy

Monday, 04 August 2014

Interview with Ray Hadley, 2GB Ray Hadley programme

Hadley: The Immigration Minister Scott Morrison joins me on line. Minister good morning.

Minister Morrison: Good morning Ray.

Hadley: Friday night you transferred 157 boat people who arrived here from India to Nauru after they declined to meet the Indian High Commissioner to discuss going back to where they came. Did they get advice that it would be in their best interests not to talk to the Indian High Commission?

Minister Morrison: Well we won't know, we weren't in the room when the plaintiffs, there were three people out of that 157 who were the nominated plaintiffs for the High Court case and they had access to the lawyers and then 157 people coincidentally decided not to take up the offer of talking to Indian consular officials. Now we don't know what they said and they say that they didn't give that advice. If they wanted to talk to Indian consular officials then well clearly they weren't very persuasive.

Hadley: Well I mean we don't need to be Einstein's to work out what happened in the room, they were told not to talk.

Minister Morrison: Well look Ray I can't confirm that because I wasn't there but the point about all this is first they said they can't be sent back to Sri Lanka. That wasn't something we were trying to do anyway.

Hadley: Well they came from India, not Sri Lanka.

Minister Morrison: Exactly, and that is why they weren't being sent back to Sri Lanka, they came from India. Then we tried to get them back to India and the Indian government didn't agree to take them back to India to do the process of determining how long they have been living there and so on. So we took them to Curtin and then they didn't want them to go to Nauru. So what they've always wanted, the lawyers and those on the boats and the advocates and everyone else who has been opposing the government on this, is they want them to come to Australia. That is the end point they have been looking for here. It was never going to happen and they found that out fairly bluntly on Friday night.

Hadley: So did you have to make a quick decision or did you have a contingency plan depending on what they'd told you after speaking to their legal counsel?

Minister Morrison: We always have a plan, Ray, and we have had a plan over this last four to six weeks. Ever since this vessel was detected we have a very methodical process we work through, we reserve every option to ourselves to deal with it and we follow it and it reached its conclusion on Friday night when they were transferred to Nauru. Those sitting on Nauru now I am sure will tell others back in India or Sri Lanka don't try it.

Hadley: Now, will they ever get to Australia?

Minister Morrison: No.

Hadley: Not under any circumstances?

Minister Morrison: No, they are not to be resettled in Australia. If they are found to be refugees they will be resettled on Nauru. If they are found not to be refugees, then they will go back to Sri Lanka. And that is the disappointing thing about all of this, we had actually come up with what was in effect a humanitarian plan to get people who had been living in India, and about two-thirds of them on that vessel had been living in India, where you know kids were going to school. We had teenagers on that ship who were born in India, for goodness sake, they have spent all of their lives there.

Hadley: Teenagers on the ship who were – do they then qualify as Indian citizens as they would in Australia?

Minister Morrison: No, they wouldn't because if you're – this is the same in Australia – if you are born to other national's parents then you take on the citizenship of your parents. And that is why they wouldn't necessarily have been deemed to be Indian citizens. So they were clearly living in India and had been living there for some time. There was an opportunity there for up to 50 kids not to have to go to Nauru and indeed to go back to India. And for all the cries last week and no one wants to see kids in detention. I don't want to see that, I know you don't Ray, and I am sure your listeners don't either. But when 8 000 people turn up on all those boats that occurred under the Labor party then that is where they find themselves and we are dealing with that terrible mess and legacy they left us.

Hadley: Just go back a little bit just so I can clear up some confusion. So if a child is born here in Australia of American parents or Indian parents and they are here as permanent residents, as opposed to visa holders. Does that child automatically qualify for Australian citizenship or not?

Minister Morrison: Look that is a different set of circumstances for what I have just referred to. It depends on how you have come to be in the country in the first place and whether you are lawful in the country and things of that nature.

Hadley: Alright so it is not as clear cut.

Minister Morrison: No, it is always based on the circumstances.

Hadley: Ok. Right now before I get a tsunami of emails and calls the legal representation you referred to who is footing the bill for that?

Minister Morrison: Not the Australian taxpayer but I can assure you that the lawyers I suspect through the course of any actions will go for costs at some point. These are the same lawyers – Shine Lawyers – who are bringing the case against the Commonwealth on behalf of the people who were rescued from SIEV 221 and claiming the Commonwealth could have done more and they are suing the Commonwealth - those who were rescued on that occasion and these are the same lawyers.

Hadley: This is the vessel off Christmas Island?

Minister Morrison: Yes the one back in December.

Hadley: Will there be evidence offered of the men who stole life jackets from children and women and pushed them away so they could have a life jacket.

Minister Morrison: I couldn't say Ray I don't know..

Hadley: Well one would hope so that if there is anyone involved in that legal challenge of the Australian government someone will come forward and identify the cowardly men who did that, killing women and children, and they are not Australian citizens.

Minister Morrison: Well people who are rescued and who are now seeking compensation or remedy in the courts and they are doing that through Shine Lawyers. But that matter is before the courts.

Hadley: Yeah. You have made the point repeatedly on this programme. We have had one lone vessel arrive in the month of July. Compared to how many under the Labor government last July?

Minister Morrison: 48 and there were 4 300 people who turned up on those vessels and 18 people died in July, and one of those was an infant. And that is why, and I was accused on Insiders on the weekend of using emotive language when I said the fact that last year – I don't want us to return to the days where Customs officers and Navy officers had to scoop infant corpses out of the water. Now that is not emotive language that is the fact. That is what they had to do. That's what the people who work on Border Protection Command were doing last July and they are not doing that this July or this August, and they haven't been doing that all year. And I think that is a massive change now I want to get children out of detention but I also don't want them to get onto boats. We are making good progress on both of those fronts and the inquiry that is underway is underway at the moment and I am sure people would be puzzled as to why there was no inquiry when the number of children in detention got to 2 000 under the previous government, when 8 000 children had gone on boats and this was running out of control and they were dying at sea. Very silent voices from all of those who are being very critical now but we are dealing with the mess that Labor left us and we are getting the kids out of detention and we are improving the facilities and it is a difficult job.

Hadley: A question from Greg on the open line: how much is it costing us to keep people on Nauru? Do we have a total budget for people on Nauru?

Minister Morrison: Yeah we do have a budget and I would have to confirm that with you but the bottom line is it is costing $2.5 billion less as a result of the success we have had because we are not sending people there in the rate we were before. We just sent these 157 and we are dealing with those still and transfers that arrived previously but when you haven't got 4,300 people turning up a month …

Hadley: Well I would say this to Greg on the open line – it is very simple – if you don't have 35  000, 40  000 people arriving then it will cost you a lot less. If you have 157 compared to tens of thousands it will cost you a lot less.

Minister Morrison: Well that is right and the same is true – often the comparison is made between costs in the community and costs with offshore processing. Well you have to look at the overall cost of the effectiveness of all your policies. When all your policies work and the bots stop coming it is cheaper.

Hadley: Now the Australian reports you are seeking a High Court ruling that may change how Australia interprets the Refugee Convention. How is that going to work?

Minister Morrison: Well we will see. The matter is before the court and I cannot say much than confirm the position that is being put and that is if someone were to say I can't go back there because I will do this sort of job and doing that sort of job would put me in a position of exposure well there are things within a person's control. This gets to a level of specificity and interpretation of the refugee convention which we would argue goes beyond what the obligations are. But those matters will be run through the court and we will respect the decisions of the court and take whatever actions are necessary subsequent to that.

Hadley: Well one of the things being spoken about today is that if a bloke is a jeweller and says no I am a truck driver one would say that well yes it is dangerous driving trucks in certain parts of Afghanistan or Iraq or Iran for instance. It is not as unsafe being a jeweller in a big city but that bloke might be a jeweller pretending to be a truck driver. That is the problem we have.

Minister Morrison: And when you read down the convention and I know a lot of listeners sometimes say why don't you just get out of the refugee convention but the difficulty we have got with the convention is not the document itself but how lawyers and others have interpreted it for the last 50/60 years not just in this country but around the world. Our courts draw on all of their interpretations and what started out being a pretty sensible document over time has had layer upon layer upon layer and it is now being used as a tool by people smugglers to basically run death voyages.

Hadley: Ok now to other issues, we have got according to the Telegraph today six more passports, Australian passports cancelled on advice from ASIO. In relation to this will this continue and what happens when these people try to come back to Australia?

Minister Morrison: Well it is very difficult for them to do this because they do not have the travel documents to enable that. For them to come back to Australia, they still ultimately have a right to enter and remain, but to do that they would have to present themselves to Australian consular or embassy officials to arrange that access back to Australia. That is not a very quiet way to enter back to the country and we could obviously take the steps upon their arrival. Obviously they may well seek to try and get back into the country illegally or using false passports or things of that nature. That is why my border officers and the intelligence teams – we now have a National Border Targeting Centre I opened last month that has officials from the AFP, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and representatives from other countries' agencies in there all working on the intel and information to help our people working on the borders make the best decisions they can when people present.

Hadley: The government has been criticised for continuing to use VIP flights for Ministers particularly between Canberra and Western Australia and there do appear to be commercial alternatives available. Now if I am going to rip into the Labor government for their largesse in relation to flights, particularly in relation to the Prime Minister and others, do you admit it is a bad look if there is an alternative, if there is a commercial flight available for Ministers why can't they get on that commercial flight?

Minister Morrison: Well that is the rule that applies, that's what I understand has been done, that is what I am advised has happened that the flights that have been undertaken are consistent with all the rules and requirements. Occasionally I have been on these flights and I only do it where there are no commercial alternatives available. That commercial alternative also needs to suit the time requirements. On some occasions you need to be at a particular place at a particular time and if there aren't commercial flights to get you to do that and some of the meetings you need to be at – in my case it has been with other countries - you need to move quickly and sometimes that facility is not available commercially. I know the Prime Minister is very adamant, because I know – he has been pretty blunt with all of us about this …

Hadley: Did he pulled you aside and say, Scott you could have been on that Virgin flight there, what are you doing on this private jet?

Minister Morrison: I haven't had that occasion but he has always been very adamant that the rules about using the VIP fleet are very clear and that if commercial alternatives are available then we must use them - not should – must.

Hadley: Ok. Look I find this a difficult story to deal with without becoming extremely angry. The actions of an Australian couple who abandoned their surrogate child, one of them, in Thailand after that child was born with Downs Syndrome. Now we need to make some changes I would think to surrogacy regulations but I mean it is a very depressing story today about this man and I wish to god we could identify them the husband and wife who went and cherry picked a baby over the other baby born with Downs Syndrome saying that he didn't even nurse or look at the other child when he went to pick up the little girl as opposed to the little boy. What sort of bastards have we got looking after children here?

Minister Morrison: It is terrible, just absolutely horrible and heartbreaking. These circumstances with surrogacy and particularly when it involves international arrangements and things like this – the legal environment around this is very, very, very murky. But I have got to tell you who is an absolute hero in all of this and that is the Thai mother. She is a saint and the outpouring of support from Australians I think demonstrates in the best possible way about how I think Australians feel about this. Look we are taking a close look at what can be done here but I wouldn't want to raise any false hopes or expectations. We are dealing with something that has happened in another country's jurisdiction and the act is exactly as you called it Ray. I can understand how …

Hadley: Aren't you as concerned as I am that we have these people in control of a little child …

Minister Morrison: Of course I am.

Hadley: Given the way they conduct themselves?

Minister Morrison: Yes of course I am. That is why we have got to take a close look at any of the regulations that can sit around this but what I am saying is the vast majority of them are going to exist in the other country and what access and what arrangements we put around people trying to bring people into the country who may have been involved in these sorts of arrangements and some transparency and scrutiny around that. Sure there are lots of Australians who are desperate to be parents but that can never I think sanction what we have just seen here.

Hadley: Appalling. We will leave it on that note. Thanks very much for your time.

Minister Morrison: Thanks a lot Ray.

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Last update: Monday, 04 August 2014 at 15:16 AEST