SUBJECTS: Biloela family; the state of the economy; Australian Federal Police raids; Channel Nine Liberal Party fundraiser.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has heard firsthand from locals in Biloela in Queensland about why they want the Tamil family facing deportation back in their community. The family’s deportation has been delayed until Friday with the Federal Circuit Court ruling today that lawyers should be able to consider a surprise development in their bid to stay in Australia. The Opposition Leader joins me now. Anthony Albanese welcome to RN drive.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good to talk to you Patricia.
KARVELAS: You sat down with locals today. What did they have to say to you?
ALBANESE: What they had to say was that this family, Nades and Priya, and their two young girls are very much part of their community and they want them back in the community contributing as they were, working at the meatworks, volunteering at St Vincent de Paul, making a contribution to the local community.
KARVELAS: You’ve said that this family is not a threat to immigration policy or Australia’s borders. The Prime Minister takes a very different position and says if they can break the rules that it will restart the people smuggling trade or that it could. Do you concede that is a potential risk?
ALBANESE: No I don’t at all. The fact is that Peter Dutton intervened on more than three occasions on average, every single day that he has been Immigration Minister. Over 4,000 ministerial interventions. That’s why the Immigration Act gives discretion. So that a Minister, when there is particular circumstances which are there in this case, it is my strong view and importantly in the view of the local member, his caucus member of the LNP Ken O’Dowd, in the view of Barnaby Joyce, in the view of the local community, the mayor of the Banana Shire there in Biloela, there is a strong view that the circumstances warrant the Minister to intervene and to say that it is in Australia’s interest for this family that are making a contribution in a regional town. It’s necessary to channel migrants to these regional towns so that they make their contribution away from the big cities. That is what this family was doing and it wouldn’t do anything to weaken our borders. You can have strong border security without giving up on our humanity; it’s as simple as that.
KARVELAS: How are you certain that it wouldn’t compromise our border security? Have you sought briefings from intelligence to make yourself sure that this wouldn’t be a violation of those strong border security policies that Labor has said it supports?
ALBANESE: Patricia, the Minister intervenes three times every day.
KARVELAS: But does he intervene for people who arrive on boats?
ALBANESE: He intervenes in a range of circumstances including for people who are acting as au pairs because someone has his number. Nothing would undermine it. There are particular circumstances here. These two young girls aged two and age four were picked up in Biloela by the authorities and transferred to detention. They then had them transferred at night to Darwin and then they had this transfer to Christmas Island and at an enormous cost to the Australian taxpayer. I read today that over a dozen officials are travelling from Canberra to Christmas Island to deal with this family of a mum, a dad and two little girls. The fact is that we need an application of common sense here. The local member knows that, the local mayor knows that, the local community wants that. And today what I heard was from people who are just working people in that small regional town at Biloela. And I say to the Prime Minister or to Minister Dutton, sit down with this community and actually talk with them and engage with them and you’ll walk away from that meeting with a commitment to change the position that you’ve taken up to this point. That would be celebrated by the local community which has backed in the Coalition in the last election. This is not a party political thing. This is a small country town saying they value the contribution of this family.
KARVELAS: There are a few other things I need to raise with you. Today’s GDP figures show the economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the June quarter. The Treasurer says this vindicates the Government because Labor has been talking down the economy and yet it’s still growing. Do you concede that our economy, by international standards, is still growing and doing better than you expected?
ALBANESE: The economy is doing worse than the Government predicted and worse than the Reserve Bank of Australia.
KARVELAS: But it’s still growing right?
ALBANESE: Well that is because the population is growing. That is the only thing that is keeping the figures in the positive. And because of iron ore prices, because of an event in Brazil, that is what held the economy up over this year. The fact is that we have growth that’s below trend. We have consumer demand that is very low. We have productivity that’s going backwards. We have interest rates at 1 per cent, one third of the emergency levels they were during the Global Financial Crisis. And today’s figures are the lowest growth in 20 years. It’s lower than during the Global Financial Crisis when the international economy had collapsed. The fact is that this Government continues to be complacent and have a ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude towards the economy. Political strategy is all they concentrate on rather than having a national economic policy.
ALBANESE: Mr Albanese, Australian Federal Police have raided a Canberra house. We understand that house is of ASD officer Cameron Gill who was living in the property as recently as March of this year. What do you make of this raid? Are you concerned by reports of this raid?
ALBANESE: I can’t comment on the individual circumstances because I haven’t been briefed. But I say this; that I regard freedom of the press as being an absolutely critically essential component of our democracy. And I say this; journalism is not a crime. And what we are dealing with here is, in terms of the media and the raids that have occurred, there has been no case made that it is in anything other than the public interest. The declarations and the articles that were written by the journalist concerned, whether it be Annika Smethurst or whether it be the ABC.
KARVELAS: We’re still not able to be clear about the motivations behind the raid but you are generally concerned about the raids we’re seeing unfold?
ALBANESE: I’m very concerned that we have a Government that’s not prepared to defend freedom of the press.
KARVELAS: Just finally, the Nine Entertainment CEO Hugh Marks has told his newspaper editors that it was a mistake to host at $10,000-a-head Liberal Party fundraiser at Nine. Essentially this is in a letter that James Chessell, the newspaper editor, sent to staff. What do you make of that admission?
ALBANESE: Well that’s all a matter for Channel Nine. The important thing here is that there be transparency and that any donations and financial support be declared in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Commission. The problem is that the Liberal Party, unlike Labor which declares any donation of $1,000 or above, the Liberal Party has refused to increase transparency by keeping the amount at $13,000 that they increase the disclosure limits too so that this fund raiser wouldn’t be captured. I think the important thing is transparency here.
KARVELAS: Does it concern you that it happened though? That this even happened?
ALBANESE: That’s a matter for Channel Nine. Businesses will from time to time donate to political parties.
KARVELAS: But this is a journalism business.
ALBANESE: Well that’s a matter for them and people will make their judgments about that. I think what is important is that there be transparency. And certainly all of the fundraising that occurred associated with this event, in my view, should be declared so that people can have confidence that there’s transparency in the events of the other night.
KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese thanks for your time.
ALBANESE: Thanks Patricia.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.