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Sunday Agenda -

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Interview with Sarah Hanson-Young

Sunday Agenda program, 30th May 2010

Helen Dalley: The news that the number of boats of asylum seekers arriving this year now matches
the total number for last year, and we're only midyear, doesn't that say that our policy is urging
them to get on boats and try their luck coming here?

Sarah Hanson-Young: I don't think it's urging people to jump on boats. I think what urges people to
jump on boats is their desperation for protection from persecution, their idea that they're seeking
freedom for their families. But of course we do need to look at what we're doing in the areas and
the countries of source where asylum seekers are coming from, and of course those countries of
transit, to ensure there are other processes people can take so they don't have to jump on those
awful leaky boats and take that treacherous trip. People are going to, in a region where there's
areas of conflict, always need protection and be putting their hands out for somebody to help them,
and Australia of course being one of the more stable countries in our region and as a drafter of
the refugee convention a key voice at that time, we have a responsibility to help those people and
to assess their claims. And if they're refugees then we have a responsibility to look after them.
But of course if they're not, then they can be sent home. But we do have a responsibility to go
through that process.

Helen Dalley: Would you agree that something is not working and people are being encouraged to take
risks, take their life in their hands and come here? Is it that government policy is too soft?

Sarah Hanson-Young: I don't think it's that government policy is too soft. I think the Rudd's
government policy is ad hoc and a bandaid solution at the best. We know that the Christmas Island
detention facilities are filling up and overflowing.

Helen Dalley: Sorry, this point about why they keep coming, if they didn't think they had a chance
or it was going to be very tough on them, wouldn't they not come? And that's the risk, getting them
to come in boats is a very risky thing and we don't want to be responsible for that.

Sarah Hanson-Young: The issue is, Helen, that people are fleeing desperate situations and in many
cases people have gone to transit countries like Malaysia or Indonesia where they are then given an
opportunity sometimes to sign up through the UNHCR process, and they wait there for months to have
their application processed, in awful conditions, and then people are given refugee status by the
UNHCR. But Australia isn't resettling enough of those people. Last year alone we only resettled 70
people, so the number of people that need to be resettled, who've already been given refugee status
by the UNHCR, is building up in those countries. So they get offered an opportunity to jump onboard
a boat, they're fleeing for their lives, they desperately want some type of security for their
family, understandably any of us in the same situation would do the same. But they don't jump on
these boats because they like Australian beaches. They are on these boats because they are
desperate for protection and help. Now it's a very complex issue and we need to be taking a bit of
a step back to look at the different avenues and points of which we can intervene in order to try
and help stem the numbers of people that are taking that treacherous trip, absolutely. But it's not
about having to punish those asylum seekers, simply because they're seeking asylum. Of course it's
not illegal to do that. International law, our own law, says that we accept refugees, but of course
we are treating them as if they're criminals, locking them in prison-like detention centres, and of
course vilifying them through public commentary from our political leaders.

Helen Dalley: Before we get onto what you would do, I just still want to talk about government
policy. You've argued strongly against the current government policy. In 2007 Kevin Rudd promised
voters a more humane approach, he promised no more children in detention and a maximum soon after
the election of 90 days for processing. With the government's decision to suspend Afghan and Sri
Lankan processing, is that a broken promise?

Sarah Hanson-Young: It is a broken promise, and it comes back to this idea that the government's
policy approach is failing, it is ad hoc, it is a bandaid solution, they're patching up here and
there rather than actually sitting back and going, okay, how do we try and support those people in
those source countries, in the places of transit, and of course then ensure that those people who
do reach Australia can be processed quickly so they can move through the system. I was only at
Villawood yesterday in Sydney and spoke to a family who've been there for over 12 months. Now
they've got no idea whether they will be given refugee status or not. The process by which to give
them some indication should be fast tracked, it shouldn't have to take that long. If the government
thinks that's going to get any easier now they've suspended application processes, they're kidding
themselves. This is now creating a bottleneck right around the country, and Christmas Island and
other detention facilities here on the mainland, it is a bottleneck that is going to cause long
term detention, indefinite detention, and of course the detention of children. These are all
policies and promises that are now broken by the government. It's sad that the Rudd Labor
government was elected on a platform to offer a more humane and compassionate approach, while still
understanding what our obligations are, and yet they've broken those promises.

Helen Dalley: Didn't we have Senator Evans virtually admit in senate estimates this week that in
fact many people would be in over the 90 days because of this suspension.

Sarah Hanson-Young: That's right.

Helen Dalley: But I wanted to ask you, you've run a postcard campaign showing Kevin Rudd and John
Howard's faces kind of morphing into once face. It's actually quite disconcerting how much they
look alike!

Sarah Hanson-Young: Their head shapes are the same shape, I think. It is scary.

Helen Dalley: You're saying Kevin Rudd is turning into John Howard on asylum seekers?

Sarah Hanson-Young: That's right, he really is. I think John Howard himself has a difficult choice
this election as to who he would vote for. Does he vote for Tony Abbott who wants to steal his
policies? Or Kevin Rudd who's in the process of implementing them in government? It is a three way
kind of convergence, all harking back to the harshest days of John Howard's policies.

Helen Dalley: Do you appreciate, it is a tricky issue to get right, because the figures now of
these boat arrivals would seem to show that if you do offer a more humane approach, which the
government did promise after the election, the boats will continue to come?

Sarah Hanson-Young: I think it is very much a complex issue and there needs to be several points of
which Australia puts resources in order to intervene and to be able to manage that flow better, and
of course responsibly.

Helen Dalley: How would you stop the boats, senator?

Sarah Hanson-Young: I think what we would really try and do is in source countries make sure there
are appropriate avenues for access and to claim asylum through those places.

Helen Dalley: But that's already been done, it's been done for years.

Sarah Hanson-Young: It has not really, because the point is that Australia doesn't accept many
refugees from those offshore places and of course as the example of the countries in transit like
Malaysia and Indonesia, Australia only took 70 people.

Helen Dalley: But we are setting up the processing in those outside countries.

Sarah Hanson-Young: We're setting up the processing and we're helping to fund UNHCR, but they're
still massively under-resourced, and yet once somebody has been given a refugee card from the
UNHCR, they still continue to sit there without being resettled. And that's a big part of the

Helen Dalley: Are you saying you would open the doors to a lot more people?

Sarah Hanson-Young: It's not about opening the doors, it's about saying there is obviously a need
at this point in time for people to be resettled in a stable country like Australia, and we do have
the options and the ability to take those people, so let's put forward a process by which we can
clearly manage, and that is orderly. At the moment there's no orderly process and that is why
people are jumping on boats and taking that treacherous trip. You talk to families who have taken
their children on these boats and they would've preferred not to. A man said to me yesterday when I
asked him about what the boat trip was like, a man from Afghanistan, and he said it was like death.
This is not a trip that people chose to take because they want to. It's because they feel they have
no other choice.

Helen Dalley: You were out at Villawood yesterday in Sydney, news that a baby boy has been born to
a couple of Sri Lankan parents in the Villawood detention centre, born a couple of months ago, and
that the couple got pregnant here while waiting to be processed. That's not ideal, is it?

Sarah Hanson-Young: No, it's not ideal. I actually went to visit that family yesterday and met the
mother and saw the little baby, seven week old, gorgeous little boy. It's not ideal. It's a
terrible situation that people are in detention for that long that a mother falls pregnant and then
has her baby, and this child is now being born into immigration detention. It's a sad indictment on
how we're managing the system, and I don't think there's any clearer example that we need to speed
up the processing.

Helen Dalley: Senator Hanson-Young, does this strengthen Tony Abbott's policy of now allowing
processing on the mainland till the authorities know the person's bona fides? Because correct me if
I'm wrong, but that baby will be Australian, won't it? But his parents are still trying to sort out
their status?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well there are going to be some complications there in relation to what types
of visas they may or may not get.

Helen Dalley: So it's not automatically an Australian baby?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, I would assume yes, but I'm not sure, Helen. I didn't ask the immigration
department about how that worked. I was more concerned with that baby's welfare.

Helen Dalley: Doesn't that strengthen Tony Abbott's view that processing should be done offshore?

Sarah Hanson-Young: I don't think so. I think we know, we've seen the disastrous implications of
offshore processing during the days of Nauru and I don't think anyone really in their right mind,
if they valued a humanitarian response, understood that Australia has international obligations. We
were one of the key drafters of the refugee convention and we've had a proud history in the past of
being able to do the right thing. Yet what Tony Abbott is suggesting clearly breaches our
obligations, and I don't think it's in Australia's interests at all, reflects well on us, to simply
dump vulnerable people just because we don't want to deal with them on some Pacific island. It's
not practical, it's not humane and it doesn't deal with the need for a long term response.

Helen Dalley: So you don't think that it will deter boats from trying to get to Australia?

Sarah Hanson-Young: No. I think what would deter boats from coming as Tony Abbott has suggested, he
wants to push the boats back. Well yes, that would deter boats and you would have disastrous
situations and incidents at sea that put the lives of women and children in particular at risk. But
I don't think that is in any way a humanitarian response or a responsible approach from a country
who says that we are the country of a fair go, that we uphold human rights, that we are
compassionate for our fellow human beings. What Tony Abbott is suggesting is cruel, it is inhumane
and it does nothing to foreshadow Australia's history of being a country of a fair go.

Helen Dalley: With most observers convinced that the Greens will have the balance of power in the
senate after the next election, and the polls are suggesting as much, will pushing for a more
compassionate asylum seeker policy as you're outlining be one of your first priorities?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Absolutely, and I can let people know right now that if Tony Abbott was to
become the Prime Minister and he put forward legislation to bring back temporary protection visas,
further extend offshore processing and to put policies to push the boats back to an extent where
you're putting the lives of women and children at risk, the Greens would not support that policy.
It's not right, it's not humane, and aside from being in contradiction to our international
obligations, it's simply not the ethical or moral thing to do. It's wrong to treat people who are
vulnerable as if they are somehow criminals simply because they're seeking asylum. They're not,
they're not criminals, they are desperate people asking for us to give them a helping hand.

Helen Dalley: Given all your fury about this and passion about it, will it be one of the things
that you actually demand for Greens support elsewhere?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well look, we're not necessarily into horse trading. The whole idea of how the
senate works is through a process of negotiation, but the Greens have a proud history of defending
the rights of a fair go, and we will continue to do that. I would prefer this not to be an election
issue. I'd prefer that we took the political heat out of this and that all parties decided that
actually this is such a complex issue, we do need to get it right, but there are human rights
standards and standards that human beings believe in basic humanity and treating each other fairly.

Helen Dalley: Sorry senator, I just want to move on briefly. The polls show that the Greens are
winning a lot of voters that Kevin Rudd and Labor are losing, particularly over the backdown of the
ETS. Do you think voters are losing faith in the PM's ability to deliver on promises, and losing
trust in what he says and promises?

Sarah Hanson-Young: I do think that the Prime Minister has lost face. He's broken promise after
promise, and of course all talk and no action. But on the other hand you've got Tony Abbott running
around spruiking all these things with absolutely no credibility. Whether you look at the lack of
action on climate change, whether you look at his disastrous policies on asylum seekers and wanting
to go back to the darkest days of John Howard, unfortunately there is just no leadership on either

Helen Dalley: What responsibility do you Greens have to wear for discrediting the Prime Minister's
ETS and helping the coalition destroy it?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well of course the CPRS was never going to actually tackle climate change, and
that was always our problem.

Helen Dalley: But at least it put a price on carbon and had a policy, and you tried to destroy it
and discredit it, and now you have to wear some responsibility for that, don't you?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well, we never wanted the CPRS to go through with a ridiculously low target of
5%. It was never going to tackle climate change and it was going to lock us into failure. Now the
Greens are the only party in the parliament that has a plan for putting a price on carbon, and
we've gone to the Prime Minister and to Senator Penny Wong numerous times to say let's get together
and get this up. It's the best interim approach that the parliament could agree on. It's right
there, it's ready to go. The Prime Minister has run away from climate change just like he's run
away from his promises over government advertising, or indeed not detaining children in immigration

Helen Dalley: On that government advertising, the government's spending $38 million on advertising
the proposed mining tax. Now you are planning to introduce a private senators bill to try and
legislate the guidelines. How will that make governments any more accountable when both sides have
been guilty of this, the Howard government did it over the GST?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Absolutely. Look, both sides have been guilty of it and that's precisely why we
need these guidelines in legislation. Senator Brown will be introducing a private members bill in
the next week of parliament, and it basically puts forward the guidelines that Kevin Rudd promised
and of course has watered down. But because it's in legislation, he wouldn't be able to do that. So
we're now calling on the opposition to back the legislation and to support a bill that would ensure
that the auditor general is able to make an independent decision over government advertising that's
over $250,000, which was the current government, the Labor government's policy, but of course
they've backed down on that.

Helen Dalley: We have run out of time. Thanks so much for joining us, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Thank you, Helen.