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New South Wales: Premier comments on border protection.

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Monday 1 September 2003

New South Wales: Premier comments on border protection


MARK COLVIN: Just when Labor thought it had damped down the divisive issue of border protect ion, the New South Wales Premier Bob Carr has re-opened some old wounds.  


Mr Carr says the mandatory detention of illegal immigrants is not something that upsets Australia's Asian neighbours, because many of them have and enforce much stricter policies of their own. 


His comments have won support from the Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, but Margaret Reynolds - a former Labor Senator and now President of the United Nations Association in Australia - is furious. 


Louise Willis reports. 


LOUISE WILLIS: It's these comments from the New South Wales Premier that have set the cat amongst the pigeons today. 


BOB CARR: Australia's got to have border security. You won't tell the Australian people that they can't determine who comes into this country. Any attempt to rework that in fancier language would not be acceptable. And that means accepting, where there's no alternative, an element of mandatory detention.  


If you take a strong stand, then people smuggling dries up. They can't get extortionate amounts from desperate families in refugee camps. They just can't get it, if they know that once here they will be detained and then sent back. 


LOUISE WILLIS: But don't try and suggest his position means he supports the Howard Government's border protection policy. 


BOB CARR: No, it means I support the Federal Labor Party policy adopted late last year, which underlines the importance and the validity of border protection, and that means, where appropriate, mandatory detention. That was a position Federal Labor adopted late last year. 


LOUISE WILLIS: The Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has backed Mr Carr, saying he's getting a similar message from Asian government and business leaders.  


PETER BEATTIE: I don't know any country in Asia that doesn't believe that the sovereign elected government of the day shouldn't control its borders - they do believe that. And therefore, I agree with Bob. I saw his remarks, I think Bob is absolutely correct.  


Now, that doesn't mean that the policies were right. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't have had the debate. That doesn't mean that there aren't other issues that should be taken into account.  


But are you asking me - which you are - do I believe that this has damaged our position internationally within our region? I don't believe it has. Now, there are other people in my Party who have a different view, but that's not my view. 


LOUISE WILLIS: One of those people is Margaret Reynolds, a former Labor Senator for Queensland and now President of the Australian United Nations Association. Professor Reynolds says her international connections are telling her the opposite, and says these two Labor Premiers should know better than to buy into this debate.  


MARGARET REYNOLDS: South East Asian nations that I've spoken to and that are speaking to business associates, then come to me and say what can we do to change this perception that we are a mean-spirited, racist country, it's affecting our trade. 


There's enough damage being done to Australia's international reputation - the Howard Government is doing that all on its own - we don't need Bob Carr to jump in for whatever his personal reasons may be. 


LOUISE WILLIS: Why do you think he's made these comments today? 


MARGARET REYNOLDS: Well, who knows what his agenda is. I mean, is he interested in a Federal Parliamentary career? Is he just appealing to the lowest common denominator when it comes to opinion polls? 


LOUISE WILLIS: He's got some support from the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie. Are you disappointed by that? 


MARGARET REYNOLDS: Well, I'm very disappointed in, in anyone who doesn't understand international law, who doesn't understand the law of the sea, basic human rights law, and pretends - for whatever opportunistic reasons - that they want to associate themselves with Howard Government draconian policies in relation to asylum seekers. 


LOUISE WILLIS: But Bob Carr is specifically saying he doesn't support the Howard Government's views on this issue and that he's clearly divorcing himself from that. 


MARGARET REYNOLDS: Well, why does he dabble in international relations? I just think that State Premiers have plenty of work to do at home and unless they're going to change direction, because they want to move into Federal politics, I think that they really need to brush up on international law, before coming out in support of Howard Government policies. 


MARK COLVIN: Former Labor Senator Margaret Reynolds, now President of the Australian United Nations Association, with Louise Willis.