Interview with the Honourable Chris Bowen, Federal Member for McMahon, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship

By SAndra Kaltoum
The Federal Minister for Immigration, the Honourable Chris Bowen, left for Lebanon over the weekend despite political unrest. Violence has erupted in Lebanon over the devastating assassination of Lebanon’s security chief, Wissam al-Hassa. This, however, did not deter the Australian Minister from his scheduled visit to Lebanon. I was fortunate enough to speak with Mr Bowen before his trip. We spoke about refugees, federal politics and Australia’s relationship with Lebanon.
Mr. Kheir welcoming Mr. Bowen at Beirut airport
I asked Mr Bowen what his views were on sending unaccompanied minors offshore, when he was considered their legal guardian. He acknowledged that dealing with children who come to Australia by boat is most difficult. He said that blanket exceptions for unaccompanied minors may see an increase in these minors arriving by boat and that would also lead to more deaths at sea. Mr Bowen asserted that sending unaccompanied minors offshore has not been ruled out as an option.
On the topic of the harmful effects of extended detention, Mr Bowen acknowledged this but countered that deaths at sea would cause more psychological harm to loved ones than detention. “I don’t want to have more deaths at sea on my conscience,” he said. When asked if there was a way to expedite the checking of asylum seekers, Mr Bowen asserted that, as a result of changes he has made as Minister for Immigration, the process has been expedited. “People who have arrived in Australia before August have had their applications processed within three months on average,” he said.
The Leader of the Opposition’s proposal, he said, was not viable. The Indonesian Government would never agree to towing the boats back through their waters “and that is why Mr Abbott did not mention it to the Indonesian President on his recent trip there.”
About the current political climate in Federal Politics, Mr Bowen said that it was difficult to deal with a minority government but much policy was being discussed and debated. “Ms Gillard has done extremely well to negotiate policy through the minority government.” He said “the media tends to focus on personal tensions within the parliament, but there is policy being negotiated successfully.”
I asked in what way Mr Bowen believed immigration contributed to Australian society. He replied “Immigration has been absolutely vital to the nation we have become. We are an out-looking, cosmopolitan and rich culture because of migration.” Mr Bowen also emphasised that “Lebanon has been amongst our most important source of migrants. The Lebanese people have brought strong family and faith values that have enriched the Australian culture.”
On the question of Australia’s relationship with Lebanon, The Minister for Immigration said that “Lebanon is a firm friend for us because of our people-to-people link with the nation.” He said that this would be his first time visiting a country that has always fascinated him and the purpose of his visit to Lebanon was to “emphasise to senior leadership what an important contribution Lebanese people have made in Australia.” He also wants to explore the refugee situation in Lebanon, especially because of the current situation in Syria.
Mr Bowen will be spending most of his time in Lebanon in Beirut and Tripoli. He will be meeting with the President, Prime-Minister and Speaker. He will also meet representatives from the Maronite, Melkite, Shia and Sunni religions.



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