BBC Radio 4, London, Interview with John Humphreys

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: Immigration policy, changes to the Australian flag

11 March 2014

JOHN HUMPHREYS: Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in London this week and there's at least one subject on which she and her hosts at the British Foreign Office might have plenty to talk about — immigration. Australia has had big problems over the years with boatloads of economic migrants and asylum seekers turning up on their shores uninvited. Well now the government is taking a tough approach. Has been for a while. Locking them up indefinitely in what many people say, are very unpleasant centres indeed, in other countries. Mrs Bishop is with me or Miss Bishop, I beg your pardon, is with me. Good morning to you.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning, delighted to be here.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: Thanks for coming. Why, why such a tough approach? Is it really necessary?

JULIE BISHOP: What your listeners may not be aware of is that in recent years about 1,200 people, that we know of, have died trying to make a journey from Indonesia to Australia. Paying people smuggling syndicates to put them on fishing boats to make these journeys to Australia to claim some kind of asylum. As a new government, we were not going to stand by and have the people smuggling trade continue to flourish and these deaths at sea. So we've taken a tough line to deter people from taking that dangerous journey and our aim is to dismantle the people smuggling trade that flourishes in South East Asia.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: A tough line, some call it an inhumane line. It casts — and I quote David Mann, who's the head of the legal team at the Melbourne Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre -

it casts a very dark shadow over your commitment to human rights and fundamental respect for human dignity.

JULIE BISHOP: Well I don't accept that at all. We have in place an arrangement for applications for asylum to be processed in both Nauru and Papua New Guinea. In the case of Papua New Guinea we have a joint ministerial arrangement with the government of PNG and we work together to ensure …

(INTERRUPTION)

JOHN HUMPHREYS: Why can't they be in your country? Why can't you have these detention centres in Australia?

JULIE BISHOP: Because it has been a decision of both sides of politics, both the Labor Party and the Coalition, that we worked to deter people coming to Australia and their claims are processed in third countries, then we looked for resettlement in other countries, including in Australia and we've done this before and it worked. We were able to prevent the people smuggling trade from flourishing, we stopped people coming by boat, we stopped the deaths at sea and then we have a very generous humanitarian and refugee program but the government must be in charge of the refugee and humanitarian program not the people smuggling trade.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: Yes, but you could still treat them humanely, couldn't you? I mean it's been described, some of these centres, the one in the South Pacific island of Nauru and in Papua New Guinea, they're described as breeding grounds for rape, rioting, malaria and mental illness that bear the look and feel of concentration camps.

JULIE BISHOP: I visited the one on Nauru and that doesn't reflect my observations …

(INTERRUPTION)

JOHN HUMPHREYS: What, they're holiday camps are they?

JULIE BISHOP: They're not holiday camps because people are clearly having their applications for asylum processed there and if they're found not to be genuine asylum seekers they're returned to their home country. What we're trying to do is prevent people coming via the people smuggling trade to Australia, and we are successful in achieving that…

(INTERRUPTION)

JOHN HUMPHREYS: It just seems a slightly uncivilised way of doing it doesn't it? Saying to these people who are desperate anyway because they fear for their lives in some cases in the country from which they fled. Saying to them: try and get into Australia and you will be treated pretty savagely. That's not a very civilized way of going about IT, is it?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's not the case. I have visited there and I am satisfied that the governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru and the government of Australia are ensuring that people are treated appropriately, with dignity and that they're …(INTERRUPTED BY JOURNALIST)

JOHN HUMPHREYS: So why was there a riot in one of them, somebody died?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, well 1,200 people have died on boats trying to get to sea …

(INTERRUPTION)

JOHN HUMPHREYS: So that justifies a death in one of your …?

JULIE BISHOP: No, I didn't say it justified it at all, I just said that we're trying to stop people coming by boat. There was an incident recently in one of the centres on Manus Island and it did involve, tragically, the death of a person and this is what happens in unruly behaviour when violence occurs, and it's tragic.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: You're effectively operating a kind of Guantanamo Bay, aren't you? In some ways even worse?

JULIE BISHOP: No. No I don't accept that at all.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: Why do your critics, who've looked at them very carefully - people who are experienced in these matters, say that?

JULIE BISHOP: You mean the UNHCR?

JOHN HUMPHREYS: I mean the UNHCR, I mean other groups who ...

JULIE BISHOP: We've responded to the UNHCR statement in Geneva and we believe that the arrangements that we have in place with the sovereign government of Papua New Guinea and the Australian government means that people are being treated with respect, with dignity. They're given healthcare, they're given schooling - their children go to school. They have community centres, there are doctors. I've met with the doctors there. The standard of accommodation and the standard of support that they receive, in many instances, is better than that received by the people of Papua New Guinea.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: So you're not deterred by the attacks of people like the UN?

JULIE BISHOP: No I'm not because we have managed to, in the last few months, prevent people from taking that dangerous journey to Australia and that's what we promised at the last election. It was an election promise we took to the Australian people. We won that election and we're delivering on that promise.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: A final thought, on a slightly lighter subject and that's flags, because your neighbours in New Zealand are getting rid of theirs, or want to get rid of theirs, that bears, of course, the Union Jack, part of it. Are you going to do the same?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm about to meet with Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond. I'm not going to start talking about removing the Union Jack from the Australia flag on the morning of a …

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN HUMPHREYS: … it rather invites the assumption that actually you rather like the idea, you're just scared of telling them?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I had a very enjoyable meeting with her Majesty the Queen last evening and I didn't raise the matter of the flag there either.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: You're still ducking the question.

JULIE BISHOP: Believe it or not it's not an issue that actually draws much attention in Australia.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: So the answer's no, you're going to stick with flag and the Union Jack?

JULIE BISHOP: I believe we'll stick with the flag. There's no great demand to change it and many Australians have fought and died under that flag, sadly. We have competed in Olympic Games under that flag and there's a sense of pride in it. It also contains the Southern Cross. That's a very Australian part of the flag.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: Right, so you'll keep the flag and you'll keep the Queen?

JULIE BISHOP: For the time being most certainly.

JOHN HUMPHREYS: For the time being. Julie Bishop, thank you very much.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you

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