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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House, Perth: 18 April 2007: asylum seekers; Resources Reference Group.

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Member for Watson

Shadow Minister for Immigration, Integration and Citizenship


18 APRIL 2007

Subject: Asylum seekers; Resources Reference Group

BURKE: I was astonished to hear the Government’s announcement this morning regarding the deal with the United States. Five years ago you never would have found John Howard putting forward a plan that provided an incentive for people-smuggling operations but that is exactly what this plan offers.

For me there is no argument, Australia is the best country in the world. That is not a view universally held and it’s certainly the case that in the refugee camps in the world, there is no greater prize than being able to make it to the United States. What John Howard is doing is sending a message to the world that says if you can get a people-smuggler to get you as far as Christmas Island then John Howard will pick up the fare to

New York.

It is the most extraordinary change in refugee policy you could imagine. We’re providing the greatest incentive there ever could be - a trip and residence in the United States - for people who arrive in people-smuggling operations off the coast of Christmas Island.

Five years ago you never, never would have seen John Howard put forward a policy like this.

JOURNALIST: So do you think there is some hidden agenda here?

BURKE: I think the sense of balance, any common sense judgement that John Howard used to have, he doesn’t exercise anymore. He’s not the same bloke that he used to be and policies like this are the glaring example of it. I mean, this is the opposite of everything he used to say he would deliver in public policy.

JOURNALIST: What would be in it for both countries to sign such an agreement?

BURKE: I can understand from the perspective of the United States that they’re wanting to quite directly send a message to Cuba that the Cubans will not be settled in the United States but the message works very differently for them than it works from Australia’s perspective. From Australia’s perspective we have to deal with the fact that a small number of people who try by boat to arrive unauthorised in Australia. A very large number of people tried to do the same in the United States.

No matter how much we love our country, and I do, they are a greater prize for people seeking a new country, than we are.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible)

BURKE: I can’t understand it. I can’t understand it and I’m not going to try to see inside the mind of John Howard. All I can guarantee is that it is something that you never would have seen from him five years ago.

JOURNALIST: Under this plan, and to what your understanding is, what would happen? Would the Cuban asylum seekers be housed in the communities across Australia or would they be on offshore detention centres? What would happen there?

BURKE: The language in today’s papers refers to resettlement. Resettlement doesn’t mean continued indefinite detention. Resettlement means some of them would live in the United States and some of the ones provided to us from the United States would live in Australia.

I mean the experience so far of Nauru has been that about thirty nine people were settled in North America or Europe and more than a thousand were resettled in Australia or New Zealand. The concept of saying these individuals will never come here has failed but we now move to a new system where people who don’t get to settle here will actually be resettled somewhere that is a greater incentive. A country that is generally viewed in the refugee camps around the world as the best prize you can win.

JOURNALIST: These Cubans seeking asylum in America, do you think it will be a disincentive for them having the threat of being shipped out to Australia?

BURKE: I don’t know. I presume that’s the message that the United States wants to send. I just don’t think it plays the same way for them as it plays for us. I would love to think around the world everyone viewed Australia as the best possible destination on the planet. The truth is the United States is the country that is viewed as the best place for resettlement if you can get there and John Howard’s now providing the means for people to get there.

This will not result in fewer boats. If anything it will result in more.

JOURNALIST: Times are tough in Cuba it might be (inaudible) for people who are happy to start a better life in Australia.

BURKE: And we do as a nation and this is one area I am not critical of the Government on - the issue of what we do with providing people who are offshore with the chance of resettlement in Australia. The government has that offshore program and there is no reason for Cuba to necessarily be excluded from it. That part of it isn’t a policy change from what we already do.

The significant change is the public message that if you arrive in a people smuggling operation it is a fast track method to make it to the United States.

JOURNALIST: The Federal Government says it is just formalising arrangements that they had. I wasn’t aware that there was such a (inaudible)

BURKE: This is brand new. When they had people on Nauru, as I said, thirty nine were settled across Canada and Europe and none went to the United States. What we are seeing today is new and it holds a very real risk that more people will see themselves putting their lives at risks on the high seas, on the way to Christmas Island because John Howard has just given people smugglers a brand new market.

JOURNALIST: Like giving them a green card to the US.

BURKE: That’s right.

JOURNALIST: Mr Burke just on another issue briefly. Yesterday you were announced as a member of Federal Labor’s committee into AWA’S in the resources sector. What do you think will replace them, if Labor is saying there won’t be any individual contracts on mine sites, what do you think will replace them then? What is the alternative?

BURKE: The committee is the Resources Reference Group. Julia Gillard is a member of it and she deals with the AWA section of that. There is also significant relevance to skills shortages in the mining sector and the immigration program is part of meeting that. So it’s on issues like permanent skills migration and the 457 visa that will be my key contribution to that Reference Group.

JOURNALIST: But this committee, which you are a member of, it’s going to be facing challenging times because a vast majority of WA mine workers are on AWAs.

BURKE: The committee has been set up because we want to make sure that we do continue with very high levels of productivity. We want to make sure that we invest for the next generation and the next ten years and long term productivity. That’s why the shadow ministers who have the different areas to bring to the table of relevance to the

mining sector have been put on that. Julia Gillard is there to be making sure that she is doing the consultation on industrial relations. For me it is very much the immigration issues.

JOURNALIST: However the key question will be, which mine workers will certainly be asking is, if they can’t continue on AWAs under a Federal Labor Government, what’s the alternative?

BURKE: Julia Gillard is available in Perth today so she is here and I’m not going to cross over to areas where she will be able to give answers way beyond what I can. What I can say though is I think if you don’t see the importance to the mining sector of immigration then we are missing a big driver of productivity. I was with Minerals Council only on Monday and had long discussions there and the industrial relations part of it is not their only concern. They have been hit badly by the skills shortage and making sure that we have a carefully tailored immigration program through both temporary and permanent visas has to be part of that solution and that’s why I have been put in the reference group.