INTERVIEW WITH JASON MORRISON, 2UE BREAKFAST
Posted August 11, 2011
JASON MORRISON: The Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is with me this morning. Minister, good morning.
CHRIS BOWEN: Good morning to you, Jason. How are you?
MORRISON: I’m well.
I understand you’re in a difficult spot because of the High Court decision. I want to, though, focus on a couple of aspects too. Did you do a deal that would essentially see Malaysia getting its end of the bargain if they didn’t have to take the 800 people from Christmas Island, if Australia couldn’t, for whatever reason, deliver that? Is that the deal you’ve done?
BOWEN: The arrangement is that we will take 4,000 refugees, genuine refugees, over four years, in return for the 800, and we did negotiate – and I’ll explain the reasons for this – that if we don’t send the 800 we still take the 4,000. Why? Because if we don’t send 800, it means 800 people haven’t arrived; it means the arrangement’s worked, we’ve broken the people smugglers business model, and it means that we’re still able to give those 4,000 people a better life in Australia. So that’s part of the arrangement and it’s a part of the arrangement which is appropriate.
MORRISON: And what’s in that for Australia?
BOWEN: Well, there’s a couple of things. Firstly, Jason – and I agree with quite a bit of what you said in your introduction, not everything of course, but quite a bit of what you said – everybody, I think most people, would agree that Australia should take refugees, but it’s about how we do it. And frankly, it’s about how they are chosen: there’s 42 million displaced people in the world; we can’t take them all but we do want to do our bit. And we do take a lot of refugees: we take 13,750 a year, and we’ve just increased that to 14,750 as part of this arrangement.
What it’s about is two things: one is how we choose the people to come to Australia, and I think it should be the people who’ve been waiting for resettlement through the United Nations, and that’s what this deal does; and secondly, stopping people making that very dangerous journey by boat because none of us want to see that, what we saw at Christmas Island last December, and all the other people who’ve lost their lives and there’s plenty of other examples of people losing their lives on boats.
MORRISON: Let’s talk about what we saw at Christmas Island last December. I mean, you know, depending on what little facts you choose to leave out of the discussion here, the only reason those people were on that boat that day was because the door had been opened for them to come to Australia through this manner, to take the risk and get to Australia. So because your Government – and not you as Minister but previous Minister and previous Prime Minister – softened the policy, it opened the door which encouraged the boats to come.
BOWEN: And this is the point: you raised Frank Brennan; he said Nauru’s better and he did. And why did he say Nauru’s better? He said Nauru’s better because people ended up in Australia, and he’s right about that. See, Nauru was, if you like, a bit of a bluff job. The previous Government said to people, ‘You come to Australia by boat, we’ll send you to Nauru and you won’t end up in Australia’ –
MORRISON: But what’s your barometer of whether your policy’s working? I would imagine it’s whether the boats have stopped, isn’t it?
BOWEN: Let me just finish this point –
MORRISON: Well, no, no, but I think before we rework history, we have to acknowledge the barometer of a successful policy on this front is if the boats stopped. The Nauru deal stopped the boats.
BOWEN: Well, 1,789 people came after –
MORRISON: But you’ve just told me that’s not a bad thing.
BOWEN: Well, no, hang on, they came by boat after the announcement of Nauru in the same time period since we announced Malaysia, 1,789 –
MORRISON: No, sorry, that is a rework of history, that is.
BOWEN: Well, I can show you the dates they arrived and the boats –
MORRISON: Oh, I’m well aware of the dates, but mate, you’re being clever there with the numbers.
BOWEN: I’m not; that’s the fact. It’s just –
MORRISON: They came to Australia in boats after Nauru?
BOWEN: Yeah, absolutely, after Nauru was announced, absolutely. And then were sent to Nauru.
MORRISON: I don’t think history reflects that, Minister, frankly.
BOWEN: Well, Jason, you and I are going to disagree, but it’s not something, it’s not a matter of opinion, it’s simply a matter of historical fact.
MORRISON: Did the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade tell you, tell your department, that Malaysia’s human rights record was not the kind of country we should be doing this deal with?
BOWEN: Oh no, not at all. But look, Jason, I’m in a difficult position here: we have a High Court case going on and I respect the role of the High Court, and I’m very confident that the High Court will deal with this appropriately. Lots of documents were tabled before the High Court the other day, and probably lots more will be as part of this case. There’s lots of things that I could refer you to and talk about, but we are in the middle of –
MORRISON: Oh, we’re not talking about the court case. I’m curious to know, did the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warn you that Malaysia’s questionable human rights record was not the sort of thing that we should be involved with to send refugees in that direction, just days before you signed off on that deal?
BOWEN: No. The answer to that question is no. They did not make that recommendation and –
MORRISON: So the report is fictitious?
BOWEN: No, there’s a lot of documents which can be taken, you know, read in a lot of ways, but if you’re asking me if the Department of Foreign Affairs advised us to not to –
MORRISON: Did anybody advise you, in any official capacity, that the human rights record of Malaysia was questionable and we shouldn’t be doing a deal with them?
BOWEN: No, I –
MORRISON: Did your instinct tell you, when you had a look at the television coverage of people in cages, being kept behind hideous barbed wire in refugee camps, did that for a moment make you think they’re not the kind of people we as a good-natured country should be doing a deal with?
BOWEN: Well, Jason, a lot of that has been in the public domain: a lot of that footage and a lot of that commentary. I’ve publicly acknowledged that there are certain arrangements in place in Malaysia, but I’ve also acknowledged that the arrangements we’ve put in place with Malaysia mean that people are treated with dignity and respect, in accordance with human rights standards, can have their claims considered, will not be returned to a country in which they will face danger.
And the important difference with Nauru is that when we send people to Malaysia, they then just get considered for their refugee status along with everybody else in Malaysia: the other 92,000 people waiting for resettlement in Malaysia; unlike the alternative, which is to have people, wherever they’re processed, then having a guarantee of resettlement in Australia.
MORRISON: Do you have any more intelligence of boats that are on their way to Australia?
BOWEN: Well, I don’t talk about intelligence that we may or may not have received –
MORRISON: But if it’s on, you’d be aware. Are there more boats coming our way?
BOWEN: Well, Jason, you know, we get intelligence reports. We have seen a big reduction in boat arrivals recently: we’ve had 1,000 less people arrive by boat this year than the same period last year. We’ve seen a reduction for a while now this year, but we’ve seen a marked reduction since we announced Malaysia because I think people are thinking twice and three times, ‘Well hang on, if I’m not going to get anything, if I’m not going to get resettled in Australia, why would I pay my $15,000?’
MORRISON: And what of this today, another report – and again it’s unsourced, but you can tell me if it’s right or wrong – that the Federal Government is pushing ahead with a deal with PNG to open the Manus Island centre?
BOWEN: Well, look, there’s no secret here, Jason. It’s well known that we’ve been talking to Papua New Guinea. It’s well known also –
MORRISON: Is it advanced? Is it going to happen?
BOWEN: You see, Papua New Guinea’s had a lot of political instability recently. They actually changed government last week or the week before; a new Prime Minister. So that’s taken a while to roll out. While they go through that we’ve decided to let them continue that process. You know, they’ve had other things to focus on and they’re continuing to consider that proposal and –
MORRISON: And yet here’s Nauru, a nation that also needs our help and genuinely needs our support at the moment, that’s ready to go, ready to sign the deal, ready to hook up with the UN and sign the treaty and is prepared to do it. I mean, why not? Why not just put a little bit of pride aside and say –
BOWEN: Well, it’s not about –
MORRISON: Manus Island has got to be rebuilt; Manus Island’s a World War II facility which was in a bad state even when we had the last group of refugees.
BOWEN: But that’s my point, Jason. You say, ‘Oh, we won’t use Nauru because the Howard Government used it’. Well, the Howard Government used Manus Island, so if that was our reason, then we wouldn’t be talking to Papua New Guinea.
MORRISON: Why don’t you talk to Nauru?
BOWEN: Because of a couple of reasons, Jason. Again, look, I think a proposal of Papua New Guinea could be a useful complement to what we’re doing in Malaysia; it could be a useful part of that regional framework. But if you just focus on that sort of arrangement, again, as I say, you don’t actually achieve anything. You still have people coming to Australia and it just becomes like another Christmas Island. You’d get processed at Nauru and then resettled in Australia, as opposed to being processed at Christmas Island and resettled in Australia. We think the –
MORRISON: But look, I guess, Minister, I guess I’m just a realist here. I mean, we’ve got a plan for 800 if the High Court lets you do what I think it should let you do, but what happens for 801?
BOWEN: Well, a couple of things: let’s not assume that the people smugglers will find 800 volunteers, Jason. They’ve got to go out now –
MORRISON: Yeah, but I don’t think we can safely sort of just work from ‘Let’s not hope’. I hope that there is; is there a plan for 801?
BOWEN: Let me make just a couple of quick points. Firstly, they’ve now got to say to people, ‘Pay me your $15,000, risk your life and you’ll be taken to Malaysia’. It’s nowhere near as attractive an offer. In fact, it’s a completely unattractive offer for them, so –
MORRISON: If the High Court lets you do it, okay. But I just want to leave people with an assurance that you’ve got a plan beyond 800 people.
BOWEN: Well, look, as you already said, we’re talking to Papua New Guinea; that’s been on the public record. What we did is negotiate a regional framework. So what we did is we sat down with every other country in the region and said, ‘Let’s work on this together’. A lot of people said we wouldn’t be able to pull that off and we did.
We got the other countries in the region to agree on a framework of working together, and out of that came Malaysia, out of that has been the discussions with Papua New Guinea. And it gives us a framework, going forward, for discussions with other countries to do all sorts of innovative arrangements to really deal with the issue of people smugglers.
Of course, I know you and I disagree on a few things, but actually we do agree on quite a few things as well. We agree that we’ve got to get rid of these people smugglers who are choosing to make money out of people’s misery. At the same time –
MORRISON: I agree with that and I agree that you should be able to carry out your Malaysia plan. But I just hope, you know, that we’re not sort of down to, you know, plan C, D, E, F, G; that we’re actually starting to think about, ‘What happens if …’, rather than deal with these things in a panicked manner, which, I suspect, we’ve been doing ‘til late.
BOWEN: Well, look, Jason, you know, I can assure you. I mean, look at Malaysia: we started talking to Malaysia about this arrangement last December. These things do take time to work up, but by the same token, I would challenge anybody to show me an arrangement, an international arrangement, of this complexity and importance, which was developed as quickly as six months.
These things normally take a lot longer, particularly when you involve, you know, United Nations agencies that normally want to spend a lot of time working it through. We got this done reasonably quickly compared to what it could take and what other arrangements have taken around the world.
MORRISON: Alright, Minister. Thanks for coming on this morning.
BOWEN: Thanks, Jason.
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