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Transcript of interview with Kieran Gilbert: AM Agenda, Sky News: 29 July 2013:

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MONDAY, 29 JULY 2013

KIERAN GILBERT: First, though, to the issue of asylum seekers and the first group is set to be sent to PNG under the new arrangements within the week. On that and other matters I spoke to the Immigration Minister Tony Burke a short time ago.

Tony Burke, thanks very much for your time.

TONY BURKE: Good to be with you.

KIERAN GILBERT: The first group as asylum seekers to be sent to PNG under the new arrangements will be sent this week. Is that correct?

TONY BURKE: Well, I've always said they'll be sent when the health checks are complete. The health checks take in the order of about two weeks so, you know, that two week period that I originally flagged would take us through to Friday.

KIERAN GILBERT: And the cargo, the various pieces of infrastructure, has this started arriving?

TONY BURKE: That's right. That's on its way now, so that's been transported across first to Port Moresby and then by plane between Port

Moresby and Manus Island, and that's where, I've said the whole way through, we are capable there of rapid expansion and rapid expansion of the facilities at Manus is exactly what's happening.

KIERAN GILBERT: So we should expect that the first people to be sent to Manus will happen by the end of the week?

TONY BURKE: Well, I've always said the test isn't an arbitrary deadline. The test is health checks. In the ordinary course, health checks take about two weeks.

KIERAN GILBERT: Well, two weeks is Friday.

TONY BURKE: You get some people where health checks can take longer, some people where it's a briefer period of time, but I'm not working to a deadline of how quickly I need to get people across. My deadline is when health checks are complete, people can go across.

KIERAN GILBERT: There are 1350 asylum seekers that have arrived since the PNG deal was announced. The Manus capacity's getting well and truly tested, even with that number, isn't it?

TONY BURKE: Be in no doubt about what we are doing now to allow rapid expansion at Manus. Anyone who's wanted to set a limit on, you know, this is how many people you can take or this is how many people you can get across or different forms of limits is exactly what the people smuggling operators would love. They'd love to think they could overwhelm our capacity. They can't. Capacity will increase as required.

KIERAN GILBERT: You can expand quickly, but doesn't the haste with which you're putting it together raise further doubts about conditions?

TONY BURKE: No. The - what we’re doing there with the rapid expansion is tents and marquees. Now there's already some fixed structures there when I went and had a look last week, so they'll be used as well. Some of the areas that have been tents and marquees for quite some time will start to rotate through and we'll have fixed structures gradually being put in place there as well. So, as well as the rapid expansion of the temporary accommodation, we're still methodically adding permanent accommodation there as well.

KIERAN GILBERT: Now, I know you don't want to accept arbitrary deadlines, but how soon would - before women and children will be sent to PNG, in rough terms? Weeks or months?

TONY BURKE: Look, if we're talking months I don't think we're talking many months. The facilities to make sure that it's right for family groups, you need to do a few things. Importantly, you need to make sure that the family groups are being kept well away from where you've got single adult males. So some of the facilities go to education and actually quality facilities. Some of it goes to physical location and separation from other groups.

KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Burke, the flow of boats has not abated. Do you see this as people smugglers rushing people onto boats as quickly as possible before the policy kicks in in full effect or are they, like you alluded to earlier, trying to overwhelm it?

TONY BURKE: We always said people would test our resolve. Now they're doing exactly what we said they would, and they'll discover that we're going to do exactly what we said we would, and that is we've made clear that if you come by boat without a visa now, you will not be settled in Australia. We're going to follow through on that, and each stage of the timing and the process that we said we would follow is exactly how things had been going.

KIERAN GILBERT: Have you got any advice that the message is getting through to asylum seekers, transit countries?

TONY BURKE: Yeah we do, and that advice - obviously the full advice channels I can't refer to, but even the media on the ground have no trouble finding people who are saying now they're going to go through the UNHCR process, United Nations process. Other people smugglers effectively shrugging their shoulders and saying well, they made money for a while but it's probably over now. The media have had no trouble reaching the same individuals where we're getting our information. It'll be different for different cohorts and different groups of people, and some people will have a view that they think they'll get away with it. Well, we needed to draw a line here. The moment we had the cooperation from Papua New Guinea, it was time to announce it and start implementing it.

KIERAN GILBERT: Has there been progress with other countries in the region for possibly replicating the PNG deal?

TONY BURKE: We're not going out there selling it to different countries. Certainly, the agreement with Papua New Guinea contemplates that other nations may choose to become involved. Obviously when I was in Nauru last week, most of my attention there had to deal with reconstructing and rebuilding what has been destroyed during a horrific ride.

KIERAN GILBERT: I want to turn your attention now to the heartbreaking image of the child's coffin on the front page of a number of our newspapers this morning. It's a reminder of the terrible cost in this area, isn't it, and the stakes in this area.

TONY BURKE: Yeah, it is. Yeah, it is and I'm the minister and my view is always when you're the minister for something, you take responsibility for what happens on your watch and this is where some people wanted to characterise it as though we're thumping the table

and trying to show how tough we are or it's a shift to the right or something like that. No one should pretend for a minute that there is a lack of compassion in wanting to stop people drowning at sea, in wanting to make sure the most needy people in the world are chosen by the UN, not by smugglers, and [audio skips] to have a pathway whereby Australia can help more refugees, not fewer.

And I won't accept the argument that's put out there quite a bit

by some that somehow this is away from what you would expect and what you would want if you believe in the values of the Labor Party.

KIERAN GILBERT: It shows just how much is at stake in your policy area. The names of those who have died in asylum seeker tragedies are not normally released. Will you consider doing that to provide the human face to the tragedies?

TONY BURKE: There are issues there which specifically relate to families as well, so I'm not going to give you an answer straight up on that. I also think it's fair to say at this point Australians are not missing and, you know, there's no lack of understanding of the exact human cost of what we've been seeing in the Indian Ocean. The important images that I think the Department has done the right thing in getting out is also showing the images of people when they've been told that they're going to Papua New Guinea, not to Australia.

That's the image that I want to make sure gets out because that's

the image that says to people smugglers no longer have a product to sell. The significance of not settling people in Australia is that there is no longer a reason to get on a boat to Australia.

KIERAN GILBERT: The Government's finalising an economic statement to be released later this week. Your colleague, Mr Bowen, has

reiterated the plan to return to surplus by 2016-17. Do you recommit to having the full costs of the PNG deal in this economic update?

TONY BURKE: The economic update will, by definition, have to deal with the new arrangement that's been put in place. Now, there will always be the limit in these sorts of figures that you're talking about something that the funding has to vary based on the number of people who test our resolve. My preference for this policy is always that as few people as possible put their lives at risk in the Indian Ocean.

However, many choose to take that risk, the pathway for them

ultimately will be the same. They'll be transported to Papua New Guinea, they'll be processed, and if they have a successful claim, they'll be settled there.

KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Burke, thanks for your time.

TONY BURKE: Good to be with you.