Q+A: Greg Boyed interviews Nathan Guy
Q+A: Greg Boyed interviews Nathan Guy
No asylum boats have ever reached New Zealand, but Immigration Minister says “the risk is real” and law needs to be changed.
Six vessels wanting to come to New Zealand have been stopped by foreign authorities in the past decade; the closest they’ve got is Australia.
Government wants us to be prepared to handle the arrival of a boat of 500 people .
Australia’s return to offshore processing “could lift the level of risk” and send more asylum-seekers our way.
“That could mean that they (asylum-seekers in boats) look down into New Zealand and say, ‘Actually New Zealand’s not that far away.’”
Legislation to detain mass arrivals for six months is important because it will act as a deterrent: “We don’t want to be seen as a soft touch.”
The number of asylum-seekers is “relatively stable” at around 300 and only a quarter to a third get accepted.
Tasman Sea is “a strong deterrent” and another will be the legislation when it’s passed.
Mothers and children asylum-seekers would only be held at Mangere Refugee Centre and will be “at the front of the queue” to be processed.
Men could be separated from families, but only after “first instance”.
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Q + A
GREG BOYED INTERVIEWS NATHAN GUY
GREG So, to this morning’s big question – how concerned should we be about boat people coming to New Zealand? The Government is about to pass the Immigration Amendment Bill. That will allow mass arrivals of asylum-seekers – that’s 10 or more – to be detained for up to six months. Entertainers like Michele A’Court, Dave Dobbyn and Oscar Kightley have spoken out against it, taking to YouTube this week. But the Government’s pressing ahead, saying they don’t want New Zealand seen as a soft touch. So Immigration Minister Nathan Guy joins us now. Good morning to you. Why is this needed?
NATHAN GUY – Immigration Minister
Good morning, Greg. How are you this morning?
NATHAN In essence, what we want to do here, Greg, is send a very strong message that we want to detain and also dissuade those that potentially want to come to New Zealand in a large vessel, ie a boat. Also we want to have some legislation where we can manage arrival if indeed it does come in the future. So this is all about sending a very strong message that we have a process where we accept openly refugees, and that’s the UNHCR process where we receive 750 plus or minus 10% a year, a process that is working extremely well. And we look over the Tasman into Australia, we see the problems that they have, so we want to send a very strong message that we have the appropriate channels open, but we don’t want to be seen as a soft touch.
GREG Okay, so first and foremost, you’re worried about too many boat people – that’s the issue?
NATHAN We have had intelligence over the last decade or so that six vessels had indicated they wished to come to New Zealand. They were stopped by other foreign authorities. We know in recent times, Greg, that a steel-hulled vessel went all the way from Indonesia across to Canada. That was about 18,000km. We’re about 12,000km, so in essence the risk is real.
GREG In the last 20, 30, 40 years, how many boats of asylum-seekers have actually arrived on New Zealand shores?
NATHAN We haven’t had a boat that has arrived on New Zealand shores, Greg, but I’ve just given you an indication in the last decade or so, we’ve had six that have indicated that they wish to come to New Zealand. You and your listeners will recall a few months ago we had 10 Chinese that ended up in a vessel in Darwin. They indicated that they wished to come to New Zealand. The Australian officials did a very good job of talking to those asylum-seekers and saying, ‘Well, if you cross the Tasman, you’re risking your life.’
GREG But just again, how many have actually made it or made it close to New Zealand shores?
NATHAN None, Greg, have made it to New Zealand shores, but the risk is real, because of the intelligence that we share with our five partners. And they’re, of course, involved in the Commonwealth, so we share the intelligence. We know that the risk is real. I’ve given you a very good example where a steel-hulled vessel went all the way across to Canada, and we know that we are a lot closer to that. You’ll also be aware that Australia just in the last sort of month or so have gone to offshore processing up in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and, of course, we don’t know as a result of that – what that may mean for New Zealand. Indeed, it could lift the level of risk.
GREG All right, so just again we’re doing this even though no one has ever actually arrived here on a boat at all? You have this intelligence – six vessels were headed here. Where did they get to? I mean, how close did they get?
NATHAN Well, they got— as I gave you an example before, they got to Australia. Others have haven’t made it—
GREG There’s a world of difference between Australia and New Zealand, though, the Tasman Sea being the obvious example, which geographically would seem to be our best, strongest and so far pretty impregnable line of defence.
NATHAN You are right. That is one mechanism that will be a very strong deterrent. The other one is the legislation that we’ve got going through the Parliament shortly. And that’s going to send a very strong message that if asylum-seekers do happen to arrive in New Zealand, they will be detained under a group warrant for up to a six-month period. And that is up to a district court judge’s discretion to determine whether six months is the appropriate time, or it could be less. We will work through the process, because you need to realise if a vessel did arrive here and it was carrying, say, 500, it would take us some time to work out their identity. They don’t just step off and say, ‘Here’s my passport.’
GREG No, with all due respect to you, Minister, I’ve got to stop you here. You’re talking about the possibility of 500 arriving. Given no one – not one – ever, ever has arrived, what likelihood are we going to have to deal with 500 arriving, given that the Tasman Sea, it is going to stay roughly the same size. The likelihood of them getting seems a bit slim.
NATHAN Well, what you saw in the Canadian example, Greg, was a steel-hulled vessel. Economic refugees paid, I don’t know, in the vicinity of maybe $10,000 to board the vessel, a vessel that could go that distance. So indeed the risk is real for New Zealand, so we need to be ready for that risk. We ran an exercise a few months ago called Exercise Barrier, where we brought some actors in on a Defence Force vessel into Devonport and processed them. What that showed is our capability under our current legislation is we would be swamped. We couldn’t handle a vessel of that size carrying 500. We processed about eight people in 16 hours. So there’s some wonderful learnings as a result of doing that exercise, and that gives even more of an impetus to myself and the Government to say that we need to modernise our legislation.
GREG You keep using this example of Canada to Indonesia in the steel-hulled vessel. Why, if anyone was looking to flee a country and the big old Australian country is there, would they then go to the extra cost, effort, whatever to make it here? It just seems unlikely that would ever happen, and certainly it’s never ever happened.
NATHAN What’s happened in the last month over in Australia, Greg, and the few months preceding that is Prime Minister Gillard asked for a report, and it was called the Houston Report. There’s 20-odd recommendations in that report. Most of them are going to be adopted in their entirety. What that means is that now they’re going to move to offshore processing in Nauru, in Manus as well in Papua New Guinea. Now, as a result of offshore processing, that could mean that they look down into New Zealand and think, ‘Well, actually, New Zealand’s not that far away. We could get on a steel-hulled vessel, pay a bit more money and make it to New Zealand.’ So we need—
GREG But again, with all due respect, these are refugees. These aren’t tourists who are going, ‘Oh, I might go for the cabin two decks up.’ These people who are in a fairly desperate situation, and they’re not going to go, ‘Oh, Australia looks a bit dodgy. We might go a bit further south.’ They don’t have that sort of choice.
NATHAN Some are. Those people that you talk about, Greg, some are economic refugees that have some money that want to get out of the country that they’re in, and they’re prepared to get on a vessel and have a go. Now, in Australia, there’s been 7000 – we’re up to about the nine months – 7000 people have had a go at getting to Australia. And, unfortunately, several hundred of those have been in vessels that have capsized and they’ve lost their life. We don’t want that situation in New Zealand. That’s why we need to push ahead with the legislation that the Government is proposing and also the policy changes as well.
GREG Okay, so on planes— Forget the boats for a second. On the planes, are those numbers on the rise of people trying to get here in these situations?
NATHAN So, what happens currently is we have about 300 a year that seek asylum in New Zealand. They’ve either been here under a visa currently or—
GREG Are those numbers going up? Because I know that the limit is 750. We had about 300 last year. Are those numbers on the rise, are they?
NATHAN Well, if I could just answer, Greg. There’s a couple of processes how people seek asylum here. They step of the plane and seek it, or they’ve been here for a period of time under a visa and they seek asylum. That’s about 300 a year. 75% of those thereabouts – it’s between a quarter and a third of those that are accepted, and the numbers have been—
GREG No, I’ve got to draw you up on that that one. There was 300 last year. Only 122 were accepted. We’re far from a soft touch. It would point, though, that those numbers are not on the rise.
NATHAN That’s for those that come in and either seek asylum off the plane or are here and then seek asylum, so that’s one aspect that you’re talking about. And those numbers are relatively stable. So the legislation—
GREG Okay, so again the numbers are not on the rise?
NATHAN Those numbers are stable. The legislation deals with a group of mass arrivals of 10-plus.
GREG Okay, let’s look at the helicopter view here. The numbers aren’t on the rise. They’re going down if anything. They’ve been going down since 2003. The provision is for 750. It’s never exceeded— It’s exceeded that once. Last year 300 tried, 122 got in. There’s never, ever, ever, even been a boat that’s made it here. Why do we need this again?
NATHAN I think you’re slightly getting— with respect, getting confused and—
GREG No, no. No, they’re two very separate issues. I realise that. But your legislation, what you’re trying to bring in is a fairly blanket one, and I’m just trying to get my head around why we need it.
NATHAN Well, one is that those people that seek asylum coming off the plane or here already, and there’s 300, and about a quarter to a third get accepted. The other one is where we have a fantastic system where 750 plus or minus 10% come out of the refugee camps into New Zealand, and we do a fantastic job looking after those refugees, getting them settled into New Zealand. And, actually, I’ve got some work happening with other ministers at the moment – a ‘whole of government’ approach – whether we can settle these refugees better in regions where they can hold down a job. So that programme is working fantastically well, and we had the High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Guterres, down here in February saying, ‘You’re doing a wonderful job.’ The next aspect where we are really focusing in on with this legislation and policy changes is a mass arrival potential for New Zealand—
GREG Okay, let’s talk about that. Let’s just quickly get on to that. When we’re talking about a mass arrival – 10 people or more – we’re not just talking about desperate men with guns and beards. We’re talking about kids. We’re talking about women as well. Are you comfortable with children possibly getting locked up for up to six months? Is that a great thing for a legacy, a great thing for us to have?
NATHAN Well, that’s a misnomer of saying people – Mum and kids – are going to be locked up. They would be—
GREG So they’ve not going to be locked up?
NATHAN They would be at the front of the queue and processed very quickly. We’ve already worked that through with CYFS. We ran that through with Exercise Barrier. We had 12 government agencies in that exercise that we did, that I talked about a few months ago, and some very valid learnings from that. So if Mum comes down with the kids, they’ll be at the front of queue. We’ll process them extremely quickly. There’s three areas where we would look—
GREG Okay, so just clarifying here – they won’t get locked up?
NATHAN Can I just come to the three areas I’ll talk about? One is— because we’ve got to establish their identity. High-risk individuals, security risk – they could be detained in somewhere like a correctional facility. Those in a medium-capability risk could utilise something like a Defence Force— an army base. And then, of course, you have a situation where you have Mum and the kids, and that’s where we’d look to put them into somewhere like the Mangere centre in Auckland, and we’ve got a detailed business case being worked through on the future of that.
GREG So they potentially could be— If the situation arose that they may not be locked up with Dad, they’ll be separated from Dad. Is that right?
NATHAN Separated from Dad? Well, you try and keep the family unit together.
GREG We can’t have both. With all due respect, you can’t have both. You put them in these three different groups. You can’t have them all locked up together. You’re going to have to either lock up none of them, all of them or have them separated. You can’t—
NATHAN Well, in terms of locking up, for those viewers that have been to the Mangere centre, it’s hardly lock-up, Greg. It’s very open, and so that’s where Mum and kids would go and potentially Dad in the first instance. Then we’d work through the process of their identity, then they’d get a temporary visa, then after three years we’d review them, then potentially they’d go into a permanent residence situation. If it is just a father, then they can look to bring their immediate family in, but not their extended family.
GREG All right, we will leave it there. Immigration Minister Nathan Guy, thank you for your time.
NATHAN Thank you.