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Minister Philip Ruddock speaks to Lateline. Mr Ruddock says in
order to prevent such a tragedy reoccurring, the factors encouraging
asylum seekers onto the often unseaworthy boats, need to be assessed. He
says a solution cannot be reached immediately.
Compere: Tony Jones
Now we can return you to the interview we promised with Philip Ruddock
earlier, the Immigration Minister.
Philip Ruddock, both parties
have played politics today after the tragic deaths of 360
Now my question to you is what can be done in an immediate
sense to make sure that this doesn't happen again?
IMMIGRATION MINISTER: Well, I think you've got to look at what are the
pull factors that encourage people to get into boats.
pull factors relate very much to the perception that Australia has been an
And it was related very clearly to the changes in the
law that we were able to achieve just before the Parliament arose that I
think those perceptions will be addressed in the future.
not going to happen immediately and it's naive, Tony, to believe it can
TONY JONES: Alright.
You've been quoted
today as saying that, if the Senate hadn't blocked tougher laws that you
wanted to bring in, all of these people would have been safe and secure in
Indonesia, their claims would have been examined by the UNHCR [United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], their lives would not have been
Did you say that?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, not in the
terms that you're putting it.
TONY JONES: Well, that was a direct
quote from you.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Yeah, well, let me just say, when
Mr Beazley said, as he did, in relation to these particular tragic events,
that it was a failure of Government policy, I made the point that the
Government was dealing with these issues well in advance of the present
We sought changes as long ago as four years to deal with the
pull factors and those measures were denied.
Now, I'm not
suggesting that that was the responsibility of the Labor Party to pass and
this particular dreadful accident might not have happened.
trying to say the Labor Party is culpable because they failed to pass
those legislative changes we sought.
But what I am saying is there
was an opportunity to reduce the pull factors.
This was a crisis in
It was a crisis that the Labor Party was not prepared
And to suggest that there was, in some way, a lack
of, a lack of policy approach by the Government flies in the face of the
That's all I've been saying.
TONY JONES: Doesn't
the solution, though, now clearly lie with Indonesia stopping these boats
before they leave port?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I notice that that's
the only policy weapon the Opposition has in its armoury and it needs to
be seen in the context of what happened when the Fraser government put in
place arrangements with Indonesia to intercept Vietnamese boats back in
the 1970s, and which operated through till the end of the
Indonesia was burned because they had a very large number of
people on an island, they were accused of human rights abuse, and they are
not prepared and have made this very clear, not prepared to reopen a major
processing centre at the request of any other government.
would happen under Labor as it's happened under us and to simply assert
that Indonesia is going to change its policy because somebody thinks they
might be able to sweet talk them into it is, I think, quite naive in
foreign policy terms.
And the point I would make is that we need to
look at what steps we take to deal with these issues.
We need to
address those matters that are in our hands to handle and that's what the
Government's been doing and the Opposition, unfortunately, puts it only in
terms of having only a coast watch or a coastguard and being able to talk
Indonesia into holding people, which is something that they don't wish to
TONY JONES: Last Friday, on this program, the chairman of
Indonesia's powerful parliamentary commission on migration, defence and
security, said Indonesia could make a deal to stop asylum seekers, but not
with this Government.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I'd simply make the
point in relation to the way in which Indonesia works and I've spent time
with Indonesian ministers and I've met with them and talked these issues
through and there's been a high level of cooperation in a range of issues
that we can address.
But they have balked at establishing a large
processing centre in the same way, in the same way that they did at the
time when the Fraser government was in office.
And the reason is
very clear. It left them vulnerable to human rights abuse, them vulnerable
to a very large centre with all of the difficulties we've seen in handling
those sorts of people in Australia.
TONY JONES: Nonetheless, the
comments of this powerful committee chairman, are they indicative of the
fact that we have a serious problem in our relations with
After all, [Indonesian] President Megawati
[Sukarnoputri] refused to have a bilateral meeting with Mr Howard on the
He is saying, if it weren't, if the leaders could get
together of our two countries, this problem could be solved.
RUDDOCK: Well, I simply make the point Prime Minister Howard was the first
world leader to visit Prime Minister Megawati when she was first elected
And the Prime Minister has indicated that he will
continue with meetings planned, after the election, if he is back in
And he, of course, arranged for [Defence] Minister [Peter]
Reith, and [Foreign Affairs] Minister [Alexander] Downer and myself to
visit Indonesia, to have discussions on these issues.
So you have
to ask the next question and the next question clearly is, if that policy
doesn't work, what more can you do?
And Mr Beazley has no idea
about what should be done.
TONY JONES: Philip Ruddock, we'll have
to leave it there.
Thanks very much for your time and thanks for
joining us tonight.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: That's a pleasure. Thanks,