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Beazley Proposes New Minister For Home Security

October 2, 2001

This is the text of a press conference given by the Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley, in which he discusses his Knowledge Nation policy and proposes measures to bolsters Australia's defences against global terrorism, including the creation of a Federal Minister with responsibility for domestic security matters:

BEAZLEY:

I am releasing a report today from the Chifley Research Centre done by one of the gentlemen who assisted us in the Knowledge Nation Taskforce about the 'brain drain'. If we want a secure future for all Australians we must make sure that the best ideas we have are developed here by our own people and do not export those ideas overseas for development elsewhere. We have to be about Australian jobs here. The only way we can be about Australian jobs here is if we reverse the brain drain and make sure that our best ideas are developed here and our research community is comfortable in ensuring that that takes place. What this report shows is that there are high levels of dissatisfaction throughout the research community. It goes to renumerating, it goes to scientific culture, it goes to concerns about workloads, it goes to a lack of value placed on the work that they do. A whole range of issues which are central to concerns about the brain drain. It is true that skilled people come to this country but they are not as skilled as those who leave. We have got to change if we are going to have a secure future on this.

There are other issues around in education. I note there is a report in one of the papers today talking about a teacher shortage generally and a teacher shortage in particular areas such as maths and sciences. Indeed, in Australia today 40 per cent of our young people are being taught by teachers, particularly in the maths and sciences area, who are not qualified in the disciplines that they teach. You cannot breed a culture that is attuned to the sorts of scientific endeavour this nation now needs for a secure future if the children, the students are not being fascinated by a teacher who is engrossed in the subject that he or she is teaching.

In both these areas the Labor Party has constructive policies, solutions to ensure that the brain drain no longer affects our capacity to secure our future by exporting jobs effectively overseas. And to ensure that our teachers get the right training both at the beginning of their teaching careers and through their teaching careers so that they both feel valued in terms of the professional status but also qualified to teach the subjects that they are teaching to young Australians.

The Cabinet is meeting today. The Cabinet is meeting, as I understand, on security issues. The Labor Party within two days of the horror in New York and Washington produced a constructive list of ten suggestions about changes that we needed to make to our security arrangements. We raised additional issues in Question Time in the last week of Parliament and yesterday we put forward a further constructive suggestion in relation to airport security envisaging the inclusion of sky marshals in periods of high tension or high threat so assessed by Australian security authorities in that period of high threat.

Now the Government is yet to respond on any of these matters. We look forward to their response today. And we are going to be in the cart for anything sensible because we agree with the Government on the issue of threats now to our national security emerging from international terrorism and we made our agreement clear during discussions in Parliament and public statements that I have been making since that point of time.

So these are issues which are important to our nation. We need security at home and we need security abroad. And the issues of security the Government is now considering go to security abroad. The issues that I have been talking about go to security at home.

There is a further development in the ongoing saga of the tragedy of Ansett. Overnight it appears that Canadian Airlines have been brought in by Qantas to enhance their operations, or enable their operations to be enhanced here in Australia. I have a quote from the Prime Minister of last week in Parliament in which he said, "I said to Qantas that it was unacceptable to the Government that foreign aircraft and crews should be brought in while there are Australian aircraft and Australian crews ready and willing". Well, that was Parliament - Parliament is now over, the Government no longer cares. It is the solution on Ansett - a miniscule 11 aircraft into the air serving four ports, four or five ports, but no long-term solution. A solution for an election but not a solution for Christmas and not a solution for Australian jobs.

This Government has got to change. It has to commit itself to secure employment for Australians and part of that commitment goes to ensuring that Ansett is capable of getting up into the air again and servicing the Australian public. We have at the centre of our aviation infrastructure economically critical to this country a giant hole with the absence of Ansett. The Government is capable of ensuring that that situation is cured but it will not act to do so. Every day stories emerge in the press of people in business or other airlines who are prepared to step in and give it a try but they need the Government to assist them in that process. That doesn't mean we take on board that debt but it does mean that we look to the possibility of providing a loan or equity injection to encourage others to get up and running with an operation which is now as every day goes by causing major damage, it's absence is causing major damage to the Australian economy.

So these are the issues for the day as far as I am concerned.

JOURNALIST:

You have announced today that Labor would draw up a mailing list. Do you really think that amounts to a policy?

BEAZLEY:

We have policies on dealing with the brain drain that go to encouraging academics to stay here.

JOURNALIST:

You say that 'today I am announcing new policy - a register of all Australian academics'. Is a mailing list a policy?

BEAZLEY:

That is an additional policy to policies already announced. It is important that we get a thorough going understanding of where our good researchers are. What they are doing and what we need to do to encourage them home. We need a database that means that we can go to those folk when we have opportunities developing in Australia, new research projects here, encouraging the universities to recruit them back here again.

You take a look at this 'brain drain' report Laurie and what you are going to see is this: that staff member after staff member is complaining about the loss of senior colleagues, point one. But even more crucially point two, because some will go overseas no matter what, when they seek to recruit people of equivalent statures they can't get them. Now one of the points about putting in place a mailing list is so that you can get them so that when those vacancies become available in Australia you can go directly to the Australians who have left overseas, gained experience over a five to ten year period, and encourage them to come back here.

JOURNALIST:

…(inaudible)…

BEAZLEY:

But Laurie, pick it up with all the other things that we have been talking about. A special fellowship to encourage high quality individuals to stay here, doubling the number of post-doctoral fellowships - we have put that out. Increasing the research capabilities of our regional universities. We have got funded policy out on all those issues. This is in addition to those funded policies.

So you have got funded policy already out there on, if you like, putting golden handcuffs on good researchers who are here, increasing the post-doctoral fellowships, increasing the research places at regional universities in particular where there are problems. And what are we going to do in addition to that? Now that we find that the universities are having trouble recruiting people of status internationally for the jobs that are advertised here why not put in place as well to assist them a database that reveals to Australian academic institutions who is there overseas capable of being attracted back here.

And by the way not just to Australian universities what about Australian business? There are many businesses that set up research institutions and are participating in this process but who do they recruit? Well, produce them a database and they can get out there and do a bit of good headhunting in the best meaning of the word.

JOURNALIST:

Is this what Barry Jones called a 'cadastre'?

BEAZLEY:

It is part of a cadastre. That is not by any means a complete cadastre that would go to the totality of all knowledge based activities in this community but it is certainly part of, a chapter in it.

JOURNALIST:

The point of it though, if you want to attract people from overseas surely you would just want the best people. What is the point of just getting Australians if there are talented Americans or something that would want to come and add to the intellectual wealth of this country?

BEAZLEY:

I am all for that but the point is we are not getting it. If you go and read this study and you will see that we are finding it very difficult to recruit high quality people from overseas.

JOURNALIST:

…(inaudible)…

BEAZLEY:

No, but increasing post-doctoral fellowships, putting in place a sort of, if you like, a golden handcuffs fellowship, improving research places so that they have got PHD students who will assist them with their research - that all helps that. But you need to know who they are. It is much better to be, it is good to be in a position to bring back to Australia somebody who loves our culture, loves our lifestyle and has been committed to Australia in the past, to let them know that there is something good happening here and that they have got an opportunity here. The other thing that you will notice in this survey is this: those who depart, or at least, if you like, the second hand reporting on those who depart because it is a survey of people who are here, is that their colleagues identify not that they wanted to leave Australia. They all say that they love the culture, they love the society. It is always better to live in your own culture and society if you can but they didn't have the opportunities here. If they left with that attitude they are ideal recruits for coming back with that attitude. If we can guarantee to them that we are going to give them the opportunity they did not see when they left our shores.

If you are going to build up a Knowledge Nation, if you are going to secure the future for all Australians and Australian jobs, there is no single answer. There is a multiplicity of answers. But underpinning that multiplicity of answers is good intelligence and this is good intelligence.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Beazley, isn't the first thing you should do to reverse the brain drain is give universities a sizable injection of new funds. And won't Labor be hamstrung by that given the rundown of the Budget surplus?

BEAZLEY:

You have got to value academics. You have got to value research. You have got to value the universities. You have got to improve their staff student ratios. We have gone off the boil over the last five years in universities and this report is yet another one to add to that list. Are there the resources to do the job? Well we do await, of course, revelations of what the actual budgetary position is. But what I have said about what we want to do about Knowledge Nation and all those other areas is this: we will do it within the parameters of what is available to us. It is a question of assigning priorities. I have already said that as time goes by the resources will become available as growth occurs in the Australian economy. But the question is: to what do you assign priorities? And we assign priorities to this over tax cuts.

JOURNALIST:

So the priority will be a real increase in funding for the universities if you have the budgetary…?

BEAZLEY:

I have already put out a number of policies in this area but funding for the education system generally is one of our top priorities. Universities are included in that.

JOURNALIST:

…half a billion in the surplus for the next financial year how can you realistically go to the people with the Knowledge Nation plan and expect them to accept that as a realistic proposition for …four years?

BEAZLEY:

Well, fortunately it is not a one year plan. Thank heaven for that. We have established already ten year targets and what we have intended to do always because we know that Howard and Costello wrecked the Budget - I mean, that has been pretty patently obvious for all of you here - over the course of the last twelve months. It may not have been reported on extensively, but people are actually aware of it. We have known that they've wrecked the Budget for some considerable period of time. So we have assumed that what we are going to have to do with all of our policy areas is start with a slow steady build up - that is all. It is not a particular crisis for us even though in terms of fiscal management of this country it is a pretty ordinary outcome.

You know, the problem with Howard and Costello is this: they back flipped on the BAS statement, they back flipped on petrol, they back flipped on beer, they back flipped on housing. They back flipped on policy after policy and they wrecked the Budget. And what do we find now at the end of the year? Very little in the kitty and we face a security crisis abroad and we face major difficulties in the international economy. Thank you Government for that particular performance. What grand scale incompetence and lack of leadership.

JOURNALIST:

To which of those back flips were you opposed too?

BEAZLEY:

You could go through each one of those particular back flips and you would see in every one of them the Government took a bridge further than we had ever advocated. That is there and it is water under the bridge now but don't let them off the hook on that. Don't let them off the hook on the way in which they have carried on with this. They decided they'd be smart and overtake any particular Labor Party policy position that we put out at that point of time. Well, that is fine, that might have been clever politics for the moment but in terms of the long term future of Australia it was not very sensible at all.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Beazley, isn't the fact though that these back flips are affecting people right now as money in their pockets right now whereas you are talking about an education policy which may not even come into effect for three or four years because there is no money left in the Budget. Do you think the voters will really give you credit for releasing these sorts of education policies?

BEAZLEY:

The challenge for me is to change the priorities of this country. That is what I have to do in this election campaign. I have to convince the Australian people that if they want a secure future they have to an educated and innovative society. And do you know what? You ask the average Australian if he thinks, he or she thinks that if they get a secure future, or they want a secure future they need to be an educated and innovative society. Well, the simple fact of the matter is that they will say yes. They will say yes to that in huge numbers. Now what I have to do is to take that obvious intuitive and opinion of the average Australian citizen and turn it into a salient political opinion. Now that is entirely possible.

JOURNALIST:

The question of the boat people. What do you think of the Government's handling of this …with some force and how would you in government handle such a situation or this situation?

BEAZLEY:

Look, it is pretty unclear exactly what has transpired but let me say this: nobody is entitled to be on an Australian naval ship if the Australian Navy does not want you on it. It doesn't matter whether you are an Australian civilian, an Australian serving person or an asylum seeker. It doesn't matter what you are. That's the first point I make on that. The second point is, I would urge the asylum seekers to leave voluntarily. That's what I'd urge them to do, to leave voluntarily.

The third point I'd make on it is this: the Government has an agreement, it appears, of some description with Nauru, or at least it's been advertised for a lengthy period of time, and an agreement with the UNHCR that these folk will not be removed forcibly. That is something that the Government now has to sort out with the Government of Nauru and the UNHCR. My view on it is this, that this is not a long-term solution. This just will not work. It is not practicable and it's highly expensive. What will work, I tell you what it is, it's this: an agreement with the Indonesians whereby people get returned for proper processing in Indonesia and we take our share. That's what will work. That's the only thing that will work. You ask me what I'd do in the long-term….

JOURNALIST:

…short-term…?

BEAZLEY:

The short-term is, if I'm elected to office five weeks from now, early days responsibility on Laurie Brereton's shoulders and Con Sciacca's shoulders, will be to go to Indonesia for that agreement, within days of the election being concluded and a government being sworn in.

JOURNALIST:

But you seem to be saying, Mr Beazley, two contradictory things. On the one hand you're saying these people shouldn't be on the ship if the Navy doesn't want them. On the other hand, you say that the Government has a problem because it was agreed that they won't be removed forcibly. Should they be removed forcibly, or should they not be?

BEAZLEY:

That's not contradictory at all, Michelle. What I'm saying is this: nobody should be on a naval ship if the Navy doesn't want you on it, point one. Point two, what I'm saying to the asylum seekers is they ought to leave the ship. They ought to get off the ship voluntarily. The problem for the Government is it's jammed with an agreement that it has with Nauru and the UNHCR and has to satisfy that agreement. That's what it's got to do.

JOURNALIST:

…so what…

BEAZLEY:

What it's got to do is to work its way through that.

JOURNALIST:

How?

BEAZLEY:

Presumably, they sit down with the Government of Nauru and the UNHCR and the people who are the asylum seekers and work out a conclusion…..

JOURNALIST:

But what if the asylum seekers do not get off?

BEAZLEY:

…it was ever thus. That is what they have to do. As far as I'm concerned, the asylum seekers should not be on those ships. The Government has its agreement. This is the Government's mess, of its own making. The Government negotiated those agreements with Nauru, the Government negotiated those agreements with the UNHCR. You stick to your word when you negotiate agreements and the Government's job is to sit down with the UNHCR and with the Nauru Government and work out a solution to this problem. That's all there is to it, Michelle. It's pretty basic science.

The asylum seekers should not be on the ships, they should be off them. The Navy wants them off and that ought to take place. But how they get off, the Government has got agreements on that. The Government has to work them through. What is evident from all of this, and the Government should not be let off the hook on this, they've got no long-term solution. This is not a solution. This is not a solution to the refugee problem.

We have a solution to the refugee problem, and that solution has two essential elements to it - a decent agreement with the Indonesians who are at the heart of any solution, and every Australian understands that.

The second thing is, a decent coastguard so the Navy is not caught up in this type of activity on a long-term basis. It can't be sustained. The pull-back from the naval blockade, if you like, of Australian shores, which has been pretty patently obvious over the course of the last couple of days, is obviously a reflection of the fact that it's an expensive exercise that cannot be sustained when the Navy is needed for other purposes.

JOURNALIST:

Why would your deal with Indonesia be any more successful than the attempts that the current Government? Would you pay them? Would you come to some financial arrangement?

BEAZLEY:

I think the starting point is you form a government that doesn't conduct a diplomacy with them in the first instance with a megaphone. That's a good start. Frankly, I think that the Indonesians have an expectation of us that we wouldn't conduct diplomacy with them with a megaphone on those matters. That's the first point.

The second point is it's been possible to get agreements with the Indonesians on these matters before. It's not a new thing. It's been possible to do that before, so we'd do it again. It has to be based on a government that is actually prepared to offer them a solution and that may well mean offering them resources to ensure that the folk who are in the refugee camps, refugee villages get processed much faster - and, Australia has got to take their fair share within the cap of the asylum arrangements that we have in place for refugees with the UNHCR. We've got to take our fair share. That's also part of the solution. But what it means is that we don't have queue jumpers. What it means is that they go into the queue along with the other folk and we can give the Indonesians some comfort on the fact that they're in the queue in the course of that agreement that we'd establish with them.

We have to, on this, get back to a bit of commonsense when the problem is folk embarking from our immediate neighbour, the solution lies in a deal or an arrangement with out immediate neighbour. That just sticks out as a simple truism, I would have though. Then, if folk still come through, if asylum seekers still come through, a proper, affordable, 52 weeks of the year barrier.

We are getting attacked heavily on our proposal on a coastguard. Why? Because the Government knows that intuitively the Australian people understand that that is what they need, this is not a job for the Navy on any long-term basis. It's not affordable. It's not what the Navy is trained for. We need a coastguard.

The Labor Party offers, in the end, the only two central solutions to effective border protection - securing Australia with secure borders - only us.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think that Australia…?

BEAZLEY:

Under the UNHCR arrangements, yes, we do. There's about, I think, I can stand corrected on this, I think there's about 10 or 11 countries which do. We are one of them. We take about 13,000 a year, from recollection. That, I think, puts us in the top couple of those who take them. Other countries take their asylum seekers in different ways. But we are good participants with the UNHCR. We don't want to poison relations with them.

JOURNALIST:

Should we take more?

BEAZLEY:

I think that that is a reasonable cap at the moment.

JOURNALIST:

Why not take a few more?

BEAZLEY:

Frankly, that cap actually copes with the contemporary situation. We are in the cart for decent solutions on this.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Beazley, on sky wardens, would you like to see them on domestic flights as well as international?

BEAZLEY:

When there is a security threat identified by our security agencies, then domestic and international. If it's perceived as domestic, yes. If it's perceived as international exclusively, yes, internationally. I believe that we ought to give people that level of certainty.

JOURNALIST:

Isn't is a problem that it was not perceived? It wasn't perceived in the US.

BEAZLEY:

That's true. That goes to better intelligence. I think you're going to find over the next few years that we do these things better. I think the nations are now going to start sensibly devoting resources to the right threat and not the wrong threat.

JOURNALIST:

Are there any plans for a national identity card…given the current….?

BEAZLEY:

Identity cards can always be forged. Basically, most of the folk who came into the United States evidently arrived on forged documentation of some description. You can get exquisite documentation which just happens to be false. You've got to build up a whole range of barriers. You've got to get better basic intelligence. You've got to get better border controls. You've got to get better cooperation between police forces. You've got to change the orientation somewhat from technology in your intelligence to human intelligence. There are a whole raft of these things that you have to do. Then you have to do the protective measures - in periods of threats, sky marshals. In the case of the United States, that now seems to be likely to be a permanent operation. I don't think that's necessary here. What is necessary is we have the capacity to deploy them in situations where there's international or domestic threat, we have to have that capacity.

JOURNALIST:

Would you consider establishing any sort of anti-terrorism position in Cabinet, or out of Cabinet, or a special position anywhere?

BEAZLEY:

I think we are getting to the point now where we do require a ministry of home affairs. I'll be making announcements about that during the course of the election campaign and what the ministry of home affairs covers. But I think in the environment that you see now, where there has to be a close correlation between legal authorities, the state's legal authorities, intelligence services and the situation with our defence forces, we need a coordinating ministry. During the course of the election campaign, I'll be putting detail on an announcement of the ministry of home affairs.

JOURNALIST:

Would that be like George Bush appointing Governor Whatshisname Secretary of Home Affairs?

BEAZLEY:

The US situation, as you know, is a bit different from Australia's…

JOURNALIST:

…(inaudible)…

BEAZLEY:

….more, I would say, the British Home Secretary. They've had that position for some time. We've had it in the past. We've actually been thinking about it for quite some time, well before these events took place, we've been thinking about a ministry for home affairs to ensure a proper coordination of these policing and intelligence responsibilities.

JOURNALIST:

….responsibility for domestic security arrangements…

BEAZLEY:

Going in that direction. More detail in the election campaign.

JOURNALIST:

…(inaudible)…

BEAZLEY:

We are, Steve, but there is a formal campaign and an informal one.

JOURNALIST:

Does Australia need to completely rethink its defence policy….$13 billion plus going into defence. There's a defence White Paper…invasion by…..perception of terrorism as a major threat. Does the thinking need to be done again? Do resources need to be taken from that traditional part of defence policy towards these anti-terrorist measures?

BEAZLEY:

Firstly, we support the White Paper that the Government put down. Why? Because it was based on our ideas. We support it for that reason. But it's not immutable. It can be altered. If we're going for a secure future for all Australians, we've got to be prepared to shift our thinking when a new reality develops. And the new reality is international terrorism. There are elements of the defence White Paper which go to that and the question is how far do you enhance them. Obviously, special action forces will need enhancement. If that means some equipment buys in other areas need to pushed back a year or two in the White Paper, then they need to be pushed back a year or two in the White Paper.

JOURNALIST:

Would Labor re-write, revisit the White Paper?

BEAZLEY:

Not on its basics. But, certainly in its priorities. Its basics go to the focus on the defence of Australia. Defence of Australia is essentially a layered defence. We've got to be able to control our immediate environment. Those basics don't change, they're there in the White Paper, they were there in our white papers. That basic element does not need alteration. Possibly the priorities do in relation, in particular and as far as defence forces are concerned, in relation to special action forces, counter terrorist forces.

JOURNALIST:

I'm interested in why you won't give us details of this plan for a special home affairs. Is it because you haven't worked it out yet?

BEAZLEY:

Yes, we have worked them out. But I've got to have a few announcements for the election campaign.

JOURNALIST:

Isn't today the day? Cabinet is in this very building dealing with terrorism. You're announcing a mailing list. Isn't it incumbent on you to deal with the important issues?

BEAZLEY:

Be fair.

JOURNALIST:

…policy. Why can't we know it?

BEAZLEY:

We put out a 10-point plan on counter terrorism issues, as you know. We put it out two weeks ago. As you know also, we raised directly these matters in question time and added to that list. You know, also, yesterday, we talked about sky marshals and putting in place sky wardens. It's not as though we haven't been out there. The folk who have not been out there to this point are the Government. The Government will get out there today.

JOURNALIST:

This is an important issue. You say you've got a policy. You've given us a taste of it. Why won't you address the detail?

BEAZLEY:

Pretty good policy to get a taste of. You've had a couple of very lumpy pieces of meat to chew on. You've got that to chew on. When the election campaign starts, you're going to see us responding again in the security abroad elements - which will be this. We have given you a darn sight more detail on our figuring than this Government has yet.

JOURNALIST:

But when the election campaign….that you'll have all your policies….you're going to have to announce 20 a day. I mean, why can't you give us this one today?

BEAZLEY:

One or two a day will do, Laurie. One or two a day and you will enjoy it enormously. As you are enjoying this as well.

JOURNALIST:

But presumably, the question of whether you have a minister for home affairs and what he or she does, doesn't involve billions of dollars.

BEAZLEY:

No, it certainly doesn't.

JOURNALIST:

What's the excuse for not putting that one out?

BEAZLEY:

But it's pretty easy to say, generally, what the minister for home affairs will be doing.

JOURNALIST:

Will you say it?

BEAZLEY:

The minister for home affairs will have responsibility of coordination in these areas. That's what a minister for home affairs will do.

JOURNALIST:

Which areas?

BEAZLEY:

The areas of policing and intelligence arrangements. You will see more of that when we put detail on it during the course of the election campaign. But, please Laurie, permit us to announce something during the course of the election campaign….

JOURNALIST:

But you will….

BEAZLEY:

…given that we've given you so much already.

JOURNALIST:

…when you would have such a minister?

BEAZLEY:

We would certainly have such a minister in a Labor Government, yes.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Beazley, on the election campaign, in your home State. There seems to be a bit of trouble brewing on the Premier's property tax. Are you in favour of it at all?

BEAZLEY:

The premium property tax was put place by Geoff Gallop to deal with a difficult budgetary situation. It applies to properties, the land value of which is worth $1 million and affects something like 900 people. It's a matter for the State Government resolve. But I wouldn't have said that it was hugely unreasonable. Do we have similar things in mind? No.

JOURNALIST:

….election problem in WA?

BEAZLEY:

No, I don't believe so.

JOURNALIST:

….rate cut, Mr Beazley?

BEAZLEY:

There will need to be a rate cut. There's no doubt about that, to encourage the economy in difficult circumstances. We're in a low interest rate environment. We'll be in a low interest rate environment for some time. Why? Firstly, because the international situation demands it. Secondly, because the economy was hit to leg by the GST and has not fully recovered from that experience. Thirdly, because we'll have a Labor Government that will operate a low interest rate policy.

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