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Albanese discusses asylum seekers, public wor -

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Albanese discusses asylum seekers, public works

Broadcast: 26/10/2009

Reporter: Tony Jones

Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese joins Lateline to discuss asylum seekers and calls
for more public works.


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Anthony Albanese is the Minister for Infrastructure. We'll be talking to him
in a moment about how Infrastructure Australia is planning for the anticipated population growth to
35 million. But what will our biggest cities look like with more than seven million people and how
will they work? The minister says he's disappointed that no one has yet come forward with a
proposal for fast trains. But before that, we asked him to put on his other hat as Leader of the
House. He was in our Parliament House studio just a short time ago, and I might add we assumed that
the 78 asylum seekers would have been put ashore on Indonesian territory by now.

Anthony Albanese, thanks for joining us.


TONY JONES: Would you agree that the Government's Indonesia solution is primarily about deterrence?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, it's - well, it - that's a word. It's much more than just a word. It
certainly is about ensuring that people do not risk their lives on leaky boats trying to get to

TONY JONES: So it's about deterring them from doing that. It is in fact about deterrence.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it's about making sure that we have a two-pronged policy. Prong one is to
have secure borders and to have a range of policies around that, of which cooperation with our
region is one of them. Second prong is to have a humane response towards the treatment of asylum
seekers, which is why we've abolished TPVs, abolished the Pacific solution and treating people with
dignity and respect.

TONY JONES: But this business about taking these 78 asylum seekers the Sri Lankans picked up at
sea, taking them to an Indonesian port where they've landed tonight: that was about deterring
others from taking the same journey.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, it was about fulfilling our international obligations under the UN charters
that we've signed. It was about ensuring the safety of those onboard was the primary responsibility
that we had. We've done that. These people weren't picked up in Australian waters. They were picked
up, the Australian authorities responded to a duress, which, according to the law of the sea,
certainly as the person responsible for maritime safety, I'm very conscious of. Australia has a big
interest in making sure that occurs. We did that and are then taking them to an appropriate

TONY JONES: Well, first to one, then to another. But finally the Indonesians were convinced to take
them to this one. Let me ask you this: what is the difference between the Indonesia solution and
the Pacific solution?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, let's be clear, what the Pacific Solution was about was people who had made
it onto Australian land being taken to a third country, in this case Nauru and Manos Island, who
were paid money to house these people. People were then processed; they were given temporary
protection visas. I note that at the time the then Prime Minister Howard said that none of these
people would enter Australia. That, of course, isn't the case. People did enter Australia, the
legitimate asylum seekers and of course ...

TONY JONES: But the main idea, and the thing that makes these two solutions similar is that these
people are effectively warehoused on behalf of Australia in another country, where Australia picks
up part or all of the bill, perhaps even builds the detention centre. So there is a striking
similarity in that regard. Although as you point out, the one major difference is that these people
in Indonesia will probably never get the chance to come to Australia.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, what you're forgetting, Tony, of course, is that the cooperation with
Indonesia, including the Australian funding to help assist with construction of the renovation that
occurred at this particular detention centre, was undertaken by the Howard Government. The Howard
Government had cooperation with Indonesia as well. It had ...

TONY JONES: But you're planning to keep doing that, aren't you? I mean ...


TONY JONES: And there's a strong possibility you'll be building more detention centres, in fact.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Regional cooperation is very important, Tony. But what is also important is that
we respond to the obligations that we have to asylum seekers, who are - who reach Australian land.

TONY JONES: OK, well let me ask you about one of those - let me ask you about one of those
obligations in particular. Can the Government guarantee that women and children that it delivers to
Indonesian detention centres will not be kept mandatorily in those detention centres?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, let's be clear here, Tony. In terms of people who are asylum seekers, who
leave, primarily at the moment, it's from Afghanistan and from Sri Lanka. Those people go through a
range of countries seeking asylum. They apply through UN processes. They are the responsibility of
the nations where they are, and the UN in terms of those UN processes.

TONY JONES: So is that where the cooperation with Indonesia ends: you can't convince them not to
keep women and children behind bars?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, Tony, in terms of the discussions with Indonesia, or Malaysia, or Pakistan,
for that matter, there are a range of decisions that they make; Australia plays roles in terms of
negotiation with them. But our responsibility under our UN obligations will be fulfilled
completely. There is no interest ...

TONY JONES: OK, but what about - well, let me understand this correctly. What about the moral
responsibility, because one would think it was the unbreakable principle that you've established
that women and children would not be held behind bars?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Tony, with due respect, you know full well that Australia has responsibility for
Australian law and what occurs within Australia. We cannot, with due respect, take responsibility
for everything that happens offshore in other countries, be it Indonesia or Malaysia or Pakistan.
What we can do, though, is to engage with our neighbours, and the Prime Minister was doing that on
the weekend, with regional cooperation. We've had reports today to the Parliament from both the
Prime Minister ...

TONY JONES: I'm got to interrupt you there because you have taken responsibility to some degree ...

ANTHONY ALBANESE: From both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.

TONY JONES: ... you've taken responsibility by providing money for the building of detention
centres and for future building of detention centres and you've taken responsibility by delivering
these people to a place where, arguably, women and children will be kept in mandatory detention -
the very thing, which, according to your own policy, should not happen.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Tony, let's be clear here. The responsibility that we took was to rescue people
who were in danger at sea. That is entirely appropriate that that occur. We did that. And the
primary responsibility we had was for the safety of those citizens.

TONY JONES: But is that where your responsibility ends, because here's your policy: "It is Rudd
Government policy," - this is your Immigration Minister speaking - "It is Rudd Government policy
that no child be held in an Immigration detention centre and there are no children detained, for
example, at Christmas Island Immigration detention centre or any other detention centre." But
apparently, on Australia's behalf, it is OK to keep women and children in detention centres.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: But that's your mistake, Tony. Why is it on Australia's behalf?

TONY JONES: Because this is your Indonesian solution; you haven't denied that. The Indonesian
solution is a way for this government to get another country to warehouse people who would
otherwise come to Australia.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, Tony, these people, the people have come to Indonesia. They haven't come to
Indonesia via Australia. So, in terms of the policy, I don't think would be advanced, as you would
be very clear, clearly aware, if Australia was to lecture our neighbours about the way that they
conduct their policy. What we can do is engage in diplomacy in an appropriate fashion, which is not
to lecture on Lateline. We have engaged in a ...

TONY JONES: So there's no moral issue here as far as you're concerned, because Sharan Burrow says

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, Tony, what's the moral issue? Can I say this, Tony? Tony, can I ...

TONY JONES: Well if I can just finish that question. Sharan Burrow, on behalf of the union
movement, says they won't stand quietly by and watch children be put into detention centres and
become psychologically damaged. She's talking about what's happening in Indonesia. Are you in
danger of having a confrontation here with the union movement over this?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No, Tony, we're not. We are engaged in a policy process which is trying to work
through what is an extremely difficult and complex issue.

But let me say this to you, Tony: as we're here tonight, there are literally tens of thousands of
asylum seekers in Africa, in Pakistan, in various countries that aren't Australia or their country
of origin, sitting in camps, sitting in camps. We would prefer - I would prefer, as you would, that
that were not the case. I would prefer that that were not the case. I'm very sympathetic, as you
know, with the asylum seeker cause and issue. My heart goes out to those people. But in
establishing government policy, the starting point has to be that it is not, it is not a reasonable
test to say that Australia is responsible for every one of the millions of people who have been
displaced due to what's occurred in their country.

TONY JONES: Alright, you've shifted the argument by broadening it out and not talking about the
people which Australia has ...

ANTHONY ALBANESE: But that's the reality, Tony. That is the reality, Tony.

TONY JONES: ... which Australia is in the process of delivering to a refugee camp which it has
helped build. Anyway ...

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the Howard Government helped build, Tony.

TONY JONES: I think we have actually - I think we've covered that. Let's move on, because we want
to talk to you also about infrastructure, which is your particular responsibility. Will you be now
instructing Infrastructure Australia to start planning for a future in which this country has 35
million people?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, Infrastructure Australia is all about planning for the future, making sure
that it has a response, which is considered, which is about long-term planning for 10, 20, 30
years. That's why, Tony, it developed a pipeline of projects through the infrastructure priority
list that it released in March of this year. That is precisely what it is doing that. That is also
why it's engaged in not just the issue of what projects should go forward, but also regulatory
reform; why it's doing measures such as the uniform public/private partnership guidelines that were
agreed to by COAG last year; why it's developing a national freight strategy, a national ports
strategy; why indeed the Government in two weeks time will, through the Australian Transport
Council, be meeting with all of the state and territory ministers to have single national
regulators in rail safety, in maritime and in heavy vehicles. So it's about getting investment, but
it's also about getting that regulatory reform and policy process in place as well.

TONY JONES: OK, well, one of the areas in which they're looking is cities of the future, as they
call it. You live in Sydney. Where - what do Sydney or Melbourne look like with seven million
people each? What changes? What's been put in place to cope with those changes?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I think what those cities look like in 20 years time is that they have much
greater use of public transport, they have much higher density and planning around those transport
modes, we use smart technology, through everything from information being given in cars and in -
available to people through their mobile phones, or whatever version of mobile phones exist in 20
years time, to give people up-to-date information so that they can get from A to B in the quickest
time. I think we will see nothing less than a transformation of our cities. We need to get much
better planning in place, and that is a part of the Infrastructure Australia agenda, and indeed why
we established the major cities unit as part of moving forward.

TONY JONES: Will you be looking, for example, at linking satellite cities to the major centres by
fast trains, so that you can take the pressure off the population base in the major centres, as
they do in many other countries around the world - in Europe, in the United States, to some degree,
and certainly in Asia?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Certainly that's one of the issues that'll be going forward. Of course, the
cities in Europe and Asia have much higher populations. I was in fact disappointed that we didn't
get a stronger submission for a fast train, say, from Newcastle to Sydney as part of the
Infrastructure Australia process. But this is a ...

TONY JONES: If you did - are you saying if you did get such a submission, you'd be willing to look
carefully at it and possibly even provide large-scale government funding?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, certainly this is a dynamic process. What we've seen with the
Infrastructure Australia process is we've committed to a quadrupling of funding on rail. Indeed,
we're spending more on rail in 12 months than the previous government spent in 12 long years. This
is vital to our future, for both freight, but also for passenger rail. There's no doubt that it's
part of not just modern cities, but it's got to be part of the climate change agenda as well. We
need to move towards ...

TONY JONES: With respect, there's not a lot on the books right now in that regard. I mean, there
are some projects, there are some very expensive projects for inner-city rail networks in Brisbane
and in Sydney, but there aren't the sort of wide, sweeping projects, as you just referred to, which
would link satellite cities together and take the pressure off a population base like Sydney or
Melbourne or even Brisbane for that matter.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: That's correct, but there are projects, be it the Northbridge rail project in
Perth is a very exciting project that will change the nature of the city of Perth by linking the
city for the first time in a way that it should be done. The O-Bahn project in Adelaide, the Gawler
electrification of the line there; the extension of the rail line from Noarlunga to Seaford. The
regional rail link process in Melbourne is very exciting in the western suburbs. That's linked with
urban development.

TONY JONES: They all exist, of course, but by comparison with a major infrastructure project like a
fast train, they are quite modest, if you'll forgive me for saying so.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think the regional rail link at $4.25 billion, that will transform the way that
Melbourne operates and the way that regional cities, indeed, such as Ballarat and Bendigo are able
to relate to the city of Melbourne are major projects. That is a precondition for the next stage of
rail projects that you would have in Melbourne. We have moved forward substantially. Can more be
done? Of course that is the case. And we need to be vigilant and determined and work as different
tiers of government - Commonwealth, state and local - but also with the private sector to achieve
these objectives. But we have made substantial progress. We have the largest ever infrastructure
program in Australia's history. And that is real progress in terms of building economic
productivity into the future.

TONY JONES: OK, Anthony Albanese, we'll have to leave you there. We're out of time. But we thank
you very much for taking the time to come talk to us again on Lateline.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you, Tony.