KIERAN GILBERT: Joining us now, Labor frontbencher Mike Kelly here in the Canberra studio; in Adelaide, Liberal frontbencher Senator Simon Birmingham. Good to see you both, gentlemen. Mike, first to you… the asylum seeker panel today – Angus Houston meeting with various representatives of the political parties…
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, there is one response today to the Coalition comments in recent days – Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister, is quoted in the Fairfax press this morning saying that… rejecting Scott Morrison’s argument that there’s a dysfunctional relationship between the two countries. He says ‘I disagree with that’ flat out.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, look, of course, Indonesia, I’m sure, wants to maintain the best relationship it can with whoever the Australian Government of the day is but we need to be very clear here that, if you look at things like the live cattle trade decision, this Government’s handling of our relationship with Indonesia has been appalling and, of course, you need a very strong, a very robust, relationship with Indonesia to be able to deal with this issue of people smugglers, to be able to implement the sensible policies that have worked in the past, and we think that the Howard Government had a far stronger relationship with Indonesia. It didn’t subject them to the types of ad hoc decisions, without consultation, on live cattle that this Government has and we are focused and determined on rebuilding that and I know that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop and the team have said our first priority as a government, on the foreign policy front, is absolutely with Indonesia to make sure that relationship is as robust and strong as possible.
MIKE KELLY: … the Coalition oppose this because they know that that Malaysian plan [Labor’s Malaysian people swap] would work and the Malaysian plan also offered us a way forward in developing a regional solution.
KIERAN GILBERT: The argument against the Malaysia plan, Senator Birmingham… it does seem to contradict itself, that you’re willing to send boat people back to Indonesia, which isn’t a signatory to the UN Convention [United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees], but you are to Malaysia and the other point is the Defence advice. They’re worried about the impact on Naval personnel.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, let me quickly deal with a few issues there. Firstly, you’re turning boats around to go back to a country from which they have come. That’s vastly different from picking people up and flying them to Malaysia and putting them at the back of a queue there…
MIKE KELLY: In what way? How is that different? How, physically, morally, legally, is that different, Simon? How is it different?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Mike, it is very different because you are sending them back to a country from which they have voluntarily come. They’ve come through Indonesia and you’re sending them back to Indonesia…
MIKE KELLY: It’s just rubbish, mate. You’re completely contradicting yourself on the UN Convention. You’ve had Scott Morrison out there saying it’s a worthless document…
KIERAN GILBERT: We’ll wait for Senator… carry on, Senator Birmingham, sorry.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: They’ve come through Indonesia; you’re sending them back to Indonesia. That’s vastly different from picking them up and flying them to Malaysia and putting them at the back of a queue with no human rights safeguards or anything else there but the next point is: boats have been turned around in the past, safely, and they can be done again but the last point I’d make here as to why not Malaysia… well, the pretty simple question here that always needs to be asked is ‘how do you save these lives at sea, how do you stop the people smugglers, with the lowest possible impact on the rights and protections for the people you are trying to save?’ Now, the previous Coalition policies of Nauru, Temporary Protection Visas and turning back the boats did that. Malaysia doesn’t do that, doesn’t afford any of those types of protection.
KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, let’s move on because we’re not going to resolve that this morning. Hopefully Angus Houston’s got better powers of persuasion than anyone else that we’ve seen in this debate. People’s forum – let’s talk about this – last night. Julia Gillard swayed quite a few in that room. It was very different to the rest of the political climate in WA, in that room, it seemed. It was chosen by an independent research agency…
KIERAN GILBERT: 30 per cent of people supported the scheme on the way in, Senator Birmingham. That was up to nearly 50 per cent on the way out so, face to face, the Prime Minister is able to persuade people much more effectively.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Kieran, I’ve run some community forums, with hundreds of people, with Tony Abbott and I think they’ve left more certain and determined in their support for him and our policies at the end of those forums than they have at the beginning. To be frank, a politician who gets an hour or two of dedicated one-on-one face time with a group of people hopefully can sway those opinions but, of course, in the end they will listen to all sides of the debate in an election campaign – they’ll listen to all sides of the debate at present – and what comes through loud and clear, when I just talk to people in the street, is that they don’t trust the Prime Minister. That’s the biggest hurdle. Yes, they have problems with the carbon tax and with the policies of this Government but they also don’t trust a Prime Minister who promises one thing before an election and does the exact opposite afterwards and that’s, of course, the biggest hurdle for her to get over.
KIERAN GILBERT: There is a very different… Mike Kelly… yeah, well, you look at the politics generally… as Simon Birmingham says, that is the perception out there and Joel Fitzgibbon… we played the comments [on ABC TV’s Q&A] at the start of the program… he says populism matters in politics, it’s true, unpopular leaders don’t remain leaders for very long.
MIKE KELLY: Well, you know, that matter was resolved in February. You know, we’ve moved on but I think…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I don’t think Joel has.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, just quickly, populism matters – it’s the same on both sides of politics, just quickly?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Oh, look, people have to listen to public opinion – that’s important – but what we have here is Joel Fitzgibbon, the Chief Government Whip, saying he doesn’t have confidence in the Prime Minister. Nobody believes him when he says he thinks she’ll turn the polls around – the studio audience laughed when he said that. He clearly expects there to be a change. Here we go through the same old sorry saga again on this Labor side of politics.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham and Mike Kelly, good to see you both, gents. Have a good day. Appreciate it.
MIKE KELLY: Cheers, Kieran.