Interview with Stuart Bocking, 2UE

The Hon Jason Clare
Minister for Home Affairs
19 December 2011

TOPIC: People smuggling

STUART BOCKING: ...But to some bleaker news to our North and this situation which has unfolded off the coastline of Java. The more details that come through, the worst it seems.

Itís feared up to 185 of the 250 people on board this overcrowded vessel may have drowned, up to 40 of those believed to have been children. Survivors saying the captain and six crew abandoned them immediately the boat began to sink.

And now of course we hear about this case where the asylum seekers are thought to be from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey apparently paid up to five-thousand dollars each to make the trip to Australia. And you think about that, for the people smugglers, that is more than a million dollars from this tragedy alone.

Heís only been in the job a handful of days. Jason Clare is the new Minister for Homeland Security and Affairs. He is also the Minister for Justice. He is the local MP for the seat of Blaxland in Sydneyís south west. He is a good man. Heís on the line. Jason, good morning.

JASON CLARE: Good morning Stuart. Good to talk to you.

STUART BOCKING: Thank you very much and congratulations on your new appointment although a baptism of fire of sorts. Just bring us up to date officially with what you know is the circumstance surrounding this boat and the death toll with it.

JASON CLARE: Sure. As you know, we understand the boat capsized at seven AM on Saturday morning, Indonesia time. The search has been continuing for survivors ever since then. In the press this morning thereís some confusion over how many people have been rescued.

Indonesian authorities are still telling me eighty-six, but in the press you will see numbers much lower than that. All I can say there is Iím hopeful that the number is higher rather than lower and that they rescue more people.

They will continue the search and rescue effort this morning. Itís dark over Java now, but as sun comes up, the Indonesian Navy and police will continue their search. And this morning they will be aided by Australian assistance.

You will know Stuart that yesterday I offered a P-3 aircraft as well as an Armidale Class Patrol Boat. And in the early hours of this morning the Indonesians accepted that offer. So a boat and a plane are on their way. In addition to a customs plane, a Dash 8, which will also help with surveillance and assistance.

STUART BOCKING: I know obviously our relationship with Indonesia has improved dramatically in recent years. They do a lot of work in relation to anti-terrorism efforts which again is at the forefront of your efforts now in the new portfolio. But we learnt today that a number of these people had flown from Dubai to Jakarta where Indonesian officials are said to be ready for the migrants to arrive, charging them each five-hundred US dollars to pass through the airport without visas. It does make it difficult if in the one hand Indonesia gives us one message, in another theyíre taking money to allow these people to pass through airports without visas.

JASON CLARE: Itís very concerning. I do have to say, in the short time Iíve been in this job Iíve seen plenty of evidence of Indonesian National Police and Australian Federal Police working very closely and very effectively together. I donít think we can pretend that the work our police do together is going to stop every boat...

STUART BOCKING: Yes.

JASON CLARE: But they do very effective work. One example that comes to mind is the people smuggler responsible for that boat that crashed on Christmas Island a year ago was arrested because of the work that the two police forces did together. A bloke called Haydar Khani - and there is plenty of examples of that.

But one way to try and make a difference, stop people getting on boats and drowning in the middle of the sea, is to have the Indonesian police, the Australian police and for that matter Malaysian police and others working closely together to identify these people before they get on a boat.

STUART BOCKING: Given there is so much focus on Indonesia with these sorts of things and weíve seen umpteen boats tragically perish off the coastline in and around Java particularly. We know that obviously the Opposition itís tied to is Nauru. The preferred option for the Government is Malaysia. If you both agree in relation to offshore processing, is there not some argument to say have a closer look at Indonesia and see whether working with the Indonesians we could set up some type of facility there that would enable us to process those people before they even take the risk of getting on board one of these boats which increasingly are getting bigger and are also hopelessly overloaded Jason?

JASON CLARE: Yes. Yes, thatís right. And the more people that are on them, the greater risk that the boat is going to capsize and youíre going to see a repeat of whatís happened over the course of the last forty-eight hours. Weíve got a big problem here. Weíve got the monsoon season that has returned. The weather out there is atrocious Stuart. Iím told five to six metre waves, which makes me very worried about the prospects of finding anyone else alive.

And youíve got people smugglers that have become more brazen and back in business trying to find people to put onto boats. Youíre right that the Government supports offshore processing. The Opposition supports offshore processing as well.

The people listening to this program would expect us to get together and work together on this to implement it. There are people of goodwill on the Labor side, on the Liberal side. Weíve got to work maturely and sensibly through this and implement offshore processing.

STUART BOCKING: Do you think this will heighten it? I mean I know everyone was saying yesterday weíve got to keep the politics out of it. Itís almost impossible to keep the politics out of it. It is a tragedy no doubt about that. But I mean given you donít like the idea of Nauru; the Opposition doesnít like the idea of Malaysia. Perhaps there is now the option for a third alternative that does tick the box in terms of offshore processing, does seem to tick the box in terms of what is the main transit point for these vessels. That being some sort of facility in Indonesia to ensure that these types of tragedy donít have to happen. And by doing that we might put the people smugglers out of business bang just like that.

JASON CLARE: Well think back thirty-five, thirty-six years ago Stuart to the fall of Saigon and those Vietnamese refugees who got on boats.

STUART BOCKING: Yes.

JASON CLARE: When that happened, something like half a million people died, drowned at sea. And the solution there - and Malcolm Fraser was involved in it - was regional refugee centres in places like Malaysia, in the Philippines and in Thailand.

The UN, they got involved. They ended up winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 1981 for the work they did. It helped to stop people from making that dangerous journey all the way to Australia. And it meant that Australians took more refugees, more than they would have if they went by boat.

I think if you ask most Australians, they will say they want to stop people getting on a boat and drowning at sea. But they also want to help refugees. And the story of Vietnam tells us that the way to do that is through offshore processing, wherever that might be, and through all the countries of the regions - of the region working together.

STUART BOCKING: So could Indonesia therefore be an option?

JASON CLARE: Well this is more Chris Bowenís patch in terms of the work heís doing with Indonesia and Malaysia and so forth. So I wonít anticipate any of the work that heís doing other than to say that the Government supports offshore processing.

We think that the work weíre doing with Malaysia holds the best hope of stopping people getting on a boat because why would you pay someone four, five, ten-thousand dollars if you are going to be sent to Malaysia rather than Australia?

STUART BOCKING: The other point being as well it seems increasingly weíve done a very good job of confiscating these vessels, burning them in Darwin and elsewhere. And now obviously theyíve read the tea leaves and realised well no point sending our best vessels and so the boats are getting increasingly unseaworthy because they know itís basically a one way trip. The boats wonít be coming back.

JASON CLARE: Thatís true. Itís true. But I donít think that you reduce the risk of people getting on a boat and drowning at sea by sending the boats back to the people smugglers. So itís as simple as that.

STUART BOCKING: Yes, no. Thereís no question about that. But it highlights I suppose yet again just how vexed, how difficult this issue is because there are a range of different factors all working in different ways at the same time arenít there?

JASON CLARE: Thatís right and the consequence of that is that people are getting on boats. Boats are capsizing or sinking and people are dying. Thereís a real prospect over the next few days that weíll find out that more than a hundred people have died at sea. Just think about that.

STUART BOCKING: LookÖ

JASON CLARE: People have died and there are other people potentially still alive out there right now. Thatís obviously why I am focussed on working with Customs and Border [Protection] Command today to see what we can do to help.

STUART BOCKING: Well good on you. Look I appreciate your time. I know you are only very new to the job and thrown straight in literally at the deep end. But I appreciate your time and being available this morning. Minister, thank you.

JASON CLARE: Not at all Stuart. Thanks mate.

STUART BOCKING: All the best to you. Bye bye. Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare. Heís a good man and MP for Blaxland, Paul Keatingís old seat in Sydneyís south west in and around Bankstown. So that is a baptism of fire there as the new Minister for Homeland Affairs. Itís a big job. And obviously the news coming through not good. Australia now doing what they can to assist Indonesia with what rescue efforts remain in that part of the world.

- ENDS -

X-URL:http://www.ministerhomeaffairs.gov.au/Transcripts/Pages/2011/Fourth%20Quarter/19-December-2011-Interview-with-Stuart-Bocking,-2UE.aspx

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