INTERVIEW WITH MARIUS BENSON, ABC NEWSRADIO
Posted August 16, 2011
MARIUS BENSON: Chris Bowen, can I begin by asking you about a public opinion poll published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald today which suggests a degree of compassion that has surprised some observers in the Australian electorate: that a majority – 53 per cent, I think it is – have found that they believe asylum seekers should be dealt with onshore in Australia. Are you taking too hard a line? Are you out of step with the Australian community in insisting on offshore processing?
CHRIS BOWEN: Well, Marius, as Minister for Immigration, I’m well used to a wide range of views on this issue being expressed very strongly in the Australian community. But we can’t base our policies on opinion polls. We’ve got to base our policies on what we believe is the right policy solution.
We believe it’s not right to have a situation where you increase your chances of being resettled in Australia if you’re forced to take a dangerous boat journey to Australia. We believe it’s not right that people waiting for resettlement are disadvantaged and we believe it’s right to come up with the solution that we have, which means that we provide a disincentive to get on that dangerous boat journey and to increase our refugee intake by taking 4,000 more people who’ve been processed through the UNHCR.
There’s plenty of people who say that’s too generous, there’s plenty of people who say that’s too hard. That’s immigration policy, it’s always controversial. But we believe it’s the right solution in the national interest.
BENSON: Yesterday, the Victorian backbencher, the Labor backbencher Anna Burke, became essentially the first Labor MP to break ranks and express concern about the safety of those being sent to Malaysia. Does that give you pause for thought?
BOWEN: Look, Anna’s entitled to her view. On this issue, I disagree. And the vast majority of the caucus has expressed very strongly the view to me that they agree that we need to break the people smugglers’ business model and they also believe that we should do so in a way which ensures appropriate standards of protections. I agree entirely and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
These are, again, Marius, emotional issues where lots of people have strong views. It’s well known that plenty of people on the Liberal Party backbench don’t support the Liberal Party’s policy. But the Labor Party caucus has been very united in support of this policy.
BENSON: Well, you say it’s united, but you say in the same breath that a vast majority support the policy, but clearly there is a substantial minority opposed to it; the party is split on the issue?
BOWEN: Well, you correctly identified that Anna Burke made some statements yesterday; that’s on the public record. I disagree with those statements. But I’m making the point that the Labor Party caucus is very united in its view that we need to really break the people smugglers’ business model, that we do need to do so in a way which is in accordance with our international obligations, and I agree with them strongly and that’s what this policy does.
BENSON: But do you acknowledge that there’s division over this specific Malaysia people swap deal?
BOWEN: No, I acknowledge that Anna Burke made some comments yesterday. I acknowledge those comments and I make the point that she’s entitled to those comments, but I disagree with them.
BENSON: But people are speaking up in caucus beyond Anna Burke speaking in public. She mentioned that she’d spoken in caucus against this policy previously. She’s not alone in that, is she?
BOWEN: Well, no, Marius, as I say, in the caucus and also in my other discussions caucus members have expressed to me the view, very strongly, that this is a good policy which breaks the people smugglers’ business model.
BENSON: You were hoping that the full bench hearing of the Malaysia people swap deal might be brought forward from next Monday. It is going ahead next Monday; you were unable to accelerate the process?
BOWEN: Well, look, I think it’s important that we show due respect to the High Court and their processes. The High Court did lodge this case quite expeditiously, from their point of view, to have a case heard this quickly. We’ve made the point that it’s important that it be resolved quickly and the directions hearing yesterday confirmed that timetable. We’ll work to that timetable; we’ll put our case to the High Court. As I’ve said before, we believe we’re on strong legal ground, but we also fully respect and appreciate the role the High Court plays.
BENSON: And what do you expect in that case, on the advice to you, when it is heard? Is it going to be weeks, is it going to be hours?
BOWEN: Well, Marius, that’s a matter for the court. I have a huge amount of respect for the court and I believe that they will deal with the matter, in terms of timing, appropriately. There is a range of important issues they need to consider, but I also believe they would have due cognisance to the importance and urgency of the case. But it is a matter entirely for their Honours.
BENSON: Chris Bowen, thank you very much.
BOWEN: Thank you, Marius.
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