Former Howard government immigration minister Amanda Vanstone shocked Q&A host Tony Jones by recounting an Indonesian minister’s analogy on how to stop people smugglers inundating Australia.
During Monday night’s episode, which Ms Vanstone dominated, the long-time senator provided her insights into the immigration debate in Australia today.
“One of the Indonesian ministers said to me, ‘if you take the sugar off the table the ants will stop coming’,” she said. “And you have to have [strong borders], if you want to maintain an immigration policy.”
To which Jones interrupted: “Best not to refer to refugees as ants.”
Ms Vanstone then clarified: “No, but he’s not … doing that. He’s trying to make the analogy that – and I think quite effectively – that if you make it easier for people to choose you as – there’s no right for refugees to choose where they go, they don’t have that right.”
On the delay to get Syrian refugees settled in Australia, Ms Vanstone said the government had to be thorough.
“Take us back to the Lindt disaster,” she said. “You be the minister that signs the okay for someone to come in and something goes wrong, and people will want to understandably, because we don’t like terrorism, and we always say, who stuffed up? Let’s find it out.”
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Coalition education minister Simon Birmingham also defended his government’s work on immigration and secure borders.
“One of the reasons why we’re able to do that [take refugees] and think we can do it with community support is because we’ve gotten back to a point where we are in control of ensuring that those people who we are accepting as refugees we have assessed to be the most needy, the most worthy, coming from oversees, through all of the proper processes and channels,” he said.
Gonski and the ‘sense of entitlement’
In a heated debate about the Abbott-Turnbull government’s approach to the national education funding, Ms Vanstone bristled at the idea that people were angry that not enough money was being spent.
“We have become a country where you can’t take anything from anyone otherwise you are a terrible person,” she said.
Ms Vanstone said education funding didn’t necessarily need to keep rising, but maybe just be better directed.
“Some of the debate should shift from being about the [amount of] funding to … despite the fact we have put increasing funding into education, which we all support, we have not always got a better result,” she said.
“The only reason we put extra money in is because we believe in the substance of education, not just ‘more money for you and shut up’. More money and we want it to be better. There are so many circumstances where it isn’t.”
South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill also had a sly dig at Mr Birmingham, who he felt is playing hard ball with Gonski funding with the states.
“I feel sorry for Simon. These are decisions that are taken above his head,” Mr Birmingham said.
“He has to work through with the money that he has to be able to allocate that to the states. There isn’t a lot he can do about this. What the Prime Minister can do is to put back in the funding that was cut.”