SUBJECTS: Biloela family in detention on Christmas Island; ICAC; health policy; NSW ALP branch; Timor-Leste.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: As we speak there is a family in detention on Christmas Island. A family who should be settled here in Australia, a family who should be settled in Biloela, where that community has given such strong support. I’ve raised directly with Prime Minister Morrison the need for the Immigration Minister to intervene in this case. This would not undermine Australia’s borders. It would simply be the very reason why there is ministerial discretion in the Act, to show compassion, to show that there are specific needs for this family given that their two children have been born here in Australia, aged four and two. That they’ve integrated successfully into the Biloela community; they volunteer in the community. Priya, cooking curries, her husband volunteering at St Vincent de Paul. These people should be settled here in Australia. It won’t undermine the Government’s migration policies. It will simply say that this is a government that is prepared to listen to what the community are saying and saying so strongly.
JOURNALIST: Precisely what did you say to the Prime Minister and what was his response?
ALBANESE: I won’t discuss all of the details of private conversations. I did say to the Prime Minister that I would say that I had publicly raised, I would say publicly, that I had raised this with him and had a discussion with him. I put the case for him to have a discussion with the Immigration Minister. This is not a Cabinet decision, it’s at the discretion of the Minister. Minister Dutton has got himself in a circumstance whereby in order to show that he’s harsh and tough, he’s showing that he has no humanity. Australia’s a better country than that. That’s why so many Australians from across the political spectrum are saying in this case there should be a ministerial intervention in order to let this family stay. And the fact that the family were moved from Darwin to Christmas Island to get them out of public view is, I think, just quite extraordinary. I mean what was the cost of that move for the Australian taxpayer? The Australian taxpayer. This is publicly funded cruelty on behalf of a government that really has lost touch and has lost its way. We can have, very clearly, strong borders without losing our humanity.
JOURNALIST: What did the Prime Minister say to you?
ALBANESE: I’m not going into the details of the conversation. I told the Prime Minister that I would raise, that I would say that I’d raised it with him. We had a discussion one-on-one as from time to time it’s appropriate for the Leader of the Opposition to have with the Prime Minister. I put my case strongly and said it was a strong view of the Labor Party that we would support ministerial intervention by Minister Dutton. And obviously that he was in a position to give guidance to the Immigration Minister.
JOURNALIST: What do you think about the use of Christmas Island. I mean that was a facility that was reopened in relation to the Medevac legislation and then closed, I thought? Why are they using that?
ALBANESE: It was reopened as a media stunt in the lead up to the election at great cost to the Australian taxpayer. The most expensive media conference ever held. Where Scott Morrison instead of having palm trees at Cronulla, had palm trees on Christmas Island at great cost to the taxpayer. A massive stunt. And what we’ve seen here isn’t really a stunt, but it it’s an abuse of normal processes. There can be no justification. The idea that Christmas Island is closer to Sri Lanka than Darwin is quite frankly absurd. It fails the common sense test and it’s up to the Government. Certainly Labor will pursue in Senate Estimates the cost of this exercise in trying to get this family out of public view. The problem for the Government is this family are well known, particularly to their local community in Biloela which is why the ‘Home to Bilo’ campaign has been so strong because they have the support of their local community. And this is a government that has spoken about the need to increase population in regional Australia. I know a way that they can increase the population by four, and that is by giving the same welcome to this family that, indeed, the Biloela community itself has given to these people.
JOURNALIST: How strongly critical were you in your conversation with the Prime Minister about the treatment of the family, how do you feel about the treatment of the family?
ALBANESE: I’m not going to go into the detail of the conversation with the Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: How do you feel about the treatment of the family?
ALBANESE: Quite clearly the idea that they had to be got out of the detention centre up to Darwin in the middle of the night. The idea that then, once again, they’re flown again in the middle of the night from Darwin to Christmas Island, is just an act of cruelty. It’s not necessary. We can have strong borders without losing our humanity. And Labor supports strong borders, but we do so in the context of ensuring that we don’t have to behave in such a brutal way.
JOURNALIST: Just in relation to vaccination (inaudible) the Government is extending that, should they go further, should we see more (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: What we’re seeing from the Government is a timetable of announcements on health, which fits in with the Sunday news cycle. And there are 60 different medicines have been approved. It’s on the list waiting for the Minister to approve it. I’ve got an idea for the Minister. How about you have one big Sunday and approve 60, rather string them out one a week so that Minister Hunt can try to restore some of the credibility he lost during his involvement in the Dutton coup against Prime Minister Turnbull and announce them all at once. It seems to me that what is determining the timetable is the media cycle. What should determine the timetable is the health needs of Australians.
JOURNALIST: You’ve spoken of the need for cultural change in the ALP. Will you be directly intervening with the New South Wales ALP branch?
ALBANESE: Certainly I’ll have a lot more to say about this because ICAC of course has to be allowed to continue to do its work. And what we’ve seen is one week of what is hearings that will go, I think, over five or six weeks. So we need to allow it to do its work unencumbered.
JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Jodi McKay’s assessment that the party in New South Wales is in a terrible situation?
ALBANESE: The party is in a diabolical situation. This behaviour is completely unacceptable to me. And I find it quite shocking the revelations that have been made before the ICAC this week. It underlines the need to have an integrity commission. And it underlines again why Labor, during the last Parliamentary sitting week, moved for the Government to bring forward that legislation. Why is it that the Government is delaying introducing the legislation for a National Integrity Commission at the same time as they’re happy to bring forward legislation that is far less important? I think this is important that all political parties – of course we know that multiples, double figures, when it comes to Liberal MPs who are hit by the ICAC in the lead up to the state election in the last term – and the ICAC has been effective. Of course the electoral commission here were very effective as well. We have electoral laws for a reason. They should be complied with by everyone involved, and anyone who breaches those laws should be prosecuted according with the law.
JOURNALIST: But in terms of the ALP how damaging have these revelations been to the Party?
ALBANESE: Quite clearly they’re particularly damaging to the individuals involved and to Sussex Street. It’s not the first time that Sussex Street and Head Office have behaved in a bad way. I was of course …
JOURNALIST: To the individuals in Sussex Street, what about the Party?
ALBANESE: Well of course the Party has been damaged by this. But the truth is that the average ALP Member, if you walk down the Livingstone Road here, knew nothing about this. I knew nothing about this. And I’d never heard of the bloke, Kenneth, I’d never heard of him, never seen him in my life. And the fact is, that the actions of some individuals has damaged – in senior positions of authority – has damaged the Party. The other thing is that …
JOURNALIST: Isn’t that the point of it, though, that they haven’t heard of it because they were told to keep quiet?
ALBANESE: If you wait I’ll be able to answer the question. It is also the case – no why would I have heard of some fellow in the New South Wales branch? The fact is, that the other issue is that there’s clearly some problems with accountability. Why is it that we have structures in place, including an administrative committee and other people in the Party, who also weren’t aware of this? What clearly needs to be examined is, quite frankly, a review of how this occurred and structures put in place to make sure it can never occur again.
JOURNALIST: Kristina Keneally said that Sussex Street should be ripped down. Do you agree?
ALBANESE: I’m not sure that ripping down an entire street of buildings is …
JOURNALIST: The building, the headquarters, do you think it should be moved?
ALBANESE: I don’t think this occurred because of the address of the building. I think that’s a hard argument to put. I think location isn’t important, what’s important is culture. That’s what’s important.
JOURNALIST: And how are you going to change that culture?
ALBANESE: I will wait, as I’ve said, for the processes. This needs to be a considered response not a media grab. This needs to be a considered response and a review to make sure that structures are put in place. Structural reforms are put in place to make sure that this can never occur again. The individuals – Kaila Murnain – has been removed from her position and that is appropriate. And certainly Jodi McKay and I have had discussions, and we’ll continue to have discussions as the Federal and State leader about reviews that need to take place. And I’ll be having discussions with others as well, to make sure that we’re in a position to advance a comprehensive strategy of reform to make sure this can ever occur again.
JOURNALIST: Don’t you think you’ve seen enough to get a plan of action in train?
ALBANESE: We are having discussions already. But I don’t know if you knew what was coming out at ICAC this week. I didn’t. If you did, you’re better than I am. If you know what’s happening next week and the week after, then let me know and we can then step forward with the review. But the fact is …
JOURNALIST: Doesn’t that go to the heart of what was revealed, that it was all allegedly supposed to be kept quiet, was the advice?
ALBANESE: The evidence has been given before ICAC this week. And what’s important is that there be a comprehensive response. But we do have to wait. There’s no point having a review announced of reforms today. If then there’s a need for response to further revelations that might come out. The ICAC doesn’t hold a five week hearing because they think everything is going to come out in the first week. That’s the truth. And everyone in the media knows that. And you certainly know that, as well. So we’ll wait and see what comes out. But I am committed to a comprehensive review of the structures of the New South Wales branch so that this can never occur again.
JOURNALIST: You brace for more bad news?
ALBANESE: We’ll wait and see. I’m not pre-empting legal processes and indeed one of the things that the ICAC tries to do is to avoid political interference in the legal processes. So I’m not about to do that. So let’s let the legal processes take their course. It will reveal what it will reveal and then there will need to be a response. But what I’ve seen is that there’s already enough in there that we have seen to require a comprehensive response of structural reform of the New South Wales branch.
JOURNALIST: A lot of people have said you’ve been noticeably absent this week during the hearings.
ALBANESE: I’ve been in East Timor.
JOURNALIST: But you say Greg Hunt uses the Sunday news cycle. Is this what you are sort of doing because everyone’s been saying: ‘where have you been, why haven’t you been commenting sooner’?
ALBANESE: I’ve been in Indonesia, Jakarta, with a meeting with the Indonesian Foreign Minister. I held a press conference there in Jakarta where I responded to these issues. And then I’ve been in East Timor. I didn’t organise 20 years ago for the Referendum to be on that particular date. I went with Prime Minister Morrison It was entirely appropriate, and I thank Prime Minister Morrison for the invitation to go up with him. Which was an important signal of bipartisanship when it came to East Timor and the commemoration of the 20 year Anniversary. I was very proud to be there as someone who campaigned for independence for the East Timorese. And for them to have the right to self-determination, for a long period of time. While a student and in young Labor and at Labor Party conferences. Speaking about these issues, I was very proud to be there and I make no apologies for the fact that I was there. I came back yesterday into Australia, and the very next day I’m holding a media conference taking questions on whatever issues you want to raise.
JOURNALIST: Thank you.