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