09 July 2014




SUBJECT/S: Asylum seekers; Climate change; Deregulation of universities.

CHRIS HAMMER: We’re joined now by Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Minister for Citizenship. Good morning, Michelle.


HAMMER: We read these rather harrowing stories of women on Christmas Island attempting suicide under the belief that their children, born on Christmas Island, would stand a better chance at staying in Australia. What should happen with these women?

ROWLAND: They are very distressing reports, Chris, and I think the first thing is that we would want to ensure they have as much support as they need. It is a very distressing story and I don’t think anyone who’s heard these reports can’t help but be distressed by them. I think the other issue that arises is that we need to ensure that people who arrive under the resettlement arrangements are processed as quickly and as efficiently, and obviously as properly, as possible. And I think that recent events have certainly demonstrated that this remains paramount.

HAMMER: The Prime Minister this morning is saying the Government will not be held over a barrel here. He seemed to be saying that these women were practising blackmail if you like. Is that an appropriate response from the Prime Minister?

ROWLAND: I’ll leave him to his own judgements on that and obviously that’s his point of view. But I think that ultimately we need to ensure that Australia retains and upholds its international obligations. We need to have this resettlement process done as quickly as possible and I think in some cases when you see the reports, it’s the length of time that’s been taken to undertake that processing that’s an issue. We also need to ensure that the conditions in these places are up to standard that we expect, again under our international obligations. But as I said, I don’t think anyone can help but be distressed by these reports which just highlights the need to ensure that these people have support and are treated properly.

HAMMER: What’s your understanding then of the status of these children if they have indeed been born in detention at Christmas Island, an Australian territory, are they entitled to remain in Australia?

ROWLAND: Look, I think that ends up being a matter by applying the Migration Act. But I think it still comes down to, irrespective of all those factors, Chris, they need to be processed quickly. And we need to ensure that that is carried out as efficiently as possible.

HAMMER: Is the terrible truth here that these women may in fact be right? If they were in fact dead that their children would stand a better chance at remaining in Australia?

ROWLAND: I wouldn’t even seek to try and jump to a conclusion about that, Chris. I think that anyone who has heard about this couldn’t help but be moved by it and start posing those very questions. And that this article on Fairfax today, I think, would cause a lot of people to read it and think.

HAMMER: Okay. What should be done? It was the Rudd Government’s decision that no one arriving after July 19 last year could ever resettle or be resettled in Australia. Apparently these women have taken their action after being informed that they may be moved to Manus or to Nauru. What should be done?

ROWLAND: We’ve put in these resettlement arrangements again for a very good reason, and this is about – we’re talking about lives here. Again, we know the reason why nearly a year ago this process was put in place. It was because we were having so many women and children dying at sea. And that was Labor’s utmost policy rationale for taking this. From here on, I think it’s important to recognise a couple of things. Firstly, the humanitarian intake under Labor was increased. That’s been decreased by this Government. We also see, even in the most recent events that are happening on the high seas, of which some of that is currently before the High Court, the processing could have been done efficiently and effectively if they had been taken to Christmas Island or Manus. One question that Richard Marles posed, a very valid question yesterday: why wasn’t that done? It was done so that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration can keep taking Dorothy Dixers in the Parliament to say ‘no boats have arrived’. Well, they may well want to pursue that but the reality remains; this could have been done. This issue could have been most likely averted if they had been taken to Christmas or Manus Island.

HAMMER: What’s your understanding here, as far as the legal status of these people is concerned, if they were assessed on Christmas Island or Manus Island would their legal status be exactly the same as if they were being processed and assessed on the high seas?

ROWLAND: Well partly this is a question that’s going to be decided by the High Court. I think that’s one of the arguments being put forward. But the reality remains that this enhanced screening process appears to have been a series of a couple of questions and from there determining whether or not these people had valid claims. That’s one of the matters in dispute right now. But the reality is this probably could have been averted as Richard Marles noted yesterday by taking these people to Christmas or Manus Island and processing them there.

HAMMER: You make the point that this enhanced screening process isn’t all that enhanced, if I can put it like that. Are you concerned that we may be in breach of our international obligations here by not fully assessing these asylum claims?

ROWLAND: Gillian Triggs has raised this as an issue. There are a couple of concerns that are entwined in that. I’ve raised concerns about the issue of non-refoulement, we also have the question of whether or not this was a proper process under our obligations. So I think again, that is a valid question and it partly goes to some of the arguments that the High Court is considering right now.

HAMMER: Okay. If we can just move on to a couple of other topics just quickly. The Senate has been set now to repeal the carbon tax. Palmer United is pushing to have a dormant emissions trading system introduced, that’s one with a $0 amount on carbon emitted. Is it time for Labor to back this initiative by Palmer United because that would mean at some future date an emissions trading scheme would kick in and it would be in place if Labor were to re-win government.

ROWLAND: Labor’s always had the view, Chris, that pricing carbon should be left to the market and that’s what an emissions trading scheme is. And let’s not forget –

HAMMER: So you would support the Palmer initiative?

ROWLAND: I support having a price on carbon. I’m not even clear whether the Palmer initiative is looking at replacing what we already have in place with Direct Action Policy. I’ve actually been trying to follow Mr Palmer’s view on this point over the past couple of weeks. As you can appreciate, it does get a bit confusing at points. On one hand he says he’s going to back in Direct Action, then there’s a number of caveats attached to it; this issue of making sure price decreases are passed onto consumers. Even putting that to one side, this government went to the election with a policy of Direct Action, which essentially is a Soviet-style subsidy for polluters. Once upon a time the Liberal Party believed in markets. It went to two elections on an ETS. You can’t find a single credible economist or business group who supports Direct Action. So I think the onus of this parliament and the onus of observation in this area should actually shift to the government. This is a government that’s been pushing a scheme that no-one supports. I’m really keen to hear members of the government prosecute the case for Direct Action versus a market-based mechanism in the parliament.

HAMMER: And just a final issue, there’s reporting in Fairfax media this morning, in the Sydney Morning Herald, that there’s agitation at Sydney University against proposals to raise student fees under the deregulations of universities. Do you sense that the Government’s plans for deregulation could fail because of grassroots agitation at universities including, for example, the University of Western Sydney?

ROWLAND: This shows the level of discontent and the level of opposition to this government’s policies in this area. From what I have seen in those Fairfax reports, it looks as though the governing body is calling on a very valid provision in its rules to have public consultation on this issue including with its alumni. We don’t want to have a situation where we have essentially dumb, rich kids get into university over a merit based system for kids who otherwise could not afford to get into university. I’m very concerned to ensure that young people from Western Sydney have every opportunity. And from what I’m hearing from my community, already this is acting as an extreme disincentive for young people to take up university places and go for everything they can to enhance their education.

HAMMER: Okay. Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time today.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.