Feb 11, 2019

Transcript of Radio Interview – Radio National Breakfast with Fran Kelly – Monday, 11 February, 2019

Subjects: Minority government, Medical transfer legislation, leak of national security advice.

FRAN KELLY: The Morrison Government is facing the very real danger of losing two major votes in coming days as Parliament resumes this week, not just on asylum seekers, but also on a Labor push to extend the parliamentary sitting weeks to deal with the Banking Royal Commission. Labor frontbench Anthony Albanese was the Leader of the House when we last had a minority government in this country. That was the Gillard Government. And so he is experienced in navigating a difficult Parliament. Anthony Albanese, welcome back to Breakfast.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on Fran.

KELLY: We could have a vote on the Medivac Bill as early as tomorrow. If the Government goes down in that Bill, would that amount to a vote of no-confidence in Scott Morrison and the Coalition?

ALBANESE: Well we can debate these issues, but I suspect not, because the Government would point to the provisions which are there for specific procedures that are required for a vote of no-confidence. There has to be notice given of when that debate will take place. What is very clear though is that the Morrison Government has lost the confidence of the Australian people. And if they had any dignity frankly, Fran, they would go to an election given that we now have a part-time Parliament which is going to sit just ten days.

KELLY: OK. Well the Government points out that the minority Gillard Government, and you were in charge of marshalling the votes then, lost 62 votes on the floor of the Parliament, so what …

ALBANESE: Well that is just not true. It’s just not true Fran.

KELLY: Well what did you lose?

ALBANESE: We didn’t lose any votes on legislation on the floor of the Australian Parliament.

KELLY: So what are these 62 instances that the Government talks of?

ALBANESE: That is Christopher Pyne’s fantasy. The fact is that we have 595 to nil. That was the scoreboard. And the fact is as well, as you would well recall, the now Government used to say, Christopher Pyne and others, that if we lost a vote that would be the end of the Government. If we had have lost votes on legislation I think you would have known about it.

KELLY: Let’s go to the Medical Transfer Bill. That will be the first order of business ,or very early up tomorrow, we expect. Labor voted for it late last year in the Senate. Will Labor vote for it this week in the Reps? Will Labor hold fast on this?

ALBANESE: Well Fran what we’ve got to do here is take a bit of a step back from the Government’s rather hysterical rhetoric and think about what this Bill is about and why Kerryn Phelps has brought it forward. This is about whether people who we have responsibility for, who we’re obligated to look after; if they are sick and in need of medical care, whether they should get access to that. Now our view very clearly is yes. I think the Australian people understand that and their answer to that is yes as well. And what the Government has done on this legislation frankly, is not tell the truth, because the legislation, yes, says that two doctors may make a recommendation. But that is subject to ministerial approval. The Minister can then refer it to a panel which includes people who the Minister himself, Mr Dutton, has appointed to that panel and they will make a final determination except for, of course, the Minister also has discretion on national security grounds.

KELLY: OK, but just there, as you say, that panel, the ultimate panel, can make the ultimate decision and your colleague, Shadow Immigration Minister Shayne Neumann now says, and is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald today, saying the Minister should have the final discretion over medical transfers and as you have just explained, that is not how the current bill is structured. So Shayne Neumann is saying Labor has always had two clear objectives – making sure sick people can get medical care and making sure the Minister has final discretion over medical transfers. That sounds like Labor is about to compromise.

ALBANESE: Well we have said that and we are prepared to compromise across the Parliament. This should not be a partisan issue. But this is a government that doesn’t look for outcomes, it looks for arguments and that is one of the reasons why it is in the state that it is. It doesn’t look for solutions. It has responsibility. It knows full well that almost 1000 people have already been transferred to Australia under the provisions in which they need medical assistance. So what this Bill is attempting to do is to codify …

KELLY: Are you saying that you don’t think it has codified it correctly yet? Do you agree with Shayne Neumann that the final discretion over medical transfers must rest with the Minister? Do you think there is still some amending of this bill that should happen before Labor will support it?

ALBANESE: Well there is an argument that the ministerial discretion is there because it is the Minister who appoints the panel that will make the determination and the Minister still has, under this legislation that is proposed, discretion over national security grounds. So if we need to tweak the legislation, then by all means we should be able to do that in order to get an outcome. But I think that what Dr Phelps, in discussions that I had with her last year, was very clear about was that she was about outcomes. So if we need to tweak the legislation by all means let’s have those discussions. But what is essential is that the status quo, whereby you have ministers who are saying that people will be transferred en masse, that is because there are medical issues – surely that is an acknowledgement by the Government that the current situation is simply untenable.

You can be tough on people smugglers, Fran, without being weak on humanity and hysteria from the Government saying that this would dismantle the entire system of border protection should be called out for the nonsense that it is. The fact is this Government is running scared. It is looking for scare campaigns rather than governing in the national interest and rather than governing with a view to having the respect for human dignity that all Australian Governments should have. I believe the Australian people want to see a Government that looks after people as well as secures the borders.

KELLY: Australians have voted again and again though to get the point across they want secure borders and the Government does tender this advice, now declassified, from the Department of Home Affairs that says 1000 people on Manus and Nauru “could have access to a transfer within weeks’’. It is that that the Government is using to say to Labor that if you do this, you will open up the floodgates again.

ALBANESE: Fran this is a government that spends day after day wanting to send signals to people smugglers that somehow you might be back in business. It is quite extraordinary, their behaviour, and the leaking of classified information never occurred under previous governments. This is a government that is all about politics, not about substance, and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the Government to be able to have a border security policy but also to ensure that people who it has a responsibility for, who are ill and sick, and bear in mind these people have been in detention, without hope, for more than five years. It’s not surprising that that is producing very negative health outcomes for many of those people.

KELLY: Look there is no doubt that public pressure has been brought to the Government on this and I think the Wentworth by-election was a clear example of that. But just to go to possible compromises, you have obviously looked closely at this. Under the so-called Phelps Bill, the Immigration Minister can overturn a medical decision if there is an adverse security assessment, in other words if someone is judged to be a national security risk. But national security covers threats like terrorism and espionage. It doesn’t cover crimes like rape and murder, which is what the Minister, Peter Dutton, is putting forward. Is that a potential compromise, to expand that definition of what is a national security threat under this Bill?

ALBANESE: Well there will be discussion quite clearly today. It is unfortunate that the Government has been so intransigent about it and has chosen to engage in rhetorical argument, rather than take action. But what we have seen since this Bill was introduced of course Fran, is children removed from Manus and Nauru, a circumstance which the Government, at the time of the introduction of the Bill said wasn’t possible. So the Government itself has moved. What we actually need here is an outcome. There is agreement about the broad range of border security issues. There is agreement from the main parties about offshore processing. There is agreement about securing our borders. What this is about is a humanitarian response to people who are in need and whether there should be a codification really of something that is happening already, which is people have been transferred – almost 1000 to Australia are here right now.

KELLY: Let me ask you this – would you vote for the so-called Phelps Bill as it stands?

ALBANESE: Look, I will be having those discussions in our processes that will take place today Fran. But I will be bringing my values, which are that you can be tough on border security without being weak on humanity.

KELLY: OK. Let me interrupt you there because we are almost out of time because an unnamed MP from the right of the Labor party is quoted in The Australian today as saying: “The children in our party who believe the fairy tales have to be stopped. National security is just too important to be allowed to be run by children’’. Presumably some are worried about the spectre of the so-called 2001 Tampa election.

ALBANESE: Well quite clearly ..

KELLY: Just briefly.

ALBANESE:  … this is a government that has been about playing politics. When they play politics …

KELLY: This is one of your colleagues who said this.

ALBANESE: Well when the Government plays politics they should be called out for it. This Government is undermining our national security with some of their rhetoric and it is undermining our national security by leaking classified documents in a strategic way designed to put spin on it and designed to scare people.

KELLY: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us.

ALBANESE: Thanks for having me on Fran.