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Transcript of interview with David Speers: Sky News: 22 July 2013: asylum seekers

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MONDAY, 22 JULY 2013

DAVID SPEERS: Minister, welcome to the program.

TONY BURKE: Thank you. Good to be with you David.

DAVID SPEERS: The Prime Minister this afternoon again refused to admit that Labor

was wrong to dismantle the Pacific Solution back in 2008, even though you are now

embracing what is arguably an even tougher policy. So remind me, why was it right

to dismantle the Pacific Solution?

TONY BURKE: Well you can always put your settings relative to what the

international situation is. Let’s not forget the dismantling began of the 2001 settings

began with John Howard, referred to at the time as the Petro Georgiou reforms, but

Amanda Vanstone was the Minister at the time, and there were very significant

changes that happened. About 80 per cent of the people who were on temporary

protection visas were given permanent visas, all but two of the people who were on

Nauru were brought to live in Australia even though John Howard said that would…

DAVID SPEERS: But it was Labor that shut down Nauru and Manus Island…

TONY BURKE: That’s right, when we came, we brought two people back from Nauru,

when we came in, we got the remaining 20 per cent of people who were on

temporary protection visas on to permanent.

Let’s not pretend, as the public debate has pretended for a few years now, that it

wasn’t a bipartisan process for five or six years of softening those 2001 settings.

DAVID SPEERS:…But it was John Howard who did offshore processing, now you’re…

TONY BURKE: David, David, David, please, you can’t say John Howard bringing

hundreds of people back was nothing happening at all, and us bringing two people

back was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The real change was in 2009…

DAVID SPEERS: All I’m saying is that it was Labor that removed offshore processing,

and that’s a fact.

TONY BURKE: Well the two people weren’t being processed anymore, they were just

stuck there. In 2009, the international situation changed, and that was a mistake we

made. Kevin Rudd has been completely, the Prime Minister has been completely

upfront from the time he came back of saying at 2009, when the international

situation changed, we were too slow to act, and we own responsibility for that.

When we did act, the Liberal Party teamed up with the Greens, and they made the

same error that we’d made two years earlier, and the error was simple: thinking you

could photocopy settings of more than a decade ago, and people smugglers will have

learnt nothing in the intervening years.

That’s why we know that we need a proper regional response, as the problem has

worsened, we were too slow to start, the Liberals teamed up with the Greens a

couple of years later to prevent a regional response from happening then, and now,

with thanks to the cooperation of Papua New Guinea, we do have a substantial

regional response. So I’m not shying away from…

DAVID SPEERS: You’re not acknowledging any error in shutting down offshore

processing back in 2008?

TONY BURKE: The error was the following year, the error was the following year and

I’m completely upfront about that. I mean if we’re going to have a debate about oh,

which is the mistake we should acknowledge, I’m going to give you the honest

answer, it was when the international situation changed, we should have changed

then. But up until that point, don’t forget the Liberal Party was supporting us when

we were softening all those laws. You don’t find Scott Morrison or Tony Abbott

admitting to that now.

DAVID SPEERS: Alright. Let’s turn to the new agreement that you are putting in place,

I want to ask you a few details about it. Will those sent to Papua New Guinea and

then found to be refugees be entitled to employment, education, freedom of

movement, social security, all the things that are guaranteed under the Refugees


TONY BURKE: Yes, they will be entitled to everything that you get as a citizen of

Papua New Guinea.

DAVID SPEERS: So children who are sent there will be entitled to free public


TONY BURKE: The Australian Government will be providing funding to Papua New

Guinea to be able to do that, but the intention of this, the ultimate intention of this,

is that people who are settled in Papua New Guinea get to take on over time the full

rights of citizenship in that country, which goes beyond the obligations in the


DAVID SPEERS: But asylum seekers, while they are being processed, they will be

going to school, those kids?

TONY BURKE: That’s one of the reasons that I’ve taken the kids off Manus when I first

came in as Immigration Minister, there’s a few of the minimum standards that I

want to be able to provide for children that aren’t there now, and I want to make

sure that all that happens, and education is one of those issues.

DAVID SPEERS: So until you’re sure they’ll be sent to school, no kids will be sent


TONY BURKE: I’m still working through a series of specific benchmarks, but the

bottom line of it is I need to make a decision on the welfare of the children, and at

the moment, I look at a series of things, there’s accommodation issues, there’s a

mixture there of the same single adult men and the lack of separation in the facility

that’s there, there’s a few issues, education being one of them, there’s some health

standards issues. I’ll work all of that through, when I’m satisfied that the welfare

interest of the children are properly looked after, at that point, women and children

and family groups, they will go across.

So I know Christopher Pine has claimed today that we have somehow provided an

exclusion for children or family groups, that’s not true. As soon as the standards are

up to scratch, they will be going across. And make no doubt, be in no doubt at all,

everybody in these last two vessels will end up in Papua New Guinea.

DAVID SPEERS: Ok, are we talking months here before that happens, are we talking

years, what’s the time frame?

TONY BURKE: I’m certainly not talking years, I expect we’re talking months. My

benchmark though isn’t an arbitrary timeframe, my benchmark is to make sure that

people will be safe, that there’s appropriate accommodation and that there’s

appropriate services.

DAVID SPEERS: What about those who fail the health and security assessments when

they arrive at Christmas Island? What happens to them?

TONY BURKE: Well when people fail a health check, what happens to them is we get

them back into a better state of health, and that’s a very standard practice, so there

are some particular diseases, once people brought under control with particular

sicknesses then they can still be transferred. But the rule throughout all of this is very

simple: no one in those circumstances, from the date of the announcement, will end

of up being settled in Australia.

DAVID SPEERS: But what about those with an adverse security assessment?

TONY BURKE: Well they already don’t get settled in Australia, they get held.

DAVID SPEERS: … what will happen to them?

TONY BURKE: Well they already don’t get settled in Australia, they…

DAVID SPEERS: They remain in detention?

TONY BURKE: Correct.

DAVID SPEERS: In Australia?

TONY BURKE: Yeah, and whether it’s detention in Australia, or whether it’s

detention in Papua New Guinea or whether it’s detention somewhere else, the

critical thing will be they certainly will not be settled in Australia, and they will not


DAVID SPEERS: But Papua New Guibea is not going to take those who are found to

have adverse security assessment, are they?

TONY BURKE: For people with adverse security assessments, they already don’t get

settled in Australia, already, that’s already the case. I know this one has been thrown

up as a red herring today, but let’s not pretend there’s anything new on that. If you

come with an adverse security finding, it has always been the case you don’t get

settled in Australia, no matter who’s been in government.

DAVID SPEERS: Now, the Government has been arguing this is in line with our

obligations under the Refugees Convention, article 32 of the convention states, and I

quote, “The contracting states shall not expel a refugee lawfully in their territory

save on grounds of national security or public order”.

Now the vast mob of those who do come by boat are found by your department to

be refugees, and yet this plan would see them expelled?

TONY BURKE: Well not expelled, there’s nothing wrong with having transfers to other

signatories to the convention to give people a durable solution. Our entire offshore

program has run along those lines, everything that for the few people who John

Howard didn’t send back to Australia in that final stage when he was softening the

laws, he had people go to a whole range of countries. To be sending people from one

convention state to another convention nation is completely within the framework

of the convention.

DAVID SPEERS: You’ve spent a little over two million dollars on a round of

advertisements to promote this new policy, did those ads get the approval of the

committee that Labor put in place to check government advertising?

TONY BURKE: The process with the committee there is something that’s managed by

Mark Dreyfus. I wrote to him and the processes that he went through on the

approval, I can get that checked for you.

But ultimately, the ads here, I make absolutely no apology for. There was genuinely a

genuine sense of urgency in needing to get those ads out, and it’s for this reason:

how do you reach everybody in the pipeline to let them know that the rules have

changed? Because let’s not pretend, there are a lot of things that we do overseas,

but let’s not pretend that you can do an ad that will reach the whole Iran, the whole

of Afghanistan, the whole of Malaysia, the whole of Indonesia, the whole of the

different countries in the pipeline, and think that you can then reach everybody.

The most effective way of reaching people who are considering getting on a boat is

through their friends, relatives, and contacts in Australia, and the bigger the issue is

in Australia, the more likely it is that the people in that pipeline find out. I mean, the

comments of wasted money that I’ve seen from Joe Hockey just don’t understand

that it might not have been so much the case in 2001, but you walk through a

detention centre now and you see everybody on Facebook when they’re using the

limited time they have on computers, it’s straight to Facebook. When you have

people on mobile phones outside of detention centres, where people are in contact

with relatives and friends and family, anyone who thinks that advertising in Australia

is not a way of directly reaching people in the pipeline doesn’t understand the

impact of social media and electronic communication.

DAVID SPEERS: Just finally, how long will it take to know whether those ads and this

policy are working?

TONY BURKE: Well if you look at the media reports of what’s already happening on

the ground in Indonesia, there’s no doubt that the message is getting through loud

and clear. There’s been media reports already of some people smugglers thinking

that this is the end of it, there’s been media reports already of people who have

been intending to get on boats, saying now they think they will probably go to the

UNHCR , the United Nations, to get their assistance.

So already the media itself is reporting an outcome here, and I’ve got to say, it’s not

a case of me being embarrassed or feeling defensive on the advertising campaign so

far, I have no hesitation working through this if I make a decision to do more of it.

DAVID SPEERS: Immigration Minister Tony Burke, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks

for joining us.

TONY BURKE: Good to be with you today.