The Hon.Jason Clare MP
Minister for Home Affairs
19 December 2011
ABC News Breakfast, ABC News 24

TOPIC: People smuggling

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Indonesian navy ships have been called in to continue the search for asylum seekers missing off the Indonesian coast. Two-hundred people are still missing after a wooden boat sank yesterday.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: It's believed the boat was heading for Australia. The Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, joins us now from Darwin. Jason Clare, good morning and thanks for joining us.

JASON CLARE: Good morning, Virginia.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: First of all, what's your understanding about this operation at the moment? Is it still considered a rescue and recovery operation or just recovery now?

JASON CLARE: It's still a search and rescue mission. Search went on until midnight, Indonesian time last night, until four AM Eastern Daylight Savings time. And they'll be continuing to search through the day today, aided by Australian assistance. We made the offer yesterday of a P3 surveillance aircraft, as well as an Armidale-class patrol boat. The Indonesians have accepted that offer. And so this morning, that patrol boat and surveillance aircraft will head into the search and rescue region.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Are you confident that you'll still find some people alive?

JASON CLARE: I'm not sure, Virginia. The forty-eight hour window is now closing. It's almost been two days since the boat capsized. The water is warm, but it's very, very rough. I'm told that there were five-to-six metre waves in the region. A monsoon trough has descended over the area. So it tells me that the chances of finding people are becoming more and more remote as we speak.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: In the meantime of course we continue to consider and wonder about just what will go on in terms of those arrivals here in Australia. Do you believe that there has to be a reconsideration now of what was described, back during the earlier government administration, that perhaps a softening of those, the more humane asylum seeker laws and humane immigration laws that were put in place, that that has become a strong pull factor now, here in Australia?

JASON CLARE: Well two things, Virginia. One, my focus obviously at the moment is on the search and rescue mission. There are still potentially people out there alive that can be rescued. It's dark now, but that will continue. And we now have Australians involved in it. So today my focus is fairly and squarely on trying to rescue people.

But you're right. People will ask questions today and in the days ahead about what the best policy is to avoid the risk of people getting on dangerous boats and dying at sea. My view on this is offshore processing is the way to go. That's the Government's position. It's the Opposition's position as well. We need to work together to implement this, to get things done, to get this done. There are people of goodwill on both sides of politics. And we need to work maturely and sensibly to implement offshore processing.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Cardinal George Pell has called for that today as well. He said it's time for the Opposition and the Government to get together on that, because, as he says, Australians don't want to see more of these deaths. What's your response to that comment from Cardinal Pell?

JASON CLARE: I agree with that. There's plenty of precedent that tells us that offshore processing is the way to go. Think of the experience of Vietnam. After the fall of Saigon, in 1975, people fled in boats. Something like half a million people died on boats trying to flee Vietnam.

The solution there was regional processing centres in places like Malaysia, as well as the Philippines and Thailand. The UN got involved. They ended up winning a Nobel Peace Prize in 1981 for the work they did. It helped to stop people making a dangerous journey on boats. And it meant that Australia took more refugees than they otherwise would if they were only coming to Australia by boat.

So a regional approach to this is the way to go. Offshore processing is the way to go. And the two major parties need to work together to implement this.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: In the meantime though, you have on the ground apparently in Indonesia, and have had for quite some time, processes and tactics in place that are supposed to be disrupting the movements of the people smugglers. So don't we this morning have to seriously question the effectiveness of the Federal Police disruption tactics, as they're supposed to be operating on the ground in Indonesia? Do you have question-marks over that yourself this morning?

JASON CLARE: No, I don't. The Federal Police do a very good job in Indonesia. They work closely with Indonesian authorities. And they're very effective in the work that they do. But you only have to look at a map to see how long that Indonesian archipelago is to realise just how difficult it is to stop every boat from leaving shore and heading towards Australia.

The work Australian authorities and Indonesians authorities do is very important. We've been asked for assistance this morning from the Indonesian National Police and Australian Federal Police will head from Jakarta into the region today.

I'm thinking back, Virginia, about twelve months ago, when that boat crashed on Christmas Island. And the work that Australian Federal Police and Indonesian authorities did after that event helped to capture and arrest Haydar Khani, the people smuggler responsible for that.

So they do good work together. But we shouldn't work under the false assumption that they can stop every boat before it sets off for sea.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well that would seem to be though the only benchmark that would matter in this and also the effectiveness of the Indonesian police in enforcing, you know, relatively new anti-smuggling laws. I mean are you saying here today that both of those systems are working well, that our allies and friends in the Indonesian police are doing all that they should and also that the Federal Police disruptive processes and tactics, they are all working, even in the face of this tragedy?

JASON CLARE: There's always more that you can do. The closer that Australian authorities, Indonesian authorities and for that matter the police forces of the region work together the more effective they'll be at disrupting and stopping the people smugglers and the work they do.

But a lot of good work already occurs in that area. It doesn't make the front page news. And on this program I'm not going to go into the detail about some of the work that Federal Police do. The point I would make is they do good work now. But we do need to integrate more closely the work police across the region do to try and stop people smugglers from putting people on boats and, as we've seen over the course of the last forty-eight hours, putting people to their death.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Jason Clare, good to talk to you this morning. Thanks so much.

JASON CLARE: Thanks, Virginia.

- ENDS -


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