DOORSTOP, ADELAIDEPosted August 05, 2011
CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks for coming, everybody.
As you’re aware, the boat that we intercepted earlier this week off Scott Reef has now arrived at Christmas Island and the asylum seekers have been disembarked at Christmas Island. They are now in appropriate detention facilities on Christmas Island.
Of course, this is the first boat arrival after the signing of the Malaysia-Australia transfer agreement last week. Accordingly, the process now begins to transfer these people to Malaysia in terms of that agreement. This is an important step. It’s very important we send the message very clearly that there is no benefit in getting on a boat and taking the dangerous boat journey to Australia. People who do that will be transferred to Malaysia. This an important signal, an important step in terms of the Government’s very firm message that getting on a boat, taking that dangerous boat journey, is an inappropriate way to seek asylum in Australia.
For those of you who are unaware, the breakdown of the 55 people on that vessel is that there were 36 adults and 19 people who are either clearly minors or who are claiming to be minors. As we’ve said before, the process now begins of pre-transfer vetting of these people and providing the appropriate steps to begin the transfer to Malaysia in the coming period. Happy to answer some questions.
JOURNALIST: Minister, how long will it take to process these people?
BOWEN: Look, as I’ve said previously and as is clear in the agreement, the aim is to process people within 72 hours. However, as I’ve said as early as last Monday, it will take some time to ramp up to that. We’re in very active and advanced discussions with the Malaysian Government about the date of transfer. It may well be that there’ll be a number of transfers and that they will occur over a period of time. We’ll provide more information about that when we’re in a position to do so.
JOURNALIST: Have they been told yet?
BOWEN: As I understand, they’re in the process of being told.
JOURNALIST: Are there any unaccompanied children amongst that group [inaudible]?
BOWEN: Well, let’s be clear: there are no blanket exemptions. Anybody who comes to Australia by boat can expect to be transferred to Malaysia. Of the breakdown of those children, three of the minors are accompanied by a parent, 14 are unaccompanied and two are in the company of an older adult brother or sister.
JOURNALIST: What’s the reaction been so far from those who’ve been told?
BOWEN: Well, look, that’s in the process of occurring and it’s an operational matter that’s well under way. I wouldn’t provide feedback on that. Obviously, this arrangement has been well known for some time, it’s been very widely publicised in Australia and in the region. We’ve taken steps to make sure that those people contemplating the journey to Australia were aware that if they come to Australia they can work on the basis that they would be transferred to Malaysia.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned that people smugglers will try and send unaccompanied children [inaudible]?
BOWEN: Look, I’ve said before we could expect people smugglers to try it on and we could expect people smugglers to lie to the people contemplating whether to make this journey. People smugglers will tell all sorts of stories and all sorts of lies, that they can somehow get people exempt from these arrangements. I think when this operation is well under way and has been implemented, it will be clear to all the resolve of the Australian and the Malaysian Governments to implement this model and this arrangement, and therefore the message will be very clear: do not make the dangerous boat journey to Australia and do not let your children make the dangerous boat journey to Australia. But I have no doubt the people smugglers will try it on and will continue to test the resolve of the Australian Government, and we’ll be equal to that challenge.
JOURNALIST: Minister, if the people smugglers do choose to lie then, what’s to stop them from continuing to do that? I mean, I’m taking that a lot of the people that are the victims of this sort of crime don’t watch our news, don’t see that this is the result, and if these people smugglers do continue to lie won’t they just keep putting them into boats anyway?
BOWEN: Well, look, I think there’s plenty of evidence that people contemplating whether to come to Australia do very closely watch developments in Australia and word spreads very quickly. So as I’ve said previously, I think we have seen some effect from the announcement in the reduction of people arriving in Australia by boat. But only when it is fully implemented and being implemented will you see the full effect. We have a publicity campaign throughout the region, of course, with Customs and Border Protection very actively advertising and promoting the change in the situation, and that is counteracting the people smugglers’ lies. But of course people smugglers will be determined to try and continue to make their evil trade and to make their money off vulnerable and distressed people. We will be publicising and continue to publicise these arrangements and the effect of these arrangements.
JOURNALIST: Minister, if the aim is to turn around or to process those who are subject to the Malaysian solution in a 72-hour period, I mean, is that going to be the aim for other people who, I guess, arrive subsequent to the Malaysian solution?
BOWEN: Well, no, let’s be clear: the 72-hour turnaround is not people’s full refugee processing. That’s the first basic checks for fitness to fly, for any special vulnerabilities, and for the Malaysian Government to undertake its vetting as part of this arrangement. So that’s very different to a full refugee assessment. I would envisage, of course, that 72-hour period, once it becomes fully operational, then people being transferred to Malaysia and then as we see the people smugglers’ business model being smashed, reduced numbers of boat arrivals in Australia.
JOURNALIST: But that 72 hours is for initial security assessment, I understand. Is that right?
BOWEN: Well, it’s the initial health assessment, the initial vulnerability assessment and the checking against the Malaysian watch list, as is outlined in the arrangement.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect the three unaccompanied minors to be transferred to Malaysia?
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