MARK PARTON: This is ‘Talking Canberra’ on 1206 2CC, as we go to the Federal Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson. G’day, Emmo.
CRAIG EMERSON: Parto, how are you?
PARTON: Not bad. Wanted to talk…well so many people have wanted to talk this morning about the asylum seeker issue and we had a massive discussion with Malcolm Farr from news.com.au of course. He’s reporting what some of these Navy officials have said, that Tony Abbott’s idea is perhaps a little more dangerous than Tony Abbott believes.
EMERSON: I think it’s worth reflecting on the fact that the SIEV 36 in 2009 blew up when naval personnel sought to board it. They could smell petrol. Five people died, and five of the six Navy personnel were injured.
PARTON: Is it possible that because this debate has been so long and loud in Australia, because of the reach that the internet has now as opposed to 10 years ago, that whatever policy is implemented instantly there’s going to be a way to battle it by those who spend their lives making money out of battling policies like these.
EMERSON: One of the unique features of Australia is that it’s a continent with a massive coastline and a lot of islands quite nearby. Indonesia’s got 17,000 islands and surprise, surprise, these people smugglers don’t tip off the Indonesian authorities when they’re about to embark a vessel headed for Australia, headed for Christmas Island. So we’ve got this massive coastline and I agree that the people smugglers convey information to quite desperate asylum seekers and that information very often is incorrect. You know, that they’re entitled to great benefits; that they will be accepted as refugees; and when they do arrive, quite often, they’re gravely disappointed. I think the figures are for Iranian asylum seekers a success rate of 22 per cent. And they get very upset when they feel that they’ve been misled and they blame Australia for it.
PARTON: Craig, the thing that I don’t understand and that so many of the listeners don’t understand, is that one of these boats again that sent a distress signal in the last 24 hours was 80 kilometres from an Indonesian coast. I don’t understand why, when the Navy get that call here in Australia, why they don’t refer it to Indonesian authorities. Because surely Indonesian authorities are geographically much better placed to deal with it?
EMERSON: I’m not an expert on this, Parto, but…
PARTON: I know you’re not, I understand that we’re talking outside of your portfolio.
EMERSON: …but I’m going to try to answer it. Because it is about maritime arrangements and law, I think there is cooperation such that, for example, if there was an Australian vessel in distress in Australian waters and an Indonesian ship was nearby, you wouldn’t be saying ‘well it’s okay Indonesia, we’ll just let them struggle and perhaps drown, don’t help us.’ I think what happens is that the vessel that is nearest under a cooperative arrangement would go to assist. And we can’t expect Indonesia to patrol all of its waters all of the time. I think what people perhaps don’t realise is the vastness of the ocean. Just the area that’s relevant I think is the size of France. I’ve had people saying ‘well, why don’t we beef up surveillance?’ It is very difficult to beef up surveillance in choppy waters and to see boats in distress. But what we’re seeking to do, Mark, is to respond to a High Court decision which has prohibited effectively offshore processing, which the major parties believe is an important deterrent to the people smuggling operations. We’re trying to get that legislation through, and the coalition of the unwilling — that is the Greens, the Liberals, and the Nationals — have been blocking that. We want to move on from the blame game. That’s why there’s an eminent persons group of three very prominent and well experienced Australians. We will listen to that report because we do want to find a way through this very difficult problem.
PARTON: Emmo, if you want to get in another few kicks at the Greens — like so many of those from your side this morning — feel free. If there’s anything nasty you want to say about Christine Milne or Sarah Hanson-Young or any of the Greens policies…
EMERSON: It’s more the policy, Mark. And what the Greens say is that it’s inhumane to have offshore processing. I can’t see the humanity in people drowning at sea and I get particularly upset when little kids drown at sea, Mark, because at least the parents make a decision — how well or badly informed it is. They take the kids on the boats, the boats go down and the children drown at sea. This must be above politics when that happens.
PARTON: Craig, one of our listeners has just tweeted — Errol, who listens regularly, and I think he makes a really good point. What you’ve said in your case as to why Australian Navy ships are called in is because they happen to be close at the time. Couldn’t we just get our boats out of there?
EMERSON: Well, look… as I said, I can’t say to you that I’m an expert…
PARTON: I know, and I understand that.
EMERSON: … on these particular arrangements. I’ve had a go at answering the question but why would we completely vacate Indonesian waters if we actually have a collaborative relationship with Indonesia more broadly? And we do know that Mr Abbott did not raise the issue of tow backs. The Indonesian Government has said they will not cooperate in Indonesia… in towing back boats to Indonesia, would not agree to it. And what that means profoundly, Mark, is thereby we risk the cooperation of the Indonesian Government in intercepting asylum seeker vessels. What the Australian public don’t see is how many asylum seeker vessels are intercepted, how many journeys do not take place because of the cooperation of Indonesia. If you abandon that through essentially doing what the Indonesians strongly oppose and what the Navy has said is very dangerous, then there will be a lot more vessels coming to Australia, not fewer.
PARTON: Well, I don’t know if I agree with you but thanks for coming on and facing the music on an outside-of-your-portfolio umbrella.
EMERSON: Okay, thanks mate. Bye bye.
- Minister Emerson's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555