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.
Subjects: Medical evacuation legislation.
CHRIS SMITH: Well, Albo, what can I say. In your guts you know this medical transfer regime is nuts.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not at all, Chris. This is merely codifying something that the Government itself says is happening now.
SMITH: Why touch it then? If we’re sending people who really need it to Australia already, why make a big deal of it and why create a symbol that says we’re going to get even kinder?
ALBANESE: Well, what it does is fulfil the obligations that we have, essentially, to continue to be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. There’s some 900 people here now, Chris, who are either here for medical assistance or are the families who are here for medical assistance. And what we did yesterday was make sure that this bill does nothing, absolutely nothing, to weaken our border security. But make sure that if there are people who are in genuine medical need, then they will receive that assistance. It of course codifies as well, the fact that the Minister will still have power over this process, including appointing the medical panel, including making sure that if there are any issues with regard to national security or character then those people won’t be eligible. And what’s more it excludes …
SMITH: Hang on, go back on that. It excludes what?
ALBANESE: It excludes anyone who has an adverse national security issue. And might I say …
SMITH: But they can have a criminal record …
ALBANESE: That’s not right. That’s not right, Chris. Go and look at the legislation. That’s not right.
SMITH: So tell me what you changed yesterday afternoon. You were able to determine that those with a criminal conviction, as long as they had a health need, a medical need, could be transferred to Australia.
ALBANESE: That’s not right. You’re just wrong. Anyone with a criminal conviction of 12 months or more will be ineligible. Anyone convicted of any serious crime won’t be eligible. We ensured that was the case. And what’s more the Minister is the person – Peter Dutton – is the person who gets to determine that – in terms of character and also in terms of national security after getting appropriate advice.
SMITH: Okay. Can I just replay for you something and I want to check on this – what sort of criminal record someone can have – because there are several articles written today by those who would normally favour your party, that actually tell us the kind of people who will be able to come in under this, which is where I got that from. Let me go back on that in just a second, but firstly – former Labor powerbroker, your mate Graham Richardson. He says, you know, it’s a serious embarrassment because he reckons it’s a silly idea and the boats could keep coming.
Audio of Graham Richardson plays
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: And that’s why yesterday was just silly. They didn’t need to do it and it’s not going to advance their cause at all. It doesn’t mean you win an extra ten seats. You achieved nothing yesterday, really, except you embarrass the Government. And that’s all very nice but you don’t want to embarrass yourselves in the process, and I think that’s the danger here.
ALBANESE: Well Richo is a mate of mine, as you know, even for a St George supporter I don’t mind him.
SMITH: He says dangerous.
ALBANESE: But on this case he’s simply wrong and a lot of people haven’t had the opportunity, who have made comment, including some of the comment in the media today, to actually examine what has been passed. So for example, anyone who is now not on Manus and Nauru – and these people have been there for more than half a decade – it is the Government’s responsibility …
SMITH: Because they’re not refugees. That’s why, they haven’t been classified as refugees, they don’t cut it.
ALBANESE: That is not right, Chris, and you do know that.
SMITH: How many refugees are on Nauru?
ALBANESE: You must know that there are people on Nauru and Manus who have been classified as refugees. Some of those have been settled in the United States. Some of those are awaiting settlement in the United States. But you must know that overwhelmingly, the people on Manus and Nauru have indeed been classified as refugees. The reason why they haven’t been settled somewhere is because the Government has been incapable of organising third countries of settlement. They’ve rejected the New Zealand offer that was made by the New Zealand Conservative Government and re-offered by the New Zealand Labor Government to settle 150 people each year in New Zealand.
SMITH: OK. Those that have come here illegally are the ones who won’t be allowed into our country. They cannot be classified as refugees if that is the case. You know that.
ALBANESE: No, that’s not right either, Chris.
SMITH: They’ve come here through a leaky boat, they’ve come here illegally.
ALBANESE: That’s not right either, Chris. Those people who have sought asylum here by boat will not be allowed to settle in Australia. That has not changed. Not one thing in last night’s legislation that was carried changes that. The other thing that is not changed, is the fact that anyone who gets on a boat today, not one thing has been changed for them.
SMITH: I understand you are going to say that to us.
ALBANESE: Because it’s a fact, Chris.
SMITH: But the symbol is, if you’re prepared …
ALBANESE: Facts matter.
SMITH: OK. If you’re prepared to be this generous in a sensitive period like leading up to a Federal Election. They will construe this as quite simply: ‘We better have a go here, because if they are that serious and that generous right now imagine how generous and what they will change and the pathways they will give us, you know, leaky boats, asylum seekers – when they get into power and have absolute power’. You seem to be a lot kinder than any of the border protection policies we’ve had since now.
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that every one of the border protection policies is still in place. Not one of them was changed by the legislation last night and the only people sending signals to people smugglers and encouraging boats to come, have been Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton and some of the rhetoric around this. None of the issues of offshore settlement, of no settlement in Australia, of boat turn backs, none of those issues were changed at all by last night’s decision by the Parliament.
SMITH: But it’s the symbol of it all. And this is what Richo mentioned this morning, it is the symbol of it all.
ALBANESE: It’s people talking up rhetorically, encouraging boats to come, being prepared to play politics with it. You know, I’ll ask you this question, Chris. In what year have most people sought protection, a protection visa under sought asylum basically, here in Australia, what’s the largest number?
SMITH: I don’t know the year.
ALBANESE: This year. The last year there were more people sought protection from the Government, the current Government, than any year in Australia’s history. But they all came by plane. But all of those are here, have sought protection and put in applications. The largest number ever and that is on this Government’s watch.
SMITH: All right. What is understood in immigration circles, let’s get back to this criminal record business. One of the hardest things for an immigration officer to determine is where and when someone comes – when they come do they have a criminal record in the place that they come from. Some people of course don’t even have their papers, they don’t admit what country they’re from. And of course, as The Telegraph reports today, it has seen four examples of individuals currently held on Manus Island and Nauru who, if signed-off by two doctors, the Government believes could be transferred to Australia. And the first case is a man with a history of violence, charged on Manus Island with the assault of a treating psychiatrist, who is suspected of being charged with murder in Iran. The second …
ALBANESE: Except they can’t, Chris.
SMITH: The second involves a man arrested in association with rape of a minor on Manus Island, but who is in custody pending appearance in court. These are people who could be transferred.
ALBANESE: They can’t. The Minister has to approve it. There’s a process whereby …
SMITH: So if the doctors say that he needs medical treatment, that the Minister of the time will stand in the way, do you really think that?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Because that’s what the legislation provides for. So let’s not build up straw men here. And of the 900 people who are here either directly getting medical assistance or the families of people who are, under this Government, on their watch, not one of them, not one, has been subject to an adverse national security assessment.
SMITH: Well I hope in the 72 hours you’ve given the Minister to make a decision – and if he’s got 600 applications in his hot little hands, as the Greens admit may happen in the early stages of this legislation – I hope he’s got plenty of time to get through the backgrounds of those 600 people.
ALBANESE: Christopher, they’ve all been assessed.
SMITH: My mother only calls me Christopher.
ALBANESE: These people have been assessed. These are not people who are new arrivals. These are people who have been in our care, essentially, for more than – offshore, but we still have responsibilities there, the Government acknowledges that – for more than five years.
SMITH: Are you suggesting the Government doesn’t have a humanitarian bone in their body?
ALBANESE: I’m suggesting that this is a Government that’s desperate, that’s running a smear and fear campaign.
SMITH: But in terms of humanitarianism, are they heartless?
ALBANESE: I’m suggesting that this is a Government that is prepared to play politics with national security. And today I spoke outside the Parliament in front of those workers on Australian ships replaced by BHP. When BHP is removing the two ships that operated around our coast with the Australian flag, with Australian seafarers, they’ve lost their jobs on the high seas. They now will be replaced by foreign flagged ships with foreign seafarers. I just wish this Government, when it talked about what happens on the oceans around our coast, had a bit of concern for making sure that Australians were working around our coasts on ships with Australian flags rather than foreign-flagged seafarers.
SMITH: OK. The Minister can only reject transfers on medical grounds – or if it can be proven they’ve served at least 12 months behind bars. How hard is it in 72 hours to determine whether someone has made an application to come to Australia, has actually served behind bars for 12 months in Iran for instance? It would be impossible.
ALBANESE: It’s not 72 hours, Chris. They’ve been there …
SMITH: The Minister will have 72 hours to decide.
ALBANESE: The Minister has been there and gets advice. I’ll give you the big tip, Chris. I hope to be a minister at some stage. I won’t be – whoever the Immigration Minister is won’t be going to Iran to out themselves. They have a department. The department has assessed – each of these people have been through a process, they’ve been there for more than five years to get information out of them.
SMITH: Can I ask this question of you, will we get leaky boats coming through the northern waters before the election, do you think?
ALBANESE: Well there’s been no change in any of the policies that the Government says …
SMITH: So this is not a symbol that will restart boats and the people smuggling trade and we’ll have no boats? Are you saying that there will be no boats before the election?
ALBANESE: There have been boats in the last year, Chris, as you know. One of the boats offloaded people in the Daintree and they were running around Northern Queensland. So the fact is that there is no change to the policy. The Government says it has a framework that protects our borders. Nothing has changed in that and therefore our borders should be protected and we will keep that regime in government.
SMITH: We’ll see whether you keep the regime or whether you go one step further. We’ll see whether that happens, if and when you win the election. Thank you so much for your time this afternoon.
ALBANESE: Great to be with you, look forward to regular appearances.
Subjects: Medical evacuation legislation.
DAVID SPEERS: Thanks very much for your time this afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good afternoon David.
SPEERS: What made Labor decide this new law was necessary?
ALBANESE: We decided it on its merits. We put politics aside and we looked at the fact that people have been on Manus and Nauru for more than half a decade; that many of them, there’s substantial evidence, need medical assistance.
SPEERS: You don’t think they are getting that?
ALBANESE: That needs to be codified. Part of the reason why, the evidence that they need medical assistance, was just given by Peter Dutton no less – the fact that 400 people are here getting medical assistance. If you add in their families, there are 900 people here. Nine hundred is more than there are on either Manus or Nauru. But at the moment …
SPEERS: But if it is happening, if it is already happening as he says, why do we need to change?
ALBANESE: Well it needs to be codified properly. You can’t run, be it migration or health care, on an ad hoc basis. What this does is codify it. It does it in a way as well which makes sure that we are protecting our borders. I mean, you can protect your borders without giving up your national soul. What Peter Dutton wants to do is to deliberately mislead the Australian people. I notice that both he and the Prime Minister wouldn’t give a straight answer to the very simple question that you asked Minister Dutton and the Prime Minister was asked this morning, which is this: Will this impact on any new arrivals, this legislation? Because the answer is no, but they won’t say that because they don’t actually want to give a message to the people smugglers.
SPEERS: What would happen if a new arrival, someone came here by a boat, were transferred to Nauru and were really crook or their mental illness was so grave that they can’t be treated there, what would happen to them?
ALBANESE: Well they will have to be treated there. They certainly can’t be transferred to Australia under this legislation. It has no impact on them whatsoever.
SPEERS: But Labor’s position here is what, even if they are so crook, they would still have to be treated there?
ALBANESE: Well let’s go back a step David. This has no impact whatsoever on the current border protection regime that is in place. There are not people who have recently been put on Manus and Nauru. There is no reason whatsoever why there will be a single new person put on Manus and Nauru. If, as the Government says …
SPEERS: You can’t guarantee that no-one will ever come on a boat again.
ALBANESE: If, as the Government that says – it is the Government that says it has solved this issue with the regime that has been put into place.
SPEERS: If a boat comes now and they go to Nauru and they are really crook, are you saying there is adequate medical care there?
ALBANESE: What I am saying is one, if you go back, that won’t occur because the Government says it’s got this in place – there are no changes whatsoever to the border protection regime – that’s the first point.
SPEERS: OK, but if someone does go there?
ALBANESE: I’m not into hypotheticals.
SPEERS: You really don’t think there will ever be a boat?
ALBANESE: The fact is that the Government has put in place a system and one which Labor supports – the measures that have been put in place. Now, none of the clauses in this legislation impact on that whatsoever. All this simply does is codify the fact that for those people who are currently on Manus and Nauru, who need medical assistance, that they will be able to get it and that in itself …
SPEERS: But it just sounds like a two-tiered system now. If someone goes there now they have to be treated.
ALBANESE: It is explicitly a two-tiered system.
SPEERS: So the medical care must be adequate enough for them?
ALBANESE: It is explicitly a two-tiered system David and we make no apologies for that because when we were working out the precise details of this legislation, we very consciously ensured that there are no signals sent to people smugglers or those who are thinking of coming by boat,. The only people who are sending signals, encouraging people smugglers it would appear, are Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison as the Prime Minister.
SPEERS: This two-tiered system, it just seems a bit strange that perhaps you’d have two people with the exact same condition; one is going to be treated there, one is not.
ALBANESE: But David there’s different systems in place now. If you want to look at where different systems are in place, have a look at the fact that the greatest number of applications for protection visas in Australia’s history is under the current Government and it indeed is just last year, the record number. Now the fact is that those people all arrived by plane, rather than by boat.
SPEERS: That is a fair point, but I think we’re getting away from this concern under your new – what is now the law of the land once it receives Royal Assent – you’d have different refugees on Nauru receiving different treatment.
ALBANESE: We make no apologies David for the fact that we have ensured that there are no signals to people smugglers that would encourage …
SPEERS: You must, therefore, think that the medical care is adequate on Nauru …
ALBANESE: There are no pull factors in this legislation, none.
SPEERS: But it is the medical care adequate on Nauru for that new arrival?
ALBANESE: You’re missing the point, David. If you go back a couple of steps …
SPEERS: This goes to the very point – whether there is enough medical care.
ALBANESE: No, what it goes to, is you putting up hypotheticals on the basis of something that isn’t happening at the moment. I put this to you – how many people have arrived by boat, have been sent to Manus and Nauru this year? None.
SPEERS: None, because this government stopped the boats.
ALBANESE: And what’s changed in that regime by this legislation? Absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing. Now you know that’s the case because you’re an intelligent, objective journalist. It is only Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison who refuse to acknowledge that fact. And what they’re doing here is trying, indeed, perhaps to even encourage, they are trying to mislead the Australian people because all they’ve got left …
SPEERS: You think they’re trying to encourage boats to come.
ALBANESE: All they’ve got left is is a fear and a smear campaign. This is a government that showed yesterday they’ve lost control of the Parliament, they’ve lost control of the agenda. All they’re interested in is fighting each other and scaring the Australian people.
SPEERS: They’re reopening Christmas Island. Would Labor keep it open?
ALBANESE: What for, why are they doing that?
SPEERS: You would shut it down?
ALBANESE: Once again what they’re doing is just trying to create action based upon a myth. There are no changes to the border protection regime from the legislation that was carried. And we wanted to make sure that the very simple principle that I’ve spoken about with you before – you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity, that’s my firm belief. That is what we ensured occurred with the legislation that was carried, not just in the House of Representatives, but in the Senate today. And it’s interesting isn’t it that Derryn Hinch, someone who I think is someone of integrity, got a security briefing and then voted for the legislation.
SPEERS: That principle about being tough on borders while maintaining humanity, sounds very sound. So too does the principle that the elected minister of the day should have the final say on who comes to Australia. Do you agree?
ALBANESE: Look, the elected minister of the day has enormous say here.
SPEERS: Not complete say.
ALBANESE: Well, the minister of the day never has complete say over anything, David, that’s the truth. I’ve been a minister for six years. I know that departments, bureaucrats, advice – that’s all publicly available, as you know. What we have in a democracy is accountability of ministers, we don’t have a free for all where a minister is the dictator. What we have under this system is that, one, you have to have two doctors. That’s the first step. It then goes to the Departmental Secretary. The Minister can, upon advice either of character grounds or of national security grounds that can be referred to – he can say no at that point – or it can be referred to the panel the medical panel. What’s important is that he appoints the panel and the panel includes the highest public medical officers in the land, as well as other doctors. So is Peter Dutton saying when he sits here that ‘I don’t have a say in this’; that he’s going to appoint doctors without any regard to whether they will take seriously whether there is a serious medical need here. The fact is that if you look at his actions in approving 900 – if you count the families of those who are here now – it exposes what a nonsense this fear campaign is for a Government that’s run out of any positive agenda. So all it’s got is negativity.
SPEERS: You heard the Government’s attack in Question Time. That under this system, that you’ve just explained with the panel doctors and so on. If someone who has charges against them or is facing trial but has not yet been convicted they could still be brought in.
ALBANESE: The idea, David, that someone facing charges of rape won’t have those charges heard and that there’ll be a transfer here and that will not trigger a warning in terms of national security, from the security agencies, is a complete nonsense.
SPEERS: Well, this is the problem, though, when you codify – getting back to where we started – the Minister’s discretion. This could be taken to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The legislation, the law now says the Minister can only override if they’ve been convicted.
ALBANESE: David the current circumstance is that a whole range of matters get taken of the Minister to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. You know that’s the case. The Minister knows that’s the case. That’s why he never has unlimited power. That’s why we have a whole lot of issues that appear either before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or before other parts of the judiciary. The Minister is accountable for his actions. There’s nothing different about that. What the Government is trying to do desperately and it’s quite remarkable, that what effectively you have here when you take away all of the rhetoric, is a government that is trying to scare people on the basis of false information and in contradiction, indeed, of its own actions in bringing people here to get medical assistance which it itself acknowledges it has done, as I say again, for around about 900 people if you take the families into account.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us this evening.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having us on, David.
Transcript of Radio Interview – Radio National Breakfast with Fran Kelly – Monday, 11 February, 2019
Subjects: Minority government, Medical transfer legislation, leak of national security advice.
FRAN KELLY: The Morrison Government is facing the very real danger of losing two major votes in coming days as Parliament resumes this week, not just on asylum seekers, but also on a Labor push to extend the parliamentary sitting weeks to deal with the Banking Royal Commission. Labor frontbench Anthony Albanese was the Leader of the House when we last had a minority government in this country. That was the Gillard Government. And so he is experienced in navigating a difficult Parliament. Anthony Albanese, welcome back to Breakfast.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on Fran.
KELLY: We could have a vote on the Medivac Bill as early as tomorrow. If the Government goes down in that Bill, would that amount to a vote of no-confidence in Scott Morrison and the Coalition?
ALBANESE: Well we can debate these issues, but I suspect not, because the Government would point to the provisions which are there for specific procedures that are required for a vote of no-confidence. There has to be notice given of when that debate will take place. What is very clear though is that the Morrison Government has lost the confidence of the Australian people. And if they had any dignity frankly, Fran, they would go to an election given that we now have a part-time Parliament which is going to sit just ten days.
KELLY: OK. Well the Government points out that the minority Gillard Government, and you were in charge of marshalling the votes then, lost 62 votes on the floor of the Parliament, so what …
ALBANESE: Well that is just not true. It’s just not true Fran.
KELLY: Well what did you lose?
ALBANESE: We didn’t lose any votes on legislation on the floor of the Australian Parliament.
KELLY: So what are these 62 instances that the Government talks of?
ALBANESE: That is Christopher Pyne’s fantasy. The fact is that we have 595 to nil. That was the scoreboard. And the fact is as well, as you would well recall, the now Government used to say, Christopher Pyne and others, that if we lost a vote that would be the end of the Government. If we had have lost votes on legislation I think you would have known about it.
KELLY: Let’s go to the Medical Transfer Bill. That will be the first order of business ,or very early up tomorrow, we expect. Labor voted for it late last year in the Senate. Will Labor vote for it this week in the Reps? Will Labor hold fast on this?
ALBANESE: Well Fran what we’ve got to do here is take a bit of a step back from the Government’s rather hysterical rhetoric and think about what this Bill is about and why Kerryn Phelps has brought it forward. This is about whether people who we have responsibility for, who we’re obligated to look after; if they are sick and in need of medical care, whether they should get access to that. Now our view very clearly is yes. I think the Australian people understand that and their answer to that is yes as well. And what the Government has done on this legislation frankly, is not tell the truth, because the legislation, yes, says that two doctors may make a recommendation. But that is subject to ministerial approval. The Minister can then refer it to a panel which includes people who the Minister himself, Mr Dutton, has appointed to that panel and they will make a final determination except for, of course, the Minister also has discretion on national security grounds.
KELLY: OK, but just there, as you say, that panel, the ultimate panel, can make the ultimate decision and your colleague, Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann now says, and is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald today, saying the Minister should have the final discretion over medical transfers and as you have just explained, that is not how the current bill is structured. So Shayne Neumann is saying Labor has always had two clear objectives – making sure sick people can get medical care and making sure the Minister has final discretion over medical transfers. That sounds like Labor is about to compromise.
ALBANESE: Well we have said that and we are prepared to compromise across the Parliament. This should not be a partisan issue. But this is a government that doesn’t look for outcomes, it looks for arguments and that is one of the reasons why it is in the state that it is. It doesn’t look for solutions. It has responsibility. It knows full well that almost 1000 people have already been transferred to Australia under the provisions in which they need medical assistance. So what this Bill is attempting to do is to codify …
KELLY: Are you saying that you don’t think it has codified it correctly yet? Do you agree with Shayne Neumann that the final discretion over medical transfers must rest with the Minister? Do you think there is still some amending of this bill that should happen before Labor will support it?
ALBANESE: Well there is an argument that the ministerial discretion is there because it is the Minister who appoints the panel that will make the determination and the Minister still has, under this legislation that is proposed, discretion over national security grounds. So if we need to tweak the legislation, then by all means we should be able to do that in order to get an outcome. But I think that what Dr Phelps, in discussions that I had with her last year, was very clear about was that she was about outcomes. So if we need to tweak the legislation by all means let’s have those discussions. But what is essential is that the status quo, whereby you have ministers who are saying that people will be transferred en masse, that is because there are medical issues – surely that is an acknowledgement by the Government that the current situation is simply untenable.
You can be tough on people smugglers, Fran, without being weak on humanity and hysteria from the Government saying that this would dismantle the entire system of border protection should be called out for the nonsense that it is. The fact is this Government is running scared. It is looking for scare campaigns rather than governing in the national interest and rather than governing with a view to having the respect for human dignity that all Australian Governments should have. I believe the Australian people want to see a Government that looks after people as well as secures the borders.
KELLY: Australians have voted again and again though to get the point across they want secure borders and the Government does tender this advice, now declassified, from the Department of Home Affairs that says 1000 people on Manus and Nauru “could have access to a transfer within weeks’’. It is that that the Government is using to say to Labor that if you do this, you will open up the floodgates again.
ALBANESE: Fran this is a government that spends day after day wanting to send signals to people smugglers that somehow you might be back in business. It is quite extraordinary, their behaviour, and the leaking of classified information never occurred under previous governments. This is a government that is all about politics, not about substance, and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the Government to be able to have a border security policy but also to ensure that people who it has a responsibility for, who are ill and sick, and bear in mind these people have been in detention, without hope, for more than five years. It’s not surprising that that is producing very negative health outcomes for many of those people.
KELLY: Look there is no doubt that public pressure has been brought to the Government on this and I think the Wentworth by-election was a clear example of that. But just to go to possible compromises, you have obviously looked closely at this. Under the so-called Phelps Bill, the Immigration Minister can overturn a medical decision if there is an adverse security assessment, in other words if someone is judged to be a national security risk. But national security covers threats like terrorism and espionage. It doesn’t cover crimes like rape and murder, which is what the Minister, Peter Dutton, is putting forward. Is that a potential compromise, to expand that definition of what is a national security threat under this Bill?
ALBANESE: Well there will be discussion quite clearly today. It is unfortunate that the Government has been so intransigent about it and has chosen to engage in rhetorical argument, rather than take action. But what we have seen since this Bill was introduced of course Fran, is children removed from Manus and Nauru, a circumstance which the Government, at the time of the introduction of the Bill said wasn’t possible. So the Government itself has moved. What we actually need here is an outcome. There is agreement about the broad range of border security issues. There is agreement from the main parties about offshore processing. There is agreement about securing our borders. What this is about is a humanitarian response to people who are in need and whether there should be a codification really of something that is happening already, which is people have been transferred – almost 1000 to Australia are here right now.
KELLY: Let me ask you this – would you vote for the so-called Phelps Bill as it stands?
ALBANESE: Look, I will be having those discussions in our processes that will take place today Fran. But I will be bringing my values, which are that you can be tough on border security without being weak on humanity.
KELLY: OK. Let me interrupt you there because we are almost out of time because an unnamed MP from the right of the Labor party is quoted in The Australian today as saying: “The children in our party who believe the fairy tales have to be stopped. National security is just too important to be allowed to be run by children’’. Presumably some are worried about the spectre of the so-called 2001 Tampa election.
ALBANESE: Well quite clearly ..
KELLY: Just briefly.
ALBANESE: … this is a government that has been about playing politics. When they play politics …
KELLY: This is one of your colleagues who said this.
ALBANESE: Well when the Government plays politics they should be called out for it. This Government is undermining our national security with some of their rhetoric and it is undermining our national security by leaking classified documents in a strategic way designed to put spin on it and designed to scare people.
KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on Fran.
MONDAY, 11 FEBRUARY, 2019
Subjects: Banking Royal Commission, border security, music.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Good morning to you both fellows, good morning.
ANTHONY ALABNESE: Good morning.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning Deb.
KNIGHT: Now Commissioner Kenneth Hayne, Christopher, pulled absolutely no punches when he singled out these NAB bosses for criticism. Are you thinking it is welcome news that they have gone?
PYNE: I think most people will welcome the NAB taking that action and look, I have no particular inside knowledge of what might happen at other banks, but I doubt that will be the last of the departures from some of the big banks. Obviously, the evidence at the Royal Commission was damning and the NAB has been one of the first to move. It was particularly damning about the NAB actually, so that is probably why. But I think most people will welcome it and I think a lot of people are welcoming the Government’s response to the Royal Commission – the fact that we are putting consumers front and centre but also the fact that we are not trying to smash credit in Australia, which would cause a recession.
KNIGHT: Why won’t you bring on more sitting days to actually enforce the recommendations?
PYNE: Well you don’t want to rush a response to a Royal Commission. You don’t want to rush the legislation. It’s very complicated legislation and I think it is very important that the Parliament takes the appropriate amount of time to get legislation right. We’ve seen rushed legislation in past governments in the financial system which has had to be changed and there is legislation in the Senate right now that the Labor Party could vote for to reform the superannuation industry. But they simply won’t, because all they want to do is play politics rather than actually fix problems for consumers. And right now they could pass legislation next week to help reform superannuation.
ALBANESE: You’ve got to admire Christopher’s capacity to say black is white. I mean, they resisted the Royal Commission on 26 separate occasions. What we have seen now is they are still defending the banks and the top end of town by not having the Parliament respond to the recommendation of the Royal Commission. Christopher is the Leader of the House. It’s a good position. I used to hold it. You get to decide when Parliament sits. We are sitting for two weeks. We should keep sitting until we deal with these recommendations.
KNIGHT: And Christopher, you are not going to escape this criticism from Labor that you did reject this call for the Royal Commission 26 times. Why can’t you as a government simply just admit it; say: “OK, we got it wrong here, we made a mistake”. Voters are screaming out for honesty from their politicians. Why can’t you guys just do that?
PYNE: Well we have already done it Deb. Malcolm Turnbull, when he was Prime Minister said …
KNIGHT: Well we haven’t heard Scott Morrison saying that publicly, outside the Parliament.
PYNE: Yes he has.
ALBANESE: He was the Treasurer who resisted it.
PYNE: Yes he has.
ALBANESE: He was the Treasurer who tried to stop the Royal Commission and now we have the part-time Parliament sitting for 10 days.
PYNE: The question was to me Albo. The facts are …
ALBANESE: Well you went on for 10 minutes before defending the banks. The fact is your record on this is appalling, Christopher.
PYNE: The question was to me. The question was to me.
KNIGHT: So you admit you got it wrong?
ALBANESE: Did you get it wrong?
PYNE: They question was to me Deb. Both Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison have both said they regretted not bringing on the Royal Commission earlier. They both said that, so it is not true that we haven’t admitted that we’d rather have done it earlier.
ALBANESE: They haven’t said sorry. Ken Henry said sorry last night. You should say sorry.
PYNE: He has obviously been told by the Shorten office to toughen up on the Today Show because he is not letting me answer the questions.
ALBANESE: Just say sorry Christopher.
PYNE: But the truth is we have said that we regretted it and we are responding to it and getting on with it. We are doing it sensibly, whereas Labor wants to smash mortgage brokers. I think that is the big story. Labor actually wants to put 16,000 mortgage brokers out of business which helps the banks by reducing competition.
ALBANESE: You are talking about the Royal Commission recommendations Christopher.
PYNE: That’s right.
KNIGHT: What’s your response though to the mortgage brokers issue, because a lot of them are saying we have thrown them under the bus here.
ALBANESE: The Royal Commission has come up with recommendations. We support all of the recommendations in principle. We will look at the detail and we will consult, including with mortgage brokers. But the fact the Royal Commission was established to make recommendations to government. It is extraordinary that the Government has walked away from the recommendations from day one.
PYNE: No we haven’t. Rubbish. That’s not true.
ALBANESE: You just criticised the Royal Commission’s recommendations then.
PYNE: We are responding sensibly to the recommendations. You want to give the banks a free kick.
ALBANESE: You just criticised them.
PYNE: A free kick by getting rid of all the competition.
KNIGHT: Listen to you lot. You are fired up this morning.
ALBANESE: It is Commissioner Hayne that he is criticising there, the Royal Commissioner.
KNIGHT: You guys must be fired up because Parliament is about to resume.
PYNE: He gets very excited when Parliament is resuming.
ALBANESE: Well it is such an infrequent thing Deb. That’s the thing. You’ve got to get excited.
PYNE: He can’t wait to see me. He can’t wait to see me on Monday.
ALBANESE: Ten days in eight months we are sitting. If this was any other workplace in the country you would get fired for it.
PYNE: I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you Albo. I can’t wait to see you.
ALBANESE: I wish I could say the same.
PYNE: You do. You know it.
KNIGHT: We will have issues being looked at when Parliament resumes next week, not least the humiliating defeat that the Government is facing on the issue of allowing medical transfers of refugees from Manus and Nauru. Albo, is Labor still going to support this bill being put forward by Kerryn Phelps?
ALBANESE: We are supporting the legislation. We will see what happens in Parliament next week.
KNIGHT: Will you be reviewing the idea of having an independent medical board?
ALBANESE: What we want to ensure is that legislation is carried so that people who need health care can get it. We have responsibility.
KNIGHT: So you will back this bill from Kerryn Phelps?
ALBANESE: We have responsibility. We will look at anything that is put forward.
KNIGHT: It sounds like you are backing away.
ALBANESE: No, we are not backing away at all. We have said in principle our position is that people on Manus and Nauru who need medical assistance should get it and we should listen to the medical experts. And as well though, we have supported and made it clear from day one that we also support, at the end of the day, ministerial discretion. It is very important that there be political responsibility for the outcomes.
KNIGHT: And Christopher, will you be investigating this leak of the very much confidential information that we saw your Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton really talking openly about what was leaked? Are you going to be opening up every single rock to try and find out who leaked the information?
PYNE: You mean the story in The Australian saying that the Kerryn Phelps bill would dismantle our border protection policies? Is that the one you are talking about?
ALBANESE: Yes, they one that is supposed to be secret and confidential, that one.
PYNE: Well I don’t know where that story came from but I can assure you that Labor and Kerryn Phelps’ Bill would dismantle our border protection policies and would give people like potentially the Greens Leader Richard Di Natale the say over whether people left Nauru. Of course there is no-one in detention in Manus Island. That detention centres closed some time ago. So that’s a red herring.
KNIGHT: Well there is no suggestion he would be the doctor, that the Greens Leader would be the doctor going in there.
PYNE: He could be. He could easily be.
KNIGHT: There’s no element of scaremongering going on here?
PYNE: What is important is we don’t give the green light to people smugglers to start their evil trade again. Labor wants to play politics with this because all they want to do is disrupt the Parliament and disrupt the country. But we have stopped the boats …
ALBANESE: You are putting national security advice on page one of the newspapers – national security advice. It’s a criminal act to leak national security advice.
PYNE: … like the Howard Government stopped the boats. The Howard Government stopped the boats. This Government has stopped the boats. If Labor is re-elected the boats will start again because people smugglers will be given the welcome mat by Labor just like they were under Rudd and Gillard.
ALBANESE: That’s all they have got is a scare campaign. They have given up governing.
KNIGHT: I can’t get a word in with you two.
ALBANESE: They have given up governing.
PYNE: Get him under control.
ALBANESE: Call an election.
KNIGHT: Let’s just end with a bit of a musical interlude shall we? Now we saw Clive Palmer copping all sorts of grief for ripping off Twisted Sister with his annoying ads. We thought we would ask you this morning. You are the DJ here Albo. If you could adopt a song for the other party, what would it be?
ALBANESE: Well I thought about having Help! by the Beatles but I am going to go with Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who.
KNIGHT: All right, a bit of theme there. And for you Christopher, what would you pick for Labor?
PYNE: Well given the election is about the $200 billion tax take by Labor, we have picked the have picked Taxman by the Beatles.
KNIGHT: All right, a musical theme and we thought just as a general thing for politicians we could perhaps adopt Would I Lie to You? by the Eurythmics.
PYNE: Well Albo and I wouldn’t.
ALBANESE: No no. We are the good guys.
PYNE: We are.
KNIGHT: You are fired up. We love it. Parliament will be back next week and is good to have you both with us this morning.