Transcript of Television Interview – ABC 24, Afternoon Briefing with Patricia Karvelas – Tuesday, 20 February 2019
Subjects: Asylum seekers, Christmas Island, response to Banking Royal Commission.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Hello Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Hello Patricia.
KARVELAS: Now the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, says he is fine with asylum seekers transferred from Nauru and Manus Island being treated on Christmas Island. Are you fine with it?
ALBANESE: It’s a matter of just making sure that we get appropriate care. Some people have been able to get care on Christmas Island. If they require though, care in other destinations it should be a matter of listening to the doctors. That’s the key principle here that Labor has adopted and we must remember the political nature of the decision to reopen Christmas Island. I mean, the legislative changes from last week do not make a single change to border security measures which are there. They don’t apply to anyone who comes to Australia by boat …
ALBANESE: … any time now or into the future. There is no dismantling of any of the systems the Government says will stop people coming. So this is quite absurd really by the Government.
KARVELAS: Sure, but yesterday your Immigration spokesman, Shayne Neumann, described reopening Christmas Island as unhinged. But Bill Shorten says it is fine for medical transfers to go there. How can you argue both lines?
ALBANESE: Well the fact is that what Shayne Neumann is saying is that the Government doesn’t have a reason to justify re-opening Christmas Island …
KARVELAS: Then why do you think it’s OK for these people to go there?
ALBANESE: … and indeed in terms of Indonesia, the message from Indonesia is that the people smugglers paid no attention to the legislative changes last week, but they have paid attention to the Government signalling, through the re-opening of Christmas Island that somehow something has changed. This is a Government that is just playing politics with this. We will see what actually happens in practice. We know that more than 900 people, if you take into account those people directly needing medical assistance and their families, have been transferred to Australia by this Government and we know that 900 is more than the number of people who are on either Manus or Nauru. So this is a government really that is just all about politics. It is desperate. It is desperately looking for …
KARVELAS: Do you think it is unhinged to open Christmas Island?
ALBANESE: I think it is a very strange decision which the Government has not justified. It’s all about them trying to play politics and send signals and, you know, this is a government that is desperate. It’s very desperate.
KARVELAS: You say you don’t think it’s a good idea and yet Bill Shorten today, he is the Opposition Leader, he says he is fine with these people to be transferred there. So how can you argue both? That’s inconsistent.
ALBANESE: There is no inconsistency there. It’s not our decision to reopen Christmas Island.
KARVELAS: Wouldn’t you oppose the transfers as well then if you think it is a bad decision to reopen it?
ALBANESE: Well people will be transferred to places to get appropriate medical care.
KARVELAS: Christmas Island is where they are going.
ALBANESE: If you actually have look Patricia; forget about the headlines that the Government is looking for. Listen to what they said in Question Time today, which is that if people need medical assistance in other places then they will be sent there. This is a Government that is all about politics, all about signalling, not about substance. It has lost control of the Parliament. It is desperate to pretend that the legislation last week is something that it is not. In fact, what the legislation last week did was simply codify a practice that the Government itself says it has been doing by having 900 either people directly getting medical assistance or their families here in Australia.
KARVELAS: But the Department of Home Affairs recommended the reopening of Christmas Island.
ALBANESE: I mean well, you know, we’ll wait and see.
KARVELAS: No, but that was said in Senate Estimates. The head of the department, Pezzullo, has said that.
ALBANESE: I understand what bureaucrats say from time to time and I understand the consistency that’s there and I understand that they’re accountable to the ministers who appoint them, but the fact is…
KARVELAS: So you’re saying he was doing the Minister’s bidding?
ALBANESE: I’m not saying that at all. I’m simply pointing out a fact that in the Westminster system it’s ministers who are accountable for decisions that are made and they shouldn’t hide behind bureaucrats when they’re making such political decisions.
KARVELAS: Do you accept though that it was a recommendation of the Home Affairs Department?
ALBANESE: I don’t know whether that’s the case or not.
KARVELAS: But why would Pezzullo say it was if it wasn’t the case?
ALBANESE: Well this is a very political issue. I don’t know the circumstances. What I do know is that there hasn’t been a single change to our border security laws for any new arrivals. I do know that there is an enormous cost behind reopening Christmas Island and I know this – that the Government is quite prepared to spend taxpayers’ money in order to seek political advantage. And I do know this also, from Senate Estimates, that what we know is that in a range of areas of contracts, be it the whole Paladin issue, other issues with regard to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, this is a government that’s prepared to make decisions amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, and in some cases it has a billion dollar figure next to it, on the basis of very much decisions which aren’t transparent and which require further analysis and for us to find out exactly what the processes are for some of these decisions, including of course, the granting of a many hundreds of millions of dollars contract to a company that was registered in a beach shack on Kangaroo Island.
KARVELAS: Kerryn Phelps says it’s a subversion of democracy, as the intention of the Medevac legislation is to provide sick people in offshore detention treatment on the mainland. Is it a subversion of democracy to send people to Christmas Island?
ALBANESE: Well they should get the appropriate health care that they need and that should be the priority.
KARVELAS: Are you confident they can get that on Christmas Island?
ALBANESE: Patricia, I’m not a doctor. The whole point of this was that we should be listening to medical experts and I’m not the medical expert and that’s the whole point of the legislation. Let’s stop politicians making those decisions in isolation from proper medical advice…
KARVELAS: And should doctors be in charge …
ALBANESE: … whilst of course taking into account national security issues and the advice, which is there from the panel set up by Peter Dutton as the Minister.
KARVELAS: So should that panel be in charge of determining where they go, whether they should go to Christmas Island?
ALBANESE: I’m not about to second-guess medical advice here, Patricia. That’s not my not my job. I didn’t do medicine at Sydney Uni. I did economics. So I’ll stick to, when it comes to giving advice on those matters, what drove the Parliament last week to make a decision on – after getting proper and appropriate advice – was the need to respect the fact that we as Australians have a responsibility for people who are in our care, to listen to expert medical advice.
KARVELAS: Okay. Just on another issue of actually putting your economics degree hat on, Labor has released draft laws for five changes to the financial system in the wake of the Royal Commission. And they would see lots of changes. But Labor still hasn’t actually given a full response to the Royal Commission and whether you’re going to implement the recommendations in full. In fact, I spoke to the relevant Minister, Clare O’Neil, and she actually said she’d have a response within a week and it hasn’t been delivered.
ALBANESE: Patricia, this is Labor once again leading from Opposition. We’ve put forward five proposals. That’s five more than the Government that has thousands of public servants at its disposal to draft legislation and has access, not just to the bureaucracy, but of course to advice from tax experts as well. We have said we will adopt in-principle the recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission. We want the Parliament to sit, to deal with these issues. We finish in two days’ time and we’re not back here until April, where we will sit for three days. The Government is introducing literally …
KARVELAS: Okay. But how can Labor demand the Government legislate additional weeks of Parliament to allow more time when you haven’t released your full response?
ALBANESE: We’ve got five, Patricia. We’ve got five proposals.
KARVELAS: But your full response? She said it would be available in a week and I noticed Josh Frydenberg raised this.
ALBANESE: Five proposals. That’s five more than the Government have and we are leading from Opposition.
KARVELAS: So when will we get the full response?
ALBANESE: Well that’s the task of the respective Shadow Minister. We have put forward concrete proposals that will make a difference including when it comes to insurance, based upon the recommendations of the Royal Commission, in the context that right now there are people in Townsville and northern and north-west Queensland, who have been devastated by the events that have occurred there in those communities, that want to have the confidence in the insurance system, based upon the recommendations that the Royal Commission have made.
Now this is just a practical response. Parliament can meet next week. They can meet the week after. We can debate what changes should be made in both Chambers and I can’t understand – well I do understand why – because the Government is running away from parliamentary scrutiny. They’re sitting 10 days in eight months. That really isn’t good enough. And if they are that bad and that incapable of legislating, then they should just go to the Governor-General, call an election and then whoever wins the election will be in a position to move legislative responses to the Banking Royal Commission.
KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese, a pleasure to speak to you.
ALBANESE: Thank you. Congratulations on Bindy.
KARVELAS: Yes I do have a new puppy, thanks to you. And that was Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese, who has been campaigning with – it’s a bipartisan campaign, Gemma, with Darren Chester who is a National, for me to buy a puppy, which I’ve done.