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Political feud continues on asylum policy -

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Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt lock heads on the
best way forward for refugee policy.

Transcript

ALI MOORE, PRESENTER: Well at the end of a very eventful week in federal politics, we were joined
just a short time ago for our Friday night forum by the Minister for Trade, Craig Emerson in
Canberra and the Opposition spokesman on climate action and environment, Greg Hunt, who was in
Melbourne.

Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining Lateline this Friday night.

GREG HUNT, OPPOSITION ENVIRONMENT SPOKESPERSON: Pleasure.

CRAIG EMERSON, TRADE MINISTER: It's a pleasure, Ali.

ALI MOORE: Craig Emerson, you first. It's been a real red letter week for the Government, a win on
carbon, a humiliating back down on asylum seekers. How did it come to the spectacle that we had
yesterday of the Prime Minister calling a media conference to announce it was now clear that the
Migration Act amendments would not pass the Parliament? You'd in fact known that for weeks, hadn't
you?

CRAIG EMERSON: Hope springs eternal, and there was just a slight hope that Mr Abbott would come to
his senses and actually vote for offshore processing, because he has declared time and time again
that he supports offshore processing as a deterrent to people smugglers and in fact in Government
they supported offshore processing, but in fact he confirmed that he was voting for onshore
processing, and that's what we've got. So that's the reality. Don't listen to what Mr Abbott says,
just watch what he does. And he says, for example, that he was the steel workers' friend and voted
the day before against a steel workers' assistance package. The next day, of course, he indicates
that while he actually supports offshore processing, he confirmed he would vote for onshore
processing.

ALI MOORE: But just to go back to this announcement yesterday, it did seem very much as if it was
all a new revelation, when in fact you say hope springs eternal, but you're the Government, not
Tony Abbott, you had carriage of this, not Tony Abbott.

CRAIG EMERSON: Well on that argument, Ali, there is no obligation on any opposition in any
Australian parliament to behave in the national interest or to have any regard for the national
interest. Now, what you make is a political point, which is, oh well, oppositions don't have to
vote for government legislation. Very often that's true, we might disagree on industrial relations
or on tax. But when it comes to matters of national interest, even former prime minister John
Howard used to exhort Labor in opposition to support legislation, for example, on national
security. In the national interest, he did that time and time again. And time and time again, Ali,
we supported that legislation.

ALI MOORE: Greg Hunt, the Prime Minister says more boats will now come. Have you helped to put out
the welcome mat for asylum seekers?

GREG HUNT: Well, no, we haven't and I think it's important to remember the history here. We had a
very effective offshore processing system. The ALP campaigned against offshore processing. In 2008
they abolished offshore processing. And since then, 12,500 people have come to Australia. The ALP
said that was all by chance, there was no pull factor that resulted from abolishing offshore
processing, and then they decided well in fact offshore processing is the only solution. It is the
principal solution, along with other tough measures, but we could work with them and if the Prime
Minister recalls Parliament, as she should, on Monday or Tuesday, it would take 15 minutes to move
an amendment that would give the Prime Minister 146 countries through which she could carry out
offshore processing, including Papua New Guinea and including Nauru.

ALI MOORE: Let me ask you both this question, because there was some suggestion this morning that
there was a potential compromise discussed, and that is that the Coalition would agree to allow the
amendment through in return for the Government agreeing to reopen Nauru. Can either of you knock
that out of the park or confirm it?

CRAIG EMERSON: Well, I can and what the legislation actually does is talks about offshore
processing generally and leaves it to the government of the day to nominate the processing centre
which it thinks is the right way to go.

ALI MOORE: But there was no compromise along these lines?

CRAIG EMERSON: None was put to Mr Abbott, and why would you put any further compromises to Mr
Abbott. You couldn't be any more reasonable. And I think maybe your viewers don't have this
information yet, so I'm happy to share it. We did not prescribe Malaysia. We simply prescribed
offshore processing in such a way that the Government of the day, if it happened to be an Abbott
Government, could, could, choose Nauru. We didn't ask Mr Abbott to support Malaysia, we said let's
just have legislation that deals with the High Court decision. Now Mr Abbott's got this huge dose
of compassion and he says well, it's all right to have offshore processing, but only in countries
that are signatories to the refugee convention. All through the period of the Howard government,
Nauru wasn't, and here's a country that is a signatory to the refugee convention, and that's
Somalia. That's Somalia.

ALI MOORE: Can we assume that from now on all Coalition offshore processing will be done in
countries that are signatories to the UN convention, as Craig Emerson points out that wasn't the
case when you were using Nauru under the Howard government.

GREG HUNT: Well that is the very amendment which we've proposed. It is, by the way, the election
pledge and promise which the Prime Minister made in July of last year. She said there would be no
offshore processing in any country which was other than a signatory to the UN convention on
refugees. Now we have moved one simple amendment, and that is firstly to ensure that we have
unequivocal compliance with the High Court and, secondly, to ensure that the conditions and safety
and standards of processing are fully acceptable.

CRAIG EMERSON: Well, that's not true. That's just not true.

GREG HUNT: Enough Craig, enough. What we have said is that we will help this Government, we want to
solve this problem, but the Prime Minister will not solve the problem and she could solve it by
recalling Parliament and in 15 minutes, on Monday or Tuesday, if she accepts her own amendment, the
very condition which she laid down, we would have a solution and we would have finally under this
government offshore processing because they have never processed a single person overseas.

ALI MOORE: Alright, Craig Emerson, which bit's not true?

CRAIG EMERSON: Well, Greg just said that there would be acceptable standards under their
legislation, under their amendment. What they're saying is that if you are a signatory to the UN
Refugee Convention, it's okay. Well, Iran is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, and so is
Somalia. So Somalia's fine, but Malaysia's not. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees
says that the arrangements we put in place with Malaysia are acceptable, that Nauru would be
unacceptable, and I reckon I can guess what the UNHCR, the High Commission for Refugees would say
about Tony Abbott's option of Somalia. It's absurd.

ALI MOORE: Let Greg Hunt respond to that.

GREG HUNT: The answer is very simple. We could have Nauru or Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea was
specifically set down by this Government as an option. They've announced East Timor, they've
announced PNG, they've announced Manus, uh, Malaysia. They haven't delivered on any of them. And
surely that's a test of competency, but with our amendment and the Prime Minister has it within her
gift to accept or reject, they could commence processing on PNG or Nauru immediately.

ALI MOORE: You've made that point. Let me ask you, how comfortable do you think Australians are
with the fact that it now appears a fact that very shortly we'll have more asylum seekers on
bridging visas living and working in the community as they wait to be processed? Do you think that
Australians are very comfortable with that?

GREG HUNT: Well, my view is that people want to see a safe border control system, safe in terms of
we have control over our borders, at the moment we have just lost control over our borders, and
secondly they want to see that people smugglers are put out of business so there is no risk of
drownings at sea.

ALI MOORE: So you don't think that Australians will be comfortable with this?

GREG HUNT: Individuals will make up their own mind. And we want to give the Government the
opportunity, but they will not take the opportunity because they simply don't want to be seen to be
processing in Nauru or even PNG. And that is something the Prime Minister has within her own gift,
but for whatever reason, she's standing in the way of a solution.

ALI MOORE: Craig Emerson, do you think that Australians are going to be comfortable and, if you do,
then obviously that begs the question of why onshore processing was not your preferred policy
option?

CRAIG EMERSON: Well, I don't disagree with the assessment that Greg has just made as to the
aspirations of Australians. They do want an orderly immigration program and they don't want to see
people dying at sea, such as the 45 people who lost their lives at Christmas Island before
Christmas. What the Leader of the Opposition has done has ensured that there will be more risky
voyages and he seeks to profit politically from it. He values his own career more highly than he
values human rights. That's the truth of the matter.

ALI MOORE: We need to move on. Because we have discussed that for some time now. If you win
government, Greg Hunt, at the next election Tony Abbott has given a commitment, written in blood,
that the Coalition will repeal the carbon tax legislation. How are you going to get that through
the Senate?

GREG HUNT: Well we will and we can. The reason why is, I believe, very simple. Firstly, the next
election will be a referendum on the carbon tax. The last election could have been a referendum,
but the Government of course, through the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, famously made it clear
there would be no carbon tax at any time under any government which they led. The next election,
however, will be absolutely a referendum on this issue. On day one we will give instructions to the
public service to commence the task.

ALI MOORE: Yes, but referendum or no referendum, the Senate's still going to stay the same, isn't
it?

GREG HUNT: And if it goes to the parliament, which it will, if we're fortunate to win, then the
result is this: the ALP will have a choice. They either stand in the way of the legislation or they
don't. If they thumb their nose at the Australian people for a second consecutive election, then we
will go to a double dissolution. My belief is that they will move aside, that they will hear what
the people have said. There will be a different leader if they lose the election, there's no
question about that.

ALI MOORE: Let's ask Craig Emerson, will you stand aside, will you capitulate if there's an
election and the Coalition wins?

CRAIG EMERSON: No, we won't, but we won't be the issue because Mr Abbott himself will not remove
the carbon pricing regime. And the reason he won't is that he will need to increase taxes to cut
the age pension, to remove the trebling of the tax free threshold, and remember he said this week
"This one's in blood". Well the last time he made a rock-solid, iron-clad promise it was to not
tamper with the Medicare safety net before the 2004 election and as soon as they got re-elected,
what did he do? He tampered with the Medicare safety net. He won't remove it.

ALI MOORE: I think both sides of politics can make the argument about changing your promises. So
let's move on. Craig Emerson, after the carbon tax battles and the back down on asylum seekers is
there really any appetite particularly among Labor backbenchers for pokie reform? The Financial
Review claimed today there's a $40 million war chest which will target Labor MPs in marginal seats.
Is there much appetite?

CRAIG EMERSON: Well, there is a need for reform in this area. A Productivity Commission report was
initiated and it has reported that the average loss for problem gamblers is $21,000 a year. That
means in many cases broken homes, it can mean domestic violence, it can be a terrible tragedy.

ALI MOOREL But this reform could be political suicide, couldn't it?

CRAIG EMERSON: Well, we don't just get up out of bed every morning and check the opinion polls. If
we did that, we wouldn't have pressed ahead with the reform on carbon pricing. We know that that's
not popular. We know that in relation to poker machines that reform is needed. And I notice that
the clubs say it won't work, we'll hurt. We've offered to trial mandatory commitment,
pre-commitment. We've offered to trial that. My understanding is that there may be a positive
response to that, but rather than saying it won't work, join with us in the trials.

ALI MOORE: So this is a trial that would start before your deadline from Andrew Wilkie?

CRAIG EMERSON: I don't know, I haven't got for you the date at which a trial would start because it
hasn't been agreed. But I think that there are positive indications and I would think that any
organisation that says a measure won't work should in all honesty then say alright, let's have a
look and see whether it will work or not. But I have to say this too: in relation to $40 million
for campaigning against marginal seats, that mightn't be pleasant, but we're not going to be in a
position where as soon as an organisation says we've got tens of millions of dollars and we're
going to throw you out of government, that we then capitulate and walk away from what we consider
to be in the national interest.

ALI MOORE: Greg Hunt, the Greens have put forward a compromise today, they've abandoned the
mandatory pr-commitment call, although I have to say that they've also said they will back the
legislation as it stands at the moment, but this is another option, abandon the pre-commitment and
calling instead for pokies to be limited to $1 bets. Of course that does side step the whole clubs
campaign against a license to punt. Do you support that?

GREG HUNT: Well, the Greens obviously wanted the carbon tax. They wanted onshore processing. So I
have a suspicion that they'll probably get what they want from the Government on this one.

CRAIG EMERSON: You gave them onshore processing.

GREG HUNT: Quite clearly, there is a genuine issue here about deep concern, deep issues of problem
gambling. The risk is that you simply move people from clubs and pubs into online gambling, into
circumstances where they have the home, they have the internet, they have all of the tools
available to them, but none of the controls. So what's the solution, in our view? It is two things:
firstly, a real focus on individuals. Focus and find the individuals who have the problems. And,
secondly, put in place tough conditions around the country on those that foster problem gamblers.
So those are the two things, focus on the problem gambler...

ALI MOORE: Would you support a trial, though?

GREG HUNT: I haven't looked at the details, so I'm not going to give you a false answer on that.
But what I do say...

CRAIG EMERSON: Well, we don't have detail. It's a concept.

ALI MOORE: As a concept, Greg Hunt. As a principle?

GREG HUNT: The two principles that I want to pursue and we want to pursue are problem gamblers
themselves.

ALI MOORE: Would you support in principle the idea of a trial?

CRAIG EMERSON: He won't answer the question.

GREG HUNT: I am cautious about anything which is mandatory across the country which is simply going
to move people from pubs and clubs to online situations. As for trials, people can engage in trials
willingly, I don't have a problem with that. I do have a problem with a system which simply shifts
the problem from being in the public gaze to in the privacy of the home.

ALI MOORE: Alright. We are out of time but I have to put one very last question to Craig Emerson.
There is a suggestion that in fact that Greens compromise came from the Government. Can you knock
that one on the head?

CRAIG EMERSON: Yeah I can. We don't support that proposal of the $1 limit.

ALI MOORE: Greg Hunt, Craig Emerson, many thanks for joining Lateline tonight.

CRAIG EMERSON: Thanks, Ali.

GREG HUNT: Thanks a lot.