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Transcript of interview with Luke Grant: MTR, Melbourne: 8 June 2010: Illicit Drug Data Report; ThinkUKnow cyber safety program in Victoria; asylum seekers and good work of Customs officers; polls.

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MTR Radio, Melbourne

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Topics: Illicit Drug Data Report; ThinkUKnow cyber safety program in Victoria; asylum seekers and good work of Customs officers; polls

LUKE GRANT: The Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor, joins us every couple of weeks on a Tuesday night. He's on the line. Evening Minister.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Good evening, Luke.

LUKE GRANT: How are things with you?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Yeah, pretty good.

LUKE GRANT: You’ve been busy today. You've released this illicit drug report which should help all of us deal with victims of drugs and gives us an idea about how much good work's being done around the place.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, that's right. The Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Federal Police are with me at Odyssey House to make the point there are victims of drugs and drugs coming into our country, and drugs being manufactured in our country. The report itself, firstly, outlines the threats of drugs, the scale of illicit drugs coming into the country. It identifies some of the regions from which they come. And also, then goes on to talk about the ways to devise strategies to combat illicit drugs and combat organised crime. You know, for organised crime, illicit drugs is their primary market. That's where they make their money. And it's become clear to me in the relatively short time I've been Minister in this portfolio - just under a year - that if you cut the flow of money to organised crime, which is their lifeblood, you really can dismantle those syndicates.

LUKE GRANT: Yeah, which is what we're going to do. I'm amazed it's almost 84,000 illicit drug arrests were made in the year '08-09, and more than 13 tonnes of this stuff was seized. That's just extraordinary.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: It is an extraordinary amount, which says two things. We've got a significant challenge. It also says we're doing well on detection, but the scale of the matter is huge, and that's why we need the Australian Crime Commission, the Federal Police, all law

enforcement agencies, including the Victorian police, to work hand in glove to fight organised crime. What's happened is, Luke, organised crime has become more sophisticated. There was a time when you might see people - one organisation like motorcycle gangs that are outlawed operating separately from another type of gang. They're now working more closely together if there's a common purpose, which, of course, in the end, is profit, greed and illicit behaviour. So, we have to become more coordinated and this report is about making sure that we actually focus on those things we need to focus upon. Make sure that our law enforcement agencies have the right information and intelligence and work very closely to combat crime.

LUKE GRANT: Yeah. Now, this week is National Cyber Security Awareness Week and I've been told that - with all the problems we've had with the youth on computers, online experience and the like, you've been doing some hard work in that area?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, we have. And again, I really want to pay tribute to the Australian Federal Police, Microsoft and other agencies who've been engaged in the ThinkUKnow program. The ThinkUKnow program is a simple concept. It's about going to schools, and we've now got 160 or more schools already enlisted, and what we do there is establish seminars for parents, teachers and carers to sit, to attend, to talk about what it is that we need to do to reduce the dangers that are in the virtual world and how do we build bridges between parents and their kids in relation to the virtual world. Whilst many adults are savvy by accessing the internet and other forms of modern medium, not everyone is.


BRENDAN O'CONNOR: And what you have is this disconnect. The kids don't tell their parents, or won't tell their teachers if they're uncomfortable about something that happens in a chat room, or if there's cyber bullying going on. This seminar is about enlightening adults that are not as savvy in relation to the virtual world and what goes on. And really says to them, if you don't build that conversation between yourself and your children you are increasing the likelihood that something will go wrong. So, the same way you'd say, what did you do at school today, you really have to make sure that they feel inclined to tell you something that goes on in these chat rooms.

LUKE GRANT: Yeah. And the other thing there is that, as parents, we generally know more than our kids. But this is completely the reverse isn't it?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: It is the reverse. And so, what happens is, and I'm speaking to a lot of police who specialise in this area, but also a lot of organisations, what happens is kids who may normally go to their parents they actually mistake the disinterest of their parents to the actual form of technology with a disinterest in what they're doing. Like, a disinterest in their life.


BRENDAN O'CONNOR: And, of course, that's not the case and we need to make sure we build bridges. So this uses schools as the meeting places and there's also a fantastic web site. It's, which is very user-friendly, and it really allows people to navigate

their way through and see what they need to do to prevent their kids either being procured or groomed over the internet. Or, indeed, be a victim of cyber bullying.

LUKE GRANT: Yeah. That's a great initiative.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I'm out at Doncaster Primary School tomorrow morning to launch it in Victoria. We've been going around the country.

LUKE GRANT: Yeah, fantastic. Now, you know, as this debate about asylum seekers continues, people are going to trot out this Pacific Solution. And this is a great opportunity for you to tell our listeners tonight why that is not a good way to go and why it's not true to say that the Pacific Solution stopped the boats, and when you removed it that opened the floodgates.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, firstly, can I say that when we made certain domestic changes some time last year, they were fully supported by the Opposition. There was no argument there. When the first surge happened under Howard, I don't hear anyone saying the

surge happened under Howard because of laws that he changed. At the time they agreed, they were driven by international pressures, people fleeing places who might have been in fear of persecution. Our argument is, that's primarily the same reason why people are fleeing, they are leaving places where they have either felt they're persecuted and they are worried about their lives and their kids' lives. That's why it tends to happen. And that's why we have millions of people around the world displaced. And just to remind your listeners, you know, 98.5% of them are going elsewhere. Not coming here, not seeking to come here. But we have a challenge, and we're the first to admit it, we have a challenge dealing with the rising numbers. It's not as large as Howard, but it is growing. So how do we deal with it? Well, what we say is we need an offshore processing centre. We've been using Christmas Island. Those people that are refugees will be settled here or another country. Those that are not refugees will be sent home. We've said that all along. It's exactly the same test as the Howard Government has used. If they're refugees, they can be settled. The other thing really to remember, Luke, is there is a threshold. We have about 13,500 as an annual threshold. It's exactly the same number that was the case under the Howard Government. No more, no less. And that's the most we would ever be settling under that program. I know people are concerned and quite anxious about the arrivals and we need to stem the flow of these arrivals because it's dangerous for them, as well as it's something we don't want to see happen anyway. But the Pacific Solution, the Nauru Solution as it was then called, did not in the end lead to those people being sent home, about 70% came to this country and were settled. Some were there for five or more years and the one thing people may not be aware of, the largest repatriation program that occurred in the last 30 years happened in 2002 when Afghanistan was stabilised and four to five million Afghanis went home from wherever they were situated and the same was the case for Iraq. When the Iraqi Government fell, people went home. Now of course we've seen Afghanistan turn violent since then. But those were the main reasons why there was an end of the flood of people seeking asylum.


BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Now I know that it's hard sometimes for people to grasp.

LUKE GRANT: It is. It is, because what they'll say to me, they'll say now what the former Prime Minister did was if you hop in a boat, you will not land in Australia, you'll go to Nauru or some other place but you don't get here. And the message that the people smugglers got was there's no point because when you put people in a boat and set them off for Australia they won't - they don't get there. The word filters back, so that stops the boats. Is that a valid argument or not?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Of course there was a time when a boat was stopped from coming here but about 20 boats under the Howard Government actually arrived on the mainland.

LUKE GRANT: Correct.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Townsville, Cairns, even in New South Wales we had boats arriving on our coast. Under this government, whilst we're dealing with a flood, we have not had that problem. The issue is do we want to return to razor wire, do we want to return to kids behind razor wire? No we don't. Do we want to have a strong process where we send back home those people who are not

genuine refugees? Yes we do and we do have that process in place. And we're working through these issues to ensure that the integrity of our borders are maintained, but I understand people's anxiety. Can I just say on a number of other fronts, there was an issue around entitlements. These people coming here receive no more, no less than they did under the previous government and have not got entitlements to particular social benefits unless they're permanent residents. Now there's a concern in the community that people are getting more than they deserve. I can assure your listeners that that is not the case and I can assure them that if people apply for refugee status and they are tested against a rigorous test and they are not found to be refugees, they will go home under this government.

LUKE GRANT: Okay. The other argument might be this then; if we've got a limit say of 13 and a half thousand migrants, and we get 3000 off boats, does that put people back further down the queue that are doing the proper thing and applying to come here through the, you

know, the appropriate channels?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look I think there's an argument to say that those people who've waited for long periods in refugee camps have a claim to make it to a settlement country - remembering that we're one of many, many countries that are signatories to the convention and provides some level of settlement. So there is an argument there. However it is difficult when people who are genuinely in fear of persecution are told to wait. So it's not like it's as simple as there's a queue, stand in line and wait. There are some situations where you are leaving places that have caused harm. It's not simple that you just are able to find a place of haven very easily, but I accept the argument that people want to see an orderly process of settling asylum seekers, that's why we're very much against people coming on these vessels. Not only are they dangerous, but it seeks to undermine the integrity of our borders. That's why the AFP have been working with the Indonesian National Police and have disrupted 5000 people from embarking on ventures in the last 18 months. We've actually dedicated resources to the Indonesian National Police.

They've set up 12 taskforces in different parts of Indonesia to disrupt the ventures. And of course we've introduced legislation in this country to say if you provide material support to people smugglers, you can be jailed for up to 10 years. We've got to cut the flow of money to the syndicates and I'm suggesting that can be happening here or elsewhere, and therefore there are very severe repercussions for people who might provide material support to those people smuggling syndicates. Now that's an array of things we're doing and we need to do. We need to continually focus on our efforts here. The other thing to note Luke is that as we've said, we've said that there are changing circumstances in other countries, but that's yet to be fully determined and that's why we have a suspension of the assessments. But we're already seeing a much higher number of rejections at first instance for those people who've been seeking asylum from Afghanistan. Last year there were a high number of immediate approvals. Now there is a very significantly high number of rejections at the first instance. They still have one right of review, but this is a sign that clearly we are being very rigorous with the assessment process.

LUKE GRANT:Yeah. Now there's another boat apparently this afternoon, 35 passengers, 2 crew, being taken to Christmas Island. I thought it was full, and don't you - every time you hear a boat's arrived you must just look to the heavens and go oh not another one. Surely.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: It's difficult, you know, because it's of concern to the Australian community, so yes I would prefer not to get a day when I'm advised of a vessel. Do you know who I really feel for? I feel for those guys, mainly guys, but men and women that are out on the crews who do extraordinary work. I mean early April I remember that actually the day when we were announcing the suspension, there was a vessel in the middle of the night was sinking. They'd provided life jackets. They all fell in the water, 60 of them. And our crews saved every life. Now it didn't get huge run in the media, if people had died it probably would have, but the effort of these people in the high seas, in the middle of the night, to save these people I think was extraordinary. They had a really difficult job. I'm talking about women and children who are in the water. I mean they do a remarkable job and I know it's been recently shown on a couple of television shows and that's good because I do like to say that whilst people don't want to see these vessel come in this matter, they've had a great record. We have not had the on-shore arrivals that we saw in earlier years and that's a good thing.

LUKE GRANT: Yeah, yeah, fair point. Now time's going to get us can I leave you 30 seconds to tell me why you're not worried about Kevin Rudd's performance in the polls.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well I'm not sure if I need 30 seconds. I've always believed that you head into an election year - I think it's just Australia's way - the polls always converge. It's a two-party system. We always converge heading into the home straight of an election. There's not too many elections in our history where they've been far apart and I think it doesn't matter who you are, you have to give a reason for the Australian community to re-elect you and we need to communicate the good things we're doing. We've done a very good job I believe in ensuring that we missed the recession. We stimulated the economy. We saved or created 200,000 jobs. They were good things. Of course there's been things that have been difficult. When you try to do something of that scale that fast there were always going to be issues but I think we're attending to those. We made the right decision early and we made it big enough to save our economy. That's a good

thing. We've had problems in other areas but we want to get on with our agenda. We've got a very big education program, we've seen enormous investment in our schools, we have got the health reforms that I think are very significant for this country. We just have to sell our message better and I think of course we want to resolve the current

debate we're having with the mining sector.

LUKE GRANT: Yep. I think you've really got to solve that quickly and once that's off the table maybe we can spend some time talking about the other things.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: That's true.

LUKE GRANT: You needed a whole minute, you were only going to do…

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well I wanted to talk about the good things.

LUKE GRANT: I gave you a freebie there, remember that.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: You did and I appreciate it.

LUKE GRANT: Have a good week.


LUKE GRANT: Good to talk to you again. That's Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor who joins us here regularly every second Tuesday on MTR 1377.