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Transcript of doorstop interview, Waterfront Place, Brisbane, 24 August 2004. Peter Costello and children in detention; government announcements on temporary protection visas.

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Stephen Smith MP Shadow Minister for Immigration Member for Perth

E&OE T29/04



SMITH: Thanks very much for coming down. I just wanted to make some comments on Peter Costello’s remarks on children in detention and Amanda Vanstone’s announcement on Temporary Protection Visas.

The point needs to be made here that we’ve seen these statements from a Government that said not one of these people would set foot on Australian soil. This is a Government that blackguarded these people as people who would throw their children overboard and

who might well be associated with terrorists. And as late as June of this year, the Government was still saying that the Temporary Protection Visa system and having children in detention acted as a deterrent.

Dealing firstly with Mr Costello. The point needs to be made that neither Mr Costello, nor the Prime Minister, nor Senator Vanstone have actually committed the Government to making the change required for the future to ensure that children don’t remain in detention for lengthy periods of time.

Mr Costello has been compliant and complicit in the matter. He’s been absolutely silent on children in detention. He’s actually voted on a number of occasions in the Parliament against Labor amendments that would have secured the release of children from detention. He is being completely hypocritical in this matter.

So far as Senator Vanstone is concerned, the changes she has announced for TPV holders again don’t deal with the future, they only deal with the backlog. This is consistent with everything the Government is doing in this area. There is no undertaking to change the system for the future; it’s simply dealing with the backlog.

It is the case that changes she’s announced today do make it easier for people on Temporary Protection Visas to make application to remain in Australia. The changes are and remain inferior to Labor’s model. Labor’s model doesn’t require the onus of proof on the Temporary Protection Visa holder to prove the requirement for further protection, and doesn’t require any specific immigration visa for general purposes. Labor’s model will assess whether a person has built up a social, economic and family and community links to be part of or regarded as part of our normal immigration intake.

Having said that, I welcome the changes that have been announced. They clearly make it easier for Temporary Protection Visa holders. A concurrent application capacity is a sensible idea. And making it easier in terms of age requirement, language requirement, skills requirement and giving further and more credit for contribution in rural and regional Australia are welcome.

But just remember the starting point. All of this in the run up to an election from a Government who said not one of these people would set foot on Australian soil. This is a Government who will do or say anything to get itself re-elected. You can’t believe a word they say in this area, so why would you believe a word they say about the bulk billing rate, about access to University, about fairness in education funding, and about chasing families to recover family debts.

JOURNALIST: So they’re just singing this whole new tune to placate voters are they?

SMITH: Absolutely. They are creating the impression that they are becoming softer. They are creating the impression they are moving toward Labor’s position in this area. But none of the changes they have outlined deal with the future. They are absolutely refusing to acknowledge and admit that we’ve gone through as a nation a period of bad policy under this Government, bad administration under this Government. They won’t commit to setting the system up for the better for the future. They are simply dealing here with the backlog. A backlog of children in detention and a backlog of TPV holders. If you want to ensure that children aren’t in immigration detention for lengthy periods of time, and if you want to ensure you have a sensible one-off two year TPV period where people are dealt with sensibly and fairly, the only way to achieve that is vote Labor and elect a Labor Government.

JOURNALIST: How many children are in detention centres?

SMITH: From memory as at 18 August, at the last muster, on Commonwealth territory detention centres there were 11 in Christmas Island and 2 in Baxter. These are the sons and daughters of asylum seekers. In Nauru, given the number of people who

have now been removed from Nauru following the further assessment of Afghans, the best estimate I can make is somewhere in the order of 20. In terms of the sons and daughters of asylum seekers, Australia is responsible for around 30 to 35 children in detention centres.

JOURNALIST: If the Government was serious about releasing kids from detention, what do they have to do, just release them immediately?

SMITH: It is within the power of the Minister, within her Ministerial power, to release them forthwith. That’s always been there. What the Government needs to do, is not to do what Amanda Vanstone has been doing which is to slip people out the backdoor in the middle of the night. But to stand up and say the current policy is wrong, the current administration is wrong, the state of our laws is wrong, and to commit to change the system for the future, so that in the future we can’t have children in detention for lengthy periods time. Our approach will ensure that occurs.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect the country and regional areas are going to be happy about this?

SMITH: There’s no doubt that across the nation wherever you go, those regional communities who have come in contact with Temporary Protection Visa holders, particularly in those area where Temporary Protection Visas holders are working in seasonal or agricultural pursuits, they have been warmly welcomed by their local regional communities. And just as we found when Labor announced its new TPV policy back at the beginning of the year at our National Conference, and just as we saw when the Government made some modifications earlier in the year, I suspect today we will again see regional communities warmly welcoming the fact that despite the Government not making any commitments about the future, they’re making it easier for TPV holders to ultimately find permanent residence in Australia in rural and regional communities.


Contact: Courtney Hoogen on 0414 364 651