23 October 2001 [sic - see Editor's note below]

HOWARD SATTLER: On the line now is the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock. Good morning, Minister.

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Good morning, Howard.

SATTLER: Can you actually pinpoint where this boat went down?

RUDDOCK: I am told it was off West Java and a number of people had got off the vessel because they recognised the vulnerability of being on it and refused to be taken any further.

SATTLER: So you would dispute that it was near to Christmas Island.

RUDDOCK: Oh, well, it was nowhere near Christmas Island. It was, I understand, a number of nautical miles off the coast of West Java. I think that's reinforced by the fact that it was an area in which an Indonesian fishing boat, or two of them actually, would be plying and that's not off Christmas Island.

SATTLER: So what do you think of the Indonesian Navy saying that they wouldn't mount any rescue operation and simply telling us, which was obviously false, that it was near Christmas Island?

RUDDOCK: I'm not going to get into a slanging match with unnamed and unknown to me Indonesian officers who may or may not have been commenting with authority.

SATTLER: But doesn't that go to the heart of the problem here, that Indonesia just basically won't cooperate with the Australian Government on this issue?

RUDDOCK: There are also limitations on what the Indonesians can actually do. But one would hope in any emergency situation like this in their sea and rescue zone that they would take all the appropriate steps that they were prepared to take.

I mean I haven't even seen those remarks, Howard, so I don't know of them. It would surprise me if they took that view but you know that the fishermen didn't stumble across the survivors until 18 hours after the event.

SATTLER: The other interesting statement from outside of Australia I thought came from the UNHCR who said that these people who got on this boat were in depression because they'd lost faith in the UNHCR. What does that all mean?

RUDDOCK: I don't know what it means in terms of any comments by the UNHCR itself. The role of the UNHCR is to provide for people who are refugees safety and security.

The only point I make about Indonesia is none of these people are unsafe or insecure in Indonesia. They may have a preference as to where they'd rather be, and when you look at the stories that are published today many of these people were seeking to join family in Australia.

SATTLER: Many of these people have actually been passed as refugees, isn't that correct?

RUDDOCK: I read that some 40 of those believed to be on the vessel may have been people who'd been in the UNHCR stream and found to be refugees, and I simply make the point that that puts them in the same circumstance as 12 million other people who have been accepted by the UNHCR to be refugees and the UNHCR, once people are found to be refugees in Indonesia, accepts responsibility to support them. Because Indonesia won't allow people to stay the UNHCR seeks resettlement places.

Our view has been that resettlement places from Indonesia are not an urgent priority, people are safe and secure, but we will play our part and we expect that the UNHCR would obtain commitments from other countries as well that there was some effective burden sharing.

SATTLER: Would you agree that vigilant Indonesian authorities could have stopped that boat leaving Java?

RUDDOCK: Look, I'm not in a position to comment. It didn't leave Java, it left southern Sumatra.

SATTLER: But wherever if the Indonesians really wanted to cooperate here they could stop all these boats leaving couldn't they surely? I mean there's so many people filing on board.

RUDDOCK: We work with the Indonesians in an effort to do so.

SATTLER: Do you?


SATTLER: It doesn't look like it.

RUDDOCK: There are a number of Australian Federal Police in Indonesia, and that's well known.

SATTLER: But where are they, in Jakarta or somewhere?

RUDDOCK: No, they're part of a unit that's been set up especially to locate groups of people, and very often they do mount operations which bring about the abandonment of particular departures and there have been a large number of incidents where this has happened.

I mean the difficulty is that when people are located in Indonesia there are no secure detention arrangements where they can be kept and from where Indonesia can then remove them if they have no lawful basis to be in Indonesia, and that's the issue that we've been pressing with Indonesia for some time.

SATTLER: I thought it was tragic yesterday that this thing became embroiled in the chase for votes in the election. I mean what do you think about that?

RUDDOCK: Well, the comments were made to me - I was in Perth yesterday morning and news reporters told me that Mr Beazley had linked this tragedy with a failure, as he asserted it, of government policy and I think they were…

SATTLER: Is he right about that?

RUDDOCK: I think he's absolutely wrong.

SATTLER: No, but in respect to our diplomatic relations with Indonesia.

RUDDOCK: The people who are responsible, Howard, in relation to this are the smugglers who put people on boats and the people themselves had to take some personal responsibility when they're prepared to put themselves in the hands of smugglers.

SATTLER: But not the Indonesian Government. I mean let's clearly - come on, let's now say if the Indonesian Government really, really wanted to cooperate here they could stop these boats leaving.

RUDDOCK: That assumes that they've got the capacities and the skills and the knowledge to be able to round all these people up and put them in some secure…

SATTLER: They're not blind.

RUDDOCK: They've got 200 million people and it's a bit country and ruling it is very difficult.

SATTLER: I think you're being a bit kind here or maybe a bit too diplomatic.

RUDDOCK: Well, I may be diplomatic. I have to work with Indonesia, Howard, and we have to get cooperation but we also have to recognise that Indonesia was burned back in the 1970s when there was an operation which was mounted to detain Vietnamese boat people and they had thousands of people on the island of Gulang.

They were accused of human rights abuses and they have said quite determinately to us over a period of time they are not prepared to have a large scale detention operation which makes them the focus of world attention for alleged human rights abuses.

And they see the way in which these people behaved when they were at Nauru and they see the way they behave at some of our detention facilities and they say this is going to make us the centre of attention if we're seen to be simply detaining all of these people at Australia's request.

SATTLER: Okay. Well, it's handball to us. Thanks for your time again today.

RUDDOCK: Okay. Nice to talk to you.

23/10/2001 [sic: Editor's note: It is apparent from remarks made in this interview by both Ruddock and Sattler that it took place on 24 October rather than 23 October as stated in this transcript which was originally found on the Liberal Party website.]
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