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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 1 August 2006: 43rd West Papuan asylum seeker; Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006.

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Member for Watson Shadow Minister for Immigration



Subject: 43rd West Papuan Asylum Seeker, Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006.

Tony Burke: (inaudible) Refugee Review Tribunal and the process unfolding in determining that the 43rd of the Papuan asylum seekers will be allowed to remain in Australia. What is important here is the process of Australian law is taking its course.

The Government’s made its decision and occasionally government decisions will be overturned by the RRT. I’m not particularly focused about that and am not particularly concerned about that. The Australian legal processes are taking its course.

My concern is that the Government has determined that this will never happen again. The Government intends to make the 43rd Papuan the last asylum seeker who will have the protection of Australian law if they come here by sea.

When we have Australian legal processes they follow in due course and we are able to apply our own sense of decency. We are not able to do that when we dump people in other countries, we are not able to do that when we put them beyond reach of Australian law.

So for all the talk that’s there today about whether the Government has mucked up the original decision or not, my concern goes beyond that. My concern is that this time, Australian law is able to take its course; the Government intends that that will never happen again.

Journalist: With regards to the strong endorsement the Prime Minister has received from his colleagues in recent weeks, do you think when Parliament returns next week that he will take a harder line with the rebels in the party room who do want a more humane approach to Papuan refugees?

Tony Burke: I’ve been impressed with the rebels within the Government so far standing for what they believe. I can’t see anything that’s happened over the winter break that changes what they believe. If they believe that children should not be in detention then

they cannot support this bill. I mean you might have seen on the internet the Government now has their supposed compromised amendments and it says things like ‘As a statement of principle this Parliament believes children should only be detained as a last resort.’ Well that statement is all well and good but it means nothing to the law of Nauru.

Journalist: (inaudible) are you (inaudible) concerned about what reaction you might receive from Indonesia?

Tony Burke: Our attitude is you deal with foreign affairs issues in the foreign affairs way and that is you deal with it diplomatically. Our concern is that you should never send a message to Indonesia or anywhere in the region that you can change the domestic law to try to fix up a foreign affairs problem. That sends the worst possible message and you end up going down a path of new ambit claims and new levels of appeasement.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Tony Burke: Well I actually think the Government’s proposal will end up causing similar problems because what we saw with the pacific solution last time was that people were dumped on Nauru-dumped there for years, millions and millions of Australian taxpayer dollars are wasted- and they ended up living in Australia anyway. Anything

other than the individuals being returned to Indonesia will ultimately cause a problem for Indonesia. What the Government is doing now is going down a path of false hope and going down a path of appeasement and it’s only going to end when people have to acknowledge we’re a sovereign nation. Indonesia may be concerned about Papuan sovereignty, but I am a bit more concerned about Australian sovereignty.

Journalist: Didn’t the Minister have a point when she argued that the refugee had not exhausted all other avenues considering he had a temporary visa from Japan?

Tony Burke: I’m not bagging out the Minister for her original decision. She’s got levels of information in the file that aren’t available to me and those discretions are going to be exercised. I don’t view the RRT decision as something that’s a particular smack-down against Amanda Vanstone. What I do regard it as Australian law taking its course. And my concern is that Amanda Vanstone and John Howard are determined that that will never happen again.

Journalist: Do you think that the events of today should secure the stance of those rebels in the Liberal party?

Tony Burke: I hope that the events of today make no difference to them. So far they’ve opted for everything I’ve been able to tell entirely on principle and entirely on what they believe. Twelve months ago, everybody in the Parliament believed that children shouldn’t be locked up. Now there are some members of the Government, the Prime Minister included who think it’s enough to just state the principle and then dump people in other countries. If the rebels believe what they believed last year and what they believed before the winter break, then they will continue to oppose the bill.

Journalist: Was Beazley versus Howard your preferred fight, Tony (inaudible)?

Tony Burke: I very much want to see that fight. John Howard went to the last election never mentioning the industrial relations changes- no mention of them at all. We will finally get a chance to have a head-to-head contest to make clear to the

Australian people: do you believe in an industrial relations system that’s designed to drive wages down?

Journalist: (inaudible)

Tony Burke: I have received a number of emails and a lot of correspondence about this. I’m writing to the Minister today about that. I don’t know the medical situation, but the way it has been put forward to me in the information I have received, raises some significant duty of care concerns and I’ll be wanting to hear the Minister’s response to that.

Journalist: (inaudible)

Tony Burke: I’ll be wanting to make sure the duty of care obligations are fulfilled. There’s information that I don’t know that I want to find out before I am in a position to give a direct opinion on that.


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