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Transcript of interview with Paul Murray: 6PR: 15 March 2013: Surge in asylum seeker boats



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Michael Keenan MP - Federal Member for Stirling 6PR with Paul Murray March 15, 2013

Subjects: Surge in asylum seeker boats

Paul Murray

The Liberal Member for Stirling, Michael Keenan, is the Opposition’s spokesman for border protection and is here with me now.

Michael Keenan

Good morning Paul.

Paul Murray

Michael, from the comments made by refugee advocates in The Australian paper today, it looks like the Government is being overwhelmed by the number of arrivals and just can’t keep up with processing their applications.

Michael Keenan

That’s exactly what’s happening. Initially our detention network was overwhelmed so they had to just release them into the community but what they’re finding now is that there is so many people coming down illegally, I mean it’s very difficult to find community places for people as well. What happens is people go into the community and they have no right to work and live on welfare, which appears to me to be the worst of all possible worlds for everybody. We need to do something to stop the flow of people, unfortunately what we are finding is that this year that flow has accelerated. 2013 is on track to be the worst year on record just as 2012 was and 2011 before that. The more successful people smugglers are the more they can go out there and sell their product, which is permanent residence to Australia.

Paul Murray

There was a bit of a bustle about a month ago, mentioned in the Australian newspaper, about the living conditions of people who are released into the community , because they’re existing on not a lot of money and rents are pretty high in a lot of the capital cities. Other than that there’s been very little debate as of late in the media, why do you think that is Michael?

Michael Keenan

Traditionally January and February would be quieter months for illegal arrivals because of the weather patterns. There’s just been so much incompetence from Julia Gillard’s Government that it’s hard to focus on any particular issue, they just lurch from disaster to disaster. We’ve certainly still been talking about it and it remains a very significant problem for Australia, costing us an enormous sum of money. There’s just so many things to pick off the Gillard Government at the moment that I suppose some may have fallen onto the backburner.

Paul Murray

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor offers two lines of argument in response to this in The Australian story today. First he says this is part of an international phenomenon, and Australia’s just dealing with its part of it. And I thought well we all accept that, but secondly he says that the Government is determined to break the people smugglers’ business model. Is there any indication of success with their current strategies? Or the emergence of any new ones?

Michael Keenan

Well, they are the people smugglers’ business model. People smugglers did not exist in their current form until the Labor Party came to office and rolled back the Howard Government’s border protection model. So Brendan O’Connor and his colleagues are the people smugglers’ business model and they are the reason these people smugglers are in existence. There is absolutely no indication that the new Minister is going to do anything different from his predecessor, except to say there is nothing we can do about this and shrug their shoulders and hope it goes away. That’s not going to break the people smugglers. There’s only one thing that will break them, if we get a Government that will do whatever is necessary to send the message that we are deadly serious about shutting them down. We have done that before and we need to repeat that. We will certainly do that if we get the chance to get into Government in September this year.

Paul Murray

Michael I wonder if the public have also taken the view that there is nothing that can be done and that’s why the debate seems to have gone to such a low level in recent times. The public’s just resigned and they’ve given up too.

Michael Keenan

It’s just not true to say there’s nothing we can do about it, the fact is that we have faced this problem before and we did manage to deal with it in the late 1990s and in 2000-2001, we faced exactly the same situation. There was a very

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successful people smuggling racket, they were increasing the numbers of people that they were sending down to Australia every year. And what happened was the Howard Government said enough is enough, we are going to stop this, and they did what was necessary to stop this. Paul, I’m sure you will recall and I’m sure your listeners will recall there was a lot of controversy over what they did within the Australian community. However what you cannot possibly argue with is that they were successful. They stopped people smuggling dead. When they took the necessary measures that they did, measures that were tough, people smuggling completely closed down, and it wasn’t reinvigorated until the Government changed and the Labor Party changed the law and that reinvigorated the people smuggling trade. So people shouldn’t believe we can’t deal with this - we can - we just need the resolve to do so.

Paul Murray

What we’ve seen over the last year or so the Labor Government co-opted so many of the Liberal Party’s previous policies, there’s not that much difference other than turning around the boats and the reality is that you’ve turned around very few previously, so that can’t be a huge part of the strategy, and the only other thing that is outstanding is Temporary Protection Visas.

Michael Keenan

Both of those things are very important. I’ll just take you up on the point about only turning back a few boats - we turned back seven. Remember this is in the context of very few illegal arrivals, we were only having three illegal arrivals per year on average during that time. When you say you’ve turned around seven boats that’s a very large percentage of boats that were heading here. Secondly, Temporary Protection Visas were a very important part of the policy to deter people smuggling, as the product they are selling is permanent residence to Australia - a very sellable product. What we need to do is stop their ability to sell permanent residence to Australia and that’s what Temporary Protection Visas do, that’s why they are so important in undermining their ability to go out into the international community and sell that product.

Paul Murray

There’s reason to think it sells, as what we know from the figures published today 17,202 boat people arrived last year, only 886 were returned. So the evidence that you can get permanent residency in Australia is pretty clear.

Michael Keenan

That’s right, and we must stop that. Whilst it is the case that you can pay a people smuggler a very large sum of money to get on a boat. You can come here, and in a very short space of time the Government will put you into the community to live on welfare as a pathway to permanent residence. Whilst this remains the case the people smugglers will remain in business, so we need to stop that from happening, that’s why we have the policies we do to undermine that. We need to make it clear that Australia is no longer a soft touch, we are not going to accept this anymore, we will close people smuggling down.

Paul Murray

Just outline clearly for us what you’re offering the public that’s different to what Labor is saying, in terms of breaking the people smugglers model?

Michael Keenan

We will reintroduce Temporary Protection Visas, and I’ve just outlined why that is very important. We will turn the boats back around when it is safe to do so and that is also very important. And finally, and importantly Paul, we will have offshore processing the same way as the Government, but we will believe in it. The Government instituted offshore processing after more than a decade of demonising it and saying how terrible it was. I hope what will happen, and what I think will happen, is once the government changes, if the government changes, they will know that they are dealing with people who have closed them down before and are deadly serious about doing it, and we will do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal.

Paul Murray

Just on offshore processing, that’s also gone very quiet. Is Nauru full yet and is Manus Island ever going to start?

Michael Keenan

Well there are people on Manus now, but those facilities are very rudimentary from what I understand, my colleague Scott Morrison visited there last week. What’s happened is the Papua New Guinean Government has actually stopped transferring people to Manus, so that option for the time being seems to have been closed down. Nauru is full because all they’ve got are temporary facilities there. That’s the real shame about what the Labor Party did, because we had an Australian funded facility on Nauru, which was closed down by Labor when they came to office. So when they were finally dragged kicking and screaming to go back there, there was no facility left in a functional way. They’ve had to have these temporary facilities that have filled up very quickly. Because of the sheer volume of arrivals your chances of being sent to Nauru or Manus are so slim that it’s just not an effective deterrent as almost everybody that arrives here will be released into the Australian community.

Paul Murray

So how would you make offshore processing work?

Michael Keenan

Firstly we’ve got to show that we’re serious about it, we’ve always had that as part of our policy prescription, and when the Labor party abolished it we explained that it was going to reinvigorate people smuggling and that’s exactly what

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happened. We will make it work as part of a wider suite of policies. Temporary Protection Visas to make sure nobody can get permanent residence to Australia, and turning the boats back around. We will also work with our regional neighbours from a position of strength so they take us seriously. If you go talk to Indonesia or any of our regional neighbours at the moment they say it’s an Australian made problem why don’t you fix your issues first. Of course we would do that before going to the region to find a solution.

Paul Murray

From your interactions with the Australian community, and you were probably out doorknocking during the state election a lot, do you think people are still talking about asylum seekers?

Michael Keenan

I do, I know that because people are talking about it to me all the time, and I think that’s not just because it’s in my portfolio area, I think a lot of MPs get the same sort of feedback. The Australian people expect that their Government should have some kind of control over who comes to Australia, and when that control is lost the implications are very serious for the way people view immigration as a whole. Immigration is very important for Australia, we wouldn’t be able to grow our economy and do many things without a strong immigration program. If the Government can’t control that it undermines people’s faith and concerns me greatly, as it’s an important part of our future.

Paul Murray

We’ll finish up on this, given that we have people living in the community here should they be allowed to work? If migration is an economic spur, surely these people being put to work would be an economic spur?

Michael Keenan

I don’t think we should get to the stage where we release people into the community. However if you release people as they have done, it strikes me as the worst of all worlds to release people into the community and say they have to live on welfare. That is really the worst situation for the people themselves, it’s also a very bad situation for the Australian taxpayer, so no I don’t think that’s a very smart way of going about it. We won’t be releasing people into the community to begin with, but I think the Labor Party solution to release them into the community.

Paul Murray

But you’re going to have to Michael, because all the detention centres are full.

Michael Keenan

Well the first thing you need to do is stop adding to that. We will inherit a very significant legacy, if we get the chance to govern, but we will take action instantly, from the first day we are elected to stop people coming in the first place. We certainly hope that it will have an effect very quickly, and yes we will have to deal with the legacy we’ve been left by the Labor party.

Paul Murray

Good to talk to you Michael, thanks a lot.

Michael Keenan

Good to talk to you Paul.

Ends……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

© Authorised by Michael Keenan MP, 203 Wanneroo Road, Tuart Hill WA 6060

www.keenan.net.au

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