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Transcript of doorstop interview 13 November 2003, London: Kurdish asylum-seekers; taxation.

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Subjects: Kurdish asylum-seekers; Taxation

JOURNALIST: Simon Crean, now that we know these people did seek asylum, is it Labor’s policy that we should have accepted that application and assessed them in Australia?

CREAN: It’s not clear what the true circumstances are of this position. What it appears is the Government not only hasn’t told the Australian people the truth on this, they haven’t told the Indonesians the truth. We were being told they hadn’t sought asylum. Presumably, that’s what they told the Indonesians.

Now, you can’t build regional cooperation, you can’t deal with the problem, unless you are honest with your neighbours. This is another example of Truth Overboard.

JOURNALIST: We now do now that these people did seek asylum. The Government has conceded that and given details of that. Given that, should those people have been assessed, allowed onto Australian soil to be processed here?

CREAN: I think if people arrive, under our policy, they should be assessed as quickly as possible. If they’re genuine asylum-seekers, they should be treated as such under our conventions. If they’re not genuine asylum-seekers, they should be returned home. But we’re not being told the truth, that’s the key point here.

And for the life of me I don’t understand how we protect our borders by surrendering them with the excision of the islands. And the real question that has to be asked here is, how did this boat get through? Now, Labor’s position, quite frankly, is that we would have had better border protection. We would have had the Coastguard, we would have had the surveillance in place.

The Howard Government has downsized the commitment in terms of the border protection. That’s how the boat got in undetected. They still haven’t answered the question as to when it was first detected. We need the answer to that. But,


quite frankly, Labor’s position would have been to use the Coastguard to better detect it in the first place.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister’s message is that Labor’s opposition to the excision of the islands, your policy to not support that, is effectively a policy to frustrate the Government’s deterrence policy.

CREAN: The Government’s excision policy is silly. You don’t protect your borders by surrendering your territory, and that is what excision does. So we’ve got to understand that point, but the other thing is in terms of dealing with it, you need the Coastguard, the honesty and truthfulness with our neighbours, including agreements with them.

If the Government says it’s serious about stopping the people smugglers, how serious can you be where you send them back to Indonesia where they get off scott-free? That’s the effect of the Government’s policy. Why? Because Indonesia does not have a law against people smugglers. Australia sending the boat of people-smugglers back to Indonesia is no deterrent at all. It’s letting the people smugglers off scott-free.

JOURNALIST: But if the flow of people smugglers and asylum seekers by boat to Australia has slowed to a trickle, which it has, why can’t the Government claim that its deterrence policy, including the excision of islands, is working - and that your policy to throw that out would send a signal to the world that Australia is open for business again.

CREAN: Because the boat still got in - that is the test as to why their policy is not being effective - the boat still got here. The fact that they were signalling excision didn’t deter the boat - it got here. What the Government hasn’t told us is: did it land; did they seek asylum; when was it first detected?

JOURNALIST: The Government has told us now that it landed and they did seek asylum.

CREAN: Two weeks’ later, two weeks’ later. It’s another example of having to draw it out. It’s like drawing teeth. This is another example of Truth Overboard. They wouldn’t come clean with the Australian public early, and they haven’t come clean with the Indonesians. No wonder we haven’t been able to secure appropriate arrangements with the Indonesians to deal with this problem.

The other point I make, Fran, is it’s interesting that there are 13 countries not signatory to the Refugee Convention - 13, and they’re Commonwealth countries. Why not use CHOGM to really put on the agenda in the next three weeks a framework for dealing with this problem. I challenge the Prime Minister to put it on the agenda. He chairs it; it’s his last meeting. If he’s serious about border protection, put it on the agenda of CHOGM, get some understanding with the countries that are in the transit path, in the source path, and let’s deal with it sensibly in a lasting way.


JOURNALIST: Mr Crean, on another issue, a debate is going on in your party in your absence over tax. The Shadow Treasurer says there’s a case for tax relief across the board. Is that Labor’s position, tax cuts for all?

CREAN: Labor’s position is that the Australian people are being taxed the highest they’ve ever been. The heaviest burden falls on the majority of Australian families. They’re being taxed more and they’re being charged more. My commitment is to ease the pressure on Australian families, and that can be done either through tax cuts or improved services. My priority to date has been to do it through improved services.

What we go to the next election with will be determined at the appropriate time. But we have to save Medicare and restore bulk billing. We have to make education affordable again, because the Howard Government is not only taxing people more, but it’s charging them more for their health and education.

JOURNALIST: But if the Government did move to lower the tax brackets for the higher paid, would Labor support that?

CREAN: The Government? When is it moving to lower tax rates? The last tax relief it gave was a milkshake-and-sandwich tax cut. Not only did they give a minimalist tax cut, they want to charge people more for their health and for their education.

What Labor demonstrated is that, in addition to the tax cuts, we could lower the cost of health and lower the cost of education. That’s what the Australian people are looking for. They’re looking for how the pressure can be taken off them, because they can’t make ends meet. I’m committed to making sure they get a better deal. That is not just about tax cuts, it’s about improved services, and that’s what I’m committed to.

JOURNALIST: Are you suspicious of the way the troops are lining up in your party on this debate? It seems to be Anthony Albanese, Wayne Swan, even Kim Beazley, on one side, versus Mark Latham on the other. That sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?

CREAN: I encourage healthy debate within the party. We’re coming up to a Conference. I think that people read too much into these things. What they’ve got to understand is that this is the Labor Party debating options to ease the pressure on Australian families, and the people who are going to benefit out of Labor’s determination on this are Australian families because they’ve been slugged by the Howard Government. I’m going to lift the pressure on them, and I’m going to do it in ways that make real common sense to those people.