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Transcript of national interview with David Speers: 12 July 2012: The Asylum Seeker Debate



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Michael Keenan MP - Federal Member for Stirling The Nation Interview with David Speers July 12, 2012

Topics: The Asylum Seeker Debate

David Speers

Welcome to the program. Well lives being lost at sea, boats arriving at an increased pace and our nation’s leaders unable to reach agreement on what to do. The stand off over asylum seekers has been one of the most frustrating products of this hung Parliament and still we don’t have any sign of a solution being found. The Prime Minister has set up a cross party reference group of MP’s but the Opposition is refusing to take part. Well tonight we are joined by representatives from all three parties and we will see if we can find some common ground. Labor Senator Doug Cameron, a leading voice in the left of the Labor Party, the Greens Immigration and Citizenship Spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young and the Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection Michael Keenan. Welcome to you all.

Let’s just start by reminding everyone of where you are all coming from. Doug Cameron what do you think the answer is to the asylum seeker issue?

Doug Cameron

There has to be a regional approach. It has to be something similar to what happened after Vietnam and that was that there were processing centres established across the region. There were political views across all parties that this had to be dealt with but if it is simply used as a political weapon by the Coalition against the Government then that’s not in the interest of the nation.

David Speers

And that solution must include Malaysia, in your view?

Doug Cameron

Look that is what happened after Vietnam, Malaysia was a processing centre after Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. I think we should lift the number of refugees that we take from Indonesia as

this would make a difference. I think we need to ensure that the Bali process is speeded up and that there are more funds into processing across the region. But Malaysia is a key aspect of the Government’s position. The UNHCR has said that they see it as part of a lasting solution and I think that is the way to go.

David Speers

Ok we will come back and tease out some of those issues but Sarah Hanson-Young the starting position for the Greens, how do we solve this problem?

Sarah Hanson-Young

I think the question that has to be answered first is what is the end result for the people who need protection. They have to be given a durable solution. They have to be given safety and an opportunity to stop running. If you go from that position first, I don’t necessarily disagree with Doug, I think the idea of a lasting regional solution where we process people’s claims where they are, and in the moment they are in Malaysia and Indonesia, with the commitment to resettle, to give some safety net for people whilst they wait and a hope that they will actually be able to reach safety ad protection. That is what was done under the Fraser Government and that is the type of thing that we need to be drawing on. The difference between what Fraser did and what has been proposed under the Government’s current policy is that they expel people. Once they reach Australian waters or the mainland that those people are then expelled with no hope of ever being resettled anywhere so that is the difference. We don’t go with a punitive approach we go with an approach that says ultimately the goal is to give protection.

David Speers

Ok we will come back to that. Michael Keenan your opening thoughts on what the answer is to this problem?

Michael Keenan

I think we need to ask ourselves why does Australia find itself in this situation now. We have faced this problem before, we faced it over a decade ago and the then Howard Government introduced policies that actually worked to solve it. The reason we have now had more than 20,000 people arrive illegally in Australia, since the government changed, is because the Government changed those policies.

David Speers

So how do you solve it now?

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Michael Keenan

Surely the starting point is to go back to those policies that we know worked. They are not thought bubbles. They are not somebody’s idea within the Opposition. They are a proven formula that have achieved results to stop people smuggling and I think if you want to stop people smuggling then surely that is where you start from. You go back to those successful policy solutions that have actually worked.

David Speers

Let’s now go through and see what there can be agreement on in each of these areas. Now Doug Cameron you are saying a regional solution is the answer and I think everyone seems to agree with that term that a regional solution is the way to go?

Doug Cameron

I don’t know if the Coalition agree to that. They want this bilateral position with Nauru, I don’t think that is their position.

Michael Keenan

That is not the case we clearly need to work with the region but the problem is when the Labor Party talks about a regional solution, they really just talk about trying to push the responsibility for solving this problem onto some of our regional partners. What our regional partners will tell you is that when the Government changed the policies that has now created this huge magnet for people to come to Australia from all over the world, and the starting point for us to approach a solution to this is to fix our own policies in Canberra before we go out talking to the region.

David Speers

But isn’t this part of the answer for Australia is to work with the region and if you have a country like Malaysia, where many of these asylum seekers are coming through, if they agree to do it find an arrangement with Australia, why should we say no to that?

Michael Keenan

I do think we need to work with the region. We would be happy to work with Malaysia and clearly we need to work with Indonesia, we can also work with Nauru, with Papa New Guinea.

David Speers

So you just said you are happy to work with Malaysia?

Michael Keenan

We would be happy to work with Malaysia to talk to them about the issue but not about the solution that the Government is proposing.

David Speers

What would you be happy to talk to them about?

Michael Keenan

The point I’m making David is that we need to talk to the region from a position where we have solved our own problem first. The region thinks and they rightly think that this is an Australian created problem because we changed our policy that created this enormous magnet that is now attracting people from all over the world.

Sarah Hanson-Young

I think the point here with this entire debate is that we are forgetting why it is that people are seeking asylum in the first place and these are people who haven’t caught a plane to Kuala Lumper and then a boat to Indonesia for a picnic. These are people who have taken really drastic steps, at a very personal cost, to save their families and themselves from what they believe is persecution and torture and that is the reality.

David Speers

The question that many people have and we get this from viewers, you hear it on talkback radio, when they get to Indonesia they have paid an airline ticket to either get to Indonesia quite often, they are not facing persecution there.

Sarah Hanson-Young

The conditions in Malaysia and Indonesia are pretty horrid for asylum seekers and refugees. David I was only in Indonesia last week and saw some of the conditions that people are in. In Indonesia and Malaysia asylum seekers are not recognised at all, they are not on the record books and are considered immigrants who are waiting either deportation or somebody else to get rid of them and that is the frank reality of the extent of their legal protections. So they can’t work, they cant access a school system, they cant access the hospitals and medical clinics, they are absolutely left high and dry. There are organisations who try and give support, NGO’s, and some of the support is offered through Australian money through the International Organisation of Migration to try and give them something whilst they wait but it becomes a pretty desperate situation.

David Speers

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Which comes to the point that in Australia it is a different situation. They do get looked after, we won’t go through all the benefits they get, but it is a magnate for many reasons.

Doug Cameron

I was at Villawood last week and I must say I wouldn’t like to be there and mandatory detention is not a good look and I must say that it is not a good when people with mental health problems are locked up in our detention centres now.

David Speers

But it is clearly not a deterrent is it?

Doug Cameron

Look it is not a picnic to be there but the reality is, even under the Coalition’s position, kids who went into detention centres, who were sewing their lips together, the people who were going mentally insane under the Coalition’s Pacific Solution, enede up in New Zealand or Australia predominantly.

Sarah Hanson-Young

As genuine refugees.

David Speers

So Doug Cameron you have come to the view that, and I know you have changed your view on this over the years, that we need offshore processing, when they get here we need to send them somewhere else to create a deterrent?

Doug Cameron

I don’t like Malaysia, I don’t like Nauru, I just think it is awful that we have to do this but we have had probably 16 or 17 years of vilification of refugees, predominantly brought on by the Howard Government.

Michael Keenan

I absolutely reject that.

Doug Cameron

That position has led us to the position where refugees are not seen as genuine refugees by many people. We are going to have a long and hard road to get people to understand that these are human beings, these are brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.

David Speers

But we still need to send them to places like Malaysia?

Doug Cameron

But see what the UNHCR say about Malaysia is they believe it is a positive approach, that they want a regional approach and they say that the children would get educated, people will have access to work, health facilities will be provided.

David Speers

What is wrong with that Michael Keenan?

Michael Keenan

Can I just answer one thing because I am not going to cop that the Opposition has somehow vilified people seeking asylum in Australia because that is absolutely not the case. And you are talking about the Pacific Solution that has proven to save hundreds of lives by stopping people from taking that dangerous journey.

David Speers

Let’s try to stick to where we are now rather than what did happen. What is wrong with the Malaysia solution given they can work if they are sent there, they can have some access to health and education?

Sarah Hanson-Young

That is not guaranteed.

Michael Keenan

There are two very important things wrong with it. Firstly the human rights are not guaranteed exactly as Sarah just said and the Government cannot guarantee peoples human rights in the same way that we can guarantee them for Nauru, where they would be at an Australian run facility, the children would go to school.

Doug Cameron

It is a jail. They would be in jail.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Or if we process them here in Australia.

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Michael Keenan

The second problem with Malaysia is that it is limited to 800 people. Now 800 people under this Government is about two and a half weeks worth of arrivals.

David Speers

Nauru has a finishing point as well, it takes about 1500people, but is it this legal guarantee that concerns you the most about the Malaysian Solution, that these protections aren’t guaranteed in any sort of legal document?

Michael Keenan

Because what the Government are actually proposing to do is in their legislation is strip away the human rights protections that have existed within the Migration Act since the Howard Government.

Doug Cameron

I can’t stand you guys talking about human rights after your performance.

David Speers

Just on this Doug Cameron if there aren’t legal guarantees to deliver the sorts of protections you have talked about how can we be so sure that they will be looked after?

Doug Cameron

The reason I am saying that I will give it a go for twelve months is because I want people to stop drowning. I don’t want people to drown trying to reach here and this is for twelve months, what we have said is we will compromise, we will cop Nauru but we want Malaysia and we want to work towards a Bali solution in the region. I think that is a sensible way to do it and providing safe pathways is the bit we have to work on down the track. You cant just click your fingers and hope all of this will happen.

David Speers

Sarah Hanson-Young you said earlier that you would be prepared to have a regional solution where people would be processed in Malaysia and Indonesia but not sending them back once they reach Australia, so what is the difference?

Sarah Hanson-Young

I will tell you what the difference is. The difference is that all we have got from the Government and the Opposition, and I strongly oppose both of them for the same reasons, is they are ultimately punishing people simply because they are refugees. We have talked about the awful politics that have gone on for the last 13 years or so in relation to refugees, longer. This idea of expelling people simply because they are refugees just plays further into that but.

David Speers

But it gets to a deterrent. This is the point.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Is this not the point because we have been told for 20 years that we have to deter people. The whole point of mandatory detention was to deter people, well it didn’t, we then introduced Temporary Protection Visas because that was needed to deter people, it didn’t in fact it encouraged more women and children to get on boats, we were then told that we need the Pacific Solution and that that would deter people and do you know how many people drowned after the Pacific Solution was introduced, several hundred.

David Speers

So Doug Cameron how do you know this is going to be a deterrent?

Doug Cameron

Well I don’t and I am not a great fan of deterrents. I am on the public record as saying if I was bringing my two girls up in Afghanistan I would be looking to do whatever I could to get them out of there if the Taliban were in control.

David Speers

And would the prospect of being sent to Malaysia deter you?

Doug Cameron

I don’t know. I think the prosepect of the region saying we have to deal with the problems and none of us have spoken on the issue of the Taliban, none of us spoke of the problems in Pakistan, the issues that we have in Afghanistan and the region, like the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

David Speers

The point is there is only so much we can do about solving those issues.

Doug Cameron

But we have to try and actually address them.

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David Speers

But do you think, and I know you have spoken on his before that you would be willing to make that journey to get out of those troubled spots, if there was the prospect of being turned around and flown out to Malaysia, would that stop you?

Sarah Hanson-Young

It doesn’t stop people.

Doug Cameron

It probably would not if you though your children were going to be killed.

David Speers

So what’s the point of doing this then?

Doug Cameron

From my perspective the issue for me is that people are drowning now. If what Sarah is saying is going to work then that is if you increase the intake from Indonesia then lets do some of that and if the argument is that you increase the intake and provide safe passage you wont need Malaysia then sign off on Malaysia, sign off on Nauru and give safe passage.

David Speers

Why, Sarah Hanson-Young, not try these things, sign off on Malaysia but you may not need it if your policy of increasing the intake stops people coming?

Sarah Hanson-Young

I will say one thing. When I was visiting camps last week in Indonesia and I said what would stop you, why do you feel like you have to board a boat, they said we don’t want to have to go by boat but what other option do we have? They feel there is an absolute sense of hopelessness that they will ever get out of these places. They can’t stay in Indonesia. One

family had to run away from the Taliban because the father was a journalist who was killed 10 years ago and the mother and the three kids have been running ever since. They got to Indonesia three years ago and they have still been waiting for their assessment. They have been running for twn years.

Doug Cameron

There is a need to do better on that but you have to have an option and not a solution but a regional approach.

Sarah Hanson-Young

I totally agree Doug but why don’t we go to these places and say we will give you some hope, we will resettle more people, we will stick some money into the processing and give some money to the NGO’s who offer the safety net.

David Speers

Do you think that will work?

Sarah Hanson-Young

Yes I do.

David Speers

If you are so convinced of that then why don’t you agree to it and you won’t need Malaysia.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Because the only way the Government’s plan works is by stripping the ultimate protections from our domestic law out. The High Court has says that it can’t happen. That it is illegal. It breaches our international obligations. It breaches international law.

David Speers

Unless this legislation is passed.

Sarah Hanson-Young

And this legislation takes away all benchmarks by how we treat people, whether they are here, in a detention centre Australian run somewhere else. I don’t think you progress good public policy by taking all protections away.

Doug Cameron

Well that’s fine but I tell you this, the Greens had an opportunity to actually get locked in an increase in the refugee intake as part of the negotiations. They should have went and argued those points and signed of on this. If they were so sure that the increased refugee intake would fix it then my view was that 12 months give it a go.

Sarah Hanson-Young

We went to the Prime Minister, we put our proposal to the Prime Minister and put our amendment on the table in the

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Senate and it was voted down.

Doug Cameron

But you didn’t do it in the context of accepting the change to the legislation.

David Speers

The real politick here is that all sides are going to have to give some ground. We need to take a break and then we will look at who has been and is willing to compromise.

Welcome back we are discussing the asylum seeker stalemate between the political parties and we are joined by Labor Senator Doug Cameron, Greens Immigration and Citizenship Spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young and Shadow Minister for Justice, Customs and Border Protection Michael Keenan.

Now during the very lengthy Parliamentary debate in the last sitting week before the winter break, it did look like for a little while that there maybe some common ground found between the Coalition and the Greens, the Coalition did agree to increase the refugee intake to 20,000. There did seem and there were reports that you Sarah Hanson-Young were close to an agreement with the Coalition. How much common ground is there between the two sides on this. You both agree on increasing the refugee intake, where is the disagreement?

Sarah Hanson-Young

We are always opposed to the idea of Nauru and the idea of just dumping people in Malaysia.

David Speers

Is either better or worse than the other?

Sarah Hanson-Young

I wish there was a better or worse option but there is frankly not.

David Speers

But Nauru would be essentially Australian run and it is a refugee signatory country.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Is it any different than Christmas Island except further away, out of sight out of mind, even further.

David Speers

But it is not breaching these international conventions you talk about.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Yes it still is because our obligations under the convention say that we cannot expel anybody or transfer them to another country without knowing that they are guaranteed resettlement and protection whilst they are there. So there are issues about protection in Malaysia.

David Speers

Wouldn’t that be guarateed in Nauru though?

Sarah Hanson-Young

No because where are they going to go.

Michael Keenan

Well it is an Australian run facility as opposed to just taking people to a third country and dumping them where we have absolutely no control over what happens to them.

Doug Cameron

It is a prison.

Michael Keenan

They won’t be going to Malaysia where they could be whipped for instance and that won’t be happening in Nauru I can assure you. David the problem with the Greens policy is that you cannot just increase the humanitarian intake without taking other measures and think that it is going to make any difference to people coming here illegally on boats.

Sarah Hanson-Young

They are not coming here illegally.

Michael Keenan

We can take 20,000, 30,000 people but the demand is completely unlimited so we are still going to find people taking that dangerous journey no matter what we do. We would be very keen to increase the intake but only as part of a suite of other policies that is going to stop people coming here illegally.

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David Speers

So it gets back to this idea of a deterrent that you think is still necessary.

Michael Keenan

Absolutely.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Which has been proven not to work.

Michael Keenan

How can you say that I mean the empirical evidence is impossible to refute. After we took those measures in 2002 we had an average of three boats arrive every year, 50 people every year.

David Speers

I don’t think anyone doubts your conviction on this, we saw you weep openly in Parliament as you recounted your experience at Christmas Island investigating with that committee on the boat tragedy there. If a deterrent is so essential, let me ask you this, do you agree that Malaysia and Nauru together as an offshore processing mix would be a deterrent?

Michael Keenan

No.

David Speers

You don’t think that could be a deterrent?

Michael Keenan

Look it could be if it was part of a suite of policies. The whole point of advocating Nauru as a place for offshore processing is it is not just that in isolation. It would be done in conjunction with turning the boats back around and it would be done importantly in conjunction with Temporary Protection Visas.

David Speers

Ok so if there was a suite of policies that included those things and Malaysia, that would work?

Michael Keenan

We wouldn’t support Malaysia. We don’t support it because we are not going to strip away the human rights protections.

David Speers

The thing that a lot of people can’t work out is that you have these concerns about no legally binding guarantees on Malaysia and yet you are willing to turn back boats to Indonesia.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Which is illegal.

Michael Keenan

That is a totally different thing because what we would be doing is intercepting a vessel as it leaves Java and returning the people from where they have come from and from where they have of course put themselves. And the idea that that is the same thing as processing people in a third country such as Malaysia is a nonsense argument. They are two completely separate things.

David Speers

Explain to me how they are separate because in the case of turning the boats back to Indonesia you are sending people back to a country that has not signed the refugee convention and not have any of those health and education safeguards?

Michael Keenan

But it is the country that they have just immediately departed from though, that is the difference. They have by their own volition gone to Indonesia and we would be assisting the vessel and

returning it to where it came from and that is a very separate thing to someone arriving in Australian Territory and then being sent to a third country.

David Speers

Do you accept that this would be a very dangerous thing to do and explain to us, because I don’t think anyone has yet, how it is actually done?

Michael Keenan

I accept that there would be risks associated with it. It has been done professionally by the Australian Navy in the past and I suppose you have to understand that there are risks associated with all of these policies and I prefer the risks associated

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with turning the boats back plus our other suite of policies rather than what is happening at the moment where we are literally encouraging people to take this journey .

David Speers

But explain to us how you turn a boat back around?

Michael Keenan

Exactly how it was done in the past.

David Speers

And how was that?

Michael Keenan

The Australian Navy Commander would make an assessment on the spot about whether it was feasible or safe to do so. They would then be towed back to the edge of Indonesian waters and left with enough supplies to reach Indonesia.

David Speers

So that means draining away some of their fuel and taking some of their food if necessary, so they cannot go anywhere but Indonesia?

Michael Keenan

Yes so they would return to Indonesia from where they came.

David Speers

What do people do in that case where Navy personnel board their ship and drain their fuel and take their water, what do they do?

Michael Keenan

They do what they have done in the past and that is return to Indonesia which is where they came from.

David Speers

Some of them also jumped overboard didn’t they?

Michael Keenan

The point about this policy is that it has been done successfully, as I have been making the point these policies have worked.

Sarah Hanson-Young

What did these policies actually work to do Michael, they worked to punish people.

Michael Keenan

No what they did was undermine the ability of people smugglers to go out into the international community and sell a product.

David Speers

Isn’t the elephant in the room here Indonesia? Why aren’t they sending vessels out when distress calls are issued in their territorial waters? Why aren’t they taking these boats back into their ports when the law of the sea as I understand it says you should take them to the nearest port?

Doug Cameron

I wonder if Tony Abbott asked that question when he met the President, I am sure he didn’t.

Michael Keenan

Well why did they do it in the past, because we had a better relationship with Indonesia. When they thought Australia had done all it could to stop people from having these enormous pull factors to coming illegally to Australia. I have been to Jakarta and I have spoken to legislators and they were very polite but they basically said to me why is it that Australians are always up here in Jakarta talking to us about this problem when everybody knows it is the incentives provided by the Australian Government that have created this problem. I think we need to go to talk to them from a position where we have fixed up our own problems first. That is the most important thing the Australian Government can do and then talk to Indonesia from a position of strength.

David Speers

What is wrong with that argument Doug Cameron?

Doug Cameron

All the professionals say it won’t work. If there are desperate people out there on those boats and they know that the Navy

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are about to board and take fuel of them there will be sabotage on the boat and we have seen Australian sailors in very dangerous situations, risking their own lives.

Michael Keenan

But we are seeing them risk their lives now.

Doug Cameron

This is a nonsense argument. The Navy don’t support it. Indonesia doesn’t support it. The only people that support it are the apparatchiks and the Liberal Party who see this as a political weapon against the Government.

David Speers

What if we take this issue of turning back the boats off the table, because my recollection is in that Parliamentary debate the amendment the Coalition moved to restrict offshore processing to refugee signatory countries, did not also include a demand that the boats also be turned back, so there seems to be some willingness on the part of the Coalition to look at offshore processing and Temporary Protection Visas but not necessarily turning back the boats.

Michael Keenan

Well it just wasn’t really part of the discussion that day.

David Speers

But just to be clear though if the Government were to come to offshore processing in Nauru and Temporary Protection Visas, no Malaysia, would that be enough or does it have to include turning back the boats?

Michael Keenan

We know that it has worked. This is the point.

David Speers

Just to be clear I am trying to see if there is any willingness to compromise here. If you had what you wanted on Nauru and TPV’s would that be enough? Do you really need turning back the boats as well in the interest of compromise?

Michael Keenan

You need to undercut the people smugglers business model in every possible way that you can. I think it was those three elements of the policy that were successful.

Sarah Hanson-Young

The reason that people use people smugglers is because they feel they have no other option and it comes back to my point. This family did not want to have to get on a boat. They know it is dangerous. It is a choice between death or hopefully getting to the other end of that journey. Unless we are going to be as mean as the Taliban and as nasty as the Taliban, then people are going to see Australia as a safer option.

David Speers

I don’t think anyone doubts that. Just getting back to this room for compromise. Doug Cameron would the Government be willing to go with what is on the table here Nauru, TPV’s?

Doug Cameron

I can’t make that decision but I hope not. TPV’s don’t work. The Coalition policy every day is being exposed as really an option from the past that won’t work now.

David Speers

But why not try it for a few months and see?

Doug Cameron

This is what the UNHCR said about Malaysia. It say that the arrangement in its implementation guidelines contain important protection safeguards including; the right to asylum, the principle of family unity, the best interest of the child, humane condition protections against arbitrary detention, lawful status to remain in Malaysia until a durable solution is found and the ability to receive education, access to healthcare and a right to employment. All I’m saying is give that a go for 12 months. The experts who are the UNHCR who deal with this all around the world, say this is a good first step.

David Speers

But you’re in Government and you can’t get this through, what you could get through at least for a trial is the Coalition’s plan so why not?

Doug Cameron

Because it won’t work.

David Speers

But isn’t it worth a try? Isn’t it better than the current situation?

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Doug Cameron

Personally I don’t think it is worth a try.

David Speers

So it is better sticking to what we have now which is boats arriving?

Doug Cameron

I don’t think it is worth a cracker to actually put sailor’s lives in danger.

Michael Keenan

They are in danger now under your current policies.

Doug Cameron

No they are not.

Michael Keenan

They absolutely are Doug. I can assure you that they are. We have actually been very lucky that Australian sailors have not been injured or killed as a result of what is very difficult work. I can assure you, and Sarah will back me up on this, that we heard that direct evidence about the boat that crashed at Christmas Island, the SIEV 221, that Australian sailors were incredibly lucky not to have lost their lives or been injured in that incident.

David Speers

Is there are great danger to these personnel with the current situation?

Sarah Hanson-Young

The Navy personnel and our Customs officers each day are dealing with tricky situations but at least at the moment when they intercept a boat the asylum seekers are told they will be taken to Christmas Island and they are going to have their claim assessed.

David Speers

But they are dealing with more than tricky situations; they are having to fish bodies out of the sea and rescue people from damaged boats.

Sarah Hanson-Young

That is absolutely right. When those awful, tragic events occur that is where my heart and my gratitude goes out to those officers.

Doug Cameron

Just accept Malaysia for 12 months. Put your head into gear along with your heart and get a solution to this.

Sarah Hanson-Young

We don’t’ need to strip away all protections in Australian law.

Doug Cameron

Yes you do. You can do this for 12 months.

David Speers

Is this protection in Australian law so much more important than someone dying?

Sarah Hanson-Young

No, if we want to stop people from dying at sea then we give them another option other than having to board a boat.

David Speers

Do you really think that taking on more through a formal channel is going to stop people making the journey?

Sarah Hanson-Young

Yes I do. The IOM specifically said that when Australia increased our intake 18months ago for a short period, a one off, the number of people getting on boats dropped significantly and it is not because there were only 500 people and we took them all, it was because we gave people in those situations hope that there was a safer option. There was a direct correlation so it already has worked and that’s what we should be doing. This idea that both offshore processing in Nauru or dumping people in Malaysia, never ever to be able to step foot in Australia together which is what the Prime Minister has consistency said. That anyone we send back to Malaysia will never come to Australia and that’s why it is a breach of international law.

Doug Cameron

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I don’t like it but I have accepted that we need to do something.

David Speers

Putting another idea on the table, this is one that Clive Palmer actually suggested, the reason a lot of these people are paying $10,000 to get on a boat is because they don’t have their documents. Now he has suggested that we let them fly in without passports, process them at a centre and if they are not a refugee send them back, which I suppose is problematic. Michael what is wrong with that?

Michael Keenan

The problem is there are millions of refugees in the world and the idea that Australia can accommodate them all is clearly ludicrous. We need to restrict supply at some point but even Sarah must acknowledge that we can’t possibly keep accommodating more and more people. The idea that we would fly or go and send boats to get people is quite frankly just bonkers. We have already got this enormous magnet operating which is Australia’ weak border protection policies, if we were to do that it would be like a tractor beam to all over the world.

David Speers

You have to admit though there is a magnet no matter what our policies are, in this region Australia is the destination people want to get to.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Because we offer protection.

Michael Keenan

I can completely understand that and that is why you need to have tough policies that are going to stop people taking that journey. When Sarah and Doug talk about oh that wont work and this wont work, it has worked. The empirical evidence is impossible to refute

Sarah Hanson-Young

No it worked to punish people.

Michael Keenan

It stopped people coming in boats. It saved hundreds of people from taking that dangerous journey because it stopped them from doing so and they knew that if they took the journey it wouldn’t get them the result that the people smugglers were trying to sell them.

Sarah Hanson-Young

What about the hundreds of people’s lives that you ruined under that regime? The millions and millions of tax payer dollars that had to be spent on compensation because we damaged people through the Nauru solution.

Michael Keenan

We stopped people from taking that journey which is the goal of the policy and it absolutely worked and that is the humanitarian outcome that we should be talking about.

David Speers

An interesting point raised about the Malaysia plan is that one of the key challenges is how do you actually force people onto planes to go to Malaysia under this deal. They are taken to Christmas Island originally and then the plan is to fly them from there to Malaysia. Clearly they won’t want to go Doug Cameron will they so what do you do?

Doug Cameron

In practical terms people will put them on the planes.

David Speers

But you are going to run into problems. You have decried for years about the Nauru thing and kids protesting.

Doug Cameron

I don’t like this one bit but I like less people being killed, I don’t think your human rights are well protected by drowning at sea.

David Speers

I still don’t understand what your objection to Nauru is given all of this?

Doug Cameron

Nauru on its own does nothing. I support onshore processing, that is where I have always been. But given the political situation for every party, people being killed at sea, I’m saying give this a go. The Government has compromised to accept Nauru. The Government is saying that we should increase the number of refugee intake.

David Speers

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But it is ultimately the Government’s responsibility so why not go a step further and say ok we will give this a go?

Doug Cameron

Because their plan won’t work. Turning the boats back is just pure rhetoric. The experts say it won’t work. The UNHCR were scathing of the Pacific Solution but they say Malaysia is a step towards a regional approach that will give them a foothold in Malaysia. People will be looked after in Malaysia and they see this as a positive thing. They never said anything like that about the Pacific Solution.

David Speers

Where do we go from here? The Prime Minister has appointed Angus Houston to lead a panel to try and find a workable solution. A reference of cross party MP’s has been set up but the Coalition is refusing to take part, why not?

Michael Keenan

We will be talking to the Houston Committee but we don’t need to form a committee to work out what our policy is.

David Speers

Isn’t that another way of saying you’re not budging?

Michael Keenan

We are not budging because we have had so many policies on this since 2008, since the Labor Party came to office, and they have all failed. What we don’t need now is another failed policy. We are saying if you want to do something about people smuggling go back to the point where we started in 2008 reinstate the policies that had actually stopped people smuggling and that would be surely the most sensible place for us to start. Now if the Labor Party and the Government were serious about stopping people smuggling then why not go back to the point where they actually broke the border protection system.

David Speers

Is there no room for compromise?

Michael Keenan

I don’t believe there is any room for another failed policy.

David Speers

No further compromise?

Michael Keenan

We need something that is going to work David and I don’t think people want to see a compromise for the sake of it.

David Speers

You are not budging any further?

Michael Keenan

We need to see an end to the failed policies.

Sarah Hanson-Young

What we need is a solution for the asylum seekers.

David Speers

Are the Greens willing to shift at all on offshore processing?

Sarah Hanson-Young

Offshore processing in the way the Government wants, the UNHCR didn’t like it Doug.

David Spears

Are you willing to budge?

Sarah Hanson-Young

We are not willing to budge. On something that puts people in more danger and condemns them to having no future or protection.

David Speers

What does that mean though? Is there a way of making this Malaysia plan more workable for you?

Sarah Hanson-Young

What we want is for people to be faster assessed, have their claims processed where they already are, increase the

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numbers that we resettle.

David Speers

Can Australia do that?

Sarah Hanson-Young

We absolutely can.

David Speers

So we can say to the UNHCR here is several million dollars to do all of this in Malaysia and Indonesia?

Sarah Hanson-Young

They have been asking for it for a long time.

David Speers

Is that right Doug Cameron?

Doug Cameron

We cannot solve the whole problem of refugees in this region. There are only two countries processing really, Australia and New Zealand. There are millions of people displaced and there is a limit to what we can do and the Greens argument to me last week at Sydney University was we should have an open-door policy .

Sarah Hanson-Young

That’s not true.

Doug Cameron

I don’t support open-door policy. That is what people were putting to me, members of the Greens attacking me on this issue.

Sarah Hanson-Young

There is a difference between the crude idea of offshore processing of those people who reach Australia and we push them away to anywhere other than Australia. That is not saving lives. When the Prime Minister put forward the proposal of East Timor, despite not telling the East Timorese, that wasn’t to save peoples lives that because she was competing against Tony Abbott for offshore processing in Nauru.

David Speers

Let’s get back to where we are now and the way forward. The Greens will not support any plan that involves sending asylum seekers who arrive in Australia off to a third country.

Sarah Hanson-Young

That’s right.

David Speers

So what is the point of participating in the committee process then if you are going to budge? You are just as intransient as the Coalition.

Sarah Hanson-Young

It is not the only option available David. The idea of waiting for someone to board a boat only to then punish them does not save their lives and does not protect them. Let’s give them another safer option.

Doug Cameron

I just think you are totally naïve, totally intransient and inflexible.

Sarah Hanson-Young

What’s naive is that we won’t have anything to do with the refugees that come here.

Doug Cameron

I would listen to the UNHCR before I would listen to your policies any day.

Sarah Hanson-Young

The UNHCR have continued to say that countries who have signed the refugee convention should not under any circumstance push those people who arrive on their doorstep off to a third country.

David Speers

That is a general point that they make but there is no denying what they say about Malaysia is there?

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Sarah Hanson-Young

They have tried to be as accommodating as possible.

David Speers

But they are hardly condemning the Malaysia plan are they.

Sarah Hanson-Young

They are not happy about it.

David Speers

But Doug Cameron getting back to where we go from here it is pretty clear that the Greens are not going to budge on what are fundamental differences with the Malaysia plan. So what does the Government do? It is the Government.

Doug Cameron

I think we should engage more and gage through the process.

David Speers

What’s that going to achieve Doug, clearly there is no budging?

Doug Cameron

Just let me finish. If there is no budging the there is no budging.

David Speers

So there is no point.

Doug Cameron

The Greens are asking for more refugees to come in, the Labor Party has agreed to increase the intake to 20,000. I think it is a positive and something we agree on.

Sarah Hanson-Young

And we agree on a regional process.

Doug Cameron

Tony Abbott agrees with lifting the intake so there is common agreement to do that. I think that is a good thing. The other issue for me then is where do you go with turning the boats back. The experts say it won’t work and it will put sailor’s lives in danger and refugees lives in danger. I don’t agree with that. The issue of Nauru I think is horrible; it is just a prison camp on a rock in the middle of the Pacific.

David Speers / Michael Keenan

(inaudible)

Doug Cameron

I think if the Greens are right then that will never happen because the lifting of the intake will fix that so if that is the case then lets do both those things.

David Speers

If your biggest concern about Nauru is the way people would be treated there history tells us that the way asylum seekers have been treated in Malaysia is worse.

Doug Cameron

That is history but the UNHCR have said the Malaysians are engaging.

David Speers

Just getting back to this question I keep asking, why not give Nauru a go even if it means putting further resources in to ensure asylum seekers are treated properly and processed quickly?

Doug Cameron

Because the experts are saying it won’t work. The experts are saying that Malaysia may be a way forward. Read what they said.

Sarah Hanson-Young

They also say Australia needs to take responsibility for the people who arrive on our shores. Of course the UNHCR want more support for processing peoples claims in Malaysia and Indonesia , they have been asking for it for years as have the Malaysian Government.

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Doug Cameron

You need to stop more people from dying, that’s the problem.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Pushing people out of sight out of mind, dumping them on another country doesn’t save their lives.

Doug Cameron

If you are right we won’t need Malaysia. Lift the numbers we don’t need Malaysia. Stop being so immature.

Sarah Hanson-Young

Doug why are we now in a situation where the Labor Party is in competition with Tony Abbot over who can be toughest and the meanest.

Doug Cameron

The Liberals are sitting their quietly. I know why you’re so quiet because your process is absolutely horrendous.

Michael Keenan

Well Doug that is absolute nonsense. As I said this is the only suite of policies that has worked. You are talking about the experts saying it won’t work, these are the only policies that have actually had a result. The reason we are in this situation is because you thought you could come to Government in 2008 and make these terrible changes because you thought you could get away with making changes to these tough policies and their would be no consequences. I put to Doug earlier on to whether if he could go back to 2008 whether he would have made those changes with what he knows now

and I would be very interested to know what the answer would be.

Doug Cameron

The decision the Labor Government made was on humanitarian terms.

David Speers

Was it a mistake but?

Doug Cameron

In the context of where we were it was a decision that was made on humanitarian grounds.

David Speers

In hindsight was it a mistake?

Doug Cameron

I take the view that we should have a humanitarian approach.

David Speers

What happens if Tony Abbott wins the next election and you implement your policies of Nauru, TPV’s and turning the boats back around and it doesn’t work, what do you do?

Michael Keenan

We are not anticipating those policies failing.

David Speers

The head of Immigration Department says they will, so what then?

Michael Keenan

We heard the other day that the Immigration Department didn’t provide information to the Government in 2008 that changing the policies would give the results it has, with over 20,000 people arriving in Australia illegally, 360 boats coming to our country illegally. So I just dispute this idea that the experts are saying this and that. There is only one set of policies that actually have the result that we need and the whole reason we are in this situation is Labor, exactly as Doug just said, thought that they could make decisions, they could make these changes and pay off to the left when they came to Government and that wasn’t going to result in people taking these boat journeys down. Literally those changes were made on August 2008 and in September 2008 the boats started coming.

Doug Cameron

We are not going back to a policy that was internationally condemned. Every refugee organisation, the UNHCR condemned the Pacific Solution as being completely the wrong way to go.

Sarah Hanson-Young

But you have now accepted that you would have Nauru.

Michael Keenan

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It is absolute nonsense that you would think that an Australian run facility in Nauru is the equal of sending people to a third country where we have no control over what happens to them. It is absolute nonsense. If the Coalition had put forward the Malaysian solution you would be jumping up and down saying how dreadful it was and the fact that we didn’t care about people.

Doug Cameron

Those camps whether are run by Australian or not are cruel and inhumane.

David Speers

I just want to get a sense of whether any of you think there is any chance of an agreement or a solution at all?

Sarah Hanson-Young

David I really hope that there can be because I think we do need to do something and we can do something today.

David Speers

But you guys won’t budge on offshore processing?

Sarah Hanson-Young

Direct resettlement doesn’t need legislation. It could be done today and we could be saving people’s lives and we could be having a humanitarian outcome. The problem is neither of these options actually put refugees and the need for their protection at the centre its all about pushing people away.

David Speers

Doug, are we going to get a solution here do you think?

Doug Cameron

Well I hope so and I think the key to getting a political settlement on his

Sarah Hanson-Young

I want a solution for people not for politicians.

Doug Cameron

Just be quiet for a second. The issue is the public has to say enough is enough. That was happening during that period of sitting and we made significant concessions when it came to Nauru. The other parties need to make concessions so we can try and work this out. 12 months only, that’s my view.

David Speers

Finally Michael Keenan what are the chances?

Michael Keenan

I am sitting here with members of the governing alliance, the Greens and the Labor Party

David Speers

They don’t seem to be in too much alliance tonight.

Michael Keenan

We need to remember they are the alliance that is governing the country and I think it is a great example of minority government being the experiment that has failed and quite frankly I believe the only change we will get in stopping people smuggling is with an election.

Doug Cameron

Tony Abbott political rhetoric, that’s all that was, spin and nonsense.

David Speers

Clearly we are unable to find a solution here tonight as frustrating as I’m sure this is for so many people watching this political debate. Let’s hope that some common ground can be found down the track but tonight I would like to thank Doug Cameron, Sarah Hanson-Young and Michael Keenan. Thank you for joining us and taking part in this robust discussion.

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

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

www.keenan.net.au

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