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Foreign Minister discusses Turkish Kurds and whether or not they sought asylum.

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DATE: November 14 2003 TITLE: Excerpt of interview with Philip Clark on Radio 2GB

Journalist: Let’s cross to Amsterdam in Europe right now and speak live with the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer. He’s over there meeting with other leaders and delegates discussing the International Criminal Court. Earlier in the week of course, he was in the UK for Remembrance Day. He joins me on the line. Mr Downer good afternoon to you.

Downer: Good afternoon Philip.

Journalist: The government’s coming under a bit of criticism today for its back flip - well it’s reversal of information about the position of the Turkish Kurds asking for asylum. Where do you think this confusion stemmed from?

Downer: It came from the People Smuggling Task Force who provided Senator Vanstone and me with some information which we passed on to the public. And when we noticed that these Turkish Kurds were making claims that the information we had passed on wasn’t correct, we asked the People Smuggling Task Force to look into it in greater detail, to check up whose version was right. And when they gave us the further information we made that public as well. So contrary to the most extraordinary and hysterical claims about us deliberately misleading people, we’ve done exactly the reverse - we’ve been completely open and transparent and passed on information as best we can.

Journalist: And the situation is that even if they had asked for asylum or whatever, given the excision from the migration zone that had occurred, those claims couldn’t have been heard anyway. Is that what you understand?

Downer: That’s exactly right. This is of course the point about excisions - trying to stop people smugglers from targeting Australia, so people can come here and make all sorts of claims. These claims of course take a long time to be heard and there are appeals and all that sort of thing. And the end result is that the people smugglers can then go to other potential customers and say, look, we just got that last boatload in - if you pay us, whatever it is, $1,000 or $2,000 each, we can take you to Australia and we can get you in. Well what we do is, we say to those people smugglers - no, I’m afraid not. You cannot get people in that way, and you will not make money that way. And at the end of the day, I know it’s a tough policy, and I know it’s been very controversial. But it has been extremely effective. We’ve had only two boats in the last two years. And that saves a lot of - amongst other things that saves a lot

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of lives, because it’s very very dangerous for people to try to get to Australia illegally on those little boats.

Journalist: Nothing humanitarian about encouraging a policy which puts people in leaky boats on uncertain seas is there?

Downer: Exactly. Or lining the pockets of the people smugglers. Look somebody, I’m not sure if this is right at all, but it’s been put to me that people smuggling around the world is worth something like $10 billion a year. I’m in the Netherlands at the moment and this is a country which has had enormous problems with people smuggling. Now the government here has taken a whole series of tough measures, and yes, they’ve also been controversial.

Journalist: What are they doing?

Downer: They’ve tightened up their rules that they used to have for people being able to come here and just get asylum. They used to get, having made a claim, they were released into the community while the claim was heard, they got allowances from the government and of course a big percentage of them just disappeared. And so they’ve toughened up all of those laws so people can’t just wander off into the community with government allowances after they make a claim.

ENDS………………………………………………………….November 14 2003