Interview with Kieran Gilbert - Sky News - 15 August 2012

Topic: Asylum Seekers

KIERAN GILBERT: Minister thanks for your time. People smugglers are whisking more people - asylum seekers onto boats, charging them more. Was a rush like this expected?

JASON CLARE: I'm not surprised. You would expect people smugglers to try and squeeze every last dollar out of this.

Remember Kieran that a people smuggler can potentially make a million dollars for every boat that they set to sea. So you would expect them to push as many people onto boats as they can.

My message to people that are thinking about getting onto a boat is don't pay them a cent. Because whilst people smugglers might be telling you that they're selling you a ticket to Australia that's now all changed.

KIERAN GILBERT: Are they trying to test the government's resolve? Test the policy here. Is that what they're doing? Or are they just trying to get in before the shutters go up?

JASON CLARE: They're trying to make money. That's what this has always been about. About making as much money as you possibly can and whether people die or not is really not a concern for them. So you would expect them to try and get as many people onto a boat as they can.

But the economic dynamics of this have now changed and people should know that if you're trying to buy a ticket to Australia then you may not end up in Australia. You might very well be buying a ticket to Nauru.

KIERAN GILBERT: And one of the vessels was picked up by a merchant ship in the last few days. It was heading to Singapore but there's news today that the ship had to turn around because the asylum seekers were threatening violence. What are the details of this report?

JASON CLARE: That's right. This all happened on Tuesday. A ship rang the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in distress. We sent out a broadcast to ships in the area. A merchant vessel picked them up early on Tuesday morning. It then intended to head to its original destination of Singapore. The people on the ship then got very aggressive and the master of the ship made the decision not to go to Singapore but to go to Christmas Island instead.

Those people are now back at Christmas Island. They arrived on Tuesday night. They now face the prospect like other people who come by boat over the next few days of ending up in Nauru.

KIERAN GILBERT: And in terms of Nauru, the reconnaissance team, when will they be there? Initially we thought they'd arrive tomorrow. Is that still on track?

JASON CLARE: We've brought that forward by a day now Kieran, so the recon team will leave today. They will arrive in Manus Island tonight and then arrive in Nauru I think tomorrow. So that's been brought forward by a day.

It's important that we do this work as quick as we can and set up processing as quick as we can. That will send the strongest possible message to people smugglers that the game is over.

KIERAN GILBERT: You will be hoping that the boat's slow though because the facilities in Nauru are limited aren't they. It's going to take months to build the permanent facilities and at best under the Howard Government solution I think it was seven-hundred-and-fifty people housed. So it's not a great deal.

JASON CLARE: No, but we do need to do it as quickly as possible. Remember what this is all about. It's about stopping people dying. You mentioned that boat on Tuesday. When those people arrived at Christmas Island on Tuesday night they told us that one of the people on that boat had fallen overboard. So that's another person that now we understand has died at sea.

The time for politics on this has long passed. It's about saving people's lives. We've got another story today of another person who's been lost at sea. We need to do this and implement it as quickly as we can.

KIERAN GILBERT: There are still a lot of human rights concerns. The UNHCR says Australia's at risk of breaching its international obligations. The resettlement's based on individual protection needs not time spent in a queue. That's going to be tough to deliver. Particularly given a lot of your own colleagues are reticent to say the least about this policy.

JASON CLARE: This is tough. Make no bones about it. This is a wretched area of public policy and there are no easy choices. But understand what this is about. People are coming to Australia by boat because they think it's the fastest way to get to Australia. What compassionate people like Angus Houston have said is you need a no advantage test. So you don't get to Australia any quicker by coming by boat than you would if you went through the UN process in Jakarta.

And that's the key to breaking this system that encourages people to give a people smuggler ten thousand dollars to get on a boat and risk their life.

KIERAN GILBERT: But for those caught up there for years and years there are going to be real risks of psychological problems. We saw that last time. This is actually going to be tougher than the Howard Government approach.

JASON CLARE: Well this is a very, very tough area. What is different to what happened under the Howard Government is independent oversight. That's something that Paris Aristotle insisted upon. It's a very important part of making sure that people that are very vulnerable are protected under what is - make no bones about it - a very tough regime.

KIERAN GILBERT: And finally Papua New Guinea says they want a formal agreement, including financial commitments before they allow the processing to commence. I think the Howard Government funded sixty million dollars in terms of balance of payments funds to PNG. What sort of ballpark are we talking this time?

JASON CLARE: Minister Bowen will begin those discussions. That's an area that he's working in right now. He'll be able to give you more details over the course of the next few weeks.

KIERAN GILBERT: Okay Minister thanks for your time.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Kieran.

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