FAIRFAX ‘BREAKING POLITICS’
WEDNESDAY, 20 AUGUST 2014
SUBJECT/S: National security; Asylum seekers; Infrastructure
CHRIS HAMMER: There are growing concerns about the radicalisation of young Muslim Australian men being lured away to fight in Iraq and Syria and then returning to Australia even more radicalised. The Prime Minister Tony Abbott has invoked the idea of ‘Team Australia’ saying the only flag that should be flying is the Australian national flag. Joining us now to discuss this and other matters is Michelle Rowland. She’s the Shadow Multiculturalism and Citizenship Minister. Good morning, Michelle.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Good morning, Chris.
HAMMER: This rhetoric of Tony Abbott’s, do you think it’s helping or hindering?
ROWLAND: The fact is Chris, I think everyone would agree, we’re all on the same team. It doesn’t matter what you choose to call it. There is of course concern, and there always has been concern that Australia needs to maintain appropriate national security mechanisms and they include domestic security mechanisms. I think it would be foolish for anyone to suggest that there isn’t a concern about young men in particular obviously being targeted by some forces overseas, some influences to go and fight in these foreign wars and that has to be addressed. But I think when it comes down to it, Chris, we’re all on the same team here. Australia is built on migration, Australia is built on having a multicultural community, we need to continue to embrace that, and we need to recognise that the majority of people, whatever you want to call it, I think it’s fair to say would agree we are all part of the one Australia and the one team.
HAMMER: I’m wondering though, some of these young men, if they are feeling alienated from mainstream Australia, having the Prime Minister saying you should only be flying the Australian flag, you should be on the team, you should embrace all of our values – just how that rhetoric is received.
ROWLAND: I can tell you and I think Tony Burke made the point the other night – the key is engagement. As public officials, as people who represent great multicultural electorates we are intimately involved in our local communities and we take this engagement very seriously. This engagement relates to a number of things for young people from different ethnic backgrounds. They include everything from having great educational opportunities, to having employability. All these things go into it but I think here we’re talking about something quite beyond that. We’re talking about people who have obviously been targeted by extreme forces and by and large I can tell you, and I know Tony Burke repeated it the other night, we have community leaders that are very alive to this, who do engage in constant dialogue with the government, and also conduct some very important leadership programs for the young people to guard against this sort of radicalisation. They’re the kind of things that I think all of us, as part of the one team, should be embracing.
HAMMER: If we move on to another issue, that of asylum seekers. Scott Morrison has announced that children held in detention those under 10 years will be released from detention. I’m sure you would welcome that. Is it time to move further in that direction?
ROWLAND: Of course it’s welcomed, Chris, but as Richard Marles pointed out yesterday this was in fact part of Labor’s ongoing policy that it was carrying out when we were in government. I take Richard’s point that it’s quite disingenuous of the Minister now to somehow proclaim this as a new move. Of course we should be doing everything we can to get children out of detention but it is a pity that it’s taken nearly 12 months for the Minister to realise this.
HAMMER: There’s clearly now two sets of asylum seekers, those held in detention in Australia, those who arrived before Labor changed its policy on July 19 last year, and those being held offshore. Now the Minister has indicated that he would like to revisit temporary protection visas. Given that the separation between those two groups is increasingly clear, is it time that Labor reconsiders temporary protection visas?
ROWLAND: The reality remains Chris that TPVs, one of the suites of Howard mechanisms that were brought in when John Howard was Prime Minister, were the least effective mechanism. We need to remember that when you hear the Minister talking about how effective they were. They were the least effective mechanism. I also note there’s some talks about under these arrangements having some work rights. Whilst that may be the case, we need to look at what TPVs actually did. They did incentivise more people to get on boats. They still wouldn’t provide people with adequate foresight to what their lives would be in the next couple of years and again, I quote from Richard Marles, you talk to people who have been on TPVs and just the inability to plan for the rest of their lives is just debilitating.
HAMMER: So what should happen to those asylum seekers that are held in Australia in detention? These are the people the government would say are the legacy of the Labor government and the Labor policies. What should happen to them? Should they be held in detention indefinitely?
ROWLAND: I think absolutely not but I believe one of the most important things that can be done is make sure we process people, assess their claims, and do that promptly. I think that’s one thing that’s been lacking in this suite of measures that Minister Morrison has just announced.
HAMMER: If they are found to be genuine refugees they should be settled in Australia with full rights given that, as I say, there’s now quite a clear separation between that group of people and people being held offshore.
ROWLAND: The assessment would of course be in accordance with our international obligations and if they’re found to be genuine refugees then normal resettlement processes will apply.
HAMMER: On a totally different topic altogether – Tony Abbott has declared that he wants to be called the infrastructure Prime Minister. Before the election he promised work would be underway on some major road projects including Westconnex in Western Sydney. What’s happening with that?
ROWLAND: A big fat zero is happening in this area. Tony Abbott promised that there would be cranes over our cities within a year and as Anthony Albanese pointed out, that simply isn’t happening. I believe we don’t even have a full cost benefit analysis for WestConnex yet which was one of the catchcries this government made upon coming in: we’re going to have a full cost benefit analysis. We’ve had billions of dollars signed over to the states, we’ve had issues with the routes being taken; the New South Wales government making decisions that have been dubious to say the least in some of these issues of the routes and the pinch points that have been announced and virtually de-announced.
So we really haven’t seen the rhetoric being matched by action and that’s extremely disappointing for people in my electorate. We committed, as a Labor government, we committed with the state government to deliver this as an important project, WestConnex in particular, but we had specific conditions over it which were sensible. So it remains to be seen whether this so-called infrastructure Prime Minister will actually live up to it. But I’ll put this to you as well; I don’t see how you can be calling yourself the infrastructure Prime Minister when you’re blatantly against the biggest infrastructure project since the Snowy River Scheme which is the National Broadband Network.
HAMMER: Okay. Where does fault lie with these failures on WestConnex? Is it the federal government or is it the state government?
ROWLAND: The Federal Government is very keen to take the credit for it so they should be the ones to make sure that it actually kicks off. If they want to have squabbles between themselves, between New South Wales and the Commonwealth, again the fact remains that these two parties have been very ready to take the credit for it together and they should bear it together.
HAMMER: Okay. Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time.
ROWLAND: My pleasure.