What happened when asylum seekers were sent back to Indonesia: Tony Abbott’s own words
On October 27, 2009 – then an Opposition frontbencher – he joined ABC’s Lateline to discuss the Rudd Government’s management of those asylum seekers that were due to be detained in Indonesia. Here is some of the transcript:
TONY JONES: The diplomatic problems posed by these 78 asylum seekers still onboard the boat Oceanic Viking worsened this evening with the regional politicians saying Indonesia should not be used as a dumping ground for refugees. Is the fate of these people likely to be once again the focus of Question Time tomorrow?
TONY ABBOTT: I think that’s quite likely, Tony, because once they were picked up by that Australian Customs vessel, they became in effect Kevin Rudd’s responsibility. Now, he could have brought them to Christmas Island. He chose to send them to Indonesia. He said he had an Indonesian Solution; well, it looks more like an Indonesian shambles than a solution right now.
TONY JONES: He could have brought them to Australia to Christmas Island. Are you saying that’s what should have happened?
TONY ABBOTT: No, I’m not, but that’s certainly what he has been doing up till now.
TONY JONES: Well, what are you saying should have happened?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, I’m not the Government, Tony. I’m here to hold the Government to account.
TONY JONES: No, but I’m asking your opinion. You must have an opinion on what you think should have happened to these people. You obviously don’t think they should have gone there.
TONY ABBOTT: Well, what I think shouldn’t have happened is that Kevin Rudd should not have unpicked the carefully put together policies of John Howard, which stopped the flow of boat people. You see, John Howard found a problem and created a solution. Kevin Rudd found a solution and has now created a problem. And, plainly, his shrill responses, his obfuscation in the Parliament today shows that this problem really is getting on top of him.
TONY JONES: So what do you believe should happen to those 78 asylum seekers now? Should they be brought to Christmas Island? Should they – as the Indonesian regional officials are suggesting? Or should they be taken back to Sri Lanka as they’re also suggesting? What do you say should happen?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, Tony, as I said, I’m not the Government. I’m holding the Government to account. Kevin Rudd said he had this problem under control because he had sorted it all out with President Yudhoyono. Plainly, it hasn’t all been sorted out. At the very best, all you can say is that his Indonesian Solution is a boat-by-boat improvisation.
TONY JONES: So you don’t have an opinion on what should happen to these people yourself. Is that what you’re saying? Or are you not allowed to have an opinion, I mean . . . ?
TONY ABBOTT: No, no, I’m just telling you, Tony, that I’m not the Government. But, if you are going to stop the flow of boat people, you’ve got to have policies in place which deny people the prize of Australian permanent residency. As long as that prize beckons, you are going to have people, understandably, wanting to come in search of a better life in Australia. Now, by closing down the offshore detention centres, by abolishing temporary protection visas and by stopping the occasional practice of turning boats around, Kevin Rudd put out the welcome mat for these people.
TONY JONES: You said earlier that these people became Kevin Rudd’s responsibility when they were picked up by an Australian vessel. Are you saying, indeed, that they are Australia’s responsibility?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, they were picked up by an Australian vessel in the Indonesian search-and-rescue zone. Kevin Rudd said that he had secured an agreement with President Yudhoyono of Indonesia for Indonesia to take these people. Now, whatever Kevin Rudd has done, thus far at least, it hasn’t worked.
TONY JONES: OK. Let’s assume they’re not allowed to go ashore in Indonesia. What do you believe should happen to them?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, I think that Kevin Rudd should not make arrangements with foreign leaders that he then can’t deliver upon, and that plainly seems to be the situation tonight.
TONY JONES: So, it seems all so clear that you can’t actually say what you think should happen to these people.
TONY ABBOTT: Well, I’m not now in Government, but when I was in Government I supported the policies of the Prime Minister and the Government, which stopped the boat people from coming. You see, the difference, Tony, between John Howard and . . .
TONY JONES: OK, but – alright, I’ll let you finish. Sorry.
TONY ABBOTT: Let me say my piece.
TONY JONES: Yes, I will.
TONY ABBOTT: You know, the difference is John Howard’s policies were tough, but effective. Kevin Rudd’s policy looks like being brutal, but infective.
TONY JONES: OK, if you were to follow the policies of the previous government – the Howard Government, your government – these people would be sent to somewhere in the Pacific like Nauru. Is that what you think should still be happening?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, we’re not now in government and we don’t know what could possibly be done with the Indonesians, perhaps with the Sri Lankans, which seems to be the current major source of boat people. And if we were in government and were able to engage in detailed discussions with the Sri Lankans and the Indonesians, I might be able to say more. But the Australian Government, which is in a position to have these discussions and which apparently has had discussions with President Yudhoyono, even thought it had a deal with President Yudhoyono, hasn’t been able to deliver.
TONY JONES: So, it’s eight days now or more than eight days that these people have been on this vessel. Do you think Kevin Rudd should get back on the phone to President Yudhoyono?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, he’s got to do something, otherwise he looks like a Prime Minister who is both inept and hypocritical. Let’s not forget the high-volume moral outrage, the high-octane moral outrage which came from Kevin Rudd when he was opposition leader, and lots of other people as well. And I have to say, Tony, that those people who furiously denounced the Howard Government but are now silent are exposed as partisan rather than as principled.
TONY JONES: Moral outrage today from several of your colleagues in both the House and the Senate asking if the Government could guarantee that the children on board that vessel will not be kept in detention in Indonesia. Is that confected outrage or is it genuine concern?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, certainly, we do not want anything inhumane to happen to anyone. And the difference between John Howard and Kevin Rudd on this, Tony, is that, sure, the former government put tough policies in place, but they worked. Handing people over to the Indonesians is going to be far more brutal and it’s not going to be effective in stopping the boats.
TONY JONES: As you heard today, the Prime Minister made the rhetorical point immediately this was suggested that this from the former government which put children behind razor wire.
TONY ABBOTT: And let me say this to you, Tony: those camps in PNG and Nauru, that were run by Australians were, I put it to you, far more efficient and far more humane than the kind of things that we have just seen on your program in Indonesia, which apparently is what Kevin Rudd wants to condemn people to.
TONY JONES: OK, let’s get your own reaction to the conditions then. You’ve just seen the pictures, you’ve just referred to them in those detention centres filmed by the Melbourne lawyer Jessie Taylor. What did you think when you saw those pictures?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, I think that they are very, very rough circumstances in which to leave people. I’ve got to say they’re not untypical of Third World countries, and if those boat people were in camps in Sri Lanka, I dare say they would be experiencing similar conditions. The problem – the charge that I lay against the Prime Minister, Tony, is two-fold: one of ineptitude in not being able to strike an effective deal with President Yudhoyono, but above all, of hypocrisy in furiously denouncing the policies of the Howard Government, but now implementing policies which look far more tough in one sense on boat people, but which have no real hope of stopping the flow.
TONY JONES: Well, I mean, they’ve levelled the charge of hypocrisy right back at the Opposition for what they did in government, as I said earlier. And indeed it was the Howard Government which put money into the renovations of the detention centre into which these may in fact go on the island of Riau.
TONY ABBOTT: Yeah. But you’re not seriously suggesting, Tony, are you, that the Australian-run detention centres in Nauru and in PNG were anything like the detention centres in Indonesia, which Kevin Rudd wants these people to go to.
TONY JONES: So, your argument is that there is no way that these asylum seekers should be taken to Indonesia, or that Kevin Rudd should encourage the Indonesian Government to pick up asylum seekers headed for Australia and take them back to Indonesia. That, indeed, is the Indonesian Solution.
TONY ABBOTT: No. I’m not saying that, Tony. I’m saying that Kevin Rudd should act like a Prime Minister and he should move effectively to stop the flow of boat people. Now, I’m not saying that that’s going to be easy and I’m not saying that it’s going to be pretty. But nevertheless, John Howard did it, he did it effectively, and I think on the evidence of what we saw tonight, he did it more humanely than Kevin Rudd is proposing to do it.
TONY JONES: Anthony Albanese told us last night that the Government’s Indonesian Solution is quite different to the former government’s Pacific Solution. Do you agree with that?
TONY ABBOTT: Well, yes, because the Government’s – the current Government’s – so-called solution doesn’t work and it looks like being far more brutal than anything that was done by the former government.
Does this mean his commitment to instruct the navy to turn around asylum-seeker boats and return them to Indonesia was nothing but a con job to win votes?
In case you missed it, here’s a summary of what Abbott said:
- The asylum seekers should have been sent to Christmas Island.
- To return them to Indonesia was “brutal”.
- There would have been nothing wrong with sending them to PNG.
- Australia needs a good relationship with Indonesia to help address this problem.
His words now imply incredible hypocrisy, beyond belief. Meanwhile, Indonesia says:
“We will reject his policy on asylum seekers and any other policy that harms the spirit of partnership and (Indonesian) sovereignty and national integrity,” Mr Natalegawa told a House or Representatives meeting on Wednesday.
Yes, I have an aching suspicion that Tony Abbott has been conning us all along when it comes to any of his policies on asylum seekers. He’s not interested in boats. He’s only interested in votes.
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