Interview with Nick McCallum, 3AW
NICK McCALLUM: Jason Clare is the new Home Affairs minister. He joins us now. Good morning, Minister.
JASON CLARE: Good morning, Nick.
NICK McCALLUM: First of all, an update on the number of people we think were on the asylum seeker boat and how many have been rescued?
JASON CLARE: The advice from the Indonesian authorities is approximately 250 people were on the boat and their advice to me last night is still that around about 86 people have been rescued. I know in the press there's different numbers being mentioned, as low as 33 or so. I guess it's not surprising in a situation like this that there's confusion over how many people have been rescued. It's just my hope that it's higher rather than lower.
NICK McCALLUM: What is Australia doing initially to help in the rescue efforts and to help the people who have been rescued?
JASON CLARE: Yesterday I offered a P3 surveillance aircraft to Indonesian authorities to help with surveying the area as well as one of our Armidale Class patrol boats and overnight the Indonesian authorities had accepted that offer. So this morning HMAS Ararat is leaving off the coast of Christmas Island into the search and rescue area to assist and one of these P3 surveillance aircraft will fly over the area and work with Indonesian authorities.
In addition to that, I can tell you, I can just confirm right now that a Dash-8, a Customs' Dash-8 vessel will assist, sorry Dash-8 aircraft, will assist with the search and rescue as well.
NICK McCALLUM: But really realistically, what, it's almost 48 hours now, so the chances of anyone still being alive is not great.
JASON CLARE: It's looking increasingly grim. The 48 hour window is now closing and I've got to tell you that the weather is getting worse up there. It's in the middle of a monsoon trough. Yesterday waves were in the order of five to six metres and... [Audio break]
NICK McCALLUM: An associate of an infamous people smuggler who has recently been arrested was responsible for putting these people on this clearly overloaded boat. Is that true?
JASON CLARE: Well, I'm not going to comment on operational matters. You wouldn't expect me to do that. What I will tell you is that Australian and Indonesian authorities worked very closely together last year, twelve months ago, when the tragedy occurred on Christmas Island when that boat smashed against the rocks.
The work that Australian and Indonesian police did led to the arrest of the people smuggle responsible for that, a bloke called Haydar Khani, and you can expect that Australian police and Indonesian police are going to be working very closely on this case tracking down the people smuggler as well.
In that regard, I can tell you that the Indonesians have asked for our help and Australian Federal Police are travelling from Jakarta into Java into the area where we think the boat took off and they'll be working with Indonesian police on that one today.
NICK McCALLUM: It's not like there wasn't any forewarning about this. In fact, what the head of the Immigration Department, was it last week or the week before, told the committee that he was anticipating a surge of boats around this time. Have the Indonesians and has the Australian Government for that matter, but specifically the Indonesians, done enough to make sure that these boats haven't been leaving, particularly in the state that this boat clearly was?
JASON CLARE: We've made the point repeatedly that we expected the number of boats to try to get to Australia to increase since the failure to get that legislation through the Parliament. I should tell you I think police, both in Indonesia and Australia, do a very good job but their task is made harder by that long archipelago that makes it very difficult to disrupt and stop boats before they hit the sea.
There's more that we can do there. Part of the solution here has to be Australian Federal Police, Indonesian National Police and for that matter Malaysian Police and police of other regions working together. So I think they do very good work at the moment but we shouldn't be under any false impression that they can stop every boat before it hits the sea.
NICK McCALLUM: If the Malaysian solution legislation had got through, would you have been confident something like this would never have happened or was unlikely to...
JASON CLARE: The advantage of that...[Audio break]...to Malaysia rather than Christmas Island. You never assume that it's going to stop every boat but it creates that real disincentive. Ultimately though, the people that are responsible for this are the people who put them on the boat, who've shown a callous disregard for human life.
We're dealing here with people who are making sometimes hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars, putting people on a boat that's over crowded, leads to them drowning. I think they deserve the odium of the community. They're the ones who are responsible for these deaths.
NICK McCALLUM: Do you consider the Opposition is also to blame or not?
JASON CLARE: No, no, I wouldn't say that. I'd never say that. What I would say is that both the Government and the Opposition share a lot of the same views on this. We both support off shore processing and I think we've got an obligation to work together to get this done. People listening to your program, and there's many of them, would say Government and Opposition need to sit down in a mature and a sensible way to get this done.
There are good people, people of goodwill, on the Labor side, on the Liberal side, across the Parliament, and we need to work together to implement off shore processing.
NICK McCALLUM: Well, I was hoping this time last year what happened in Christmas Island would be the circuit breaker and there would be some sort of bipartisanship. Now, clearly that didn't happen. Do you, I mean, can we say that this is the circuit breaker, finally the Opposition and Government will stop political point scoring about asylum seekers, get together and come up with a mutually agreeable solution?
JASON CLARE: Well, terrible things, the loss of human life shouldn't have to be the precursor to make sensible decisions. We do need to get this done and I'm hopeful that working together we can because we know that off shore processing is the way to go. Think back, Nick, about Vietnam. Remember 1975, the fall of Saigon? We had about half a million Vietnamese drowned off the coast of Vietnam. The solution there was regional processing centres in places like Malaysia, the Philippines.
NICK McCALLUM: And that's the point. The Malaysian solution I don't think is a regional processing centre. We really need a genuine regional processing centre, don't we?
JASON CLARE: It's part of it. I think you're right. It needs to be part of it. What happened thirty-five years ago with Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, regional processing centres, the UN was involved. The UN won a Noble Peace Prize in 1981 for the work they did. It helped to stop people drowning at sea and trying to get to Australia by boat and it meant that we took more refugees that we otherwise would. So there's plenty of precedents that tells us that a regional approach and off shore processing is the way to go.
NICK McCALLUM; Jason Clare, Home Affairs minister. I know you're very busy. I appreciate your time. Thank you.
JASON CLARE: Not at all, Nick. Thanks very much.
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