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.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.