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Transcript of interview with Steve Cannane: Lateline Friday Forum: 5 November 2010: new detention centres; banks

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Transcript - Lateline Friday Forum - 5 Nov 2010

Published 5/11/2010

SUBJECTS: New detention centres; Banks

STEVE CANNANE, PRESENTER: And to discuss the week in politics, I'm joined in Sydney by Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, and in Adelaide by the manager of opposition business and shadow education spokesman, Christopher Pyne.

Welcome to you both.


STEVE CANNANE: Chris Bowen to you first. Why are Department of Immigration Officials going to Northam and explaining Government policy? Why aren't you, as the Minister, going there and explaining to that community why there's a detention centre coming their way.

CHRIS BOWEN: I was in Northam on Monday, Steve. I had firstly a meeting with the federal member, state member, liberal federal member, state national party member, the local shire president. Then about two hours with every single counsellor, with the Chamber of Commerce, the police, regional development authorities, etc. And it was a good, constructive meeting, working through their issues, putting their mind at rest on some issues, working together on others.

STEVE CANNANE: But they don't sound like meetings that are open to the public.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well no, but it's appropriate that I meet with community leaders.

Now, yesterday, they had that meeting. I had Cabinet commitments in Sydney, and I've said I'll go back to Northam in the not too distant future and I'm happy to talk to people in as open a forum as possible.

STEVE CANNANE: Something similar seemed to happen in Invabracky, you went

there and toured the site there, but apparently you didn't stop in Woodside which is the community where the most of the heat is being generated. Why didn't you stop in that community?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well because I met with the mayor, and when you meet with the mayor you tend to meet with the mayor at the council chambers, which happens to be in the next town. And then I met, again, with the organiser of the community protests, with the chamber of commerce, the local public school, the local independent schools, the ambulance service, et cetera.

Again, extensive meetings, working through issues, and again last night in Invabracky, there was the first meeting of the community reference group which I set up to work through any issues the community has and I'm told that meeting was very constructive and worked through a lot of those issues. And that's what we do.

I, look, people are entitled to be sceptical until they see us deliver. Whenever these decisions are made there's controversy.

There was controversy when a detention facility was opened at Leonora. I was in Leonora on Tuesday, very positive feedback from the community saying it's working well, there's no issues from their point of view.

People are being welcomed, it's been great for the town, and even the reference group in Leonora said 'we might go down to Northam and tell them how well this can work'.


CHRIS BOWEN: And they're issues which often are raised when these decisions are made but they get sorted out as the centre gets up and running.

STEVE CANNANE: Christopher Pyne is it fair enough that Chris Bowen goes to the communities and speaks to the community leaders rather than going to these community forums.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE, OPPOSITION EDUCATION SPOKESMAN: Look Steve, the reason why the communities are angry in Woodside and Northam, there are two particular reasons.

Firstly, before the election the Government said it would stop the boats, it would fix the problem, it would establish an East Timor reprocessing centre, and then after the

election, within two months, it had announced two new detention centres in Australia.

Literally running up the white flag about the possibility of stopping the boats. It's East Timor reprocessing centre is in tatters and will never happen and the Prime Minister was greeted with polite discussions on her trip through South East Asia but nothing happened because nothing will. And so people are very angry because they feel they've been duped.

But secondly, they've been duped because Chris Bowen has announced these detention centres in Woodside and Northam as a surprise attack on these communities. He hasn't consulted with them beforehand. So they're rightly angry

STEVE CANNANE: OK, you mentioned that....

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ... and setting up a community reference ...

STEVE CANNANE: you mentioned that anger ... sorry ...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ... setting up that community reference group, Steve, is essentially a hand picked group of people who the Government has decided represents the community.

It's not right for Chris Bowen to send departmental officials to face the music, that he should be facing as the Minister who made these decisions. That's his responsibility.

STEVE CANNANE: OK, you mentioned the anger there and there was a lot of anger at that meeting in Northam last night, and some of the comments that were made include: 'they're criminals, they're terrorists', these are references to the asylum seekers who may move into the area. 'They will slit your throat in a second.'

Now these were comments that came from the floor of that community meeting. What do you make of those comments?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Look, I don't approve of that kind of comment. I mean, I don't think it represents good thinking about the people who have come here by boat. Obviously if a person does get here because of the Government's lax border

protection policies, they should be treated humanely.

But the responsibility of the Government in the first place, Steve, is to take the sugar off the table and stop the people smugglers in their tracks by removing the product that they want to sell, which is permanent residency in our Australian way of life.

STEVE CANNANE: OK, do you think the tone, sorry to interrupt, but do you think the tone of the political debate around asylum seekers is starting to filter into the community and some of those comments that came from the floor of the meeting last night are part of a broader political debate that has been going on about asylum seekers?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, I don't. I think the comments that were made at Northam and the anger that has been present at Woodside is because people feel that they've been tricked.

People feel they've been duped. Before the election the Government said one thing, two months later they were announcing thousands of new beds at detention centres essentially saying 'our policies were never going to work, we simply wanted to get

through the election'.

We had an asylum freeze which remarkably lasted until about four weeks after the election. They've had a record number of boats arrive this year: 8,600 people since they weakened the border protection policies in August 2008.

So people are rightly getting very angry with a Government long on cunning and short on courage and if Chris Bowen, who I know and respect, had the courage of his convictions he would front, not set peat meetings with community leaders that they've agreed to come to, but the angry crowds that are gathering in Woodside and Northam and sooth their concerns.

STEVE CANNANE: Ok, I want to come back to Chris Bowen now. Now Chris Bowen, if there is that kind of anger, that hostility in those meetings, why aren't you there to calm that anger down?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well as I've said Steve, I've been to the towns. I've met with community, and not hand picked community leaders, the organisers of the community protests in Inverbrackie, for example, are not hand picked by me.

What I've said, in both cases, to the council is 'if you provide me with community leaders I will meet with them. And in Invabracky, for example, I met with Bruni Pitts, who is no friend of the idea of opening a detention facility in Invabracky, a very vocal opponent of it, but sat down and talked with her and others about issues.

Now, I've said that I will, I am happy to engage with communities about genuine issues. But the important thing here is results. The important thing here is that any

concerns the community raises are dealt with.

For example, in both Invabracky and Northam I dealt with the issue on the impact on health services. I've explained to people that there will be Zero negative impact on health services.

And in both places the local mayors, or the shire president, have asked me to examine making actually an improvement to local services, which we are doing in consultation with them. And that's what counts - results.

In, for example, in relation to bushfires, again in Northam, at that meeting with the community leaders, they raised the issue of bushfires. We've agreed that that's an issue. We'll fund another water tanker and we'll make it available for the broader community as well, as good corporate citizens in that town.

STEVE CANNANE: OK, I want to go back to Christopher Pyne and some of the comments that were made by your leader this week, Christopher.

And I know you are not shy in talking about the attractions of South Australia, but Tony Abbott said this week that putting a detention facility in the idyllic surrounds of the Adelaide Hills will bring more boats to Australia. Now do you think he's over

stretching it a little bit there?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well what he's saying is that the Government is sending the message to people smugglers that, if they get people to Australia, and they are coming in record numbers - we had four boats in the last two days; four boats in two days - then taking them to Woodside or other places sends the message that they

will be cared for in the community and that there's no real deterrent factor in them coming to Australia.

STEVE CANNANE: But do you believe that? But do you believe that a nice view in the Adelaide Hills will lead to more boats coming to Australia?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think that there, if people smugglers can say to people from overseas 'if you get to Australia you can get permanent residency and you will be processed in a place like Woodside that's basically 10 minutes from Adelaide', then the product is even more attractive than it was before. And that's what Tony Abbott is saying.

I mean, the Government's problem here, Steve, is that before the election they said they would fix it. They tried to pretend that they were the Coalition on border

protection. They came up with a nonsense idea about the East Timor reprocessing centre which is never going to happen. As everybody knows. Which they still keep talking about it.


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Then within two months of the election they'd announced two new detention centres, an expansion of facilities at Curtin, and another one at the Sherga airbase on Cape York.

I mean, they've lost control of the borders and the people are very angry about being fooled during the election campaign.

STEVE CANNANE: I want to move on to other issues because it was a big week in politics, in particular with the banks, and Chris Bowen, Wayne Swan announced this week that the Federal Government would bring in reforms to deal with banks, 'to

keep the banks honest', as he put it, but he won't release his plan for at least a month. Why is that?

CHRIS BOWEN: Well he flagged this well before this week Steve, he actually flagged it on the 5th of October, that there were measures to be taken in relation to competition in banking policy. Now he's been working and the Government's been working on these for some time.

These are complex areas Steve. I used to be a competition, I used to be competition minister, and I can tell you, in this field, many things that you do can have unintended consequences.

You can either leave gaps, loopholes wide open, or you can have unintended consequences right across the economy. So you do need to be very methodical about it. And in relation to this proposal he is being very methodical.

Now, Mr Hockey has said he's going to introduce legislation in a week. He thought of it last week. Well if he can produce legislation in a week, I'd like to see it and I'd like to have a good look at what it does and what implications and what unintended consequences it may have. But the Treasurer has been working on it in a very methodical way. He's flagged it a long time ago.

Mr Hockey has been slip sliding. Before he had a nine point plan he had a four point. Points in the nine point plan contradict the four point plan. He didn't talk about competition, he talked about silly things like using bank guarantees selectively for

different banks, et cetera, just silly stuff that he was making up on the run. That's not the Treasurer's style ...


CHRIS BOWEN: ... He does it much more methodically.

STEVE CANNANE: OK, Christopher Pyne, what's wrong with banks producing healthy profits and providing decent dividends to shareholders. What is wrong with that?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well there's nothing wrong with private companies or public companies producing dividends and producing healthy profits. That's what they should be doing. That's not what ...

STEVE CANNANE: But Joe Hockey ...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ... this debate is about.

STEVE CANNANE: ... seems to be saying that they are making too large a profit?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, that's not what Joe Hockey has said and that's not what the debate is about.

This debate is about introducing more competition into the banking sector and ensuring that consumers, as in mortgagees, are not ripped off by banks pushing up interest rates further than the Reserve Bank suggests. And listening to Chris Bowen it all sounds to me like Government is just too hard for the Labor Party.

They didn't win the election, they won the negotiation. They wanted to be in Government, but every time you've presented Chris Bowen with a problem tonight it's always just far too difficult. And everybody's got to understand that poor old Government is trying its best and we should be patient and we should wait a bit longer. Well ....


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ... this Government's been in power ....

CHRIS BOWEN: ... can I just come in there ...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ... for three years.

CHRIS BOWEN: I mean that's just ridiculous. I mean we are the government which has done things about competition and financial services ...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well get on with governing.

CHRIS BOWEN: .... matters which the previous Government never had the whip to do. I mean we're the government which banned ....

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Apparently Chris Bowen you're saying that Wayne Swan has spent ....

CHRIS BOWEN: Hang on you had your go ...

STEVE CANNANE: Hang on a second Christopher, I'll come back to you in a second ...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, you actually interrupted me.

CHRIS BOWEN: Well you had a good go.

We're the Government which has banned ...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, you actually interrupted me Chris Bowen.

STEVE CANNANE: One second Christopher and I'll ....

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: You interrupted me and Steve Cannane asked me a question and I was answering it and you interrupted me. So ...

STEVE CANNANE: Ok Christopher ...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ... that's what happened.

STEVE CANNANE: ... I'll give you plenty of time to respond, Chris Bowen, if you finish your point and we'll come back to Christopher Pyne.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thank you Steve. We're the government which abolished unfair exit fees for mortgages.

We're the government which criminalised cartel conduct in Australia, something Peter Costello said he would do - never did - we actually did it.

We're the government which embarked on the greatest modernisation of the Trade Practices Act since 1974.

We're the government which introduced national consumer affairs protection. These are all things we've done in three years which the previous government didn't get around to in 12.

STEVE CANNANE: Ok, I'll let Christopher Pyne, respond now. Christopher Pyne.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Thank you Steve. What Chris Bowen wants us to believe is that, apparently Wayne Swan has spent months and months and months coming up with exactly the same idea as Joe Hockey about giving the ACCC the power to investigate price signalling. In other words, collusion between the banks. And this takes another month for Wayne Swan to actually publicly announce.

What we're really seeing here is politics. Labor can't accept that they've done nothing about interest rates rising and about the banks. They can't accept that after 33 warnings from Wayne Swan the banks are treating him like a lightweight, like a toddler ...

STEVE CANNANE: Christopher Pyne ...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ... in the banking sector.

STEVE CANNANE: ... can I just finally - how do you feel about the fact that Bob Brown supports Joe Hockey's nine point plan?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, it's great for the Greens to support sensible ideas. I wish they did it more often. It is a sensible idea. We came up with it, we will try and legislate for it through a private members' bill. If the Greens want to support our sensible plans, we certainly welcome their support.

STEVE CANNANE: OK, gentlemen, we'll have to leave it there, but thanks very much for coming in.

CHRIS BOWEN: Thanks Steve, nice to talk to you.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It's a pleasure, thank you.