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Minister defends asylum seeker process; says Sri Lankans will be processed on Nauru according to UN protocols.



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It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in an y other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

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PM

 

Friday 16 March 2007

Minister defends asylum seeker process; says Sri Lankans will be processed on Nauru according to UN protocols

 

MARK COLVIN: The Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, joins me now. 

 

Mr Andrews, you became aware that we'd done this interview this afternoon. Is it just a coincidence that they've suddenly been able to speak to lawyers? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, I'm advised, Mark, that the first request that was made to have legal representation was in fact today. I'm not aware of any requests before that, but I'll have the matter investigated in any event. 

 

MARK COLVIN: It just intuitively doesn't sound terribly likely that 82 people seeking asylum would take three weeks to get around to thinking, oh, perhaps we ought to see a lawyer. 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, I think there was an expectation on their part that they were coming to Australia. they were told just recently that in fact the Government's decision was to send them to Nauru, and, as I say, I'm advised that the first request for legal representation was today, and as you've reported on the program, that's being facilitated. 

 

MARK COLVIN: But this bring us to the question of what is and isn't Australia. You're sending them to Nauru, but Christmas Island, for the purposes of migration, asylum seeking, isn't Australia anyway, it's been excised. Why are you sending them to Nauru? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: We believe that it's important to send the strongest possible message of deterrence to people who want to engage in people smuggling. It's a … 

 

MARK COLVIN: But why is it more of a message … why … I'm trying to get you to explain to me why it's more of a message to send them to Nauru, which is not part of Australia, than to have them on Christmas Island, which is legally not part of Australia? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: As I understand it, part of the pitch, if I could put it that way on behalf of the people smugglers and their agents, is that getting to Christmas Island is getting, effectively, to Australia. 

 

Now, we want to deter that. We think it's … 

 

MARK COLVIN: But how can they make that pitch … 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: And we think it's illegal. 

 

MARK COLVIN: How can they make that pitch if you have excised Christmas Island? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: I was saying this is what I understand is being said to people such as the Sri Lankans. 

 

MARK COLVIN: But you would say they don't have a leg to stand on, wouldn't you?  

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, I'm saying that we will send them to Nauru, we plan to do that tomorrow. They will be processed according to the United Nations protocols on Nauru, but this sends a message to people in Indonesia or elsewhere that the prospect of coming to Australia and getting to Australia by this method is not one which is going to be accepted. 

 

MARK COLVIN: So it's pure symbolism? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: That's more than symbolism. I think they don't get to Australia. They will be … 

 

MARK COLVIN: No, but they don't get to Australia if they're on Christmas Island. I'm sorry, but just coming back to the same thing, if they're on Christmas Island they're on a part of Australia which is excised, so they haven't, as asylum seekers, reached Australia, so it's no more than symbolism to send them to Nauru, is it? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: I think it makes a very big difference if you were somebody contemplating paying for a passage to Australia as to whether or not you're ultimately going to end up on Christmas Island or you're going to end up on Nauru. And that's what I'm saying - we need to send a strong message of deterrence, and that's what we're committed to doing. 

 

MARK COLVIN: At the cost of $2 million a month for the Nauru camp. 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: We have to pay in any event. This was not ideal. Ideally we wouldn't want people coming to Australia in boats whatsoever. The question in these circumstances is what will be the strongest possible message of deterrence. And it's the Government's view that sending them to Nauru and processing them on Nauru is a much stronger message of deterrence. 

 

MARK COLVIN: All right, well you're talking about processing them on Nauru. You said on this program last night that it would be done according to the United Nations protocols, which you've repeated tonight, and you went on and said, "Indeed the International Migration Organisation will operate effectively as an agency of the UNHCR at Nauru". 

 

Now, that's not true, is it? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: The agency is an international non-government organisation.  

 

MARK COLVIN: Is what you said true? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: They're not strictly speaking, that's true, an agency of the United Nations, but they have a worldwide reputation, they operate effectively as an international non-government organisation, and they will … 

 

MARK COLVIN: But why did you say they were an agency of the UNHCR? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: They were pro … and they will be processed according to the UN protocols. But what I'm saying … 

 

MARK COLVIN: But why did you say that they were an agency of the UNHCR? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: I'm happy to admit I made a mistake in those words. What I was trying to convey is that they would be processed according to United Nations protocols, and this will be done by an organisation which is effectively a well-respected international NGO. 

 

MARK COLVIN: So you say that you made a mistake, because the Crikey website quotes your spokeswoman as saying that the interview was cut to change your meaning. 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: Oh, I don't know what's on the website. I'm answering your question now, Mark. 

 

MARK COLVIN: So it was a mistake? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: Yes. Look, effectively what's happening is that this organisation will process these people. They do it with persistence, quite obviously, from my department, but it's done under the United Nations protocols, and that's my point. Their claims for asylum, their claims to be humanitarian refugees, will be processed, and it will be done according to the UN protocols. 

 

MARK COLVIN: So you've heard what some of them have to say. Now, one of them says that he was tortured. If that's the case, if, I know it's an if, but if that's the case, then he's a refugee; will he come to Australia? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: It's not our intention to bring them to Australia, it's our intention to seek, for those who are found to be genuine refugees, resettlement elsewhere. 

 

MARK COLVIN: But why wouldn't we take in somebody who's been tortured in another country? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, it's easy to make that claim, but the point still remains that … 

 

MARK COLVIN: No, I'm not saying on the basis of the claim, I'm saying if it were proved to be true, you are saying that we still wouldn't take him, we'd send him to another country. 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: And the message that would therefore go back to people who are engaged in a very lucrative but dangerous trade of people smuggling, is that, in a back door way, you will be able to go to Australia, you don't need to make a refugee claim somewhere else that you might be, you simply pay money, get on a leaking fishing boat, and find yourself eventually, a year or two later, in Australia. 

 

MARK COLVIN: But instead you would send them to another country, so it's not our problem if the end result is that the message is, well, you can still do it, but you'll end up in Canada? 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: Well, can I remind you, Mark, that we are one of the most generous countries in the world so far as refugees are concerned. On a per capita basis we take more refugees than almost every country in the world. But we don't think that we should do so in a way in which this sort of illegal and dangerous operation takes place and in which people effectively jump the queue of others who may well be more deserving. 

 

MARK COLVIN: Thank you very much, Kevin Andrews, for joining us on PM tonight. 

 

KEVIN ANDREWS: Pleasure, Mark. 

 

MARK COLVIN: The Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews.