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Australia Faces First Test for Malaysian Deal

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Download The Australian government's refugee deal with Malaysia is facing its first real test, with a boat carrying 54 asylum seekers due to arrive at Christmas island later in the week.

The agreement calls for people to be sent to Malaysia within 72 hours of arriving in Australia, but the government is already saying it could take longer than that to make the arrangements for the first group.

And Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard says there will be no 'blanket exceptions' for asylum seekers under the Malaysian deal.

She is speaking here with Naomi Woodley of Radio Australia.


“What I can guarantee is that we will do exactly what we've announced we were going to do, letter by word. The Minister for Immigration has been very clear about what will happen here. There will be pre-assessment procedures. Then there will be returns to Malaysia. We are in the first phase of this. This is the first boat so those returns will take some time. When the system is up and in full operation those returns will happen in 72 hours, but the Minister for Immigration has been very clear about exactly how all of this is going to work and occur.”

Q. But why is it going to take longer this first time? You've had, been working on this agreement for two months. What more arrangements need to be put in place?

“Well I think it just stands to common sense that the first time you do something, obviously you learn along the way and there are things that need to be done for that first time that then for the second time are more routine. So it's really nothing more than the simple common sense that applies to any human activity.”

Q. But is it realistic for those sorts of security checks that need to be done before it's decided where these people go, is it realistic that that can take 72 hours when we know that processing times in Australia stretch out for months and months?

“Yes it is and the agreement was struck in full knowledge of the work that would have to be done.”

Q. How many children are onboard this boat and are you personally comfortable with the images we might see of AFP (Australian Federal Police) officers manhandling them onto a plane to Malaysia?

“Well I'm not in a position to discuss the caseload on this boat. There are pre-assessment procedures and they'll be gone through properly by the relevant officials. On the question of blanket exemptions, which I believe you are asking me, as the Minister for Immigration has frequently said, there are no blanket exceptions but of course we do have this pre-assessment procedure and we will go through that.”

Q. But what sort of force has been authorised for the AFP to use to send these people to Malaysia? Presumably they are not going to want to go.

“Well obeying instructions here is not a question of volunteering. We are determined to get this done. The Australian Federal Police can speak on operational matters but we will do what is necessary to ensure that people who should be taken to Malaysia under the agreement are taken.”

Q. But what does that mean to take whatever steps are necessary? Precisely what will they be doing?

“Well it means taking appropriate steps to get people to board the plane and to disembark the plane the other end.”

Q. Is that in terms of, we've seen tear gas and so-called beanbag bullets used on Christmas Island, is that the sort of force that is necessary?

“Well I think we're getting a little bit carried away here. First and foremost people will be given an instruction to board a plane. We will be obviously looking to people to obey that instruction. If it's not obeyed then we have security personnel. We have the Australian Federal Police. We also have counsellors available to talk things through with people but ultimately, obeying that instruction is not a question of volunteering.”

Last Updated ( Monday, 08 August 2011 10:45 )  

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