Minister for Home Affairs
Jason Clare
Interview with Luke Grant, 3MTR
19 December 2011

TOPIC: People smuggling

LUKE GRANT: It's eight past seven. Let's go back to the big story of the day. We've been talking about this since we started here this morning. Rescuers have battled high waves as they've searched for, we think, two hundred asylum seekers, feared dead after their overcrowded ship, headed for Australia, sank of Indonesia's main island of Java.

We understand, so far, only thirty-three people have been plucked alive from choppy waters. The numbers are a bit conflicting. In the Age this morning they say that Indonesian officials put the number at thirty-four.

They also report that our new Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare - with whom I'll speak in a moment - he said eighty-seven asylum seekers had been rescued.

There's a few other, now, elements to this story. We learned today in the Herald Sun that the people - the spineless filth that were piloting this ship - they were able to evacuate the ship in safety gear; leaving those two-hundred-and-fifty to do their best - horrible stuff.

One of the things that will have to be addressed in this is why do they come here. I guess we know that they might well be after a better life, but they come here because they think they can float down here - as I've said earlier - having paid a people smuggler an amount of money, and everything's good.

And that's the question, isn't it? Have open borders meant that we're now a better attraction, or a bigger attraction for those people wanting to flee somewhere?

As I said, Jason Clare is the Home Affairs Minister - newly appointed - and Minister for Justice. He joins us on the line. Good morning, Minister.

JASON CLARE: Good morning, Luke.

LUKE GRANT: Where are the latest numbers? I note today, in the Age, you're quoted as saying that eighty-seven have been rescued. And the Indonesians were saying thirty-four. Do you know what those numbers are now?

JASON CLARE: Yes. The latest information I'm still receiving from Indonesian authorities is eight-six. That's the Indonesian search and rescue authority, called BASARNAS. But I am aware, like you are, that other authorities on the ground are saying numbers like thirty-three. That's not surprising, given the situation we're in. I'm just hopeful that the number is higher rather than lower and that more people are rescued today.

LUKE GRANT: We're helping, aren't we? Have you sent planes or boats up there to help?

JASON CLARE: We have. We made the offer to Indonesia yesterday, to offer a P3 surveillance aircraft, as well as one of our patrol boats. Overnight, that offer has been accepted. So this morning HMAS Ararat - one of our Armidale class patrol boats - will head north into the area.

And one of our P3 surveillance aircraft will take off and fly over the region to assist with the search and rescue effort - which I've got to tell you is very difficult. The weather is not helping; with the monsoon trough up there at the moment. I'm told by our border protection people that there were waves five to six metres high through the course of yesterday.

LUKE GRANT: Terrible. How do these people get into the situation they find themselves? I know one of the papers today makes comment that they went through the airport in Jakarta. Then they were put on four buses and driven to where this boat was. You'd have to think, wouldn't you, that there are authorities somewhere in Indonesia - customs officials who are just waving them through?

JASON CLARE: What it tells me is that the people that take money off these desperate people are getting more and more brazen. The people smugglers are getting back in business and putting people on buses and trying to crowd as many people as they can on a boat.

They're interested in making money. And if that involves taking people's lives, then they're okay with that as well. We saw the consequences of that over the last forty-eight hours, where an overcrowded boat capsized and potentially; quite possibly, more than one hundred people have died.

LUKE GRANT: I had, often, discussions with your predecessor, Brendan O'Connor, who because of where he's a local member down here - was a regular on this show. And I'd said to him that I thought the Malaysian solution was a great policy idea. It was one of those things that would, I think, make it clear to people smugglers and other people that were involved in this industry, that you had no guarantee that you'd end up in Australia.

JASON CLARE: That's right.

LUKE GRANT: And I quite like that. Is the Malaysian solution still on the table?

JASON CLARE: Well Luke I think you are right. It removes the incentive to pay people money. You wouldn't give someone thousands and thousands of dollars, especially if it's your last thousands of dollars, to get on a boat to Australia - if you knew that you were going to be sent back in the other direction, back to Malaysia.

That's still our policy - we support offshore processing. The Opposition do too. The Opposition supports offshore processing. The key here is that we've got to work together to get this done and get it implemented. That's what the people listening to this program would expect of their politicians; working together in a mature and a sensible, considered way. And, look, I think we can. There are good people of good will on both sides of politics who want to get this done. We need to get it done so that the chances of an event like this, an incident like this, happening again are reduced.

LUKE GRANT: Exactly, because it just seems - and I'm sure, from the reaction I've had from listeners this morning - most people listening to us now are of the view that we've basically gone - and I don't want to just repeat a phrase I've heard elsewhere - but it seems like open border: you hop on a boat and you're set. And they - I'm getting a sense from them this morning that the idea that the previous Howard Government - there are four people in detention. We've got five thousand there now. It's almost like Happy Days for people smugglers. Do you concede that you have gone too far in softening up the borders?

JASON CLARE: Well, our approach - I've got to make it very clear - is offshore processing. No-one wants to see people getting on a boat and dying at sea. We all want to help refugees, but there's a way to do it.

The best precedent I can think of Luke, is what happened after the Vietnam War. You'll remember something like half a million people drowned fleeing from Vietnam. They set up regional facilities in places like Malaysia; in Philippines and in Thailand. The UN were involved. They ended up winning a Nobel peace prize in 1981 for the work that they did.

It fixed the problem and it meant that Australia took more refugees than we would have if people had to make that dangerous journey all the way by boat. So it saved lives, helped refugees, and it was a regional solution. That's the sort of thing that we're saying we need to do now.

LUKE GRANT: But you could get Nauru through tomorrow. You and I both know that. It's going to take someone, you know, swallowing some pride, but you could get that through tomorrow. And there will be people listening to us that say that thing worked. Why did you play with it, and why don't you just go back to it?

JASON CLARE: The problem we've got with that on its own is that around sixty-four per cent of people who went to Nauru ended up in Australia and New Zealand. The people smugglers, they know that. The people who put the 250 people on that boat on Saturday know that. And they tell people look, pay a thousand dollars, pay a couple of thousand dollars; you might end up in this place, but you'll eventually get to Australia.

So it doesn’t provide that disincentive that you're talking about; telling people that if you pay thousands of dollars you'll end up in Malaysia rather than in Australia. That's why we talk about the need for a regional solution.

LUKE GRANT: But don't we - I mean we need - there's two hundred people, or thereabouts, dead. We need you and the Opposition to sit down - or we need you to say listen, Opposition, this is a policy and we want to get it in today. We're prepared to come back to town to get it done. This is a leadership issue in part, Jason, isn't it; where someone's got to say enough's enough. This has got to stop now.

JASON CLARE: Well, two things, Luke. We're still trying to rescue people who might be still alive out in the ocean. That's my focus. That's my responsibility, to assist in making sure that we've got aircraft and patrol boats out there to try and save every life that we possibly can. It's dark now over that area, but it will - the sun will come up again soon and we're going to be part of that effort. That's the immediate thing.

But, longer term, you are right: we need to work together. It's as simple as that. People that are listening to this over breakfast think this is too important. People have died. There's a risk that more people will die. Australians will want their politicians to sit down, work together and get this thing done.

LUKE GRANT: Yeah. Alright. Good to talk to you. Thank you so much, Minister. That's Jason Clare, Home Affairs Minister and Minister for Justice.

- ENDS -


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