SUBJECTS: Biloela family; Inland Rail; NSW Labor; political donations.
ALAN JONES: Anthony Albanese, the Opposition Leader, has raised this issue with the Prime Minister and is calling for Peter Dutton to intervene. The Prime Minister though pig-headedly says he won’t. Anthony Albanese has joined me here in the studios. Thank you for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good to be with you, Alan.
JONES: What do you make of this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: This is just un-Australian in my view. What we have here is a family with two children – one aged four; one aged two – who are working with the community in Biloela. Priya volunteers at St Vincent de Paul her husband works at the local meatworks. They’re contributing to the community. They’re supported by the community. We have a government that says that what we should have is growth of population in regional Australia. This is a relatively small regional town …
JONES: Five thousand people there.
ALBANESE: That wants these people, wants their contribution. They’ve integrated into the community. They’re a part of the community. They’re supported by the mayor; by the local church groups; by the community; by the places where they work; by where they volunteer. And here we have them stuck on Christmas Island, now. Now, what’s the taxpayer cost of flying them to Christmas Island? A facility that was opened for a media stunt for Scott Morrison and then closed again, now opened again at great cost to the Australian taxpayer, but what cost to our humanity? You can have strong borders without losing your humanity and that is what the Government should recognise and that’s why the Government should exercise its discretion and, indeed, Peter Dutton could just do a cut and paste from the media statement that he made about the au pairs – use the same language. That’s why the discretion is there in the act, to give the Minister the power to intervene in cases like this.
JONES: Well, they were allowed to stay, the au pairs, less there be – I love this: ‘any disruption to the child care arrangements’, of financially comfortable families. They were basically nannies and they were needed for financially well-off people who obviously were well-connected with the Government. Presumably allowing a family of Sri Lankan Tamil parents and their Australian daughters to remain is not of similar value. Moving these kids, this is the bit – two little kids twice in the middle of the night, kids screaming – the detention facility hasn’t been used for years. These kids are not even school age.
ALBANESE: Putting them in separate cars as well, Alan.
JONES: Separate cars yes – the two year-old screaming.
ALBANESE: So, they separate them from their parents. There is no justification for acting in a cruel manner. I support strong borders. I strongly support the measures that the Government has in place. There is bipartisan support for that. But you don’t open that all up by saying that this particular family, in these circumstances, yes they’ve been found not to have been refugees. But people are settled here. So, essentially the courts have found that they’re economic migrants rather than refugees. But literally millions of Australians have come as economic migrants here, or are descendants of people who’ve come in that fashion. We wouldn’t be changing any of the Government’s policies in order to have a bit of common sense here. And for Peter Dutton to say – the key question to answer is: is it in Australia’s interest for these people to stay here? Yes, it is.
JONES: And the example it sets is: you’ve got to get out to the Bush where they can’t employ people, (inaudible) work, roll up your sleeves and do some dirty work, we love having you. I mean Mr Morrison says: ‘give a fair go, to those who have a go’.
ALBANESE: These people are having a go, Alan.
JONES: Why do we have Section 195A of the Migration Act, why do we have that? Which provides discretionary powers to the Minister, it’s called the ‘God power’ isn’t it, because the Minister has a lot of power? This is what they were designed to do. So, what is it there for?
ALBANESE: When I raised it with the Prime Minister. I made the point that, yes, it is a decision for the Immigration Minister. But the truth is, that Scott Morrison can’t say he has no influence over what the Immigration Minister does. Were he to give a signal, it would be all over.
JONES: The former Deputy Secretary of the Immigration Department said this: “it’s quite clear if you look at the Ministerial Intervention Guidelines this case meets those guidelines more clearly than the two au pair cases in which Mr Dutton acted within hours.”
ALBANESE: The only difference here is that in the au pairs case someone had Peter Dutton’s mobile number to ring them. That’s the difference here.
ALBANESE: And these people should be – the views, not just of these people, but the views of those people in Biloela – should be respected. And they put forward their views strongly. They’ve argued their case for a long period of time. I saw some people on the TV last night, they were articulate, they were clear and they don’t have any interest in this.
JONES: The trauma. What impact this is having on two little kids, I don’t want to think about it. Now, look, before we go. The one thing which you’re full bottle on, you’ve been doing it for God knows how long; is this whole infrastructure thing. This Inland Rail, they are going ahead? In spite of everything that’s been said, the current route impacts more than 300 farm businesses. If you upgraded the existing 100 year old rail corridor it would be less destructive. It crosses Castlereagh River floodplains, it places the line at risk of either being washed away or acting as a levee bank and it doesn’t go to the Port of Brisbane; is this going to go ahead?
ALBANESE: It’s absurd to have Inland Rail and take it so literally, so it literally doesn’t go to a port – doesn’t go anywhere – It stops at Acacia Ridge 38 kilometres short of the Port of Brisbane. That is the most expensive bit, how you get it through. The idea that you will then put all the goods from double decker trains on to trucks to go through the streets of Brisbane to get to the port is, quite frankly, absurd. The fact that it goes along floodplains; the fact there’s questions over how the route was selected.
JONES: That’s right.
ALBANESE: That’s why I stood up during the election campaign with the New South Wales Farmers. That’s not something that happens every day during an election campaign. They are saying that they want a full inquiry into the route selection, and to make sure that they get it right. I’m a supporter of the concept of inland rail, but we need to make sure that we get it right. And we’ve seen what happens here in this city along with the with the light rail debacle, we’ve seen what happens when you get infrastructure projects wrong.
JONES: Are people playing to their mates here?
ALBANESE: That’s why we need a full inquiry as to exactly why it is …
JONES: I agree.
ALBANESE: That some of this route goes through the middle of farms.
JONES: It does. Look, the Australian Rail Track Corporation says there’s broad community support for the preferred options and that they’ve spoken to impacted landholders. I’m told that’s not the case. What are you told?
ALBANESE: I’m told by the landholders themselves that they haven’t been consulted.
JONES: Now, just go back to your point so that everyone understands this. Inland Rail, it ends not at the Port of Brisbane.
ALBANESE: Or the Port of Melbourne, it doesn’t go to any port. There’s no end point.
JONES: So, you’re 38 kilometres. So, when all this stuff – cargo – gets to Acacia Ridge, what happens? Onto the trucks.
ALBANESE: And the reason why they’ve done that, Alan, is because they’re funding it off budget. They’re saying that it will make money. So what they’ve done is exclude the most expensive part of the project. We all know that it costs more to put a rail line through the middle of an urban area, such as Brisbane, than it does to go along a flat area of rural community. They’ve lowered the cost but they’ve increased, therefore, the revenue in order to justify being off budget. So, it’s not impacting on the bottom line but it’s a falsity and at some stage the chickens are going to come home to roost, because the Department of Finance is going to say: ‘this will not make money’. And John Anderson looked at this project and said it would not produce a commercial return for 50 years.
JONES: That’s correct, Inland Rail Corporation. You’ve got to go, I just want to ask you – I mean the Labor Party in New South Wales is in a mess. I’m not going to talk about that. I want to ask you this question, though, which I do not understand. Why is it illegal for developers to be giving money to political parties but it’s not illegal for the union movement; the mining industry; the media industry; Coles; Woolworths; retail industries? Do we get anywhere by demonising developers, so that they’ve got to walk down the other side of the street because their money is dirty. I don’t understand what the legislation is doing and it’s trapped the Liberals, now it’s trapping your lot.
ALBANESE: That’s the state legislation, of course.
JONES: It is.
ALBANESE: Federal legislation is different. I think the key to this is transparency. Making sure we lower the threshold so any donation above $1000, people know what it is. We need to make sure it’s done in real time. The key is we need to give people confidence in our political system. At the moment here in New South Wales both sides, the truth is, have been caught up in this.
JONES: But the legislation is absurd, that’s the point I want to make. I mean, if you want to ban political donations, ban them all. But don’t treat developers – we’re looking out the window here – everything we see we owe to a developer. Good to talk to you. Thank you for your time.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having me in, Alan
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.