MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS
Interview with Alan Jones, 2UE
ALAN JONES: This boat people issue doesn't go away. The Prime Minister yesterday, in launching his policy, made the simple point that the Government will decide who comes into Australia and on what terms. It's as simple as that, and it is simple. How many times have I made the point that if you're going to determine who comes into your home and on what terms, surely we as a nation have that entitlement in relation to our national home.
But now we have the spectacle after last week and an Indonesian fishing boat sinking and 350 so-called asylum seekers dying, we've got the spectacle of three Indonesian warships searching for a fishing boat ! allegedly hijacked by Iraqi asylum seekers and believed to be heading to Australia.
Now, the search was under way since last Thursday, the day after it was reportedly seized by 170 asylum seekers. But now it has been found drifting off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa and the boat people have been taken by smaller boats to the village of Sangyang which is an hour's sail away. It's said that the boat was hijacked by a group of Iraqi refugees who want to go to Australia. So the debate goes on.
As one editorial wrote at the weekend, "When Australians awoke last week to the image of three little girls staring from almost every newspaper front page, many felt a surge of sorrow and a huge pang of guilt. Suddenly, protecting our borders from asylum seekers seemed flint-hearted. What nation could be so stony as to turn away the sweet innocence? Surely not the land of a fair go."
But it went on. "A mourning Muslim community was quick to blame the Government. After ! all, it was argued the girls would never have been on board that leaking rust bucket had it not been for our law designed to ensure those who seek refugee status really are refugees."
It said, "The Muslim community, so deeply touched by tragedy, could easily be forgiven for reacting in anger." And then it said, "The truth is somewhat different." It said, "It should be remembered that those who choose Australia as a destination do so not because they've suddenly become imbued with Aussie fervour, it's because the people-smuggling industry sees us as an easy target. The softer we get, the more they will come."
And it's on again. We woke yesterday to headlines which cried, "Mutiny on the Ocean - Vessels Head for Australia." And then of course in the middle of all this last week, we've got Sheik Taj el-Din Al Hilaly, the alleged spiritual leader of Australia's 300,000 Muslims, accusing John Howard and government policy of having "opened the gates to death" to the asy! lum seekers who drowned off Indonesia.
And that has led to a flood of comments, emails and faxes from you to me about the Sheik, such that it's time we spoke to the Immigration Minister about what this bloke is saying, who he is and how long he can go on saying it. And Philip Ruddock is on the line.
Minister, good morning.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Morning, Alan.
ALAN JONES: What about this mutiny on the ocean? What is the update, and what do you know on that?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, no more than the reports. I mean, obviously while we're in touch with the Indonesian authorities, they don't brief us on all of these developments. But I'm pleased that we haven't seen a further loss of life because I think the events of last week were tragic and one wouldn't want to see those sorts of things happening again.
And as far as I'm concerned, if we were to relax our approach and encourage more people to think that they should come this way, we would only ! be exposing more children to a possible death in the same way that these children have died.
ALAN JONES: There is talk today that two Indonesian police officers have been arrested over the fishing boat that sank on October 19 with only 44 of its passengers surviving. Can you confirm that?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I can't, but it's a matter for the Indonesian authorities to, of course, progress. They've been obviously very concerned about many of the claims that have been made - I would be - and they've sought to deal with it.
And our view all along was that it was a matter for the Indonesians to handle. It's within their boundaries, they're a sovereign nation and they've got responsibility in relation to any complaints that are made about their law enforcement officers.
ALAN JONES: There's talk of 3,000 more boat people expected to head for Australia in the next few weeks and the Indonesian Government saying there are 4,000 illegal immigrants waiting to sail! to Australia. Is that consistent with your intelligence?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Not quite. I mean, the sorts of numbers that we've known to be in the hands of smugglers - that is, we've identified particular smugglers who might be planning to bring boats to Australia - don't suggest the numbers are immediately as high as that. But the reports of up to 4,000 in Indonesia and possibly another 4,000 in Malaysia are very real.
ALAN JONES: Is there a need to re-examine the quotas on refugees who are found to be genuine? We allow in about 12,000 a year.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I mean, Mr Beazley's not arguing that we should and the reason he's not is that there is a very heavy cost. And it's one of the draw factors, of course. I mean, for us it's $30 million per thousand on the forward estimates. So I mean, you can decide that you're going to spend that money on additional refugees being resettled in Australia, but I look at what's happening at the moment in Pakistan, f! or instance, and I think to myself, well, what would $30 million do in terms of looking after millions of people who are in dire straits.
And I think that certainly the approach being taken by the international community at this stage is that an evacuation of modest numbers of people from Pakistan is not going to deal with the very much larger crisis that Pakistan faces. And I think it has to be seen in that context.
And there's no amount of people that we could take that would limit, I think, the groups of people with money to travel and still vulnerable to the blandishments of smugglers.
ALAN JONES: Okay. Well, down to the thing that has concerned my listeners - and I have been inundated and I suppose you have as well. But they're asking me how much longer that Australians have to cop the kind of stuff that this Sheik Taj el-Din Al Hilaly went on with last week arguing that you and the Prime Minister and government policy had "opened the gates of death! ."
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well look, I wasn't very impressed with the comments, as you can imagine, and I'd seen the Sheik several hours before he made them and didn't make them to my face.
I said - look, one of the things in your introduction I'd just pick up. I think it's unfair to say that all Muslims take the view that the government policy in this area is wrong. Many Muslims I know very strongly support the approach that we take because they believe we're a…
ALAN JONES: But this bloke calls himself the spiritual leader.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Yeah well, he does that but his position is not as sound as that and he's been - essentially, I think there are very significant splits within the Islamic community.
ALAN JONES: Well, Alan Ramsey who's been around Canberra longer than you have - and that's saying something…
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I saw Alan…
ALAN JONES: Well, he wrote at the weekend - and I just want to take you through some of this beca! use my listeners want some answers - that 11 years ago, as Opposition spokesman on immigration, you pursued questions never answered as to why the Hawke Labor Government granted this bloke, Al Hilaly, permanent residency in 1990, that eight years earlier, he said, the Sheik had arrived in Sydney from Egypt under the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils on a three-month visa and his family never left.
Now there were several convictions, intellectual convictions against this bloke and many want to know how he still remains in the light of saying the things he said.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I mean, Alan Ramsey's story went through it and I think there were some other stories at the same time, that related what happened. I mean, this…
ALAN JONES: He was accused of inciting racial hatred.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Yes, and Chris Herford, who was the former Minister, determined that in character terms he should not remain in Australia.
ALAN JONES: That's r! ight.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: And he issued a deportation order.
ALAN JONES: That's in 1986.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: And that was overturned because there were representations made by essentially the Lebanese Muslim Association in Sydney to the Members of Parliament - I think Leo McLeay was one and Paul Keating was another.
ALAN JONES: Alan Ramsey said that Hilaly had been supported by strong New South Wales and federal ALP lobbying and survived.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, as I understand it, there was very strong lobbying, and I spoke to Robert Ray at the time. He made the decisions that he would be able to continue to remain here on a temporary basis. They were renewed, as I understand it, for a number of years, and Ray I think was a bit nervous that there may be a change in an election. It didn't happen. There was a Labor Government was returned and Hilaly was given permanent residency.
And once he was granted permanent residency, provided he remained i! n Australia, he was eligible for citizenship.
ALAN JONES: Let's go back a bit, just go back a bit, because…
PHILIP RUDDOCK: …while Gerry Hand was Minister…
ALAN JONES: Let's go back a bit though before we get to Gerry Hand because you're going fairly quickly but my listeners would want us to go a bit more slowly.
In October 1998, you demanded his visa be withdrawn after, as Ramsey rightly reports, a series of virulent anti-Semitic comments were attributed to a speech he made at the University of Sydney. I should repeat that Ramsey at the weekend said the comments were published in a Jewish newspaper and contained a reference to Jews as the underlying cause of all wars and that Jews who "used sex and abominable acts of buggery to control the world."
And this bloke, in spite of overtures that such a person shouldn't be kept in this country, has been kept here.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: And the reason he's been kept here is that the decisions the L! abor Government took at that time gave him permanent residency and then citizenship, and once you achieve citizenship, it cannot be revoked. And you know, when we came into office…
ALAN JONES: So the deportation order of Herford was revoked by Herford's successor?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: That's right.
ALAN JONES: To placate an ethnic community in the run-up to the July '87 election?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: There were very significant pressures put on at that time, and former Prime Minister Keating, I believe, was the person who pushed for the Minister at that time to take those decisions.
ALAN JONES: Ramsey wrote on Saturday that privately the Sheik had travelled to Canberra for a meeting with McLeay and Keating and when Robert Ray learnt of it - the Minister - he deferred the Sheik's application for a year on the grounds of collusion. And Ramsey said that Keating wouldn't speak to Robert Ray for months.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I know none of that. But ! I know that Ray was not keen to make the decision, but I know the decision was made and I know when I came Minister in 1996 it was a fait accompli.
I mean, citizenship is something that cannot be revoked unless it was initially obtained by fraud, and there is no suggestion here the information that you are speaking of was not known to the Government at the time.
ALAN JONES: Right. But Ramsey does say in September 1990, when Hand then approved Hilaly's permanent residence, you, Philip Ruddock, sought under Freedom of Information "all briefings and advisings" in the "grant of resident status to Hilaly and his family." And you were quoted as saying the Minister must be able to justify the decision, and yet you've never had those questions answered.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: No. I mean, you might - the question I would expect from you is why I haven't asked for those papers now and what would I do with it. And essentially I've come to the view that if I can't do anythin! g about the decision, it's going to be pretty silly of me just seeking to look at the papers.
I mean, I know of the concerns. There were security concerns and they were mentioned in that article as well as the vilification of a segment of our community. And I make the point every time I speak in front of Hilaly about the importance of our culturally diverse society and what that means. And I make the point very strongly that, you know, when you've settled in Australia, while we acknowledge that people have different cultural backgrounds, we have an expectation that they'll observe our laws.
And one of the things that disappoints me in relation to immigration laws is that some people seem to think - and Hilaly is arguing this - are entitled to ignore our laws if they relate to immigration. And I don't think you have a society that believes in the rule of law where you say, well, there are some laws that I'll obey and some that I won't.
ALAN JONES: But when ! a bloke says that the Prime Minister of a country has opened the gates to death because asylum seekers have drowned, isn't this an incitement to mobilise his people against those who support the Government?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Look, I mean it is very clear that remarks of that sort, if they were being made - and the sort of remarks that he's made elsewhere - would be matters that we would take into account under the character provisions if we were dealing with a migration application de nevo. They are matters…
ALAN JONES: He's already a permanent citizen.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: He's a permanent resident and citizen.
ALAN JONES: And citizen. But in January last year, is it right that he was sentenced to a year in jail with hard labour after being convicted of smuggling antiquities from Egypt to Australia?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I believe there was a conviction which he has appealed and that appeal is still being dealt with.
ALAN JONES: And the Sheik's so! n and four other people were also jailed.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: I don't know about that, but I do know that those proceedings were taking place in Egypt and he was the subject of a conviction and that matter has been appealed and that appeal is still being dealt with.
ALAN JONES: It's not fair to the Muslim community, surely, to be represented in the public place by people who speak like this, is it?
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, I think the Islamic community have been very concerned about this matter themselves and he's been at times relieved of some of his responsibilities. And as I understand it, he is no longer the Mufti - which was the terms used - for the Supreme Spiritual Leader in Australia. He is just one of a number of imams.
ALAN JONES: Good on you. Thank you for your time because many of my listeners wrote and asked me to ask you those questions. I've done that and you've answered them. I thank you for that.
PHILIP RUDDOCK: Thanks, Alan.
ALAN JONES: Philip Ruddock, the Immigration Minister. There you are, we're inundated with letters and faxes and emails here about all of that. I hope that clarifies it for you. He is an Australian citizen.
29 October 2001