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Meet The Press -

View in ParlView


11 JULY 2010



PAUL BONGIORNO, PRESENTER: Welcome to 'Meet The Press'. Julia Gillard's pre-election housekeeping
continues at pace. It seems to involve sweeping asylum seekers offshore to a near neighbour. The
Prime Minister drew fire from all sides and an egg from a protester in Perth. She also managed to
scramble her message on just where she'd like to put the boat people.

JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER (TUESDAY): In recent days I have discussed with President Jose
Ramos-Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre.

JOSE RAMOS-HORTA, EAST TIMOR PRESIDENT (TUESDAY): I wouldn't want Timor-Leste to become an island
prison for displaced persons fleeing depravation, fleeing violence.

SENATOR BOB BROWN, GREENS LEADER (THURSDAY): It's pretty appalling that the leader of the richest
nation in our region, Australia, is asking the leaders of the poorest nation in our region, East
Timor, to take the burden of processing asylum seekers in our region.

JULIA GILLARD (THURSDAY): But this is a dialogue that will happen more broadly than East Timor. It
will happen across the region.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Tony Abbott came up with a suite of harsher measures of his own.

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER (TUESDAY): You have got to be tough to protect our borders and this
Government is not tough enough to do it.

to believe, on the eve of an election, that they've had some sort of midnight conversion.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Shadow Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison is a guest. Later, Human Rights
Advocate, Julian Burnside joins us. First, what the Nation's papers are reporting this Sunday, 11
July. The 'Sun Herald' leads with "We'll fight on: PM", as Julia Gillard attended the funeral of
our 16th casualty in Afghanistan, news came in of our 17th soldier to fall, Private Nathan Bewes of
Sydney. The Prime Minister says Australians will understand our continuing determination. The
'Sunday Age' carries the story "Gillard to pursue East Timor", despite that country's parliament
planning to send a strong message of protest about the regional refugee processing centre. The
Prime Minister says she is determined to pursue with determination dialogue with that country. The
Sunday Telegraph' has "Our economy, the brutal truth". A reader poll shows 48% of people nationally
say they are worse off now than they were at the last election in 2007. And The 'Sunday Mail' in
Adelaide says "Election call at any moment" and reports the Prime Minister slipped quietly into the
City of Churches to have a family reunion dinner with her parents and sister last night. Welcome
back to the program, Scott Morrison. Good morning, Mr Morrison.


PAUL BONGIORNO: It's sad news of our 17th casualty in Afghanistan. It does ram home that
Afghanistan is a war zone, it's a brutal place. Can you blame Afghanis for fleeing?

SCOTT MORRISON: First of all, let me say the Coalition and I are terribly saddened at the loss of
Private Nathan Bewes. This is a terrible tragedy. It's our 17th tragedy and our thoughts are
obviously with the families at this time, but not just with those who have fallen, but those who
have people serving there as well. It would just be one of those sick feelings in the stomach this
morning and last night and our thoughts are with them. This is true - Afghanistan has 1,500
Australian troops serving there today. We have 400 troops in East Timor serving today, and around
the world, sadly, there are places that are falling apart and trying to be put back together again.
That's our task and that's the task that the Coalition is committed to and I think there's a
bipartisan commitment to that.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So people fleeing persecution, people fleeing for their lives is something we
accept. Australia is a safe haven from that point of view.

SCOTT MORRISON: There's been people fleeing persecution for centuries. In the last 10-15 years
that's always been the case. It's always been the case over a longer period of time. It's not a
question of whether people are fleeing persecution; it's a question of what our measures are and
how we're going to allow people to come to this country and who we're going to be able to help. We
helped 13,750 people in this program of refugee and humanitarian assistance. We always have. We did
under our government and the same is true under this government. It's not a question of whether we
want to support refugees, it's a question of how we are going to do that, the process by which you
do it, whether it's fair, whether it's humane, and whether it has the opportunity to ensure we are
in control of our own sovereignty.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Election fever is in the air. Within 8-10 weeks, you could be the next Minister for
Immigration, you could be in charge of the refugee program. Can we get it straight this morning, is
Nauru the offshore detention centre, processing centre, that the Opposition would turn to?

SCOTT MORRISON: As we have always said, we are in Opposition. It's inappropriate for Opposition to
seek to have negotiations with other governments. We haven't made the same mistake that Julia
Gillard has naively made by going out there.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Can I put it to you this way - on coming to government, will your first priority be
to return to the Pacific solution in the same way as John Howard, and reactivate Nauru. It's on

SCOTT MORRISON: I can give this commitment and that is we'll implement the policy that we've

PAUL BONGIORNO: Do you have a time line?

SCOTT MORRISON: have offshore processing in a third country and people have the assurance we
will do that because that is exactly what we did last time.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Tony Abbott pointed out that Alexander Downer and John Howard were able to do it
within nine weeks. Is that your timeline?

SCOTT MORRISON: We'll deal with the timeframe that we're presented if we're elected. You make a
good point. Within 10 days of John Howard announcing that there'd be offshore processing in a third
country, there was a formal agreement with Nauru and he said Nauru at the time and within 19 days
of that announcement, it was open for business. That's what you do when you're in government. That
was our record. So we look forward to seeing what this government achieves.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Let's take the Howard template. Would you charge any asylum seekers sent to Nauru
for being sent there? In other words, would you charge them rental?

SCOTT MORRISON: No, I am not quite sure what the point is, Paul.

PAUL BONGIORNO: The point was that the Howard Government actually charged asylum seekers to be kept
in detention. Is that your intention?

SCOTT MORRISON: We have made no announcement that we'd be restoring the detention debt policy.

PAUL BONGIORNO: So your policy won't be a carbon copy of John Howard's?

SCOTT MORRISON: Our policy has evolved since we were last in government. The other day we announced
measures to ensure that those who were known to throw away their documentation on the way here and
presumed upon Australia for refugee status would have a presumption against them. We'd actually put
tougher controls there to protect the integrity of deciding who is a refugee. Australians want to
support refugees, but they want to be sure that those who are given the tick are legitimate
refugees and we won't allow a 'tick and flick' approach.

PAUL BONGIORNO: There is no doubt deterrence is a key measure for you and indeed for the government
here. Isn't this just a nice word for 'cruelty'? If we go back to the Nauru situation, the
government of Nauru, with the last asylum seeker there had to say to Australia, "we are going to
charge you $100,000 a month unless you take this guy off the island".

SCOTT MORRISON: As I said, detention debt policy is not our policy at this election. There's
nothing humane about a policy which has had 600-800 people seek to come here. There's nothing
humane about a policy which has seen 170 people drown on their way here and over 500 children who
have made their way here under the Labor Government's policies, and are now being detained.

PAUL BONGIORNO: During the week, Tony Abbott described the boat arrivals of the past three years as
an "invasion". This is how Julia Gillard framed it.

JULIA GILLARD (TUESDAY): Even if all of those who arrived in unauthorised boats were found to be
refugees, which they will not, they would still be only 1.6% of all migrants to Australia.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Well Mr Morrison, isn't the Opposition playing on the fears of Australians?

SCOTT MORRISON: No, absolutely not. The Coalition has always had a consistent view and policy on
this matter, and a consistent record of implementing policy in this area. We are not new arrivals
on this debate. It's always been a strong part of the things we stand for. It's the Government,
it's Julia Gillard who has flipped and flopped. In 2002, she said she supported John Howard's
policy of turning back boats.

PAUL BONGIORNO: But he described it as an invasion. Isn't that playing on people's fears?

SCOTT MORRISON: No, Tony did not say that. He said 'you are at risk of putting Australia in a
situation where it's open'...

PAUL BONGIORNO: He said peaceful invasion.

SCOTT MORRISON: I know he did... what he said was that we were open to the prospect of that, if you
were to go down that path. He never actually used that phrase the way you have outlined it. What he
has said is that when you allow others to make decisions about who comes to the country, people
smugglers, and those of that nature, then you are removing the sovereignty of Australia's decision
and if you are just going to allow people to come and presume upon you, rather than insisting on an
orderly process, which is what our policies are about, then you do open yourselves up and that's
not something that we want to see happen.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Coming up when we're joined by the panel - downsizing a big Australia. How do you
shrink the population? And one of the lions of the Labor Party, Defence Minister John Faulkner, has
announced he is quitting the ministry, but at the Prime Minister's insistence, he's staying in the

REPORTER: Would you accept the position of President of the Senate?


PAUL BONGIORNO: You are on 'Meet The Press', with Shadow Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison and
welcome to the panel, Steve Lewis from News Limited and Michelle Grattan from 'The Age'. Good
morning, Steve and Michelle. Julia Gillard has ditched aspirations for a 'big Australia'. She wants
a 'sustainable Australia' that involves planning for better services and amenities and placing
people where they are needed.

JULIA GILLARD (TUESDAY): In many faster growing parts of Australia, like Western Sydney, south-east
Queensland, and the growth corridors of my own electorate in Melbourne's west, Wyndham and Melton,
people would laugh at you if you told them that population growth was intended to improve living
standards. People in these communities are on the front-line of our population increase and they
know that bigger isn't necessarily better.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Michelle Grattan.

MICHELLE GRATTAN, THE AGE: Mr Morrison, surely over the decades the Liberals have argued that
immigration is one of the mechanisms to getting a stronger and more prosperous Australia. Why are
you deserting that fundamentally sound argument at this point?

SCOTT MORRISON: There are three things that deliver it. There is productivity, there's
participation and there is population. The thing that has emerged over recent years is the
inadequacy of our infrastructure and services and systems to actually cope with the rate of growth.
I mean, we are now at the rate of population growth over the 2%. Now, during the course of our term
of government, that was running at about 1.35%, 1.4. At current rates of net overseas migration,
we're going to have a population by 2050 of over 42 million people. We made the observation earlier
in the year that that was an unsustainable rate of growth and we were accused by the government,
Julia Gillard in particular, of being everything from an economic vandal to racism.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: In that debate earlier in the year, it was a bit confusing as to how much you
would cut the immigration intake by. Can you clarify today that point?

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, unlike the Government, who's just appointed two committees and changed
nothing, even with a change of leader on this issue, what we've committed to is to stay within what
we call "guard rails of population growth" and those guard rails will be a percentage rate of
population growth that we can sustainably proceed at and they would be set by the Productivity
Commission and we would call it the Productivity and Sustainability Commission and we would commit
to keep our program within those guard rails. That's a clear commitment. What we have from the
Government and from Tony Burke and from the Prime Minister is nothing more than two committees and
a grab for the TV news. There's no change to their policy. They might change their language, but
there is no change to policy under Julia Gillard. We are still heading for 42 million.

STEVE LEWIS, NEWS LIMITED: Mr Morrison, can you this morning outline to us where the cuts would
come to the immigration program.

SCOTT MORRISON: It's not possible to do that from Opposition without access to the information the
government has access to.

STEVE LEWIS: Don't voters have a right before the election to find out from the Coalition, you made
a big deal about this issue, for you to outline where those cuts should come?

SCOTT MORRISON: How large those cuts would need to be, and how wide they would need to be will be a
function of any program we would inherit. Let's make a couple of points about what's been growing
the population - it hasn't been the blowout in skills migration. We have committed to having
two-thirds of our permanent immigration program to be on skills migration. Where we've had the
massive explosion in population has been in the temporary area and as the Government knows, and as
Julia Gillard knows, the area where it has blown out largely has been in the student program where
the Baird report showed there'd been rorts and abuses.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: That's going down already though.

SCOTT MORRISON: The Government hasn't actually said how much it's going to go down, and what is
going to be done with this massive pipeline of students who are now in the system who have been
part - many of whom have been part of that sort of dodgy program, that has been allowed to continue
under this government and get to record levels. Now, we need to take assessment on that, and we'll
make decisions as we go forward. We have committed absolutely to a skilled migration, permanent
intake of two-thirds.

PAUL BONGIORNO: During the week, Tony Abbott attacked Kevin Rudd for failing to turn the boats
around as promised. His own policy not quite so robust either.

TONY ABBOTT (TUESDAY): Our policy involves turning around boats, where this can safely and
practically be done.

STEVE LEWIS: Mr Morrison, isn't it an impractical solution to try to turn the boats around wouldn't
you be putting the lives of Australian sailors and others at risk as well?

SCOTT MORRISON: Let's go over the history. When we were in government, we did it. We did it, the
government tells us on seven occasions. On four occasions in 2001, we did it and those boats were
taken back and were escorted back within a safe distance of the ports in Indonesia. That had the
effect of sending a message to people smugglers, which was incredibly effective, and the person
that agreed with it most was Julia Gillard.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: But Indonesia won't accept those boats now.

SCOTT MORRISON: Look, I wouldn't blame Indonesia for not doing anything with this Government at the
moment, when they verbal the Bali process on this mythical regional solution for asylum seekers,
when they verbal other nations around the region, when they engage in a process where they say they
are going to do something, where they say they are going to talk to Indonesia before they make
major announcements.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Are you saying you could get them to accept those boats?

SCOTT MORRISON: If you address the things on our side of the fence, if you deal with the 'sugar' as
President Yudhoyono used to refer to it, and he still does I'm sure, of what happens with our
policies, permanent residency for example, we need to deal with things on our side of the fence.
That is what this Government isn't doing and that, I think, is really destroying our credibility as
having a serious policy that will address the flow of people that are coming through South East

STEVE LEWIS: Aren't you just tapping in to the politics of fear with this issue, Mr Morrison?
Aren't you really, as many would say the Coalition did in 2001?

SCOTT MORRISON: I notice the government used to accuse us of this as well, but the fact is we've
always had this view, Steve. We've always had this view. We've always implemented these views in
government. The reason we are talking about this issue today is that this Government's policies
have failed. We wouldn't be having this conversation if 144 boats hadn't turned up. We wouldn't be
having this conversation if there were more than 4,000 people in detention in places from Leonora
and the re-opening of the Curtin Detention Centre and people in motels and hotels. This
Government's asylum policy has been an absolute train wreck and now they are taking that into the
international stage and making themselves look like an embarrassment because they are embarrassing
themselves on this issue.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: Do you think there's grounds for overhauling the UN Convention on refugees, which
was a post-war convention, dealing with, really, quite different circumstances? Is it still
relevant to Australia? Should we be pressing for change?

SCOTT MORRISON: I think the objectives of the convention obviously remain important. You are right,
Michelle. This was a document drawn up in a very different world. I think it's important that the
Convention does not become a tool for people smugglers to impose their clients on nations in a way
that is unhelpful for the way those nations want to run their own immigration programs. We would
always be party to a constructive conversation about how the Convention can be improved, because
the Convention is an old document. We were in the first batch of signatories, the Menzies
Government were the ones who signed it.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Are you tempted to want to ditch it?

SCOTT MORRISON: No, of course not. We are committed to the principles of that Convention and as I
said, as a Liberal Government, we were the ones who signed up to it but it is an old document and
it was constructed in a very different world. Today's people smugglers are not what they were in
the 1950s. Today, they are criminals, they are gangs who are exploiting people, putting their lives
at risk and people are drowning at sea and we want to stop it.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for being with us today, Scott Morrison. Coming up, refugee
advocate Julian Burnside QC. And Kudelka in 'The Australian' sees red over the boat people debate.
"Is that Pauline Hanson or Julia Gillard? I dunno, redheads all look the same to me..."

PAUL BONGIORNO: You are on 'Meet The Press'. At her Lowy Institute speech Julia Gillard agreed with
the eminent lawyer Julian Burnside, that the number of recent boat arrivals is very, very minor,

JULIA GILLARD (TUESDAY): On the second point though, Mr Burnside is very, very wrong. It's wrong to
label people who have concerns about unauthorised arrivals as "rednecks".

PAUL BONGIORNO: Welcome back to the program, Julian Burnside. Well, there you are. You are very,
very wrong.

JULIAN BURNSIDE, HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE: If I had said what Julia Gillard attributed to me, yes, I'd
agree with her, I'd be very, very wrong. I don't happen to think people are rednecks just because
they have concerns about boat arrivals. I call people "rednecks" who advocate shooting them out of
the water or turning them back at gunpoint and a lot of these people write to me and tell me that's
what they'd do. They are the rednecks.

STEVE LEWIS: Mr Burnside, you have been outspoken critic on this particular issue. Do you think the
mood in the community has moved since 2001, or is there still the same basic level of concern, even
fear, about the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia?

JULIAN BURNSIDE: I think the mood now is different from what it was in 2001.

STEVE LEWIS: Are we more compassionate?

JULIAN BURNSIDE: I think we are a little more compassionate. I think we understand a bit more the
realities of why people flee, in particular from Afghanistan. You know, the Red Cross recently did
a survey, which suggested that about 80% of Australians think that we can treat asylum seekers
better; we can do more for them. It's not scientific, but the balance of the emails that I get
whenever I'm quoted in the press is now much more evenly balanced of people saying nice things, and
people calling me everything from a rat bag, whereas in 2001, it was about 99% of the traffic was
people telling me I'm a rat bag.

STEVE LEWIS: Given that, how disappointed are you that both sides seem to be playing the politics
of fear on this particular issue?

JULIAN BURNSIDE: I think it's terrible. Of course they shouldn't be playing politics. I thought
Julia Gillard's speech was very cleverly balanced, it was nicely nuanced and she had a bit for both
sides of the debate, but I think it's a real tragedy to see asylum seekers emerging as an election
issue at all. It ought to be a slam-dunk. We treat them decently and process them fairly.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: You are very critical of both sides but what do you think would be a sustainable
policy? Do you recognise that the increasing number of people who have been coming recently is a
problem, or don't you think that it's a problem at all, and how shall we handle it?

JULIAN BURNSIDE: First of all, I don't think the present arrival rate is a problem. You know, the
present arrival rate may be 5,000 a year, compared to orthodox migration intake of 240,000 a year.
The numbers are very small. We can manage it. I think the idea of turning boats back is really
quite wrong because that means, first of all, people's lives will be put at risk immediately
because of the - you know, the physical problems of turning boats back and secondly, their lives
will be put at risk because Indonesia is not a signatory and it ca n send them back to a place of
persecution, which a convention country can't do. Sustainable solution - frankly, I think at the
moment the arrival rate is largely to do with what's going on in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka and once
the situation is sorted out in those countries, we will see the arrival rate drop off.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: You mentioned that Ms Gillard had a nuanced speech the other day, what do you
think about the processing in East Timor? Is that acceptable or not?

JULIAN BURNSIDE: It's a little bit of a worry. It could be good or it could be just another Pacific
solution. But regional processing worked very effectively in the late '70s under Malcolm Fraser.
They organised a regional processing arrangement, about 25,000 Vietnamese boat people each year
processed through that system were then brought on shore to Australia and interestingly, even with
25,000 Vietnamese a year, the public were unconcerned. There really wasn't the sort of response
that we see at the moment.

PAUL BONGIORNO: You didn't have a major political party saying it was an invasion.

JULIAN BURNSIDE: Exactly so. It was bipartisan support because at the time, Gough Whitlam
recognised that we had been part of the problem and we needed to be part of the solution. We have
troops in Afghanistan, we are helping the Americans in Afghanistan, they can't control the Taliban.
Frankly, I think anyone that flees the Taliban ought to be brought in here and told "OK, fair
enough. You are fleeing our enemies". The idea that "if you stay, we'll bomb you and if you leave,
we'll lock you up", I think doesn't really work.

STEVE LEWIS: Mr Burnside, do you agree with Mr Morrison that it's time to have a look at the UN
Refugee Convention and perhaps it should be upgraded? Do you agree with that assessment?

JULIAN BURNSIDE: Probably it needs to be worked over a bit and maybe it needs to be made rather
stronger so that countries like Australia can't do what we have seen done in the Howard years, for
example. But if you are going to rework it, I think we have to recognise that people who are
climate refugees will have to be recognised under the Convention because at the moment, of course
they are not. We call them refugees but it's only a metaphorical use. They certainly don't fit
within the Convention definition of refugees. When a Pacific Island is disappearing beneath the
water, to say that those people will have to swim somewhere else seems to me pretty heartless.
Maybe we need to recognise them as refugees. I think that might be a big ask politically.

MICHELLE GRATTAN: What about a Bill of Rights. The Government's backed off on a Bill of Rights.
Would that help at all?

JULIAN BURNSIDE: A Bill of Rights would certainly provide some ability to prevent the excesses that
we saw in the details of what went on in detention centres during the Howard years. It would have
prevented the decision in a famous case in 2004, which said that a man who has not committed any
offence, but who couldn't be removed because he's stateless, the High Court ordered he could be
held in detention for the rest of his life. I think with a Bill of Rights that decision would have
gone the other way. It's kind of awful to think that sort of thing is possible.

PAUL BONGIORNO: Thank you very much for being with us today, Julian Burnside. Thanks to our panel,
Michelle Grattan and Steve Lewis. A transcript and a replay of this program will be on our website.
Until next week, goodbye.