INTERVIEW WITH LYNDAL CURTIS, ABC NEWS 24Posted April 11, 2012
LYNDAL CURTIS: Chris Bowen, welcome to News24.
CHRIS BOWEN: Thank you Lyndal. Good afternoon.
CURTIS: The group of asylum seekers have been in talks with Immigration officials all day. Do you know what the result of those talks is?
BOWEN: Yes. A short time ago the 10 asylum seekers became asylum seekers. They indicated that they would like to claim asylum in Australia. I, obviously, think that’s a good outcome in that it means that they won’t be undertaking yet again another further dangerous boat journey. We will now process them in the normal way. They will be processed for their asylum claim; and their health, identity, character and security checks will begin.
CURTIS: Will they be processed in Darwin or will they be taken to Christmas Island?
BOWEN: They won’t be taken to Christmas Island. The process will begin in Darwin and then, obviously, we will talk to them about where they can best be accommodated across our network. We have children involved and we have special arrangements in place in place in relation to children across the board; in terms of processing them initially at what are known as ‘alternative places of detention’ and then moving them into the community for processing; which is something that continues for all children and families, who are asylum seekers who arrive by boat.
CURTIS: Do any of them actually have documentation and would that change the amount of time they’re in detention for?
BOWEN: My understanding is that eight out of the 10 have passports; have presented passports. That does make a difference. It does take longer to establish people’s identity when they arrive in Australia with no documentation whatsoever. Where somebody arrives with a passport and where we assess that passport as being valid and legitimate and not a forgery, then that does make the rest of the process easier and can mean that people can be processed and are through to the community more quickly – bearing in mind that our approach is to keep people in detention for those checks not necessarily for the duration of their assessment claim but until we’re satisfied that those checks have been completed satisfactorily and then we can consider alternative options for them.
CURTIS: Do you know what changed their minds about their decision to go to New Zealand? Was it purely a question of the weather and the danger in the journey; and or did they – as Tony Abbott suggested yesterday – have a problem with Australia’s mandatory detention regime and the differences with New Zealand’s detention regime?
BOWEN: Clearly their original intention was to go to New Zealand. That’s very clear and public. We then explained to them, given the circumstances, what would happen if they claimed asylum in Australia. We also made it possible for the New Zealand Government representatives to talk to them about the dangerous boat journey to New Zealand and how they’d be processed in New Zealand.
Now, they’ve come to their own decision. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been an easy decision for them; they weighed everything up. I’m not going to speculate on what led to that decision. Certainly, we did not enter into any – if you like – special arrangements for them but we explained to them how the process would work and certainly, we, of course made it clear that they were entitled under Australian law to claim asylum in Australia.
CURTIS: Now two more asylum seeker boats have been intercepted and are being taken to Christmas Island in the last 24 hours, a combined total of more than 250 people on-board. Does it show that attempts to work with Indonesia to stop boats leaving aren’t working?
BOWEN: Well let me make a couple of points Lyndal. We do work closely with Indonesia. I’ve always said that that’s dealing with the symptoms, not the cause and that you are going to have some successes, but you are never going to solve the problem that way. We work very closely with the Indonesian law enforcement authorities and we do have some success, but while ever that business model remains intact, while ever we don’t have an effective deterrent by way of offshore processing, then you are dealing with the symptoms and you are going to see continued boat arrivals in Australia.
This is a point I’ve made ad nauseum for 18 months and those boat journeys are dangerous, and inevitably we will see more people risking their lives. That’s why we’ve worked so assiduously to try and get an offshore processing regime in place and that’s why we’re pursuing legislation to do so, and I hope that that legislation passes.
CURTIS: Will you be putting that legislation into Parliament – be pursuing that legislation in Parliament any time soon?
BOWEN: Well Mr Oakeshott – of course there are two Bills: Mr Oakeshott’s Bill will come up for a vote, as I understand it, when we return to Canberra for Parliament and then it will be open for people to vote on it. The Government will be voting for it, the Opposition has the chance to vote for it. They say they’re for offshore processing, they can vote for it or they can choose to vote with the Greens, who have always been opposed to offshore processing. That’s a matter for the Opposition, they’ve indicated they’ll oppose it. I think that’s a shame, I think a party that supports offshore processing should vote for it.
CURTIS: One final question, the Opposition spokesman, Scott Morrison, says the latest arrivals are the largest number in a single day, he says – he’s putting it down to your policy of putting asylum seekers in the community and says that’s known by asylum seekers overseas. What’s your intelligence? Is that part of the reason that’s drawing asylum seekers to Australia?
BOWEN: No, what’s been the case consistently is that when you have no effective offshore processing then that means there’s no deterrent. Now I make no apologies for saying that people being processed in the community is part of our suite of measures. I don’t believe, as Mr Morrison believes, that every single individual should be kept in detention for as long as it takes to finalise every last part of their claim. I don’t believe that, that’s one difference between Mr Morrison and I.
But what I will say is this: the Liberal Party two-card trick is starting to wear very thin. They can’t block Government legislation to allow for offshore processing and then complain about results of that. They try and block the legislation to let the Government implement its policies and then say, ‘Look, the Government’s policies aren’t working’. Well it’s a cheap two-card trick and the Australian people, I think, see through that.
CURTIS: Do you think though the blame game from both sides might be wearing thin with the Australian public?
BOWEN: Well I’ve said consistently again Lyndal that I think the Australian people have had a gutful of the politics around this: they see both parties saying that offshore processing can work as a deterrent to boat arrivals, the Government is prepared to vote for it and the Opposition should vote for it too, and it is simply not in any way sustainable for Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison to say that they support offshore processing but they’re not going to vote for it while the Government is proposing it, or indeed Mr Oakeshott is proposing it. It is a hypocritical approach, a cheap opportunist approach and one which does them no credit whatsoever.
CURTIS: Chris Bowen, thank you very much for your time.
BOWEN: Thank you Lyndal.
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