source from abc news 7:30 report, 16 April 2012
Chris Bowen discusses latest boat arrival
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Reporter: Leigh Sales SALES, PRESENTER: A short time ago I was joined in our Sydney studio by the Immigrationr Chris Bowen.
Minister, today another boat, this one carrying 55 people’s been intercepted en route to Australia in addition to the boatload of 32 people picked up on the weekend. Can you tell us yet where they’ll be going for processing?
CHRIS BOWEN, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: No, what I’ve said is that these people, like the boat intercepted on Saturday, will be processed not for refugee claims, but for removal from Australia under our laws to a third country. It’s well-known Leigh that we’ve entered into the arrangement with Malaysian, that we’re in discussions with other countries across the region. It’s very important we send that message, as the Prime Minister and I sent two Saturdays ago: do not come to Australia by boat thinking that you’ll be processed and resettled in Australia, because that is not any longer the position in Australia.
LEIGH SALES: And why can’t you tell us yet where they’ll be going?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well, as I say, it’s well-known that we’re in discussions across the region and not only with Malaysia but other countries. It’s appropriate we let those discussions reach their final stages.
LEIGH SALES: So what’s delaying the transfer then to a third country? What’s the hold-up in the negotiations?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well there’s no hold-up in particular, but these negotiations do take some time. Other governments have processes to go through, cabinets need to consider matters, etc. In relation to other countries, there’ve been discussions, well-known, with Papua New Guinea for example, about various arrangements to break the people smugglers’ business model.
LEIGH SALES: So is it going to be – sorry to interrupt. Is it going to be a case of whichever of those deals is finalised first will be where these people are going?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well, look, we’ll make further announcements at an appropriate time in relation to our discussions with other countries, but I did want to send the very clear message to people in Indonesia and Malaysia: you can’t get around this system, you can’t race to Australia. You will be dealt with under the new arrangements the Prime Minister and I have outlined and announced, which is that you will be processed in another country.
LEIGH SALES: OK, we’ve established that point about sending the message, so let’s put that aside. Why not process those people here? Aren’t they in limbo then if you’re still negotiating these deals before can you transfer them?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well, their position we’ve outlined to them, which is that they’ll be transferred to another country. They won’t be processed in Australia.
LEIGH SALES: But what happens in the meantime? They’re just sitting there, aren’t they?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well they’ll be detained pending removal. They’ll have their very basic identity checks and their biometric checks and then they’ll be processed for removal from Australia.
LEIGH SALES: So how far away do you think you are from being able to tell us where they’ll be going and under what conditions?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well, look, we’ll make further announcements when we’re in a position to.
LEIGH SALES: And do you know how far away?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well, look, I’m not gonna put a timeframe on it, Leigh.
LEIGH SALES: Days? Weeks?
CHRIS BOWEN: The discussions we’ve had with other countries have been very productive, they’ve been very professional, as you would expect between Australia and our regional neighbours and there’s a spirit of goodwill because Australia’s not the only country that wants to break the people smugglers business model. There are other countries in the region that wanna do that do, who want to help Australia to do that, and they’ve been discussions that are advanced, but we’ll be making further announcements when we’re in a position to. It would be not appropriate for me to pre-empt those before those governments have finalised their consideration.
LEIGH SALES: You’ve not really been able to answer in detail any of the questions that I’ve put to you so far about these people, where or when they’ll be transferred. Why did the Gillard Government announce this Malaysia deal before the details are pinned down?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well Australia and Malaysia agreed that we’d reached the level of commitment that it was appropriate to make that public, that it was appropriate for both governments to announce that to our nations and to announce that more broadly and that would send a message about the seriousness with Australia and Malaysia are dealing with this. Of course there are always final details and operational matters to be worked through, but those discussions are very advanced and we took the joint decision between the governments that we were ready to make that public statement.
LEIGH SALES: But how do we the public trust that it’s not going to be another East Timor where something’s been announced and then it falls over later on?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well you’ve got a firm commitment from two prime ministers, the firm commitment with some principles outlined that 800 people will be transferred, that Australia will in turn resettle more people from Malaysia, 4,000 over four years, that people will not be returned to a country in which they’re in genuine fear of persecution from. So, this has been something built up over many months.
LEIGH SALES: So you’re absolutely certain it can’t fall over at this point?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well we have a commitment, we have a commitment from a sovereign government, a partner of Australia to enter into this agreement, yes.
LEIGH SALES: Given that East Timor was announced before details were locked down, we’re seeing the same thing with Malaysia and Papua New Guinea before the deals are completely finalised. Labor in opposition didn’t support offshore processing; now you have. Is this government developing a habit of crafting its policy in this area on the run?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well as I say, Leigh, take Malaysia for example. A long consideration, lots of discussions with Malaysia, lots of discussions while we’re being criticised for not engaging across the region when in fact we were engaging with Malaysia. But it’s appropriate that we let those discussions play out, that we talk to Malaysia about our concerns and what we’d like to do and that Malaysia consider it. And then, of course, when we’re in a position to announce it we did, but I completely reject the assertion that somehow this is being done in a speedy fashion, when as I say, first discussed with Malaysia last year, a range of discussions with them and then announced at an appropriate time; and a lot of consideration and thought from both Australia and Malaysia.
LEIGH SALES: Thailand has expressed interest in a Malaysia-style deal with Australia. Have we begun discussions with them on that?
CHRIS BOWEN: Not formally. Of course, Kevin Rudd’s in Thailand at the moment. I’ve been focused on the arrangements with Malaysia. I have said previously that I thought Malaysia provided a template for other nations, and nations interested in breaking the people smugglers’ business model. Thailand is a good friend of Australia and co-operates very closely with us on people smuggling issues and we do assist them.
LEIGH SALES: So you’d be interested in talking to them?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well certainly we’ll be discussing a range of matters with them, including matters that can break the people smugglers’ business model and they’ve expressed in doing the same, and that’s something very welcome. But we’re doing that across the region, Leigh, arising out of Bali process meeting – and I know people said at the time of the Bali process it wasn’t enough progress. I said it was because it provided that framework to allow further discussions as we’ve seen come to fruition with Malaysia already.
LEIGH SALES: Is the reason that countries like Thailand are interested in a similar deal because Australia looks to be in a weak position because we’re doing this five-for-one swap?
CHRIS BOWEN: No, not at all. And I completely reject the Opposition’s criticism of this, for example. We are taking 800 people who’ve not been processed, not been checked, may or may not be refugees, taking them to Malaysia in return for taking people who’ve been processed as refugees, mandated as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, had their health, identity and security checks, taking a very different group of people. And yes, we are assisting Malaysia with the 92,000 people they have on their books as asylum seekers. That’s perfectly appropriate. I think that’s a good thing and it should be welcomed. Remembering, Mr Abbott said he’d double the refugee intake in return for one vote on the House of Representatives floor. So he’s hardly in a position to be criticising us about that.
LEIGH SALES: Is all of this an acknowledgement that the option of a regional processing centre in East Timor is off the table?
CHRIS BOWEN: We’ve said that we don’t see that happening at any time in the foreseeable future. It’s been controversial in East Timor and has been so controversial that they won’t be proceeding with it. We’ve said that. We’ve also said that we had other arrangements that we’ve been pursuing and you’ve seen the results of that in the announcement with Malaysia.
LEIGH SALES: If I interview you on this program in a year’s time and the same number of boats are coming, or more boats, will that be an indication that these new policies are a failure?
CHRIS BOWEN: Oh, look, I certainly think that these policies will have a big impact on the people smugglers’ business model. I think they will have an impact on boat arrivals. It takes time, of course it does, for that message to get through to people in Indonesia and Malaysia, but I do think it will have an impact and that we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think it would.
LEIGH SALES: So does that mean that you’re answering my question that, yes, they will be a failure if there’s not a change?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well clearly, they’re designed to impact on the number of boat arrivals. We don’t want people getting on boats. It’s a dangerous thing to do. I don’t want to see any more Christmas Island tragedies. That was a terrible time for the nation, a terrible time of course for everybody involved. Nobody wants to see that happen again. I want to stop people getting on the boats and coming to Australia. I don’t apologise for that, because it’s not in their best interests. And yes, I think these policies are designed and will have an impact on that business model.
LEIGH SALES: Chris Bowen, thankyou very much.
CHRIS BOWEN: Nice talking to you, Leigh.