MARK PARTON: We're being joined on the line by federal Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson. G'day, Craig.
CRAIG EMERSON: And a very good morning to you, Parto.
PARTON: What an amazing 24 hours it's been in terms of watching things unfold in Federal Parliament – a backflip from your Government after the recommendations of this report. I was saying to Malcolm Farr earlier, so many conservative commentators have been calling for your leader to do exactly what she's done in the last 24 hours. But now that she's done it, she's not being applauded for it.
EMERSON: The main thing is to get the policy right, Parto. And we can accept Coalition MPs attacking us, and others, but we're not looking for accolades; we're looking to save lives. I think just about every parliamentarian would have been affected, as all Australians would have, by the deaths at sea. And that has meant that a significant number of our own party members have said 'well, we've just got to do something'. The broader community wants it fixed. We want to save lives at sea. And hopefully today when the speaking is done, we'll pass that bill.
PARTON: So what was the biggest single reason that this move couldn't have been made earlier? Was this about saving face? Was it about pride? Was it about dealing with the Left?
EMERSON: We still believe that Malaysia is an important component of an overall long-term response to this problem, and that is actually confirmed by the Houston Report. What we said is, nevertheless, let's put that aside for the moment and concentrate on establishing facilities at Nauru and on Manus Island so that we can send the clearest possible and quick as possible signal to people-smugglers and to asylum-seekers that there is no advantage whatsoever in getting on a boat. And that is part of the wisdom of that report: a kind of no-advantage test, Parto, where they are no further up any queue by getting on a boat. All they're doing is risking their lives and paying a lot of money.
PARTON: It's going to be fascinating now to see what happens, and how it's dealt with when more boats appear – because obviously there still will be some more boats that arrive, but they won't be used in the same political football way that they had been to this point. Because, in theory, it's a loss for both sides now.
EMERSON: As I say, it's an adversarial parliamentary democracy, and it's not about embarrassment or saving face; it's about saving lives. And we want to implement the most effective policy to save lives and, obviously, to give due regard, Parto, to those people who don't have the money to pay people-smugglers. There are refugees all around the world, sitting in refugee camps, who can't get onto boats – and they deserve our consideration, and that's why we're actually increasing the humanitarian intake from 13,750 to 20,000. I've long believed that the Australian people are quite tolerant to that, so long as the immigration program is orderly.
PARTON: I was really pleased to see when the Prime Minister was asked by Tony Abbott about whether she would take responsibility in any way, shape or form, that she didn't blink an eye and she just stood straight up and said: "Yes, I do."
EMERSON: Well that's right, and that's a mark of the character of the Prime Minister. She takes responsibility for all decisions. She doesn't push it on to others or blame someone else or whatever. What we need to do is look forward here, get this legislation through, and get these facilities built. You're probably aware that work can start on Friday – as soon as that. And that is obviously to get them up and running as quickly as possible, but also to send a signal to people-smugglers that this is real, and that if they do come by boat they'll end up in Nauru and Manus and no further advanced compared with if they had not got on a boat in the first place. That was the real wisdom of the Houston Report. And we thank Angus Houston and Paris Aristotle and Michael L'Estrange, former Cabinet Secretary to John Howard, for their wisdom in producing this report.
PARTON: Well, let's hope we get to a vote very, very quickly. When we do, Adam Bandt's going to be a lonely old fellow isn't he?
EMERSON: I guess so, but The Greens have always had this position that they think offshore processing is inhumane. But I can't see what is humane about standing back and watching people drown at sea; I think it's just an awful situation. And particularly little kids, Parto: I get very upset because they don't really get a decision in any of this and they lose their lives at sea. And I think we should be thinking of them – those who have lost their lives – and at the same time doing everything we can possibly do as parliamentarians to prevent that from happening again.
PARTON: I know it's a busy time. Thanks for giving us some of your time this morning.
EMERSON: All right, mate. All the best.
- Minister Emerson's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555