Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of doorstop interview: Sydney: 17 April 2009: ashmore reef tragedy; Labor's failed policies on people smuggling.

Download PDFDownload PDF



17 April 2009


Subjects: Ashmore Reef tragedy; Labor’s failed policies on people smuggling.



We all agree that people smuggling is a loathsome and evil trade. What we need however are policies to send a tough and effective message to people smugglers that they’re not welcome and put that evil trade out of business.

Since August last year when the Labor Government changed our policies, softened them - that was their policy, they wanted to soften the tough border protection policies of the government, of the Howard Government - since then we’ve seen a dramatic increase in unauthorised boat arrivals. The people smugglers have been hard at work. They have been delivering far too many people to Australia, putting far too many lives at risk - not just the lives of their passengers, but also the lives of the Defence personnel who have to deal with them on the high seas and who, as we have seen, put their own lives at risk as they do so.

Now we need effective policies. Policies that work. Policies that will bring an end to this evil and loathsome trade. We had policies that effectively did that. The Labor Government changed those policies and since then there has been a dramatic increase in people smuggling. The numbers sadly speak for themselves. And that is why I have called on Mr Rudd to sit down with us and discuss how we can agree on new policies - because his are not working - effective policies that will ensure that this vile trade is brought to an end.


Mr Turnbull you know you have the support of most Australians on this, don’t you?


Australians want to see their borders protected and they are - all of us - very concerned about the lives, the safety of the people that are being carried across the seas in these little boats and of course the safety of our own defence personnel who have to deal with them on the high seas. People smuggling is vile trade. But there is no substitute for tough and effective policies that bring it to an end.



Mr Turnbull what exactly would you change about the Government’s current border protection policies?


Well the most significant change the Government made in August was to abandon the temporary protection visas which were designed by the previous Coalition Government to establish a real disincentive for unauthorised boat arrivals.

Now the Labor Party said that those temporary protection visas had no impact on the level of boat arrivals, which had dwindled to barely a trickle, very few boat arrivals were being seen. We said that was a result of our tough policies; Labor said it was just a coincidence.

They abandoned our tough policies and there has been a dramatic increase in unauthorised boat arrivals. Labor says that is a coincidence too. Indeed Senator Evans, the Immigration Minister said this morning that the state of Australia’s border protection polices had no effect on the level of unauthorised boat arrivals. Now I think the vast majority of Australians, like me, find that statement completely unbelievable.


Have we reached a point now where we need both sides of politics to be reading from the same hymn book, so to speak?


We should have an agreed position. That would be very desirable. It would be great if both sides of politics were sending the same tough message to people smugglers, which was ‘you are not wanted, and you will not be successful in your object of trying to come to Australia’. But we need to have tough policies and effective policies. Now the Labor Government has access to police reports from the AFP, to security and intelligence reports. If those reports are saying that there is no relationship between the dramatic increase in boat arrivals and the softening of the previous Government’s tough policies on border protection, then they should produce that advice. But they should certainly be prepared to sit down with us and discuss this, because we would like to see an agreed position. I think it’d be great if Australia could speak with one voice on this matter, but at the moment we’ve got a policy, a Labor policy on border protection that is not working - the numbers speak for themselves.


Mr Turnbull, do you think public opinion is against the smugglers, or is it against arrivals?


My focus is on getting policies that are right, that are effective. You see at the moment we have Labor policies that are not effective. The Labor Government said that removing or abolishing the temporary protection visas, which were a deliberate disincentive to people smugglers, they said removing those temporary protection visas would have no effect, would make no difference to the level of people smuggling. Since they have been removed there has been a dramatic increase. Now they say that’s just a coincidence. That is not believable. Clearly their policies are not working. You have to judge policies by their results, and the results are not good - too many unauthorised boat arrivals, too many lives being put at risk.



Well what do you think of the time it’s taken so far to actually find out what’s happened and what went on at Ashmore Reef?


Well that is really a matter for the authorities. It’s a long way away. It’s important that they get the facts right, that people get back to Australia, to the mainland, and of course it’s also important that the first priority is given to those that have been injured. All of our concern should be focused on those that have been injured in this terrible tragedy, but once those medical concerns have been dealt with, and people that need hospitalisation have been taken to hospital, we also have to focus on getting the policy right.

You see, people smuggling is vile trade. It isn’t just a question of challenging the integrity of our borders - although protecting the integrity of our borders is of course the primary duty of every government - but we have to remember that there are people whose lives are being put at risk in these tiny boats on these vast seas, and not just the people on the boats, but the personnel working for us, wearing our uniform in the Australian Defence Forces, who are being put at risk as they deal with these very difficult situations.

Thanks very much.