SUBJECTS: Biloela family; immigration; AFP raids; press freedom.
NEV FERRIER, MAYOR OF BANANA SHIRE: On behalf of the Banana Shire and the Biloela community I’d like to welcome Anthony Albanese and Senator Murray Watt here today and they’re talking about our Tamil people here in Biloela. So, it’s just great to see them come up here to try and give us a hand. I’m very proud of the people of Biloela and these women behind me that have been working on this for 18 months. We’re not going to give up yet. So, we’ve got to Friday and Anthony has been good enough to come out and lend a bit more weight to the show. I’ll pass over the Anthony.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much to the mayor and to the community here. What we have with us today, with Senator Murray Watt and myself, is Australians from a country town who are committed to their community. They’re committed to Australian values of humanity. They’ve made friends with Nades and Priya and their two kids. I heard today about the hospital when the two daughters were born and how excited they were. I heard about the community in which they lived and how friendships were made. I heard about the volunteering that’s occurred from Priya at St Vincent’s and how this community values the contribution that this family have made over more than four years. It’s not too late for the Government to recognise that this isn’t a threat to its immigration policy. It’s not a threat to Australia’s borders. What it is, is simply what Peter Dutton has done on more than 4,000 occasions as Minister. On an average of three times every day that he’s been a Minister. Using his ministerial discretion to say that it is in Australia’s national interest for this family to be restored into the community that they love and which the community clearly loves them.
These aren’t political activists here. They’re not members of political parties with other agendas. It’s simply about this community here in Biloela. And this community has lifted its profile. And one of the things that it’s showing all Australians is those values that someone from the south associates with Queensland. That sense of community. That sense of reaching out and all helping each other out. This state, more than any other state suffers from natural disasters, from floods, from drought, from cyclones. And what we see every time something happens in Queensland is the pride in local communities that people have. People pitching in to help each other out. That’s what we’re seeing here. That same spirit. The spirit which makes Queenslanders so tough for us southerners when it comes to the State of Origin time, three times a year. And we’re seeing that here. And I’d say to Scott Morrison and to Peter Dutton, come here and have a chat to the locals. They’re real people. In a real community. They have real values. Reach out, engage with them, have a bit of common sense here and just get this done.
And what’s more, given the state of the economy that came out today, you’ll save a bit of money for the taxpayer as well. So, instead of these people contributing taxes as they were, working hard in the community, ‘having a go’, to use the language that the Prime Minister likes to hear, instead, the Government is spending goodness-knows-what amount on flying over a dozen people now to Christmas Island. To have this family on Christmas Island, the only people who are there, waiting for a decision by the courts and then by the Government.
But the Government can stop this and the Government should stop this. And I’d say before the Government finalises any decision, please come and chat to these people as I have today. Sit down with no other agenda other than hearing why this community sees this as such a critical issue.
Lorraine I think was going to have some comments to make on behalf of these fantastic people who I’ve had a great honour to be here, with Murray, today having a chat just on the basis of what makes this community tick. It’s a proud community and I say this; Mr Mayor, you are quite right to be proud of the effort that your community are making. Lorraine.
LORRAINE WEBSTER: Hi my name’s Lorraine Webster and I’d like to welcome Anthony Albanese and Murray Watt. I’m here to speak from the heart for this little family that became part of our community. I got to know them through a Sri Lankan family living behind me. They first used to walk past and give a little wave, but not really brave enough to give the full wave and they learned quickly that our hearts in this town were open to welcome them.
Nades worked really hard at meatworks and he contributed to our town which we desperately need contribution. Priya, she was a volunteer at our local Vinnies. Then they had their little children and their little children used to come into the centre and everybody would wave to them and they would wave. They learned to talk. They spoke to us. They called us ‘grandma’. They were our friends.
Everybody here in Biloela, we’ve got big hearts. Australia, we’ve got big hearts. Let’s just be realistic and have this little family come back and work in our community, come back to be part of our community. Our hearts are open. Our hearts are hurting of what’s being done. It’s just something that is just within the heart of us people that care. Thank you.
ALBANESE: Good on you Lorraine. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Does this mean Labor will change its immigration policy?
ALBANESE: No. The Australian report today frankly was nonsense. Let’s be clear here. This is about policy that currently exists. You don’t need to change any policy. It’s a policy that Peter Dutton exercises on more than three times every single day on average, 4,000 occasions he has intervened.
This family shouldn’t be put in this situation. They were taken away from here in separate cars. The parents separated from a four-year-old and a two-year-old child. Seriously, we’re better than that. That’s not Government policy. On what basis does Australia want to see that happen to a four-year-old and a two-year-old girl both of whom were born here? On what basis do you have to fly a family overnight to Darwin? And then on what basis do you have to fly them to Christmas Island? This is unnecessary. This is all about politics and the Government should do what Peter Dutton has done on more than 4,000 occasions since he’s been the Minister.
JOURNALIST: But with all this publicity do you think it sets a bad precedent?
ALBANESE: No. Just listen to the people behind us. Lorraine I don’t think has spoken at many rallies about a range of issues over her life. These are real people just speaking out about their community. It’s as simple as that.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about 2600 Sri Lankans who were sent back though to their country under a Labor Government?
ALBANESE: People are sent back. We’re not arguing for a change in the policy at all. We’re not arguing for a change in any of the fundamental places that policies have been put in place by the current Government.
What we are saying here is: there’s a reason why there is ministerial discretion in the act. When Peter Dutton acted and used his ministerial discretion on the au pairs after getting a phone call from someone who he knew, the fact is that he used the term ‘compassion’ in that statement justifying the decision. I’m sorry, but the au pairs compared with this family, seriously? If you have a look at the two cases, I think very clearly, if there was a case for the au pairs to have intervention, there’s certainly a case for this community to be listened to.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe the Government when they say that if you allow this family to stay, it’ll encourage more asylum seekers to come to Australia by boat?
ALBANESE: No, no I don’t.
ALBANESE: Because it’s just rhetoric. That’s a nonsense. All the same positions have been put in place. People have recently attempted to get here by boat and have been turned back. Those policies are in place. No one’s arguing that change should be there.
The only politicians in Australia who are undermining border security is people like Peter Dutton who for purposes of convenience, from time to time, undermines his own policy by saying it’s all about to end. They undermine the policy by opening Christmas Island, remember that? At an enormous cost, flew every journo in the country to Christmas Island. He could have stood next to a palm tree at Cronulla Beach and saved a lot of money. He didn’t do that. It opened, it closed again, now it’s being used again. It’s about time we took the politics out of this. There is a bipartisan political position on the fundamentals of our migration policy. We can have strong borders without being weak on humanity.
JOURNALIST: The Government said a number times that the family wouldn’t be settled. Do you think they were just ignoring the reality of their situation?
ALBANESE: Well, the fact is that this family have made a contribution here. We’ve heard that today. The Government should listen to the people here in Biloela. The Government talks about the need for people to settle in regional communities and I note today, again, there’s another report of that skilled visas, people being granted here, because of the Government’s failure to actually have an economic policy and plan for things like skills and the jobs that are needed to be filled by Australians. Here we have someone who is committed to Australia, wants to be here, come back, work at the meatworks, make a contribution. And the Government, at the same time as there are record numbers coming by plane here and seeking asylum once they are here making application. Record numbers last year, much more so than at any time when Labor was in government, the numbers of people who applied. And the Government needs to just have a bit of common sense here. This is as is provided for in the act, a particular circumstance where the community is saying ‘listen to us, we want these people to participate back in our community’.
JOURNALIST: So does Labor still hold the view that if a person comes to Australia by boat without a visa, they won’t be settled in Australia?
ALBANESE: Look, we support offshore processing. We support regional processing and a regional agreement being done so the people are able to be settled in third countries. None of those policies have changed whatsoever.
What we’ve got here, and when we’re talking about Labor, what you’re talking about here as well is the local LNP member, the Member for Flynn, saying that this family should be settled here making representation. You’ve got Barnaby Joyce saying the same thing. You have people who are certainly on the conservative side of politics, saying the same thing. People like Alan Jones, just saying there’s a four-year-old and a two-year-old, a family that are part of the community.
The unique circumstances should be recognised, that’s why the Act is written as it is, with ministerial discretion. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) hearing was delayed until Friday. Do you think that gives some hope to the situation?
ALBANESE: I’d like to see Peter Dutton or Scott Morrison, or someone senior in the Government, come here and talk to these fine people who I’ve had the privilege of speaking to today. If they did that, I don’t believe they’d walk away with the same view that they’ve been advocating up to this point.
JOURNALIST: There has been a raid on a Canberra home this morning by the AFP, what do you make of it, are you concerned?
ALBANESE: Well, journalism isn’t a crime and I support freedom of the press. It’s up to the Government to say why all of this has occurred on its watch. Thank you.
WEBSTER: Can I just say to that and I thank you very much Anthony Albanese…
ALBANESE: She’s getting used to this.
WEBSTER: …for saying what you said. We, as Biloela residents, we know all this, with what the questions you have asked, but that is not our side. Our side is the love of the family and way this family has been treated. That is our part, it is not to do with homes being raided in somewhere else, in Sydney. That was not what we have come here today about and we have a lady from Biloela that is over there on Christmas Island, trying to give that family the support and the love that she has taken from us, to be on Christmas Island. Thank you very much.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.