Transcript of Television Interview – ABC 24, Afternoon Briefing with Patricia Karvelas – Tuesday, 20 February 2019
Subjects: Asylum seekers, Christmas Island, response to Banking Royal Commission.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Hello Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Hello Patricia.
KARVELAS: Now the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, says he is fine with asylum seekers transferred from Nauru and Manus Island being treated on Christmas Island. Are you fine with it?
ALBANESE: It’s a matter of just making sure that we get appropriate care. Some people have been able to get care on Christmas Island. If they require though, care in other destinations it should be a matter of listening to the doctors. That’s the key principle here that Labor has adopted and we must remember the political nature of the decision to reopen Christmas Island. I mean, the legislative changes from last week do not make a single change to border security measures which are there. They don’t apply to anyone who comes to Australia by boat …
ALBANESE: … any time now or into the future. There is no dismantling of any of the systems the Government says will stop people coming. So this is quite absurd really by the Government.
KARVELAS: Sure, but yesterday your Immigration spokesman, Shayne Neumann, described reopening Christmas Island as unhinged. But Bill Shorten says it is fine for medical transfers to go there. How can you argue both lines?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that what Shayne Neumann is saying is that the Government doesn’t have a reason to justify re-opening Christmas Island …
KARVELAS: Then why do you think it’s OK for these people to go there?
ALBANESE: … and indeed in terms of Indonesia, the message from Indonesia is that the people smugglers paid no attention to the legislative changes last week, but they have paid attention to the Government signalling, through the re-opening of Christmas Island that somehow something has changed. This is a Government that is just playing politics with this. We will see what actually happens in practice. We know that more than 900 people, if you take into account those people directly needing medical assistance and their families, have been transferred to Australia by this Government and we know that 900 is more than the number of people who are on either Manus or Nauru. So this is a government really that is just all about politics. It is desperate. It is desperately looking for …
KARVELAS: Do you think it is unhinged to open Christmas Island?
ALBANESE: I think it is a very strange decision which the Government has not justified. It’s all about them trying to play politics and send signals and, you know, this is a government that is desperate. It’s very desperate.
KARVELAS: You say you don’t think it’s a good idea and yet Bill Shorten today, he is the Opposition Leader, he says he is fine with these people to be transferred there. So how can you argue both? That’s inconsistent.
ALBANESE: There is no inconsistency there. It’s not our decision to reopen Christmas Island.
KARVELAS: Wouldn’t you oppose the transfers as well then if you think it is a bad decision to reopen it?
ALBANESE: Well people will be transferred to places to get appropriate medical care.
KARVELAS: Christmas Island is where they are going.
ALBANESE: If you actually have look Patricia; forget about the headlines that the Government is looking for. Listen to what they said in Question Time today, which is that if people need medical assistance in other places then they will be sent there. This is a Government that is all about politics, all about signalling, not about substance. It has lost control of the Parliament. It is desperate to pretend that the legislation last week is something that it is not. In fact, what the legislation last week did was simply codify a practice that the Government itself says it has been doing by having 900 either people directly getting medical assistance or their families here in Australia.
KARVELAS: But the Department of Home Affairs recommended the reopening of Christmas Island.
ALBANESE: I mean well, you know, we’ll wait and see.
KARVELAS: No, but that was said in Senate Estimates. The head of the department, Pezzullo, has said that.
ALBANESE: I understand what bureaucrats say from time to time and I understand the consistency that’s there and I understand that they’re accountable to the ministers who appoint them, but the fact is…
KARVELAS: So you’re saying he was doing the Minister’s bidding?
ALBANESE: I’m not saying that at all. I’m simply pointing out a fact that in the Westminster system it’s ministers who are accountable for decisions that are made and they shouldn’t hide behind bureaucrats when they’re making such political decisions.
KARVELAS: Do you accept though that it was a recommendation of the Home Affairs Department?
ALBANESE: I don’t know whether that’s the case or not.
KARVELAS: But why would Pezzullo say it was if it wasn’t the case?
ALBANESE: Well this is a very political issue. I don’t know the circumstances. What I do know is that there hasn’t been a single change to our border security laws for any new arrivals. I do know that there is an enormous cost behind reopening Christmas Island and I know this – that the Government is quite prepared to spend taxpayers’ money in order to seek political advantage. And I do know this also, from Senate Estimates, that what we know is that in a range of areas of contracts, be it the whole Paladin issue, other issues with regard to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, this is a government that’s prepared to make decisions amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, and in some cases it has a billion dollar figure next to it, on the basis of very much decisions which aren’t transparent and which require further analysis and for us to find out exactly what the processes are for some of these decisions, including of course, the granting of a many hundreds of millions of dollars contract to a company that was registered in a beach shack on Kangaroo Island.
KARVELAS: Kerryn Phelps says it’s a subversion of democracy, as the intention of the Medevac legislation is to provide sick people in offshore detention treatment on the mainland. Is it a subversion of democracy to send people to Christmas Island?
ALBANESE: Well they should get the appropriate health care that they need and that should be the priority.
KARVELAS: Are you confident they can get that on Christmas Island?
ALBANESE: Patricia, I’m not a doctor. The whole point of this was that we should be listening to medical experts and I’m not the medical expert and that’s the whole point of the legislation. Let’s stop politicians making those decisions in isolation from proper medical advice…
KARVELAS: And should doctors be in charge …
ALBANESE: … whilst of course taking into account national security issues and the advice, which is there from the panel set up by Peter Dutton as the Minister.
KARVELAS: So should that panel be in charge of determining where they go, whether they should go to Christmas Island?
ALBANESE: I’m not about to second-guess medical advice here, Patricia. That’s not my not my job. I didn’t do medicine at Sydney Uni. I did economics. So I’ll stick to, when it comes to giving advice on those matters, what drove the Parliament last week to make a decision on – after getting proper and appropriate advice – was the need to respect the fact that we as Australians have a responsibility for people who are in our care, to listen to expert medical advice.
KARVELAS: Okay. Just on another issue of actually putting your economics degree hat on, Labor has released draft laws for five changes to the financial system in the wake of the Royal Commission. And they would see lots of changes. But Labor still hasn’t actually given a full response to the Royal Commission and whether you’re going to implement the recommendations in full. In fact, I spoke to the relevant Minister, Clare O’Neil, and she actually said she’d have a response within a week and it hasn’t been delivered.
ALBANESE: Patricia, this is Labor once again leading from Opposition. We’ve put forward five proposals. That’s five more than the Government that has thousands of public servants at its disposal to draft legislation and has access, not just to the bureaucracy, but of course to advice from tax experts as well. We have said we will adopt in-principle the recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission. We want the Parliament to sit, to deal with these issues. We finish in two days’ time and we’re not back here until April, where we will sit for three days. The Government is introducing literally …
KARVELAS: Okay. But how can Labor demand the Government legislate additional weeks of Parliament to allow more time when you haven’t released your full response?
ALBANESE: We’ve got five, Patricia. We’ve got five proposals.
KARVELAS: But your full response? She said it would be available in a week and I noticed Josh Frydenberg raised this.
ALBANESE: Five proposals. That’s five more than the Government have and we are leading from Opposition.
KARVELAS: So when will we get the full response?
ALBANESE: Well that’s the task of the respective Shadow Minister. We have put forward concrete proposals that will make a difference including when it comes to insurance, based upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission, in the context that right now there are people in Townsville and northern and north-west Queensland, who have been devastated by the events that have occurred there in those communities, that want to have the confidence in the insurance system, based upon the recommendations that the Royal Commission have made.
Now this is just a practical response. Parliament can meet next week. They can meet the week after. We can debate what changes should be made in both Chambers and I can’t understand – well I do understand why – because the Government is running away from parliamentary scrutiny. They’re sitting 10 days in eight months. That really isn’t good enough. And if they are that bad and that incapable of legislating, then they should just go to the Governor-General, call an election and then whoever wins the election will be in a position to move legislative responses to the Banking Royal Commission.
KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, a pleasure to speak to you.
ALBANESE: Thank you. Congratulations on Bindy.
KARVELAS: Yes I do have a new puppy, thanks to you. And that was Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese, who has been campaigning with – it’s a bipartisan campaign, Gemma, with Darren Chester who is a National, for me to buy a puppy, which I’ve done.
Subjects: One Nation, Medical evacuation legislation, election.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Good morning to you both gentlemen.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Deb.
KNIGHT: Let’s start with the dramas first off surrounding Pauline Hanson, this fight in the halls of Parliament between her chief of staff James Ashby and One Nation defector Brian Burston. Christian, you wonder why politicians are on the nose. This sort of behaviour is just appalling.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yes. It’s awful. No-one wants to see it. Thankfully I missed it. It’s just something that you don’t expect in the halls of Parliament and you don’t expect it in any workplace. It’s just terrible.
KNIGHT: So what can be done about it? Obviously we have seen the investigation under way and we have seen James Ashby’s pass being revoked. But do we need to actually take more action here, stronger action?
PORTER: It’s a matter for the President of the Senate. My personal view is he did exactly the right thing and acted swiftly and removed the pass that allows James to wander the halls, which was the right thing to do in my observation. Obviously it is matter for those sort of authorities to look into it. But look, ultimately you know this is something that requires some form of attention by authorities because you don’t expect people to be assaulting each other in any workplace and that is what has gone on. It’s just as simple as that.
KNIGHT: And blood Albo, smeared on the door of a Senator’s office. This is beyond the pale. We know things are getting personal. You guys do get fired up, but this is going too far.
ALBANESE: Well One Nation is a circus of course and one of the problems voting for some of these extreme minor parties is you never know what you will get. Brian Burston of course is one of the people who was elected who has changed their political party whilst they have been in their first term and I think the President of the Senate has acted completely appropriately in cancelling James Ashby’s pass and indeed the authorities do need to look at this. It is very clear form the videos that an assault has occurred here and if that occurs anywhere action should be taken, let alone within the Parliament House building.
KNIGHT: Absolutely. Well, we have consensus on one thing at least.
PORTER: Bipartisanship so early.
KNIGHT: Bipartisanship. Who’d have thunk it?
ALBANESE: It will be downhill from here Deb.
KNIGHT: Look out, here we go.
PORTER: Don’t be such a pessimist Anthony.
ALBANESE: Well Pyney has gone missing it has been such a bad week.
PORTER: I am so much more convivial and easy going.
KNIGHT: He’s in the air. He’s flying. We won’t bag him while he is not here. Let’s not do that. Now the Government’s, Christian, tenuous hold on power was highlighted this week. You simply didn’t have the numbers to actually stop this law allowing the medical transfer of refugees from Manus and Nauru. And then you dragged out Question Time yesterday to avoid another potential defeat on a Royal Commission into the treatment of the disability care sector. If you can’t govern, surely you should call an election today?
PORTER: Well our view is that the law that was passed by Labor on Tuesday night in alliance with the Greens is a terrible law. I mean it is bad for the country. Obviously we are disappointed to lose a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives …
KNIGHT: And you nearly lost another vote yesterday so if you don’t have the numbers, surely the public should be having a say here?
PORTER: There was actually nothing that had come from the Senate to vote on yesterday with respect to that issue.
KNIGHT: But you dragged it out so they couldn’t.
PORTER: Well it was a long Question Time but the important issue here is what is in the best interest of the Australian people. The laws that Labor passed on Tuesday night are terrible. I mean it is now the case that a Swedish backpacker has a more stringent character test than someone coming from Manus or Nauru on a medevac that can be initiated and effectively finalised without the discretion of the Minister by two doctors. I mean, that is a bad law for Australia.
KNIGHT: The reality is that you are overplaying the reality of this law. The PM saying that it is going to open the floodgates is not the truth because it applies to the existing refugees on Nauru and Manus and saying that murderers and paedophiles will be let in is also not true because there is still ministerial discretion. Why are you scaremongering over this?
PORTER: I just think respectfully you are wrong on both points. So it was previously the case that the Minister had an overarching discretion, so if someone had been charged with or convicted prior to sentence or there was reasonable intelligence briefings to suggest that they had engaged in serious criminal conduct it was previously the case that the minister could exercise the discretion to prevent that person coming to Australia.
KNIGHT: And what, that doesn’t apply here?
PORTER: That has now changed. The laws that Anthony and his party changed …
KNIGHT: There is still ministerial discretion?
PORTER: The ministerial discretion is very narrow. It relates to …
KNIGHT: But it still applies?
PORTER: It is a very different discretion and much narrower from the …
KNIGHT: But it is still ministerial discretion?
PORTER: There is ministerial discretion that looks like this right (indicates small gap with hands), which is what we’ve got now, and there is ministerial discretion that looks like that (indicates larger gap with hands), which is what it was previously. It is as simple as that. This is not hypothetical. There are people in these offshore processing facilities who have been charged with very serious offences including sexual offences against children.
KNIGHT: How many?
PORTER: Well we are going through that audit now and we will face 300 applications in the not-too-distant future.
KNIGHT: Which doctors are – they don’t agree with that number. We’ve got this sort of disagreement on the numbers.
PORTER: Well how would they know because they are individual doctors dealing with individual offshore processing transferees. Those applications will come in to us and we will see, but in the next several weeks there will be hundreds of these applications and we will be on a very tight time frame to try and work out the types of backgrounds, criminal history tests, that we are talking about now. But we are already aware of people who have been charged for assaulting doctors offshore. And we won’t have the discretion to stop them from coming.
KNIGHT: Albo, Labor, you guys, are ramping up the claims of scaremongering here. You are no innocents here. When it came to the whole Medicare privatisation you ramped that up at the last election, so no one is innocent when it comes to scaremongering. But is it true that Labor was given the advice that if this medevac transfer bill came in that we would see more asylum seekers and more boats coming to Australia?
ALBANESE: No, that is not right Deb,
KNIGHT: That’s not the official advice?
ALBANESE: And look the Attorney-General knows that he is talking nonsense, with respect. Let’s be clear about why this has happened. This has happened because of government incompetence that the people on Manus and Nauru, who are the only people this legislation applies to, have been there for more than five years and the Government has failed to settle them. This legislation makes no changes, zero, to any of the border protection measures which are in place. This is very simple principle though, which is that if someone who is in our care, after all, Australia has responsibility for, needs medical assistance they will be able to see it subject of course the ministerial discretion which you quite rightly have pointed out is absolutely still there.
KNIGHT: So why does it feels as though we are looking at completely different bills here, because the Australian public is being told totally different stories from both sides of politics. Who do we believe?
PORTER: Well don’t believe him, because he is totally mischaracterising the bill.
ALBANESE: Have a look at the law.
PORTER: The reality is this, the law used to be the case that the Minister had an overarching, very broad discretion on character grounds to refuse people who, for instance, had been charged with a serious criminal offence.
KNIGHT: So it is narrower, but it is still there?
PORTER: Well ministerial discretion exists but it is considerably narrower, radically narrower. So it’s the case now that a person charged with a serious criminal offence or where there is a reasonable grounds based on intelligence that they have committed a serious criminal offence, there is now power for the Minister to refuse that person, but they could refuse a Swedish backpacker on those grounds.
ALBANESE: Absolute nonsense. Absolute nonsense.
PORTER: You need to read the bill Anthony.
KNIGHT: Albo I’ve got to ask you why is Labor actually going down this path when it comes to boat people too, because it is Labor’s kryptonite. This is the strength of Scott Morrison on stopping the boats as immigration minister. It is almost as though you are allowing the Prime Minister to snatch victory form the jaws of defeat here.
ALBANESE: What we did is what parliamentarians have a responsibility to do, which is vote for a bill based upon advice and based upon the merits that are in that legislation. Christian pretends that there is a short time frame. These are people who have been investigated. People know what they had for breakfast yesterday Deb. They have been in detention for more than five years and the fact is the Government has failed. The fact is we have seen fatalities of people here, not just serious injuries and people being critically ill. We have seen people die and we have a responsibility to act, just as we have a responsibility to make sure that we have strong borders. You can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity.
PORTER: Sounds like you can have it all. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?
KNIGHT: Well we will see what voters think because election does loom ever closer.
ALBANESE: Just call it Christian.
PORTER: See you next week.
Subjects: Morrison Government chaos, medical evacuation legislation and border security, energy policy.
KIERAN GILBERT: Joining us now is Anthony Albanese, senior Labor frontbencher. After what was quite an eventful week, a moment of history really in terms of the Government losing a vote in the House, but have they lost the short term battle but, in a political sense, they’re in a better position because they’re back on border security, which is their favoured turf?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well they’ve stopped governing, that’s the problem here Kieran and we had the Government lose the first vote on legislation on the floor of the Parliament since the 1920s. We had the same Government that last year cancelled Question Time and cancelled the Parliament so they could remove an elected Prime Minister in Malcolm Turnbull. Yesterday they had Question Time go for two and a half hours so they could avoid a vote on whether there should be a Royal Commission into disabilities, a vote that on Monday they’re now saying they’re going to vote for. This is a Government that has just lost control. It’s too obsessed with their internals to worry about governing for the nation and I think the Australian people will punish them accordingly.
LAURA JAYES: Speaking of internals, it’s well known that there are divisions within your party when it comes to border protection. Do you think it’s fair enough, Anthony Albanese, that voters know, we know, where Labor’s red line on border protection is? Can you guarantee that Labor will not seek to further dilute any of these three pillars?
ALBANESE: Well it’s important to note, Laura, that there hasn’t been one inch of movement when it comes to border protection policy. All that happened this week was an acknowledgement that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. You don’t have to go down the road that the Government’s gone and bear in mind, just take a step back, why is this still an issue? Because people have languished on Manus and Nauru for more than half a decade. It is the Government’s incompetence in finding…
JAYES: So will there be further changes?
ALBANESE: No. No. Our position’s very clear.
JAYES: That’s it? You can guarantee that?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Our position’s very clear and what’s more these are positions that have been unanimously adopted by the ALP National Conference. It’s not just the Caucus. We’ve been through an extensive process of determining our policy and yes we’ll be more supportive of regional processing than the current Government is and we’ll work with the UNHCR, as we’ve said we would do. But in terms of the border protection framework, it will remain in place.
GILBERT: But what happens if there is a boat that arrives – one, two, a number of boats? I know it is a hypothetical but it’s possible and the Government reopening Christmas Island.
ALBANESE: Well that’s just embarrassing. What we know from Indonesia is that the so-called – the people smugglers and the Indonesian media paid no attention at all to the changes earlier this week. What they’ve paid attention to is the Government’s decision to reopen Christmas Island. What for? What for? This just shows they’re prepared to spend taxpayers’ money to promote, essentially, their fear campaign. It’s a fear campaign because they don’t have a positive agenda on the economy, on health, on education, on infrastructure.
GILBERT: But if a boat were to arrive would that be a negative for Labor now? Because we’re only a couple of months out from the election.
ALBANESE: What’s changed Kieran? It’s the Government that is still there, even though they’ve stopped governing. But the measures that were in place last week are still in place today.
JAYES: A fear campaign though, Anthony Albanese, based on your record when Labor was last in government. Don’t you think it would be more prudent to say: ‘Look our policy is as it stands at the moment but we will schedule in monthly security updates, conferences with the experts’, to see what effect your policy is having? Why is this now set and forget?
ALBANESE: Well Laura of course in Government you have regular meetings of the National Security Committee. You have regular meetings with appropriate authorities. I’ve been a member of course of the National Security Committee in the past as the Deputy Prime Minister. I get the way that Government works and one of the things about this Labor Opposition, can I say this, is that we will be one of the most experienced people coming into government if we are successful in the May Election or whenever the election comes along. I mean this really is a Government that should think about Scott Morrison going and visiting the Governor General on Sunday given how hopeless they have been this week.
GILBERT: Shouldn’t you, as a former Leader of the Government in the House and, as you say, you’ve got a lot of experience in this place – from my reckoning wasn’t it also Labor’s responsibility to have a vote of – you know, test the confidence of the Government, because the events of this week seem to shift this Westminster Parliament in a way because the legislation was driven not by the Government of the day, not by the Government on the Treasury Benches, but elsewhere. Every other time that’s happened in our history the Government has had its confidence tested. That didn’t happen this week.
ALBANESE: That was something for Scott Morrison and the Government to consider frankly, their responsibility, but the numbers weren’t there and I don’t think are there for a no-confidence vote. Some of the crossbenchers have given commitments to not vote for a no-confidence motion. What they have done though this week quite clearly…
GILBERT: It’s not because you didn’t want a fight on border protection? Because if you did test it and the Government fell you’d have to go to an election on this.
ALBANESE: The crossbenchers have made it very clear and public that they are not in a position to vote for a no-confidence motion. They are waiting, they’re waiting patiently and they are waiting for May. But the Government, I would have thought, has time to consider now over the next couple of days whether indeed we do come back to Parliament on Monday.
JAYES: What do you mean? Is there a suggestion that maybe you will not return to Parliament on Monday? What do you know that we don’t Anthony Albanese?
ALBANESE: Well if you’re that hopeless frankly, if you’re losing votes on the floor, if you’re filibustering Question Time so we’re having the longest Question Time since Federation, if you are in a position whereby you’ve cancelled the Parliament as they did last year – they have stopped governing, that is very, very clear.
GILBERT: Are you ready for an election if they were to call it on Saturday, Sunday?
ALBANESE: We’re ready whenever it’s called. We have the greatest range and depth of policy of any opposition that I can recall. We have people in place who’ve been in their portfolios for a considerable length of time. I mean Chris Bowen as the Shadow Treasurer was of course the Treasurer. We have people in key portfolios – health, education, infrastructure – who’ve been in positions in the past and we have our policies out there and we’re ready to put ourselves forward.
JAYES: Just quickly and finally, the Government pulled legislation yesterday after the Greens secured the support of Labor and six crossbenchers. It would have effectively prohibited the Government of underwriting new coal-fired power, so is that a strong signal from the Labor Party that you will move, if in government, to expedite the death of coal in this country and doesn’t that amount to a carbon tax?
ALBANESE: That’s a big call Laura. Not at all. What it is is stating very clearly that the idea that you would have taxpayer subsidy for what is a private sector decision to build a new coal-fired power station is quite frankly just rotten policy. The reason why – there’s nothing stopping anyone today building a new coal-fired power station, what stops it is economics…
JAYES: A $10 million fine would.
ALBANESE: It doesn’t add up and that’s why you’re not seeing that. But coal will play a role in the mix into the future but the future is really about renewables. The economics is what is driving that change because the cleanest as well as the cheapest form of new energy is renewables.
GILBERT: Anthony Albanese, thanks.
GILBERT: We will see you next week maybe. Maybe next week.
ALBANESE: I think we will probably will. The Government’s sort of running scared but who knows maybe they will run to Yarralumla.
JAYES: Who knows? Perhaps. I don’t think so. I’m not cancelling my flight just yet.
Subjects: Morrison Government’s inability to govern; One Nation.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is a Government that is incapable of governing. They can’t run the Parliament, they don’t have a positive agenda and yesterday we saw the extraordinary circumstance whereby the Government had the longest Question Time since Federation in order to stop itself from having to vote on whether there should be a Royal Commission into the treatment of people with disabilities. The extraordinary circumstance is that this is a Government that extends Question Time, the same Government that last year was cancelling Question Time and the Parliament so they could remove an elected Prime Minister in Malcolm Turnbull.
Since Malcolm Turnbull’s removal Scott Morrison has been unable to answer the very simple question of why it is that he is the Prime Minister and not Malcolm Turnbull. And this week we have seen some insight into why it is that Scott Morrison isn’t the Liberal Party’s first choice as Prime Minister. He was indeed the fourth choice after Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Dutton, Julie Bishop – then Scott Morrison. So he is the accidental Prime Minister who keeps committing accidents every day.
JOURNALIST: You’ve got this Royal Commission into disabilities potentially coming into Parliament next week. Do you think that you are going to have the numbers to get that through?
ALBANESE: I think that it will go through unanimously. What is extraordinary is the Government essentially abused the normal processes of Parliament yesterday in order to avoid a vote in which straight afterward they Said that they will vote for the resolution of the Senate when it returns to the House of Representatives next week. This is a Government that is so dysfunctional and so divided that last night they were arguing that the reason why they kept Question Time going and wanted to avoid normal parliamentary processes was because they thought some other legislation might come across from the Senate that they wanted to avoid voting on. Why didn’t they just pick up the phone to Mathias Cormann and ask what it was that the Senate had carried?
This Government is dysfunctional, is divided and is incompetent and they are incapable of governing the nation. And that is why they have stopped governing. They have stopped governing on a day-to-day basis. All they have got now is fights with each other and a scare campaign because they don’t have a positive agenda on the economy, on education, on health, on infrastructure, on the environment. They don’t have an energy policy. Yesterday we saw them abandon their own energy policy, another one. This is a Government that are just a rabble.
JOURNALIST: The behaviour this week from Pauline Hanson and Brian Burston – does that give all politicians a bad name?
ALBANESE: Well One Nation are not the only circus in town, but what we saw yesterday was yet again another example of why voting for some of these fringe parties, you never know what you will get. What we see is that a whole range of senators who have been elected to represent various fringe parties including One Nation have left and have joined other parties or become independents. Yesterday’s behaviour is completely unacceptable. The President of the Senate took appropriate action and I am sure that the appropriate authorities will have a good look at what occurred within this building. It’s a pretty obvious case from the footage I have seen that an assault occurred and the authorities should take appropriate action. Thanks very much.
Subjects: Royal Commission into the disability sector; energy; Election 2019; Global Financial Crisis; Infrastructure Australia.
ROSS GREENWOOD: The Member for Grayndler, the Shadow Transport and Infrastructure Minister, the former Deputy Prime Minister of this country is Anthony Albanese, who is online. Many thanks for your time, as always, Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good evening Ross, always good to talk to you.
GREENWOOD: Is it a government hanging on by its fingernails?
ALBANESE: Well it’s not a government because they’ve stopped governing. What we saw this week was a government party lose the first vote since the 1920s on the eve of the Great Depression where, you’re quite right, they then went immediately to an election. And today we saw the extraordinary circumstances whereby they filibustered and kept Question Time going, because they were concerned that there was going to be a message from the Senate which had carried a resolution calling for a Royal Commission into the disability sector. Now the fact that they kept Question Time going for so long just in order to delay, effectively, what was always going to happen – you can’t delay it forever – until Monday when the House of Representatives will get to determine this, says a lot about the Government. It said a lot about its judgement. It won’t change the outcome on Monday. I don’t know what that outcome will be, but I suspect that a majority of members will say: ‘Yes that’s a good thing, because we’ve heard from our constituents’. So we’ve had a government that has extended Question Time so that they don’t have to make a decision. After last year, of course, they cancelled Question Time and cancelled the Parliament because they were busy knocking off Malcolm Turnbull as the Prime Minister.
GREENWOOD: It’s important here because, you know, the votes of some of those who have departed the Liberal Party now become absolutely key in this and one of the points is trying to muster the forces, not only in the Senate. The Senate seems to be driving the legislation towards the House of Representatives, which is not the normal way that business is done in Parliament House. But this is also coming to the point where the Government seems to be trying to hang on to get to a Budget because they recognise if they can announce that the Budget will be back in surplus over a sustainable number of years, that it might improve their economic credibility. But of course, this is really all about the posturing going into the next election from both political sides I would have thought.
ALBANESE: Well the problem is that they have stopped governing. Today we saw removed from the Notice Paper its energy policy. The version – I think it’s 13 or 14 they were up to without having actually adopted any of them – the so-called big-stick approach. It’s very clear that they’re split massively over whether there should be subsidies for new coal-fired power stations. It’s clear that they didn’t know where they were on a Royal Commission into the treatment of people with disabilities. It’s clear that earlier this week they were shocked, I’m not quite sure why; they had all summer to think about what would happen over the issue of the medical evacuation of refugees. It’s a rabble, it’s not a government. And I think the longer it goes the worse the Government looks.
GREENWOOD: I mean you’ve been in government before and the Government was split, that you were a part of, and it caused genuine problems not only for the Labor Party at the time, but also you’d have to admit for the community. Is the Labor Party right now ready to govern in your opinion?
ALBANESE: Look we’re a united team. We have a clear vision for the country. We’re talking about the needs of the country, not trying to paper over the divisions internally as the Liberal and National parties are. And I think, quite frankly, we learned some lessons from the mistakes that we made in government. As you know, Ross, I was an opponent of the idea of knocking off an elected sitting Prime Minister in their first term in 2010. The Government has done it with three Prime Ministers now. But across the board, I see it in my portfolio, they have just stopped functioning as a government. And today was rather bizarre. They’ve been up in the Press Gallery saying they thought there was some other legislation coming over from the Senate and that was why they were filibustering. They are not even communicating to each other between the Senate and the House of Representatives within the Government Parties. This isn’t a government anymore. This is, in their own words, of the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, a Muppet Show. But unfortunately the joke is on the people of Australia.
GREENWOOD: Okay. I wanted to go to one other thing because if there was a criticism of the Rudd Government when it came to power, it was possibly ill prepared, I believe at least any way, for a sudden economic downturn. Now there are certainly forecasts and I know Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the other day warned again about the prospects of a global shock. And that she believes that the risks of such a thing are increasing. Given the fact you did create Infrastructure Australia, it’s put out its latest priority list. Do you believe this time that infrastructure and building infrastructure on this project list is a better way to go than trying to create an immediate stimulation in the way of $900 handouts or pink bat schemes or school hall schemes, which really didn’t necessarily advance the cause of Australia longer term?
ALBANESE: Well I point out, Ross, that there will be students who have had library lessons today, who’ve had school assemblies today, in halls that were funded as a result of the economic stimulus plan. There will be people driving on the Pacific Highway. There’ll be people who’ve ridden on the Regional Rail Link in Victoria, or on a range of other projects – driven up the Hunter Expressway – that were all funded as part of the economic stimulus plan that kept Australia out of recession. It was Labor that created Infrastructure Australia. It’s an important organisation. It’s important that the proper planning work be done for infrastructure. I was somewhat disappointed that the Melbourne Metro and Cross River Rail projects still are not included on their immediate priority list. But the creation of a body that recommends infrastructure priorities to government and to the private sector is a very good initiative indeed and one I’m very proud of having created as the second piece of legislation introduced by the Rudd Government after our election.
GREENWOOD: I was going to ask you that very question. Is there anything on this list that you think could be prioritized even more greatly? And indeed, let’s say for example, we did have storm clouds arrive from international economies and there was a shock, would the way to go in the future be to try and roll these out even more aggressively into the future and that way create the employment but create something that is lasting for the nation as well?
ALBANESE: Well I think the key, Ross, is to make sure that we get the planning mechanisms right. One of the things about the Global Financial Crisis was we funded 14 major projects, in terms of road projects and 17 major rail freight projects. We rebuilt one third of the interstate rail freight network, which was very important. But we could have done more, if there were more projects that were ready to go. And the truth is that it’s up to state governments to control the planning in conjunction with local government and the private sector. The Federal Government can provide funds, but we don’t have planning powers. What we can’t do, though, is to encourage best practice so that – for example when the GFC happened – if all of the Pacific Highway had been planned, had been through environmental approvals for the full duplication, we could have pressed the button on that and really got that going much faster than we did. As it was we accelerated it to the extent that was possible. But the truth is a whole range of the planning wasn’t up to scratch. Now that’s not a criticism of either side of politics, it applies across the board. And state and territory governments will be rewarded if they have that planning in place.
GREENWOOD: I’ll tell you what, always good having you on the program and always great to talk infrastructure as well. The Member for Grayndler, the Shadow Transport and Infrastructure Minister and of course a key player inside the Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, we appreciate your time.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much, Ross.
Subjects: Medical evacuation legislation.
HOST: And it’s a big good morning to Christopher Pyne and Anthony Albanese
PYNE: Good morning gentlemen.
ALBANESE: Good morning.
HOST: Now we know that things are at fever pitch politically in Canberra right now fellas, so we’ll try to get through this in the most intelligible and coherent way we possibly can. We’ll kick off with you Chris. Before we get to the actual policy content of the Medivac legislation, can I just ask you a question of constitutional principle? If the Parliament passes a law that the Government opposes, hasn’t the Government therefore lost the ability to govern?
PYNE: No, because the Government has to indicate that a vote is a matter of confidence. The other times that this has happened the Government indicated that if a certain vote was carried against their wishes they would regard that as a matter of confidence, and that’s not the case here. Obviously we’re very disappointed that the crossbenchers and Labor and the Greens have combined to weaken our border protection, which is what happened yesterday. But we are the best party to keep governing. That was put on complete display yesterday, because 300 to 400 men from Nauru will now come to Australia in the next fortnight because Labor and the Greens decided that they should be allowed to come to our country.
HOST: To you, Albo. The last two weeks on this program it’s been banks, banks, banks, banks – all the texts, all of the listeners’ comments have been around NAB and AMP. Today boats, boats, boats. Is that really what Labor wants to fight an election on?
ALBANESE: Well, look this legislation was before the Parliament. It of course arose out of a Private Member’s Bill. We judged it on its merits, that if there were people who needed medical assistance who were in our care, then we are a big enough country to be able to provide that and indeed to codify what the Government itself says is already happening with the 900 people, which is more than are on either Manus or Nauru, who’ve come to Australia to get healthcare, or the family members of people who’ve come to Australia to get healthcare. That’s all that this legislation has done. It doesn’t change any of the border protection measures that are in place and I think that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity.
PYNE: That’s what Labor used to say when Kevin Rudd was the Prime Minister and when he was in Opposition. They said they’d turn back the boats, if you remember. They said that they’d do exactly the same as the Government and there’d be bipartisanship on border protection. When Kevin Rudd got elected we saw 50,000 people arrive after they dismantled John Howard’s border protection laws. What we’ve seen yesterday is, thank goodness, the Australian public have got an insight into what will happen under a Shorten Government.
HOST: How much actually changes though with this particular piece of legislation, Christopher Pyne, because as I understand it, in the issue where there’s a medical transfer and the minister rejects it, the decision can then be reviewed by a medical panel, right?
ALBANESE: Appointed by the Minister.
HOST: Right. The Minister then can still reject it on national security grounds or if the person has a criminal record, or poses a threat to the Australian community. That seems to be pretty broad discretion for the Minister, to still prevent anyone from arriving on Australian shores.
PYNE: There’s nobody on Nauru at the moment in detention. They are all members of the community and they’re all getting medical assistance. The Labor Party is spreading a complete lie that somehow the people on Nauru are not getting any medical treatment. It’s so bizarre that they would think the public would believe that. Everyone on Nauru is getting the medical attention they need right now. What the Labor Party has done is taken the power away from the Government to protect our borders because if the Minister makes such a decision it will be justiciable, in other words the advocates, the activists from the Greens and the Labor Party will be able to tie the Government up in the courts here in Australia for years into the future.
ALBANESE: Which is happening now. That’s no change, that’s just nonsense.
PYNE: And when we were last in government and we had to save Australia from Labor’s border protection laws it cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in legal fees that we had to pay to the activists to take their own government to court. If you remember rightly when Labor had 50,000 people arriving and 8000 children in detention by the way, that was costing the budget billions and billions of dollars which has now all been saved because we’ve closed 19 detention centres. There are no children in detention. There’ve been no arrivals in the last few years and that means the taxpayers of Australia are not paying for failed border protection policy that Labor now wants to entirely re-open. There’s nothing humane about people dying at sea.
ALBANESE: You’ve had a good crack Christopher. Just a couple of facts: one is, the most number of people who’ve applied for protection here in Australia was in the last year, on this Government’s watch. They happened to come by plane rather than by boat, but the record number is on this Government’s watch. Secondly, there are no changes whatsoever to any border protection measures. No-one who arrives who’s not already on Manus and Nauru and has been there for more than half a decade will be able to be affected by this legislation. The Government never said “What we’re going to do is to put people on Manus and Nauru and we’ll leave them there indefinitely and they’ll be there for more than half a decade”. And that has had a massive impact on these people, and we have responsibility and if there is a pull factor, then why is it that the Government’s 900 people, more than are on either Manus or Nauru, who are here now getting medical assistance, and their families, that is happening on this Government’s watch?
PYNE: This is amazing to me because apparently Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party know more about the security situation than ASIO, ASIS, the Australian Signals Directorate, the Australian Border Force, the Australian Defence Force. The advice from security agencies to us was that if this bill passes we will have to re-open Christmas Island Detention Centre.
PYNE: And Labor’s had that advice, and despite that advice, Labor wanted to make a political point.
ALBANESE: Complete nonsense.
PYNE: And so Anthony Albanese knows more about security than the security agencies who advised us that we’ll have to re-open Christmas Island and that will be underway, I assume, relatively soon.
ALBANESE: You have been humiliated Christopher, as Leader of the House, you’ve lost control of the Parliament for the first time since the 1920s when we talk about border protection there are no changes to border protection.
PYNE: Don’t try to change the subject.
HOST: Hey fellas, hey guys, sorry, I want to bring our listeners back into to this. Albo we got a text from a lady called Philippa earlier that I actually think puts this issue for your side of politics into its broader context. She talks about the fact we have a brand new hospital here in Adelaide but we still got problems with ramping. She talks about the fact we still have big waiting lists for elective surgery. What do you say to those Australians who go, “Hang on a minute, we can’t be guaranteed the medical services we need, yet we are going to be flying people into Australia who have arrived here unlawfully to look after their medical needs?”
ALBANESE: What I say to them is that is Government has brought 900 people either directly for medical assistance or their families here to Australia right now and they’re here, so what this does is codify existing practice. When it comes to healthcare Labor can be trusted to have proper healthcare and to put Medicare at the centre of our health system unlike the Government who basically don’t believe in a public health system.
PYNE: Well that’s more nonsense from you. It’s breathtaking quite frankly that Labor and the Greens would have combined to thumb their nose at Australian security agencies and put the ADF in the position again where we’re going to have to put platforms into Northern Australia to stop the people smugglers coming.
ALBANESE: The only people encouraging people smugglers are you.
PYNE: I don’t want my ADF personnel having to get dead bodies out of the sea again.
ALBANESE: Well, why are you encouraging them with this nonsense?
PYNE: You are the ones weakening the laws.
ALBANESE: I ask you this, what change is there for anyone who gets on a boat today or after this legislation is carried and before? Because the answer is zero. No change whatsoever.
HOST: Sorry guys, I knew this was going to happen. We’re going to wrap it up. Final question to you, Christopher Pyne, as the Leader of Government Business in the House, Derryn Hinch obviously is asking for this briefing about the national security implications of the medivac bill, but if the bill passes is the option of an early election, an immediate election, on the table?
PYNE: No, definitely not.
HOST: No worries, we’ll leave it there. Good on you, Christoper Pyne and Anthony Albanese. A rollicking Two Tribes as expected. Thanks fellas, we’ll do it again next week.
Subject: Medical evacuation legislation.
OLIVER PETERSON: Kerryn Phelps’ Medevac legislation has now passed the Senate. It was rubber stamped by the Senate this morning. Let’s go to Anthony Albanese right now, senior Labor MP. He’s the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Transport Cities and Regional Development. Good afternoon Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be talking to you again Ollie .
PETERSON: Why did Labor decide to support Kerryn Phelps Bill?
ALBANESE: Because we determined our position on its merits and it was in accordance with the principles that you’ve probably heard me talk about before. You can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. This bill, once we amended it, fitted that. It ensured that we codified what is of course already happening, which is there are some 900 people currently in Australia who are either getting medical assistance or the families of people who are getting it.
PETERSON: So if they’re already getting that medical assistance, it’s already happening, why do we need to change it?
ALBANESE: Well what we needed to do was to codify it so that people were treated fairly. We know that there have been indeed a number of fatalities from people unfortunately who are in our care. We do have responsibility for people. It’s unfortunate that after more than half a decade many of those people still of course haven’t been settled. Some have been and that process is taking place. But we wanted to ensure that we listen to what the doctors and medical experts are saying, which is that when people need medical assistance they should get it.
PETERSON: All right. Did you receive a briefing from Australia’s security agencies which advised your party not to support the Medevac legislation?
ALBANESE: No. The Leader, Bill Shorten, and other relevant ministers in those portfolios of course did get a briefing. What they did as a result of that briefing was to ensure that appropriate amendments were put in place. Those amendments ensure for example that no one who isn’t currently on Manus and Nauru, and all of those people we know have been there for more than five years, is eligible for any assistance on the basis of this legislation and we also ensured that there was proper scrutiny in terms of not just national security issues, but also character issues, and it also ensured that the Minister would have increased power over what the final determination was.
PETERSON: When the Government says this is going to give the green light to people smugglers, how will you be able to justify to the Australian people that the people smuggling trade won’t start again if indeed it does?
ALBANESE: Well it makes no changes at all to national security arrangements. This is confined to those people who are already on Manus and Nauru there’s no signal ….
PETERSON: So why do you think the Government is saying this?
ALBANESE: Oh, because they’re playing politics. This is a desperate government that doesn’t have a positive agenda, that is at war with itself that is now resorting to smear and fear and quite frankly just distorting the facts. They know full well, for example, that this doesn’t apply to anyone who got on a boat today or tomorrow and it would not apply to them. And what’s more, it doesn’t change any of the border security arrangements that the Government has put in place and that Labor has said we will maintain.
PETERSON: So do you think the Government would actually like to see boats arrive in Australia between now and the election so they can play politics with this issue?
ALBANESE: Well it has been quite extraordinary that the only people who are encouraging the people smuggling trade today and indeed yesterday in the debate are senior members of the government including the Prime Minister who today, when asked very simply at the press conference that he held would this apply to anyone apart from those people who have been on Manus and Nauru for that extraordinarily long length of time, he wouldn’t give us a straight answer even though he knows that the answer is no. And of course this situation arises because of the Government’s failure to settle people in third countries who have been on Manus and Nauru. It’s absurd that the Government rejected the offer, for example, from the New Zealand Conservative Government, as well as followed up by Jacinda Ardern’s Labor Government, to settle 150 people each year.
PETERSON: But the Prime Minister also claimed today in Question Time that there are around six asylum seekers for every doctor currently housed on Nauru. So surely they’re getting the medical attention. The procedures and the policies are in place. I think in fact he said that 900 people have been transferred from the islands to Australia for medical reasons in the last year alone.
ALBANESE: That’s exactly my point. If the Prime Minister is acknowledging that there are 900 people if you count the families of those people who’ve been transferred to Australia for medical reasons; if that was going to send a signal to people smugglers and somehow start up the trade, it would have already happened because there aren’t 900 people on either Manus or Nauru. So the Government’s own position on the facts actually undermines a rhetorical position which is all about scaring people.
PETERSON: Well the Attorney-General today says there may be some people who’ve committed serious crimes, and there are accusations it might even be say rape or murder, they could be transferred from detention centres on Manus or Nauru to Australia under this scheme. Would that sit well with you if criminals or people who may have committed serious crimes we’re going to be sent to the mainland?
ALBANESE: Well that’s just not true because we ensured that the amendments contained provision so that people who commit serious crimes can’t be transferred to Australia.
PETERSON: What about for all the people – we’ve had a lot of talkback callers on our radio station the last day or two, and there are a lot of migrants who live in Perth in Western Australia, you know that very well Anthony Albanese, they said they came to Australia the right way. They’ve paid thousands and thousands of dollars. They’ve waited for years to settle or relocate or their families have had to wait a very, very long time to come to Australia. What about for all of those people that have gone through the proper processes to settle and call Australia home?
ALBANESE: Well that’s exactly why in terms of the processes that have been established there is that acknowledgement. You know, what we’re talking about here is someone who is in urgent need of medical assistance requiring two doctors to essentially certify that – two registered doctors. Now if that is challenged, then that gets referred to a medical review panel that has been appointed by the Minister himself and examined in terms of whether that is a legitimate request.
So there are mechanisms in place here to ensure that this is not abused. And of course it’s the case that there are many more people who want to come to Australia then we can satisfy, which is why we will maintain the strong border protection regime that is necessary. But you can have strong borders without losing your national soul.
PETERSON: Anthony Albanese, we’ll see you in Perth in a few weeks. Thank you.
ALBANESE: You will indeed. Thanks for having us on, Ollie.
Subjects: Medical evacuation bill.
LAURA JAYES: Is Labor a bit afraid of where the politics is at?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What we did was judge this legislation on its merits. That’s why we ensured that it was amended to fit in with our principle, which is pretty simple, that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. If people in our care need medical assistance it strikes me remarkable that that is an issue of partisan divide and indeed the Government itself says, if you listen to what it says about what’s happening now on its watch, what this legislation that was carried in the Parliament yesterday does is codify that, so that there’s more than something like 900 people who’ve either come here to get medical assistance or the families of people who’ve come here. They’re here now. The Government’s rhetoric, which says that somehow people getting medical assistance weakens our borders, if that is the case then they’ve been doing it.
KIERAN GILBERT: But the point is, in a political sense as Laura alludes to, why pick a fight now? You’ve backed the Government over many years in terms of the offshore processing, not a cigarette paper difference between the two…
ALBANESE: We haven’t changed that policy.
GILBERT: And yet three months out from the election – you pick a fight.
ALBANESE: No, we haven’t changed that policy. What Australians are saying is that if people are in detention on Manus or Nauru for more than half a decade and they have, as a result of that, medical conditions that require medical assistance and they need to get that in Australia, then they should be able to get that. We ensured, with the amendments that we put in the legislation yesterday, that it doesn’t apply to anyone else. So there’s no pull factors here in this legislation. The only people encouraging people smugglers to take up their trade are Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton who seem to be sending a signal out there that somehow our borders have been weakened. That is not the case and they know it.
JAYES: If there is an attempted boat arrival that is stopped by Operation Sovereign Borders, will you consider that you have created the pull factor here?
ALBANESE: Not at all.
JAYES: Because your legislation is the only thing that’s changed.
ALBANESE: No the thing that’s changed is the Government’s rhetoric. Our legislation has no impact on any new arrivals whatsoever. The Government knows that but it’s sending out a very different message and the Government has got to answer why it is that it is just so prepared to play politics and that’s because it’s desperate. It’s desperate. This is a Government at war with itself that’s looking for an issue anywhere, that’s stopped governing, that’s lost control of the Parliament. I mean yesterday’s vote is the first time that government legislation has been defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives for decades, since essentially the Great Depression.
GILBERT: But it’s interesting you hear the rhetoric – you spoke of rhetoric – how about the rhetoric from Mr Shorten there? Someone who you know supported a compassionate approach last night. His language was all sort of tough and you know: ‘If you arrive now you will not be applicable to this particular bill’.
ALBANESE: But that’s the case.
JAYES: What do you call that though, tough love?
ALBANESE: I call that a fact. That’s what I call that – a fact. The legislation that was carried yesterday has no impact on any new arrivals. We ensured as well that issues – that if anyone has an issue over security, over character, they also won’t be allowed to benefit from the legislation that was carried in the Parliament yesterday. We ensured that we got that balance right.
GILBERT: So, new arrivals go to Manus or Nauru?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Offshore processing has been unaffected by any of this. The Government knows that that’s the case. What we’ve seen from a Government frankly is hysterical overblown rhetoric from Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton.
JAYES: Well the Greens Leader, Richard Di Natale says the passing of this bill – you’ll see maybe 300 or 400 people from Manus and Nauru arrive in Australia to seek medical treatment within weeks. Labor negotiated with the Greens on these amendments, so do you believe that to be true as well?
ALBANESE: Well I’ll leave the Greens Party to speak for themselves. What we were motivated by was the merits. We ensured that we put up those amendments and in the end people voted for the amended legislation and that was enough to get it through the Parliament.
JAYES: Mr Albanese, if you believe that this legislation is necessary you must believe that there are people on Manus Island and Nauru that desperately need medical attention in Australia and this bill…
ALBANESE: Laura, people have died.
ALBANESE: People have died in our care, on our watch. Australia is a better country than that. Australia is a good enough country so that we can protect our borders, keep in place those national security measures. I think we can have strong border protection without losing our national soul and that’s why the Australian people have increasingly become frustrated by the Government being prepared to just use people essentially and not give people care when they need it. And the fact that we’ve had people, either fatalities or people with acute health conditions, unable to get that assistance is something that needed to be rectified. This legislation does that but it gets the balance right as well by doing nothing to weaken our borders.
GILBERT: So if someone is critically ill and a new arrival – there is a new arrival – and someone’s critically ill they won’t be transferred though?
GILBERT: They stay there?
ALBANESE: It does not apply for any new arrival. It applies to only people who are there now. Bear in mind that when offshore processing was established no one believed that offshore processing meant, and the Government itself never came out and said: ‘What we’re going to do is we’re going to send people offshore for more than half a decade, deny them from hope’. What we talked about, and the Government talks about as well, was regional processing and finding places of third country settlement. The great failure of this Government has been to find places of third country settlement within a reasonable time frame and rejecting reasonable offers such as the offer of the New Zealand Government.
JAYES: But Mr Albanese, your history on this – your track record in government is appalling. How can you expect people to believe that if there are any new boat arrivals you’ll make the distinction? If you’re really taking this humanitarian approach, going to Kieran’s question, if there’s someone critically ill that’s a new arrival, you’re going to deny them access to Australian doctors?
GILBERT: Even if they can’t get the treatment in Nauru.
ALBANESE: Well the fact is, is the Government saying that people are going to get through – they reckon they’ve stopped the boats – and there’s nothing in this change that means that will occur. Of course what has occurred on this Government’s watch is that last year there were more applications for protection than any year in Australia’s history. Any year. And the point is that those people are of course coming by plane rather than by boat.
JAYES: This close to an election, sorry Kieran, the fact is that the people smugglers are using your track record in government as a selling point.
ALBANESE: No. What the people smugglers are doing is being encouraged by Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton. They’re the only people talking about a change in border protection policy, because there is no change in border protection policy in this legislation.
GILBERT: Mr Shorten received briefings from the security agencies. This morning Peter Dutton has asked Bill Shorten: ‘Is your approach – have you been – have you listened to the briefing?’. He has asserted that the Labor approach contradicts the security briefings. He knows what was said.
ALBANESE: No no. Peter Dutton knows how to play politics, how to run smear and fear because that’s all the Government’s got.
JAYES: Mr Albanese, thanks for your time.
GILBERT: Appreciate your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Subjects: Medical evacuation legislation.
DAVID KOCH: The Government has suffered a historic defeat, losing a crucial vote for the first time in almost 80 years. A bill to transfer sick asylum seekers to Australia has passed with the support of Labor, the Greens and the Independents. Labor MP Anthony Albanese joins me now from Canberra.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
KOCH: Morning to you. Scott Morrison refused to budge on this refugee policy, arguing it would weaken our borders. Labor and the crossbench pushed the bill through. Why is it the right decision?
ALBANESE: It is the right decision Kochie because what it does is codify what the Government itself says is existing practice. There are 900 approximately people here now who have been brought here for health reasons or are family of people who have been brought here for health reasons. We ensured with the legislation that was carried yesterday that it would only apply to those people who are already on Manus and Nauru.
KOCH: So there’s no new ones coming into Manus and Nauru …
KOCH: … can’t make themselves crook or injure themselves and get a trip to Australia and all the rights that that brings?
ALBANESE: That is absolutely right Kochie because what Australians are concerned about is that these people have been there for more than five years now and we have seen deaths in those locations and we’ve seen many people – common sense tells you that being in indefinite detention for more than half a decade is having a huge impact.
KOCH: Some of them refuse to go and get resettled elsewhere. You know, they are sticking their heels in saying: “No I don’t want to go to these other countries, I just want to go to Australia’’. Well beggars can’t be choosers you know. We decide all that, don’t we?
ALBANESE: Absolutely and this doesn’t change any of that Kochie.
ALBANESE: All this says is that if two medical doctors say that someone is in need of urgent medical assistance then that application goes to the department and the Minister.
ALBANESE: If the minister has any concerns re national security provisions they are all included in there, as well as character issues, then that gets referred off to a panel that is appointed by the minister himself.
KOCH: Oh. OK.
ALBANESE: So there is still substantial ministerial discretion but what it has done is codify what needs to happen so that people who are in need of urgent medical care can get it.
KOCH: Why don’t you improve medical care on Nauru and Manus Island – build a better hospital and keep them there?
ALBANESE: Well the truth is Kochie that we have seen for example someone die from septicemia. That is something that would be very extraordinary if it happened in Australia and the fact is the Government itself has brought literally hundreds of people here for medical assistance and indeed they asserted that yesterday that there was no need for this. What this does is codify it, but it does it in a way that ensures that there are no pull factors. The only pull factor here is Scott Morrison’s overblown rhetoric …
KOCH: You are starting to get political now. I think you have explained it. Appreciate your time.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much Kochie.
Subjects: Medical evacuation legislation; Confidence in the Morrison Government, Parliament.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks everyone. Labor’s objective this week and indeed since this issue was raised last year has been to get an outcome that dealt with the fact that people in our care on Manus and Nauru who require health care should get access to it – nothing more and nothing less. We have had a consistent view that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. And we have also had a view that you can protect our borders whilst not giving up on our national soul.
So many Australians have expressed their concern at what is being done in our name when we have a responsibility to people, many of whom have suffered from health concerns, we know sometimes with disastrous consequences. So we have been determined to get this right and I think that we have got it right. That is why we listened to the advice. That’s why we were prepared to move amendments to make sure that the outcome that was secured put the principles, that we had said from the very beginning we were committed to, in place and that’s what the House of Representatives has just done.
JOURNALIST: Why is Bill Shorten not holding this press conference just out of interest?
TONY BURKE: Right now there is a Shadow Cabinet meeting going on as you would expect. But because a lot of people have been asking about in particular the procedure and issues of confidence, we thought it was appropriate that the former Leader of the House and the current Leader of Opposition Business be able to answer those questions, which is why we are both here.
To that end the Government tried to play a last-minute cheap political game today. The Attorney-General held on to legal advice and then asked the Speaker of the House of Representatives to keep the legal advice secret from Members of Parliament that was about what Members of Parliament were going to deliberate on today. The Speaker, to his credit, did his job and made sure that all information relevant to Members of Parliament was available to the House. But it was an appalling act from the Government to pull that as a cheap stunt and try to keep it secret as a last-ditch play today.
That legal advice raised two issues. The first was whether or not the Governor-General would have to issue and appropriation. To remove doubt about that one of the amendments that Bill Shorten moved was to make the positions on the panels voluntary and that fixed any objection there.
The second issue that was raised was not clear in the covering letter, but quite clear when you read the legal advice, which was whether or not these amendments could originate in the Senate was a matter for the House to determine. And what happened today, in an amendment that I moved, the House determined that we were not going to assert our rights against the Senate in that way.
The final question that a number of you have already been asking and speculating is: Are we viewing this as an issue of confidence in the Government? Our view of this issue was that we would deal with it on its merits. At no stage have we focused on anything other than the merits of being able to achieve an outcome today. There have been occasions when prime ministers have seen votes like today as though they were issues of confidence. The key phrase that is referred to in Practice is whether or not a legislative defeat is considered of vital importance. They are the key words that are used in Practice – whether or not something is of vital importance. They are words for Scott Morrison to reflect on. From our perspective, what happened today in the House of Representatives was a change to the law that needed to take place did.
JOURNALIST: Clearly the Government would say it’s a matter of vital importance. You make the point that the Prime Minister needs to reflect on what he thinks but ultimately if anyone was going to move a motion of no-confidence that would be up to you. So can you rule out, subsequent to the loss of this vote moving a motion of no-confidence in the Morrison Government?
BURKE: No Opposition ever rules out, ever, moving a vote of no-confidence. No Opposition would ever rule that out and I don’t rule that out. At the same time, when a defeat in legislation has been treated as a vote of no-confidence previous prime ministers haven’t waited, they’ve gone to the Governor-General. But the key is whether or not they considered it of vital importance.
JOURNALIST: So that was Fadden in 1941 with Curtin, what are the other examples?
BURKE: Watson is another one. There’s a list in Practice but the phrase “of vital importance’’ is the one that’s used. That is not something that we’re pushing, it’s something that I’ve been asked about and I am explaining that for the Prime Minister …
ALBANESE: And something for the Prime Minister to reflect on is that last week he was downplaying this. Last week he said that it would be of no consequence and he would ignore it. And yet, at that time that he said that, did he know that they were going to pull this attempted stunt with the advice from the Attorney-General that they pulled this afternoon?
JOURNALIST: Is the Prime Minister obliged to seek royal assent for this. Is there any way that that sort of could be subverted?
BURKE: It would be extraordinary and without precedent for a government to decide that legislation that had gone through the Parliament wasn’t going to go to the Governor-General and if the Government got to that stage we’d be at a different stage to where we are at today.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to Senate crossbench about these amendments that went to the House today and if so, what have they told you about the amendment?
BURKE: Look, by and large the House of Reps people work with the House of Reps crossbench and the senators work with the Senate crossbench.
JOURNALIST: The Government is already saying that if the boats restart in coming weeks it will be your fault. How do you respond to that?
BURKE: Look at the third part of the amendments that were introduced by Bill Shorten. They effectively ring-fenced who was able to access this legislation. Not one person who gets on a boat now will have their circumstance changed by what’s happened in the Parliament today – not one. And the reason for that is the only people able to access this legislation are the people who are currently on Manus or Nauru or their children. No one else can access this legislation, at all.
JOURNALIST: You’re talking about the importance of the amendments moved today, however if Labor had of had its way in the last day of Parliament the unamended version of this Bill would have passed the House and have already passed into law. As a party who is seeking to win Government, how can you say that that’s responsible?
BURKE: Oh wow, if that was the test, the Government would have finished in their first week. Governments are constantly – legislation goes through one House it gets reviewed in another, different issues are raised and amendments …
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) that wasn’t the tactics that were being played out on that final day of Parliament, and I remember Labor sort of screaming black and blue about the Government playing politics in the Senate to ensure that the House had already risen, before that message could be debated. So you know, given that, and then given over summer where Labor said no, the ministerial discretion in the bill was already enough, it’s on been in this week where you conceded that perhaps it wasn’t and have now made changes. That doesn’t line up.
BURKE: No, constantly even after legislation has gone through, where new advice is given by security agencies, governments come back with further amendments to legislation that they’ve already dealt with. For us Bill Shorten received advice from security agencies and adjusted to amendments as a result of that. That is the ordinary process of the building that we’re in right now.
JOURNALIST: The Government has obviously raised the stakes by arguing it’s unconstitutional; you can’t accept a money bill from the Senate. But you yourself have run this argument in Parliament and used it to defeat similar attempts. Is your argument that it’s OK to run that argument as long as you’ve got the numbers in the House?
ALBANESE: No. What I argue is that the House of Representatives is the master of its own destiny and that indeed is what is provided for in House of Reps practice and precedent – that by the House of Representatives, by a majority voting the way that they did today, they have ownership of the decisions that are made. What occurred in 2011 when Christopher Pyne argued the opposite to what he did today I might note, is that …
JOURNALIST: You are arguing the opposite to what you’re arguing today?
ALBANESE: No, that’s not right. No, I argued perfectly consistently that it was up to the House of Representatives to determine and, at that time a majority of the House of Representatives, a clear majority, disagreed with the approach of the Coalition. What we have here is a sovereign Parliament that has made a decision in a democratic fashion. No one could say they didn’t know this vote was coming. This is a very unusual circumstance whereby because we have a part-time Parliament, which is only sitting for 10 days in eight months, they have had month after month after month to consider this. And what they did was just come up with a last-minute political play and that’s consistent with this Government’s approach, which is that they have stopped governing. It’s all about politics. It’s all about the game. It’s all about their internals. And the fact is that this country needs a government that actually governs in the national interest, and that’s why they need a Shorten Labor Government.
JOURNALIST: You say that technically the changes you made make it no easier for asylum seekers to come here; they don’t improve asylum seekers’ position. That said, surely all of this noise and the fact that there has been a legislative change to the regime sends a signal to Indonesia. Do you acknowledge that there is a signal going to would-be people smugglers over there? And if so, whose fault is it?
BURKE: The only signal that would be going there is if the Government decides they want to trumpet one. That would be deeply irresponsible and I would hope they don’t do that.
JOURNALIST: Aren’t they already doing it?
BURKE: Let me – just hear me out. The first thing that happens is there is a turn back policy, supported by both sides of Parliament that should prevent people putting their lives at risk on the high seas. If any of them were to, this legislation doesn’t apply to them. It doesn’t apply to them as a matter of Australian law, presuming what’s gone through the House of Reps today goes through the Senate.
ALBANESE: Can I make this point – that today, this was the Parliament working effectively. I pay tribute to Dr Kerryn Phelps in particular, but the other crossbenchers were all prepared to sit down and get an outcome based upon the objective of looking after people in need; that was it not about politics, not about positioning, just about doing the right thing. This is a day in which I’m very proud to be a parliamentarian and it’s a day in which what we saw was the national interest, I think, put first by overwhelmingly, the Parliament. And the only people who made political speeches and partisan speeches were those in the Government who are so desperate. I mean this is a government that shows its increased desperation each and every day with their rhetoric and with their failure to actually govern.
JOURNALIST: You a need 76 votes, I understand, not 75, to retrieve your other major aim at the moment to get two extra sitting weeks of this Parliament. Will you get them? Can you? Essentially, I’m asking for an update on where you are on that last vote?
BURKE: I work very closely with the crossbench and I have an ongoing commitment to them that it’s for them to brief out where they’re up to and I don’t brief out on their behalf. If we already had 76 votes, I would have already moved it. So we’re continuing the discussions. I think the arguments to have Parliament continue sitting are compelling for two reasons. First, we do have the Banking Royal Commission report and the Government’s argument ‘Oh, you can’t deal with 40 pieces of legislation’ – if that was the reason, you’d never had Parliament sit. There are a number of responses to the Royal Commission responding to a number of its recommendations that are involved relatively simple pieces of legislation. And by having the Parliament sit, we’re able to start the process of enacting. But the other argument is people just look in dismay at a Parliament that sits for 10 days in eight months. Ten days in eight months. That is a part-time Parliament and we have lots of jobs in our electorates – that’s all true. But we’ve got a constitutional job as legislators. And simply because the Government doesn’t like the Parliament that much at the moment, doesn’t change the fact that the democracy of this building should be going on and we should be having additional sittings.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much.