The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of David Bradbury

David Bradbury

Assistant Treasurer, Minister Assisting for Financial Services & Superannuation and Minister for Competition Policy & Consumer Affairs

5 March 2012 - 18 September 2013

Transcript of 11/07/2012

NO.069

Interview with Rafael Epstein

ABC 774 Melbourne 'Fight Club'

11 July 2012

SUBJECTS: Asylum Seekers

HOST:

David Bradbury is the Assistant Treasurer in Julia Gillard's Government. He joins us from Sydney. Good afternoon, David.

DAVID BRADBURY:

Good afternoon, Rafael. How are you?

HOST:

I am well, thank you for being with us on Fight Club. And Joe Hockey is the Shadow Treasurer on Tony Abbott's frontbench and he's on the Atherton Tablelands. Joe Hockey, I haven't been to the Atherton Tablelands since I went there with John Howard in 1998. What it's looking like? What's the weather like?

JOE HOCKEY:

Well, as I look out the window it is mist covered mountains, it's about 20 degrees and it's raining.

HOST:

Right, okay. Well good, that makes me feel better. I'm glad you're not getting good weather and we've got winter. Thank you to both of you. If people have a query for either of these gentleman as they take their Brad Pitt and Ed Norton poses, 1300 222 774. Look, Joe Hockey, I haven't had a chance to have a word to you since that asylum seeker debate which was so emotional, which I think is two weeks ago today, but I want to put a question to you because quite a few people have texted it in. One of the clips that was replayed many times of you had you being very emotional saying you really didn't want to send teenagers to somewhere like Malaysia and that it would happen over your dead body. Many of the textors where saying that that is not actually Labor's policy that the Government wasn't going to send teenagers to Malaysia. What's your response to that?

HOCKEY:

Well that's not right. The Government has never said it wouldn't do it and if it did say that it was not going to send children to Malaysia then the people traffickers would fill the boats up with children. Quite obviously. That's what they'd do. So that's why they specifically have not ruled out sending children to Malaysia.

HOST:

Look, I want to go to a bit of the detail of your policy on asylum seekers. We'll see if we can bring you two guys together and do what no one else has managed to achieve. But David Bradbury, do you understand that sort of objection from Joe Hockey, that it's just a bad idea to send teenagers who have come here on a boat to a country that doesn't have the sorts of protections the Opposition would like to have.

BRADBURY:

Well, the thing that astounds me is that there are no tears from Joe when it comes to turning boats around that may have unaccompanied minors on them. After stripping them of fuel, food and water, turning the boats around in a dangerous situation on the high seas and sending those boats back to Indonesia, a country that has not signed the convention.

HOST:

I will ask him about the towing the boats back part of their policy in a moment. But can you understand why people make a big thing about the Refugee Convention. If Malaysia hasn't signed it, that's less protection for the people you would send there, particularly for children.

BRADBURY:

And there is also not a lot of protection for people who are on boats that are dying at sea. And one of the challenges that we have is to try and confront the reality of the fact that there are people out there taking this dangerous journey that are finding themselves ending up losing their lives. Can I make this point, that there probably hasn't been a lot of consistency across this debate generally, but I do find it very difficult to confront this argument that under no circumstances can we ever send someone to a country that is not a signatory to the Convention coming from Joe Hockey and the Liberal Party who for years did that when Nauru was not a signatory to the Convention. Now, the question that has to be asked is if that is such a big deal, why wasn't it such a big deal when they did it?

HOST:

Joe Hockey, I hear you trying to interject there. It's harder when you're on the phone line rather than in the studio. There was a point clearly you want to make in response.

HOCKEY:

Firstly, I don't appreciate David's dig about tears. Quite frankly, that's insulting and wrong. Secondly, in relation to Nauru, as I said in my speech, and if he had have been there and heard the speech he would have heard what I said. We, in Nauru, effectively supervised the treatment of the refugees and the processing.

HOST:

That's exactly what the Government is saying they can do in Malaysia.

HOCKEY:

No, they're not. That's exactly what they're not doing in Malaysia. Because in Nauru, we funded the centre, we ensured that there was a hospital, appropriate health care, appropriate education services, there was not the barbed wire that Nauru…

HOST:

The Government has said that the UNHCR will be in charge of making sure, they effectively want to set up a two tier system in Malaysia, don't they? They've said the UNHCR will look after the people in Malaysia who are specifically sent from Australia. Isn't that the same as the sorts of protections you say you offered in Nauru?

HOCKEY:

No. No its not, because Nauru was still a constrained island facility. And in the case of Malaysia, unless you are going to put them in a prison compound, they are basically dumped in the wider community. Now, that is the whole purpose of what Labor is doing. They are trying to have something that is so horrible that it will stop the boats. The problem is it will not stop the boats for a range of reasons. Number one, it's only 800 people, it was limited to 800. Number two, and in the exchange we got 4,000 of their refugees, in exchange. Number two, in the case of Malaysia we don't have any supervision rights. It is truly an independent sovereign nation. Nauru and PNG we had some leverage, obvious leverage, when we had those centres which ensured that when an unaccompanied child came on a boat and we were the legal custodians for that child, we actually never walked away from that child until we were absolutely sure that their application had been properly processed and the child went to the parent.

HOST:

Joe Hockey, let me stop you there because I want to give David Bradbury a chance to respond and then there's already some people calling and texting about what might happen when the boats are towed back toward Indonesia. David Bradbury, just a quick response. Joe Hockey's got a point, if you just dump them in Malaysia, how do you guarantee you look after them?

BRADBURY:

Well, it might come as a surprise for people in Nauru that they're not an independent sovereign nation. That's the implication of what Joe has just suggested. But can I make this point, that if the concern here is about having proper supervision of people, then I am befuddled as to how turning a boat around -let's just assume that the confrontation that occurs on the high seas, that people don't die at sea, and if you're concerned about people dying at sea, I don't see how you could see as a solution, turning boats around in a high conflict situation. But let's assume that the boats are turned around successfully and returned into Indonesian waters and you take away the fuel and you take away the food and the water, then who is going to supervise those refugees, those asylum seekers? And if there happened to be unaccompanied minors on those boats, where is the concern? What happens to those people?

HOCKEY:

I'll explain that. The issue, we have always said where possible, where possible, we will turn the boats around. And we didn't say take away food and water. This is just typical of you guys, we said we'd only leave them with enough fuel to get back to shore. Now the issue is, is it's where they came from.

HOST:

Joe Hockey, I'll let you follow up. But David Bradbury made a good pint. If you're concerned about people being sent to Malaysia, why aren't you concerned about the people who, in effect, get turned back and end up back in Indonesia.

HOCKEY:

Because they must have boarded the boat with family putting in Indonesia or wherever the place may be.

HOST:

But it's inconsistent, isn't it? To be ok with sending them back to the place where you say they have no protection yet not be ok with sending them to a country like Malaysia, where the Government says they'll be looked after.

HOCKEY:

Well, sorry. Let's just put ourselves in those circumstances, the reason why a parent would put an unaccompanied child on a boat, they do it at the shore line, or they do it at a point, and say here's a child, jump on that boat, you'll be fine. Right. And then the boat goes out to sea 20, 30 miles out to sea, and then it's turned around and sent back. You would expect that whatever facilities and support were there which allowed them to get on the boat the first time would still be there.

HOST:

Well, there might be a point there Joe that they've spent all of their money. But I want to give…

HOCKEY:

But hang on, hang on. The parents will still be there.

HOST:

Well, what I want to do. Maybe the parents are with them on the boat. What I want to do Joe Hockey, is, someone has got a question…

HOCKEY:

Well they won't be unaccompanied.

HOST:

Someone has got a question about Indonesia. Someone has got a question about Indonesia and I want to give them a chance. Ray has called in from Hopper's Crossing. Hi Ray.

CALLER: Hi, how are you going?

HOST:

What do you want to say?

CALLER: I want to know from Joe Hockey what are you going to do if, under an Abbott Government, you tow a boat back into Indonesian waters and there is an Indonesian gunboat waiting to turn the Australian boat and the refugee ship around? Are you going to violate Indonesian waters, Indonesian territory? Are you going to force your way through? I don't think Indonesians will allow this.

HOST:

Ok Ray. Joe Hockey, I mean that's clearly…

HOCKEY:

He's entitled to speculate on that, but the fact is that we have always said "where possible". "Where possible". We've always said that. "Where possible". And that means…

HOST:

But it's not going to work because Indonesia won't let you.

HOCKEY:

Well, most of these phone calls are coming in Indonesian protection zones, so these aren't in Australian waters, these boats. They're actually in the Indonesian protection and surveillance zone.

HOST:

That might be a fine legal point, but is it…

HOCKEY:

No, no. It's an important point.

HOST:

…a problem that Indonesian - well it might be an important point - but isn't the problem that Indonesia doesn't want you to send them back and they've shown no sign of changing their mind.

HOCKEY:

They still have a responsibility under the laws of the sea.

HOST:

Okay. David Bradbury?

BRADBURY:

Well, on this whole question, well it's okay because we're sending them back to where they came from. So what if the boat departed from Malaysia, or what if the boat departed from Sri Lanka? Is it okay then to turn it all the way back to Malaysia, or all the way back to Sri Lanka? And what is different about turning a boat around and sending it back to Malaysia or Sri Lanka in those circumstances compared to having a more orderly way when we do it. And we do it at a time when we actually take people who are trapped in camps that have already made out refugee claims and give them the opportunity to have passage to come to Australia.

HOST:

Okay, David Bradbury, Joe Hockey, I want to, I know you probably both feel you want to make more points about this, but let me propose this to you, Joe Hockey in particular, what do you have to lose from talking to the Government about some sort of compromise solution. If the Government says they're prepared to compromise.

HOCKEY:

Well, firstly, we have said emphatically we will not support Malaysia. We tried to introduce a Bill that offered more than 140 other countries. More than 140 other countries…

HOST:

But the idea is to cede the authority to the experts. What's wrong with that idea?

HOCKEY:

Well, because you know what, governments are for governing. You know what was interesting when I gave my speech in Parliament, Raphael. How many Labor Party members were in tears while I was speaking. I wasn't in tears, but I tell you what, they were in tears because they knew that what they were doing was the last moment of them having any credibility on this issue.

HOST:

Okay, Joe …

HOCKEY:

They knew they were selling their souls totally on this.

HOST:

Joe Hockey, David Bradbury, let's just pause now, I want to give people some traffic.

* BREAK *

HOST:

We are with Joe Hockey and David Bradbury, trying to go through some of the detail of the asylum seeker policy. I think you can hear from how passionate they both are perhaps why there is no compromise. I'm just going to read out a few texts to give you the flavour: "Stop the boats, we don't want Muslims, full stop Raph" that's from John; "Joe, less bull, just take more people from the camps and stop talking bull" that's from Margaret; somebody else, Tom in Brunswick "Hi guys, isn't Nauru going to be half under water in 50 years' time? Seems like a waste of infrastructure spending". Mary has called in from Camberwell. Hi there Mary.

CALLER:

Hi Raph. A friend of mine is from Nauru and he said the effect on the local population when they did have the refugee camps there before was quite dramatic. It really affected the medical services, put quite a strain on the local hospital, it's a small place so there aren't that many services anyway. Also, the schools, it put a stress on the schools. And…

HOST:

So basically, huge increase in population and other resource pressure.

CALLER:

Yes, and he said also the extra Australians that were there to manage the resources that were there also brought about, well, not unsatisfactory, maybe less than favourable changes to the local population services and shops, stuff like that. So he says from a Nauruan experience, that it was not welcome.

HOST:

Thank you Mary. Joe Hockey, I'll put that one to you.

HOCKEY:

Well, it's just wrong because the Nauruans are desperate to have it. They're the ones that have signed up to the UN Convention in that time because they're so keen to have it. We gave them, we have purpose built education and hospital facilities.

HOST:

Okay, let me put the, I suppose this would be the Greens' position to you. Offshore processing is incredibly expensive. If you look at the UNHCR figures, they show that the drop in arrivals in Australia was mirrored around the world, essentially that argument is that it doesn't really matter what we do here, offshore processing or onshore processing, they are going to keep coming because there are many more of them that there are people here. They come from poor, conflict ridden countries, and we're a rich, peaceful country. Is sending people offshore actually going to make a difference? I put that to you, David Bradbury.

BRADBURY:

Well, I think it will make a difference.

HOST:

Have you seen those UNHCR figures showing that the drop off with the John Howard pacific solution was mirrored in other countries.

BRADBURY:

Well, I haven't seen the specific figures you're referring to, but I have had a look at the figures in terms of the arrivals that we experienced in that period and I think that there is a very strong case to suggest that the measures that we are proposing, particularly in relation to offshore processing will have an impact. They will provide a very strong disincentive for people to take the journey at sea. Can I make this point, and this is the most significant point for me, is that, where there are more people taking that treacherous journey, there will be more lives lost. This is the crux of it all. If you look at the figures here, and we don't even have a clear idea of how many people lose their lives at sea because we are only dealing with the ones that are brought to our attention, but even based upon that, we're looking at a mortality rate of somewhere in the order of four to six per cent. Now, if there were any other activity involved, if this was happening on the roads, if you had a four to six per cent mortality rate from people participating in any other activity, people would be jumping up and down and suggesting that the Government needs to do something to try and stop that loss of life. Now, the bottom line is that increase the numbers of people that we bring, and that is a worthy objective and something that we support, but increasing the number of people we resettle, that will not stop the flow of people wanting to make that journey because the reality is the numbers so greatly outweigh the numbers that we could otherwise accommodate.

HOST:

That proves my point doesn't it, that if the numbers are so great it doesn't matter what we do.

BRADBURY:

Well, but it has in the past and I think that there is very strong evidence to suggest that there was a very strong decline in the number of people that were coming by boat when offshore processing was [inaudible]

HOST:

Let me put it to Joe Hockey. Mr Hockey, if you can give us a quick response to that, because there are more callers. But clearly, you think sending them offshore makes a difference.

HOCKEY:

You've got to send them offshore and the Labor Party stopped the policy and then tried to restart it again with the East Timor solution. In fact, David Bradbury, who represents a western Sydney seat, decided to go up and stand on a patrol boat with Julia Gillard to announce the East Timor solution, which was another failure from this Government. So, frankly, we've always said, combined with temporary protection visas, turn the boats around where possible, and have offshore processing. The formula, the three pronged formula worked.

HOST:

Let me take a call from John, who is calling from somewhere in south west Victoria. Hi there John.

CALLER: Oh, hi Raph, thanks for taking my call. Just very quickly, we've, in the company and the CEO doesn't want to make the issue that we employ, we've employed nearly 35, 36, both from Afghanistan and from Congolese as well…

HOST:

Refugees you mean?

CALLER:

Yes, absolutely. Most of them have paid between 12 and 18 thousand US dollars to get on that boat. So if that boat is turned around, first of all that's gone, and if you stop and think you get a hundred on a boat, that's nearly a million dollars. I mean, maybe we're missing the point. The guys are fantastic. Everyone I've interviewed, they've lost their fathers, and they are the key personnel in the family that's got to then try and get their family up and running as well. So, turning the boats isn't going to fix the problem, you got to try and get the ones that are making the squillions of dollars. Scuttling the boat is nothing, because they'll get another one for 30-40 thousand dollars.

HOST:

Well, maybe. Look, thank you John, I appreciate you making that point. We do need to give people a weather update soon, but I just wanted to try and throw it forward with both David Bradbury and Joe Hockey. Firstly, David Bradbury, if your independent panel recommends temporary protection visas, the government would accept that?

BRADBURY:

Well, that's a process that we have to go through, but we are setting up this panel because we want expert advice.

HOST:

There's no point having a panel if you don't accept their recommendations.

BRADBURY:

Yes, of course, but what I can say is that we will consider, openly consider all of the recommendations that come from that and I would think that they would be rather compelling in terms of the policy response, which obviously would have to go through our party room, as these things would normally need to.

HOST:

Okay, and Joe Hockey, if the man who is on the phone to the Tampa Captain, Andrew Metcalfe, who is the top immigration public servant, if he says Nauru isn't going to work, why isn't the Opposition listening to that, and listening to an expert panel?

HOCKEY:

Well, I'll tell you why. We are happy to meet with the expert panel. The Government now has three committees, three committees inquiring into it. An expert panel, Julia Gillard's setting up a multi-party committee, and then her backbench has set up a multi-party committee. So there's now three committees the Government has set up. Our policy is clear, we have a three pronged policy. It will work. It worked in the past, it will work again in the future.

HOST:

Okay. Joe Hockey and David Bradbury, I appreciate you both making time for Fight Club.