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Transcript of interview with Lyndal Curtis: ABC News 24, Capital Hill: 23 July 2013: Regional resettlement arrangement with Papua New Guinea; new ASIO building

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THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP Attorney-General Minister for Emergency Management Special Minister of State Minister for the Public Service and Integrity


23 July 2013


SUBJECT: Regional resettlement arrangement with Papua New Guinea; new ASIO building


CURTIS: The Government is confident its agreement

with Papua New Guinea will stick. It's rejecting Coalition claims the deal isn't specific enough, and will allow asylum seekers whose refugee claims have been rejected to come back to Australia. To discuss the deal I was joined by the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus.

[Plays excerpt]

CURTIS: Mark Dreyfus, welcome to Capital Hill. You

have said you won't release the legal advice on the deal with Papua New Guinea, what gives you confidence though, that it doesn't breach either Australian laws or the commitments Australia gave under the Refugee Convention?

DREYFUS: I'm confident because of the careful

consideration we've given to this arrangement with Papua New Guinea. And as I've also said, we've got the assistance of recent decisions of the High Court of Australia in this very area concerning the Migration Act, and of course that provides us with guidance on where we can go with arrangements with other countries.

CURTIS: So the ruler, the bar set by the High Court's

decision on Malaysia, was run over this one?

DREYFUS: Well, it's in the same area obviously, and one

of the big differences you could point to is that Papua New Guinea is of course a signatory to the Refugees Convention. And Papua New Guinea has made it clear that it will be withdrawing the reservations that it had to certain aspects of the Refugee Convention in respect of people transferred from Australia, and that of course, means that all people transferred from Australia will have the full rights available under the Refugees


CURTIS: So that basically deals with the concerns that

the High Court raised about the agreement with Malaysia?

DREYFUS: I'm pointing to a very key difference between-

that the High Court concentrated on in the Malaysia decision about the fact that Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugees Convention.

CURTIS: The Opposition has raised a question about

whether the agreement with Papua New Guinea is legally binding - is it, and does it have to be?

DREYFUS: The Opposition really doesn't know what

they're talking about. What we've seen, disgracefully, from the Opposition for the last couple of days - having initially said they would support this arrangement with Papua New Guinea - is a deliberate undermining, a deliberate undermining of this arrangement, and they really should be ashamed of themselves. It's not in our national interest that you have any members of the Federal Parliament talking in the way that the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition are talking. They're demonstrating - both of them - their unfitness for high office in this country.

And to answer your question, Lyndal, the

arrangement with Papua New Guinea is exactly the way in which countries reach agreements, that countries reach

arrangements. Papua New Guinea is a sovereign nation, has offered this to Australia, to take all people arriving by boat without a visa as transferees to Papua New Guinea, and we have said that's going to be the

arrangement and that we will support all people transferred to Papua New Guinea and support Papua New Guinea in providing services to them. That's an arrangement between nations. It's a perfectly standard way of doing business.

CURTIS: Is there going to be any more detailed written

agreements going through some of the finer detail that is in a fact sheet on the Immigration Department's website but not in the agreement, like how children and families will be transferred, unaccompanied minors will be transferred after conditions are right, and what happens to people in Papua New Guinea - asylum seekers - who are not deemed to be refugees?

DREYFUS: Well, that's a matter - just to answer the

second part of your question first - that's a matter for Papua New Guinean law. Papua New Guinea has arrangements for refugees, arrangements for processing and they will determine what is to happen to people who are determined not to be genuine refugees after assessment in Papua New Guinea. Some of them will be returned to their countries of origin. Some of them will be returned to other- to a safe - will be sent to a safe third country. That's a matter for Papua New Guinea. We'll of course assist Papua New Guinea in that processing task, and give them the benefit of things we've learned in processing of refugee claims.

On the other details, Lyndal, all of them are

going to continue to be worked out. What the Prime Minister, and Minister Bourke, and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea made clear in making the announcement last Friday, was that from now all people arriving by boat without a visa will - in Australia - will be sent to Papua New Guinea, and will not be resettled in

Australia. That's the key to this. And of course there are details about locations in Papua New Guinea, details about services in Papua New Guinea, more details to be worked out about safeness of places that people can be transferred to, the appropriateness of accommodation that is available, all of those are details which we are capable of working out and will be working out.

CURTIS: Just to be clear - because this is another

question the Opposition has raised - if Papua New Guinea says to Australia: we want to send some of the people who have been found not to be refugees back to Australia, Australia will say no?

DREYFUS: We have made it very clear, and this is a

matter for Australia, it's a matter we've made very clear in our discussions and in the arrangement with Papua New Guinea, that no people arriving by boat without a visa who are transferred to Papua New Guinea will be resettled in Australia. I can't be clearer about that. You will not be resettled in Australia. That's the message. And any suggestion by the Opposition that is deliberately trying to undermine the clarity of that message is not in our national interest. And I say again, the Opposition Leader should be ashamed of himself; he's shown again how unfit he is for high office in Australia.

CURTIS: Peter O'Neill, the Papua New Guinean Prime

Minister, said yesterday that as part of this agreement Papua New Guinea had more

control over the way the Australian aid budget would be spent, that Papua New Guinea could set the priorities. The Opposition has said today that it's handing cash - handing money to the Papua New Guinea Government, that it's a bonanza for Papua New Guinea. Has Australia given up control over the way its aid money will be spent?

DREYFUS: Again, Mr Abbott, either wilfully, or perhaps

because he doesn't understand, is showing a fundamental misunderstanding of our aid program. We give aid to developing countries around the world, and you can't simply give aid on a unilateral basis, it's a bilateral arrangement. We work constructively and cooperatively with the countries in our region and around the world, the developing countries to whom our aid goes. And it's up to them to direct where they think the aid is best spent - it's up to us to decide whether we will in fact accept their specifications of where aid is to go but we work together, with Papua New Guinea, with Indonesia, with countries around the world in our aid program. And I think it's a bit sad to see that Mr Abbott apparently doesn't understand that.

CURTIS: Finally, you were part of the opening of the

new ASIO building in Canberra today. It's a very large building, are you going to fill it?

DREYFUS: It is a large building. It's appropriate that it be

a large building. There's been a substantial increase in the numbers of people working for ASIO, as well - as was announced today - there

will be a co-tenant, the Australian Cyber Security Centre. And that's a coordinating body to bring together all of the cyber-security activities across government and the bits of different security agencies that are concerned with cyber security. It's a very good co-tenant for ASIO in what is, you're right Lyndal, a large building, but an appropriate building demonstrating the resourcing that we have given, as a Government, to ASIO.

CURTIS: Now, it's named after Ben Chifley because I

think he put in the legislation to set up ASIO in the first place. There's also his instructions to ASIO there as well?

DREYFUS: There are. It's a very appropriate name to be

called the Ben Chifley Building. Ben Chifley was the Prime Minister who founded the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and on display in a glass case in the building you will see the very first instructions that Ben Chifley gave to the first Director-General. They're expressed in particularly clear language. I'd commend them to everyone.

CURTIS: Did they stand the test of time?

DREYFUS: They do stand the test of time. Some would

regret that we're not still using language of that clarity, explaining to ASIO in a page-and-a-half what their task was going to be, to look after the nation's security.

CURTIS: Mark Dreyfus, thank you for your time.

DREYFUS: Thank you, Lyndal.