23 January 2014



SUBJECTS: The Liberals’ veil of secrecy on border protection; Peter Cosgrove

KIERAN GILBERT: Labor’s acting Immigration spokesperson Michelle Rowland. Your thoughts on that, Michelle Rowland? I spoke to your counterpart Nick Champion; he says his inclination is to believe the Navy on this, that his experience is that they are entirely professional when it comes to these duties.

MICHELLE ROWLAND: Look, I think I can speak for all of Labor, Kieran, when I say we have, and I personally have, complete confidence in our Navy and Customs personnel. All of Australia should appreciate the very difficult job they do under very stressful circumstances. It’s unfortunate that their job is being made even more difficult by the policies of this government.

GILBERT: How is it made more difficult when there are less boats?

ROWLAND: There’s less boats because the policies that Labor enacted are being implemented and are working. And we can see that from the figures almost immediately when this was done last year. Almost immediately a result happening there and we can see the trend continuing. But what we see is this government carrying out the policies which everyone warned would be dangerous, which everyone warned would not be effective. And these are the results that we’re seeing today. And I actually think that we wouldn’t -

GILBERT: They are being effective, aren’t they. The boats have pretty much stopped. There’ve been no boats the last few weeks. You’re saying that the Government’s forceful line Operation Sovereign Borders having no impact, it was all Labor?

ROWLAND: I’m not saying that. I’m saying the effectiveness, the effective point of the policy, which was put in place by Labor is working. That is what’s working. This culture of secrecy, this veil of non-disclosure from this government is doing nothing for the Australian people to have any confidence in what this government is doing in this policy area. The policy that is working is Labor’s policy.

GILBERT: But the Government looks like it’s… this veil of secrecy suggestion seems it’s a bit out-dated right now. I’ve got to say, Michelle Rowland, looking at Scott Morrison yesterday he was everywhere. He held a news conference, he did a number of interviews… how can you go on with the veil of secrecy line given he’s clearly made adjustments? Maybe early on you could say that but now it seems out of date.

ROWLAND: It’s not out of date. The fact is this was a government who, when in Opposition, said that they would keep the Australian people fully appraised, that they had nothing to hide. So now we see these so-called scheduled weekly briefings being cancelled. The Government will decide what the Australian people need to know and tell us what they think we need to know. We’ve had a situation where in Question Time we’ve had the Minister stand up and say ‘there’s no need for me to answer these questions because I give weekly briefings.’ This is reality, it’s not an out of date statement at all.

GILBERT: But they’re not doing the weekly briefings, they’re doing more regular briefings by the looks of things. Yesterday he was out there with the head of Customs, he was on our program yesterday afternoon along with a number of other media interviews. The point I’m making is the veil of secrecy suggestion does not carry any weight right now given the events to the last few days does it?

ROWLAND: Well the fact is we’ve had the Minister coming out, getting dragged out of his shell, to make these comments because both the media and Labor – and the Australian people themselves – have said that we want answers. A week ago we had a situation where the Minister wasn’t making any comment and we had reports, not from Australian sources, that Australian Navy ships had breached Indonesian territorial waters and you’ll find that we came out and had a statement. The fact that we have had so much being said in the last few days is merely reflective of the shambolic nature of this government’s approach to this policy area.

GILBERT: Now on those incursions there’s been a pretty strong reaction out of Indonesia but Tony Abbott’s right, is he not Michelle Rowland, in saying that Indonesia takes its sovereignty pretty seriously as well but Australia’s doing the same thing in monitoring these boat arrivals, in turning them back, that they’re taking a forceful stance and sending a strong message about this government wanting to protect the nation’s borders. That’s a valid point isn’t it?

ROWLAND: Look, Australia at all times – and any country – would seek to preserve its sovereignty. That is a no-brainer in itself. The fact is that we have had incidents happening where the government has failed to be forthright, has failed to provide full disclosure. And if they have provided disclosure, it’s only come after severe accusations that they needed to make this disclosure.

GILBERT: We’ve seen some complaints out of the Indonesian Parliament though that the claims that the incursions are inadvertent are, well, can’t be believed. What’s your view on that, given that you’ve said you give the Navy the benefit of the doubt – do you believe the government’s assessment that they were inadvertent?

ROWLAND: Look I would support the Navy’s view on this, absolutely. And as I said we would have full confidence in the role that our Navy undertakes. But I think once again this goes to the fact that a difficult job is being made even more difficult. And you don’t have to take it from me. I’ve actually said in Parliament, I’ve quoted from the Australian Defence Association, the body that represents these Navy personnel, who specifically warned against an area of civil policy having a military presence within it. They were the exact warnings that were given and not only by them, but by former Ministers Burke and Bowen. They warned this would precisely be the thing that would happen. So it’s not as though this government was not warned.

GILBERT: You’re saying that… and members of your party have said that Tony Abbott is hiding behind the Navy. Aren’t you, by extension, also having a go at the Navy themselves for being in that position, to be used like that… props?

ROWLAND: The Navy didn’t allow themselves to be in this position. Army personnel, Defence Force personnel, they take their orders and I have no criticism of them whatsoever. They are carrying out their duties and Australia owes them a debt of thanks.

GILBERT: You’re accusing them of being a prop basically.

ROWLAND: I’m not saying they’re being used as a prop.

GILBERT: Well what’s the point then when you’re saying Tony Abbott’s hiding behind the Navy, can you elaborate on that for me?

ROWLAND: I’m not saying that he’s hiding behind the Navy. What I’m saying is they are being dragged into this Operation Sovereign Borders, where this Government was specifically warned that there would be risks associated with having an area of civil policy with such a strong military focus to it. There is no criticism whatsoever from Labor, by myself or anyone else, of the men and women who do an outstanding job on behalf of their country. No criticism whatsoever, and we are grateful to them for what they do.

GILBERT: Your leader and others in the Party have said that Tony Abbott is hiding behind the Navy, that’s what they’ve said and that’s what I was putting to you. I want to ask you about the investigation though. Julie Bishop said she’s willing to cooperate, the Government is willing to cooperate into the investigation of those claims that we began discussing. Do you think that that is the right course of action to cooperate, even though obviously the Government like Labor appears to be giving the allegations no credence?

ROWLAND: If this is going to be the most expedient way to put this matter to rest then certainly I would think that that’s an appropriate course of action. But let me be very clear Kieran; it’s not for me to adjudicate what should and shouldn’t happen in this situation. I’m like the rest of the Australian public, I know only what I’m getting through the media on this matter, but I would say that if this is a matter where the Australian Navy thinks that it can put these matters to rest as early as possible, if they think that’s the best course of action, we would have full confidence in that.

GILBERT: And Michelle Rowland, one question without notice. The reports in News Limited this morning suggesting Peter Cosgrove will be appointed Governor-General next Monday with an announcement early next week, your thoughts on that? Is he an appropriate choice?

ROWLAND: I think that the position of Australia’s Governor-General is certainly one that carries a tremendous honour. Peter Cosgrove is a man of tremendous honour and I think that he would make an excellent representative here in Australia. I would like to say what an excellent representative we have also had in Quentin Bryce and I think that there are a variety of people to whom we could turn to in this situation. But of course if Peter Cosgrove is chosen he would have the full support of Labor.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it this morning.

ROWLAND: A pleasure.