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Shadow Treasurer discusses refugees.



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MEDIA RELEASE The Hon Simon Crean MP Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Treasurer

TRANSCRIPT OF RADIO INTERVIEW 6PR, BOB MAUMILL, MORNING PROGRAM 11th SEPTEMBER 2001

E & OE - PROOF ONLY

Subject: Refugees

MAUMILL: … Got Simon Crean on the line. Kim Beazley’s in Queensland electioneering and convincing everyone he’s got what it takes to be leader of the country. John Howard-slash-Hunt is in America trying to convince people that his name is H-O-W-A-R-D, not as the Los Angeles Times has been describing him as John Hunt. Simon Crean how are you?

CREAN: Good Bob. I was rung by someone over there said the CNN intro for the meeting with Howard and Bush introduced him as Paul Howard. Paul Howard, John Hunt. They were even talking about John Costello the other day. I think these guys have got an identity crisis.

MAUMILL: Well that says something about our American friends doesn’t it? The friends that we’ve committed ourselves to, to allow our country to be part of their Star Wars set up that’s been so roundly criticised by the Europeans and the Russians and non-aligned nations in the world. Yet we’ve jumped right into it and said have Australia. We will become part of your much criticised Star Wars defence network so, you’d think if we make that kind of commitment and one of the only countries in the world to do it, they’d at least get the name of our Prime Minister right.

CREAN: Well I just think it goes to show that this is a government that hasn’t really advanced Australia’s interests overseas in the last five years and the fact that people can’t even remember the names of the two leaders is indicative that so far as we’re concerned we’re off the radar screen.

MAUMILL: Yeah, but you can’t blame John Howard and Peter Costello for that. Obviously the journalists and presenters that are writing the stories don’t do their homework?

CREAN: You can blame them though Bob, if they’re not up there, up front, promoting Australia every minute of every day. And that’s what they haven’t been doing. They’ve been a government asleep at the wheel. This Ansett crisis is a good case in point.

MAUMILL: But have you been an Opposition asleep at the wheel, because you seem to have been badly wrong-footed over this asylum seekers incident involving the Tampa. Labor just seemed to be a bit breathless and uncertain which tack to take when John Howard sent in the SAS?

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CREAN: We were consistent all the way through. We said that we would support bipartisan legislation to deal with the Tampa crisis. What we would not support was a sweeping piece of legislation that suspended all other laws. It was draconian legislation, it could not be supported. And every commentator has said it was bad law. It was not thought through. It was rushed through into the Parliament, we were actually given 40 minutes to just consider it, Bob. And that’s why we rejected it. But we have consistently said we will give bipartisan support. We’ve gone further than that and said that you really need a three-pronged attack. You’ve got to close the gate. And that means getting understandings with Indonesia, Malaysia and the international groups to actually stop people coming here, the illegals coming here, before they get here. That is what the government has dismally failed with, and their meeting in Indonesia last week confirmed it. Second, you’ve got to have a cop on the beat - the Coastguard. Now we were ridiculed about the Coastguard and told you can’t afford it. And yet this is a government that’s just been over in Nauru, put another $20 million on the table. Its now running a bill over $100 million, we’re told. Don’t tell me you can’t afford a Coastguard with that money. And third, you’ve then got to have for those people that get through the closed gate or the cop on the beat, you’ve got to have a process for dealing with them quickly. And we’re prepared to support legislation that does that. And at the end of the day, if they are genuine refugees, we’re prepared to take our fair share. Now that’s what we’ve put on the table Bob. Consistently all the way through. What this government has done is to simply respond to an issue, and act tough on a boat. It’s never acted tough on an overall strategy.

MAUMILL: What about this Nauru solution. This seems to be symbolically very important. The refugees or asylum seekers, the boat people who are now on the Tampa, and now we’ve got two boat loads of them on the Minora. They were transferred from the Tampa to the Minora and we picked up a few more on the way. They’re on their way to Nauru, not an Australian Territory, an island nation. My colleague Paul Murray has carried out a behind the scenes investigation into some of the quaint deals that Rene Harris the President of Nauru has conducted in the past and I won’t air them at the moment because I don’t have the evidence in front of me. Let’s just say there are some anecdotal evidence to suggest that Mr Harris has been involved in time to time in some colourful deals. The one that’s recently been set up to have the asylum seekers on the Minora taken to a non-Australian territory for processing, do you see dangers in it at all or do you see deals having been done. I mean there’s a $20 million commitment up front. What’s the upside of this? Is it an open cheque?

CREAN: Well it could be. But it’s really only designed to get them over the next election Bob. They’re not serious about a long-term solution, otherwise why have they only gone for the three-month option, to deal with them with no guarantee as to where they be taken after that?

MAUMILL: I mean they still could come here?

CREAN: Absolutely, and John Howard was out there categorically saying - ‘not one of them will set foot in Australia’. But that’s just before the election. You see, he’s only done this because he’s got an election within the next two months. Everything he does now, has to be measured by that. Tell me where the lasting solution is in this? And look at the circumstance Bob. You talked about the extra people that were picked up on the boat. That was the first test of the three amigos who’ve just been up to Indonesia, Ruddock, Reith and Downer. They were supposed to put back on track our relationship with Indonesia and get understandings about the future. The very first opportunity this was put to the test, Indonesia ignored them. And that’s because Australia’s relations with Indonesia aren’t flash, to put it mildly. But unless we get an understanding with Indonesia, this problem is going to continue to happen. Only Beazley can get that understanding with Indonesia.

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MAUMILL: But our Indonesian friends when we’ve asked for help on this matter, have been sluggish, recalcitrant in their responses. I mean they have not acted like friends in this matter.

CREAN: Because they haven’t been engaged like friends in this matter, Bob. Australia did not … I mean take the instance of Tampa. The Prime Minister spoke on every broadcast network in the country, but wouldn’t speak to the President of Indonesia. When we shamed him into actually picking up the phone and making the call, I think some three days after the Tampa incident, she wouldn’t return it.

MAUMILL: So you’re saying that rather than go public, John Howard should have contacted President Megawati first and established some framework for handling the incident and then gone public?

CREAN: Exactly and he should have been, because this is not a new incident. I mean we talk about the 400 on the Tampa, but in the last year, as I understand it, some 4 000 people have come in under this sort of heading. Four thousand, ten times as many. What’s he done? Now it’s not just a question of picking up the phone to Megawati now. He should have been using the rebuilding of the relationship with Wahid. We had Wahid in Australia. The former President. He took the initiative to go up to Mrs Megawati soon after she was installed. But was there an agenda? No. It’s just like the trip to the US. All he wants is a photo shoot. He wants to be seen with these people, not engaging them.

MAUMILL: But the Australian Labor Party, the Labor Opposition has been wrong footed on this. Because you didn’t seem to have a prepared response to the - when events were moving quickly in the Tampa incident, when the military became involved, when destroyers were sent to the area, when back up vessels and literally hundreds of Australian defence personnel were sent to the Christmas Island region, the ALP just seemed to sit back as spectators and were breathless at what was happening. In the meantime you were losing ground, enormous ground in the polls. Can you make it up?

CREAN: Well of course we can. But importantly we have been consistent on this point. We have said to the government - ‘look you’re the government of the day, you’ve got to make the calls but we importantly, we’re prepared to offer you support’. We were prepared to offer support when the boat first came in before it was picked up by the Norwegian vessel. We were prepared to support the direction of the government to have the boat people taken back to Indonesia. We indicated consistently we were prepared to offer bipartisan support to deal with the Tampa people. But if you’re going to stop illegals coming in Bob, you can’t do it by making more unlawful acts. You can’t introduce into the Parliament something that suspends all other laws. And you can’t do what is against our conventions, and our international obligations. You can’t address illegality by more illegality.

MAUMILL: And just finally on this issue before we go to a break and I’ll come back and talk to you about Ansett, how are we going to streamline the appeals process? You look through any website of the various courts in Australia and you will see a backlog of appeals at various levels in our legal system, by people who have entered Australia through non-legal means, through the back door as we’ve come to say. And what are we going to do about streamlining this. Do we need all these levels of appeals?

CREAN: No, we need a one-stop shop for appeals.

MAUMILL: What will Labor do then?

CREAN: Yes…

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MAUMILL: What will you do?

CREAN: …what we’ve said is that we will have a one-stop shop appeal

process. And we will deal with the cases expeditiously. We’re even prepared to look at putting a time limit on them. I think it’s terribly important that if these people get through the gate, if in fact they are judged to be genuine refugees of course we need to take our share. But those who are not judged to be, they need to be returned. And that has to be done quickly.

MAUMILL: That would solve a lot of the problems wouldn’t it? The volcanic behaviour of some people who have been in detention for so long. And I think most Australians believe that two and three year waits for decisions through the appeals process is one of the reasons why we have break outs and this violence continuing in the detention centres. And it looks bad in the eyes of the rest of the world. They do look like concentration camps.

CREAN: Yeah they look shocking. And we’ve got to expedite the process. It’s in everyone’s interest to do it. We need to a have a clearer set of guidelines and rules. But we have said to the government we are prepared to support such an approach. We have offered bipartisan support, but this is a government only intent on playing the politics. There’s no long-term solution. It’s only Labor that really will have a long-term solution to this.

MAUMILL: Mr Crean we’ve run out of time unfortunately. I’ve got the Premier of Western Australia joining me in the studio after the news. There are other issues that I wish to talk to you about. Maybe we can discuss Ansett later in the week, when things have developed further. And thanks for giving us your time on the program today.

CREAN: That would be a pleasure Bob. And also the fact that we’ve taken the GST off funerals.

MAUMILL: We’ll talk about that during our next discussion later in the week, if that’s okay with you.

CREAN: Yep, that would be terrific.

ENDS