Subjects: Closure of Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre, offshore processing, and Neil Prakash
JOHN STANLEY: The Immigration Minister David Coleman joins us on the line. Let's get an audit on this from him. He joins us. Minister, good morning.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good morning John.
STANLEY: Let's first of all talk about Maribyrnong. What does it do, who does it house and when's it closing?
COLEMAN: It's closed John. So it closed on New Year's Eve, on the 31st of December. It had about a hundred people in there. Some people who were section 501 character cancellations, which is people who have committed serious crimes who are not Australian citizens and are required to leave, and some other individuals as well. So that's closed. And what that means John, is we have now closed some 19 detention centres that we inherited from the Labor Party. So basically, under Labor there were - in July 2013 there were 10,000 people in detention in the country - now there’s just over 1,000, so about 9,000 less people in detention than there was under Labor. And the reason that we've been able to do that is because the boats have stopped, so we've been able to close down the 17 detention centres they opened. And extraordinarily John, Labor put 8,000 kids in detention. When we came to office there were 2,000 children in detention. We got them out and the process of doing that has saved Australian taxpayers half a billion dollars. So it is a very, very different situation to the one that we faced five years ago.
STANLEY: Those 2,000 children, where are they now? Where have they gone? You obviously can't give everyone but broadly where have they gone?
COLEMAN: Well, various situations John. Some of them are being processed in the community; some of them are involved in various court actions; some of them have returned to their home countries. But because people aren't continuing to arrive unlawfully by boat we don't have to keep opening, you know, detention centre after detention centre. We actually keep closing them. And even Christmas Island, which is probably the best known of all of them, John, as of October last year there's actually no one in Christmas Island centre.
STANLEY: No one at Christmas Island. What about Manus, what's the situation there?
COLEMAN: So Manus and Nauru are our offshore processing system John, and it's a very important distinction to make. Our policy is that people who arrive unlawfully by boat will not be permanently settled in Australia and will not be processed in Australia. So there's about 600 people in Manus Island at the moment, there's around 450 in Nauru. Those people have their claims assessed in those locations. About 450 people from Manus and Nauru have already permanently resettled in the United States. And under that deal with the United States we've got about another 90 people who have been accepted to go to the US who are in the process of going, and there's a capacity all up for 1,250 people to go to the United States and that's obviously a very positive outcome John. There'd be, you know, millions of people around the world…
STANLEY: Who want to go to the U.S.
COLEMAN: That's right. So that's the process there, but it's really important that people who are contemplating getting on a boat know that if they seek to come to Australia that they will not settle in Australia and that they will be processed offshore. And that's why the law that Labor voted for before Christmas which would effectively end offshore processing by outsourcing decisions to any two doctors anywhere in Australia is such a problem - because it's basically going to mean that the people smuggler will be able to market to potential customers and say, well if you get in a boat and if you get to an offshore processing country like Manus or Nauru, as long as two doctors anywhere in Australia effectively say that you should come to Australia for an assessment, then that's what will happen. And that's a huge problem John, because that in a practical sense indicates the end of offshore processing.
STANLEY: I mean there's some confusion over that because even, I've seen interviews that David Speers conducted with Labor's spokesmen where they don't seem to be on the same page as to whether the minister has final approval over that or whether it's the doctors.
COLEMAN: Well indeed. And it's black and white in the legislation and Richard Marles, who was actually Labor's shadow defence spokesperson - so the person who is charged with national security - he said that the Minister has the final say and that's just flat out wrong.
STANLEY: It's not in the legislation?
COLEMAN: With the narrow exception of security matters under the ASIO Act, which is very narrow indeed, the minister does not have the final say, and in fact, on the medical side, the only way the minister can get involved at all is if they say within 24 hours of any two doctors determining that someone should come to Australia, that the minister decides within 24 hours that that's, you know, the medical advice is wrong and then refers it on to the other panel.
COLEMAN: So, yeah, Richard Marles was completely wrong in what he said on that.
STANLEY: Let me just clarify - with Manus there’s 450 you say. Now are they people - have there people who have actually been settled on Manus Island or are these the people in the detention centre?
COLEMAN: No. There's just over 600 in Manus. There's no detention centre on Manus Island.
STANLEY: So they live in the community then?
COLEMAN: Yeah, in various centres and there are a significant number of people who have elected to settle elsewhere in PNG as well. But there is no detention centre and the same applies in Nauru John. This is one of the problems with some of the language that is used in these areas. In Manus and Nauru people are not in detention centres. They are able to move around those communities. And, so for instance, in Nauru people live in flats, in homes and so on and there is no, there is no detention in the sense of people being fixed to one location. So that's an important point.
STANLEY: Because there’ll be people listening to us right now, they hear varying - they hear differing reports on this and I mean, if I had a week, I'd like to go there but it's very difficult isn't it? To go there I'd need to apply, would that be right? And then I think the Nauruan government, you have to pay $8,000 and it's non-refundable if I don't get accepted to go and have a look.
COLEMAN: Well that's a decision for those governments obviously. They're sovereign nations and they determine those matters. But, you know the key point John is that offshore processing has been a very important element of stopping the boats. By doing so, we have stopped a human tragedy that saw 1,200 people drown, it saw 8,000 children placed in detention and it's been an absolutely necessary element of that. You know, there is nothing compassionate about policies which lead to people going out on the high seas in dangerous boats. There's nothing compassionate about that at all. We have a generous humanitarian policy in Australia. The only developed nation in the world with a comparable humanitarian program per capita is Canada. It's a very generous program. But it needs to be a program that is administered professionally by the government, that is not overrun by people smugglers, and where the people who come here are those who are chosen to do so. There’s a program called the Special Humanitarian Program John, within the system and that is for people who are in very difficult situations all around the world. When Labor was in government, when they first came in, 5,000 people a year came to Australia under that program. By the end of Labor's term in office John it was down to 500. And the reason that 4,500 less people per year could come in under the Special Humanitarian Program was because there were less places because of the boat arrivals. So there's a very, very human cost to these policies and it's very important to professionally manage.
STANLEY: Alright. You’ve anticipated my next question, because ultimately we are talking here that there's been no reduction in the number of people coming as asylum seekers. It's simply that previously the quota was being taken up by people who were arriving by boat. Now it's coming from people who you can go round and say well, these are the people with the greatest need. Is that a fair assessment?
COLEMAN: Well exactly. And in fact John the number of people under the humanitarian program has actually been increased by this government. But the people who come here under our program are people who go through the correct process. And we as a nation John, are a generous nation and we believe that it's appropriate for us to help people in humanitarian need. That's the right thing to do, but it needs to be done in a way which is orderly. It needs to be done in a way that the Australian people support and frankly John, it needs to be done in a way that doesn't lead to extraordinary cost blowouts to the Australian taxpayer. The total bill from the boat arrivals is now up to about $16 billion.
STANLEY: Well, that's very - and counting. Can I just move to - just quickly finish up, Neil Prakash. Now we confirmed over the weekend he's being stripped of his Australian citizenship. The Fijian government suggestions now, and we're hearing they've denied that he's entitled to Fijian citizenship. So if they say he hasn't got Fijian citizenship and you can't have someone left stateless, what is the situation?
COLEMAN: Well look, there's a process that the government goes through in relation to these matters John, under the Citizenship Act and under section 35 people's citizenship cease if they are contrary to their allegiance to Australia by engaging in terrorism related conduct if they're a dual national. That process has been followed here in relation to Mr Prakash, who has an appalling history and that process has been followed, as it has with a number of other individuals.
STANLEY: So he'll lose his citizenship and it doesn't matter what happens with Fiji, he can work that out with them?
COLEMAN: The process has been followed in accordance with Australian law John. That's the situation.
STANLEY: So his situation's now with them, you'd presume?
COLEMAN: Well again John I’d just simply say that we followed the law of Australia and that this individual, the law has been applied, and as a consequence he has lost his Australian citizenship.
STANLEY: Alright, I understand what you're saying. Thank you. The Immigration Minister David Coleman.