Australian economy; World economy; unauthorised arrivals; Woomera

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Australian economy; World economy; unauthorised arrivals; Woomera


CNN – Interview with Stan Grant
Wednesday, 30 January 2002


SUBJECTS: Australian economy; World economy; unauthorised arrivals; Woomera


Well, joining to me to discuss these and other issues facing Australia is Treasurer,

and Deputy Prime Minister, Peter Costello.

Mr Costello, a miracle, some are using that term, but as we mentioned there

inflation creeping up, the threat of an increase in unemployment, are they the

big stumbling blocks to the Australian economy?


I think the big challenge to the Australian economy is still the world economic

environment with a weak United States and Japan and a regional down-turn, and

we are of course, so far, growing, continuing growth at about 3 per cent. So,

we have got to make sure that we keep the Australian economy strong through

this period of international weakness and we keep consumer demand quite strong

until such time as the world economic environment changes. So, we certainly

see the international aspect as being our biggest challenge at the moment.


You will be delivering a budget around about the time that most people expect

the US recovery to certainly be on the up swing. What are your thoughts about

the international recovery and how quickly it is going to come on?


Well, we all hope the sooner the better, of course. I am not one of those people

that believes that we are on the threshold of a US surge or an early recovery.

I think that it is going to take some time before the American economy starts

to tick over with some decent growth. And I am also worried about the situation

in Asia generally, particularly South-East Asia. So, I am cautious I think,

I think we will see some signs of recovery through the course of early 2002

but I am not expecting until about the second quarter or third quarter for the

international economy to show some signs of vibrancy.


Mr Costello you are sitting in the Acting Prime Minister seat, now I am not

giving away any secrets to say that you would like the job permanently some

time in the future. Are you comfortable at the moment, from where you sit today,

with a refugee policy that some are describing as embarrassing, if not inhumane?


Well, Australia, I believe, operates a very humane refugee policy. In terms

of per head of population we take the second highest intake in the world. Now

we have got to make sure that the people that we do take are genuine refugees.

They have full legal protection whilst they are being assessed for those, under

those criteria, and we are going to make sure that it is the real, genuine refugees

that have priority under the programme. That is what our programme is directed

towards ensuring and we intend to continue to operate it in a legal and humanitarian



But you have some immediate problems, you have got people threatening to kill

themselves, they are on a hunger strike. Are you comfortable, as I said before,

are you comfortable with a policy that locks you in to mandatory detention of

these people while they are being processed or do you think you need to wind

that back a little bit?


Well, nobody likes the fact that people feel moved to make these kinds of threats

and certainly we have responded by ensuring that an independent committee deals

with people, particularly at the Woomera Detention Centre. They are speaking

to them and I think there have been some positive developments in relation to

those moves, a number of people have come off the hunger strikes, and so on.

But as a country Australia’s position is we will continue to operate a humanitarian

refugee programme, as I said, per capita, the second largest in the world. But,

you have got to make sure that the people who have access to that programme

are genuine refugees, that they will be assessed in accordance with law and

that they will be given priority over others who don’t have the genuine status

and that is what we are determined to do.


But Mr Costello, is making sure that they are genuine, is locking them up really

the way to go about that? Don’t you accept that in some eyes, particularly internationally,

it can be a bit embarrassing for Australia, this has been a bit embarrassing?


No. Once people are assessed to be genuine refugees they are given visas. The

people that are locked up for longer periods are people who either can’t establish

their identity for one reason or another, or, have been assessed not to be refugees.

This is an important point. Not everybody who claims to be a refugee is. And

there are some people who are assessed not to be refugees, in that situation,

as other countries do, then the Australian authorities will try and arrange

repatriation to whichever country of origin they have.


Mr Costello, a quick one. What assurances can you give us about the way people

are being treated, particularly at Woomera?


Well, the assurances we give are that the facilities that are there, although

let me say, they were not purpose built for this programme. It is because the

number of boat arrivals has been larger than anybody expected that we have had

to bring into operation some of these facilities. But the facilities that are

there are properly managed, they have good recreational facilities, they have

very good medical care and we have an independent committee, independent of

the Government, which is now meeting with people and addressing their grievances.

And I think considering the medical care that is being given, the shelter, the

food, the arrangements that have been made in relation to the airing of grievances,

that these facilities, although nobody would want these facilities to be pressed

into service, we prefer to operate an orderly immigration programme in the first

place. So, these facilities under the circumstances are giving strong food,

shelter, and medical care to the people that are in them.


Well, if there is nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed about, why not

let television cameras in?


Well, the media have been through. The media have been through these facilities

on numbers of occasions and you would have seen the footage yourself…


But now, with Woomera?


Well, the media, I think, have had numbers of inspections during the course

of the last year. At a time when there is some instability I do not think it

would be a good idea to send TV cameras through because it could actually inflame

the situation. But there are independent lawyers that go in there daily that

conduct press conferences as they come out. There are independent committees

that go in there daily that conduct press conferences as they come out, some

of the families are now on a trial in the town. It is not as if there is any

great secret about Woomera. I must say, the media have had a lot of access and

have access to the lawyers who conduct daily press conferences. So, I don’t

think there is any great secret about the facilities at Woomera.

They are adequate facilities for fooding, shelter, very good medical attention.

We would rather that we did not have any unlawful arrivals, in which case you

would not need any centres, but, given the fact that you do these facilities

are adequate for the need and they provide proper facilities for those involved.


Okay Mr Costello, we will have to leave it there. Thanks for joining us this