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Chris Bowen joins 7.30 -

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Immigration Minister Chris Bowen speaks with 7.30's Chris Uhlmann about the border protection
policies of the Government and the Coalition.

Transcript

CHRIS UHLMANN: We're joined by the immigration minister, Chris Bowen welcome.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks Chris.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Do you now regret dismantling the Pacific Solution?

CHRIS BOWEN, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: Well Chris the thing about the so-called Pacific Solution of
course is that the Howard Government said to asylum seekers, we'll send you to Nauru and we won't
re-settle you to Australia if you're found to be refugees. We'll re-settle you somewhere else. And
they weren't able to deliver on that.

The vast majority of people who were found to be refugees were eventually settled in Australia or
New Zealand. Why? Because other countries said, that's your problem, Australia. Not ours.

Now unless Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison can say which countries they've negotiated with and outcome so
that people who are processed on Nauru and are found to be refugees will be re-settled somewhere
other than Australia, then it's simply not a deterrent.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But the Pacific Solution was intended to stop the boats and it did. Two hundred and
eighty eight people arrived in the six years of the Pacific Solution. Since you dismantled it in
2008, 14,000 have come.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well Chris you and I have discussed this before and I'm on the public record as saying
there's a range of factors which go into arrival numbers at any one time and there's always push
factors. There's always different things happening in the world.

And I've said, very clearly, in all my time as Immigration Minister, that proper offshore
processing, offshore processing which doesn't deliver the product that people smugglers are trying
to sell which is a visa in Australia are offshore processing which says to people you can come to
Australia by boat if you want but you're not going to be re-settled in Australia is the deterrent
we need to stop people risking their lives on boats.

That's what has driven our policy. That's what's driven all my efforts, all the Prime Minister's
efforts over the last 12 months, to get a proper offshore processing system up which means that
people don't risk their lives on boats anymore.

CHRIS UHLMANN: We can see from the figures a 50-fold increase in that time and we can see from your
efforts to try and rebuild something like the Pacific Solution that there must be big pull factors
involved and this Government has never admitted that.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well Australia, by itself, as a developed country, a signatory to the Refugee
Convention, the best country in the world, of course people try and get to Australia for a better
life, of course they do.

The year we've seen, up until now, we've seen a 50 per cent reduction in the number of people
coming to Australia by boat compared to last year.

There's been a range of factors in that. I don't claim for the Government all the credit for that.
There's been a range of factors which have led to that; improved situation in Sri Lanka, changes
around the world, the announcement of the Malaysia Agreement clearly had an impact and an
announcement effect.

So there's always a range of factors which go into it but I stick to the point, Chris, that proper
offshore processing can and must make a difference to people's decision to risk their life to come
to Australia.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But in the words of Scott Morrison, as a starting point, "At no point has Labour
ever acknowledged its error in abandoning policies that work."

That is a fair comment, isn't it?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well if Mr Morrison wants to have a discussion about this, what he can do is accept my
invitation, the Prime Minister's invitation for a talk about....

CHRIS UHLMANN: And what's the agenda for that meeting?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well the agenda is to find common ground. It's very clear in the letters from the
Prime Minister and the Acting Prime Minister, which we released today, our letters consistently
say; let's work together in the national interest to find a mutually acceptable outcome.

That means sitting together, not lecturing each other on the merits of our respective policies, but
try to find common ground.

It shouldn't be that hard, Chris. Labour and Liberal agree on offshore processing. We agree it's
necessary to save lives. What we are doing to the Liberal party is saying well let's work together
to deliver it.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Don't you have to make a clear proposal first though and say what is and what isn't
in the bargaining position?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well you don't invite somebody to negotiate and then try and limit the discussion
about that negotiation.

Now this is a good faith offer from the Government, made in good faith. Very clearly, we didn't
seek publicity for it. We tried to do it with the Liberal Party, out of the glare of day to day
business as usual politics to say; look the Australian people want us to sort this out.

They want you and us to sort it out. Let's sort it out together.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Are you prepared to countenance temporary protecting visas?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well we're not going to put parameters around the discussion. Our policy is clear.

CHRIS UHLMANN: So you are.

CHRIS BOWEN: No, Chris let me make this point. Our policy is clear. We've said, and I'm on the
record as saying what works and what doesn't work.

We believe the Malaysia agreement would work. We don't believe temporary protection visas work but
I'm not going to put parameters around a good faith discussion that we want to have with the
Opposition.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Well that means then you're also prepared to negotiate on Nauru and on turning back
the boats?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well, as I say, Chris, I don't believe it would be in good faith to say to the
Opposition, Come in and negotiate with us but here's what's off limits.

I do believe what we've said is a good faith discussion. Now, our policy position's clear. We
believed that temporary protection visas led to an increase in the number of people coming to
Australia by boat because it denied family re union and that said to people your only chance of
coming is by boat.

Turning back the boats is dangerous. The Navy say it risks lives. I'm not going to walk away from
those positions but by the same token, I'm not going to say to the Opposition, come in and with
these areas, have parameters around them which we can't talk about.

The Liberal Party has got its position, we've got our position, let's just see if there's some
common ground there, particularly around offshore processing.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Haven't you released these letters for a political cause and that is to make Mr
Abbott look utterly unreasonable if he doesn't attend?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well if he's unreasonable, that's not a matter for us. Now we made it clear to the
Opposition we wouldn't release these letters while we were in discussions.

We made it clear that we reserved our right to release them if we needed to or we felt it was
necessary in the public interest for transparency. We've done that.

If I was on your show tonight, Chris and you'd be asking me, "Why won't you ask Mr Abbott to a
meeting?" I wouldn't be able to give you an honest answer unless we'd released these letters.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Now Indonesia criminalised people smuggling in April and clearly that's had almost
no effect.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well it takes time to have an effect, Chris.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Are the police enforcing the law?

CHRIS BOWEN: We work very closely with the Indonesian police and we have a very good relationship
with them and they are focused on these issues.

Now we've got to remember, Chris, this is very large archipelago. There are thousands, millions of
dollars at stake for the people smugglers. They will go to great lengths to avoid detection, but we
work very closely.

We have an Australian Federal Police presence in Indonesia. They work closely with the Indonesian
National Police and they do score runs, they do make arrests, but they are dealing with the
symptoms of the problem.

I want to take away the necessity for the Australian Federal Police to work so closely with them by
removing the product and breaking the model.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Briefly, Minister, are more boats on the way?

CHRIS BOWEN: We can expect more boats, Chris. Unfortunately when the Prime Minister and I said if
this legislation doesn't pass the Parliament, we will see more boats, we were right, and there is
no reason to believe that that's about to change.

That's why the Prime Minister offered to recall Parliament, offered to recall Parliament if we
could pass this legislation with the Opposition's support.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Chris Bowen, woo he have to leave it there. Thank you.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thank you, Chris.