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Transcript of doorstop interview: The Domain, Sydney: 20 January 2006: West Papuan boat people; Amanda Vanstone.\n

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TONY BURKE MP Member for Watson Shadow Minister for Immigration


Subject: West Papuan boat people, Amanda Vanstone


Tony Burke: I’d like to make clear that the Labor Party understands that while health, security and identity checks are being carried out it can be necessary for people to be placed in detention. We welcome the fact that the families [of the West Papuans] have not been placed in detention, who, as I understand, have either formally sought asylum now or will be doing so imminently.

However, there are no excuses for the government adopting, yet again, the most expensive option. Sending these families and the few men who will be placed inside detention all the way to Christmas Island is the most expensive option. It’s expensive in terms of the reopening of that facility which never should have been reopened when the Vietnamese arrived, while we had spare capacity in our detention centres on the mainland. It’s the most expensive option for sending people there. Those expenses then get relayed again every time they have to meet with their legal team.

Added to that, you have a further distance between them and access to their legal teams and, worst of all, we are guaranteeing that it will be as difficult as possible for there to be any scrutiny by the media during the time the West Papuans are having their claims assessed.

Health, identity, security - they’re the reasons for detention to take place. Once those checks are complete, there will be no reason for people to not be allowed back within the Australian community while it’s being determined whether or not they are genuine refugees.

Journalist: Do you think that they’re trying to keep them out of sight, out of mind?

Tony Burke: That’s exactly what they’re trying to do. And in doing so, to get the best media spin - which for them is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ - they’re going to have an immense cost to the taxpayers. Every taxpayer pays, and the lives of these people seeking asylum will be placed in turmoil during that period.

Journalist: Inaudible

Tony Burke: Look, it’s important for those cases to be assessed at arms length and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on the merits or otherwise of the cases. I want it assessed at arms length, I want it assessed independently and I don’t want our relationship with Indonesia to be brought into question in any way during that. They should be completely assessed on their merits and if that creates a diplomatic problem, then that can be dealt with by Foreign Affairs. It should have no bearing whatsoever on the claims of these West Papuans.

Journalist: What would a Labor government do?

Tony Burke: A Labor government would only detain these individuals for health, security and identity checks. The family groups themselves would not be placed in detention, they’d be within the community. The few people who are being placed in detention would only be detained while those security checks are being carried out and then they’d be allowed to live within the community while the actual claims for asylum are being assessed.

If I could also say, with the announcement we’ve had by Robert Hill now, it’s clear that we have a likelihood of an essential re-shuffle and a likelihood that there’d be a major reshuffle. This is a clear opportunity for the Prime Minister to move Amanda Vanstone as far away from the immigration portfolio as possible.

Under Amanda Vanstone, this portfolio has been a turnstile of incompetence. There’s no excuse for keeping her there. The Prime Minister now gets to decide: if he thinks that her administration of this Department has been good, if he supports Australians being deported and Australian residents being locked up, if he’s satisfied with a Minister who oversaw a situation where a registered child sex offender was given a visa to go visit Queensland only to then re-offend before he was deported. All of these problems have happened and have been an absolute part of the way the worst minister in the government, Amanda Vanstone, has administered her portfolio. This is the opportunity for the Prime Minister to either say he’s happy with the way she’s being running the portfolio or move her completely away from the Cabinet table


Media Contact: Katie Ford (02) 9554 3808