Subjects: Medical evacuation bill.
LAURA JAYES: Is Labor a bit afraid of where the politics is at?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: What we did was judge this legislation on its merits. That’s why we ensured that it was amended to fit in with our principle, which is pretty simple, that you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. If people in our care need medical assistance it strikes me remarkable that that is an issue of partisan divide and indeed the Government itself says, if you listen to what it says about what’s happening now on its watch, what this legislation that was carried in the Parliament yesterday does is codify that, so that there’s more than something like 900 people who’ve either come here to get medical assistance or the families of people who’ve come here. They’re here now. The Government’s rhetoric, which says that somehow people getting medical assistance weakens our borders, if that is the case then they’ve been doing it.
KIERAN GILBERT: But the point is, in a political sense as Laura alludes to, why pick a fight now? You’ve backed the Government over many years in terms of the offshore processing, not a cigarette paper difference between the two…
ALBANESE: We haven’t changed that policy.
GILBERT: And yet three months out from the election – you pick a fight.
ALBANESE: No, we haven’t changed that policy. What Australians are saying is that if people are in detention on Manus or Nauru for more than half a decade and they have, as a result of that, medical conditions that require medical assistance and they need to get that in Australia, then they should be able to get that. We ensured, with the amendments that we put in the legislation yesterday, that it doesn’t apply to anyone else. So there’s no pull factors here in this legislation. The only people encouraging people smugglers to take up their trade are Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton who seem to be sending a signal out there that somehow our borders have been weakened. That is not the case and they know it.
JAYES: If there is an attempted boat arrival that is stopped by Operation Sovereign Borders, will you consider that you have created the pull factor here?
ALBANESE: Not at all.
JAYES: Because your legislation is the only thing that’s changed.
ALBANESE: No the thing that’s changed is the Government’s rhetoric. Our legislation has no impact on any new arrivals whatsoever. The Government knows that but it’s sending out a very different message and the Government has got to answer why it is that it is just so prepared to play politics and that’s because it’s desperate. It’s desperate. This is a Government at war with itself that’s looking for an issue anywhere, that’s stopped governing, that’s lost control of the Parliament. I mean yesterday’s vote is the first time that government legislation has been defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives for decades, since essentially the Great Depression.
GILBERT: But it’s interesting you hear the rhetoric – you spoke of rhetoric – how about the rhetoric from Mr Shorten there? Someone who you know supported a compassionate approach last night. His language was all sort of tough and you know: ‘If you arrive now you will not be applicable to this particular bill’.
ALBANESE: But that’s the case.
JAYES: What do you call that though, tough love?
ALBANESE: I call that a fact. That’s what I call that – a fact. The legislation that was carried yesterday has no impact on any new arrivals. We ensured as well that issues – that if anyone has an issue over security, over character, they also won’t be allowed to benefit from the legislation that was carried in the Parliament yesterday. We ensured that we got that balance right.
GILBERT: So, new arrivals go to Manus or Nauru?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. Offshore processing has been unaffected by any of this. The Government knows that that’s the case. What we’ve seen from a Government frankly is hysterical overblown rhetoric from Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton.
JAYES: Well the Greens Leader, Richard Di Natale says the passing of this bill – you’ll see maybe 300 or 400 people from Manus and Nauru arrive in Australia to seek medical treatment within weeks. Labor negotiated with the Greens on these amendments, so do you believe that to be true as well?
ALBANESE: Well I’ll leave the Greens Party to speak for themselves. What we were motivated by was the merits. We ensured that we put up those amendments and in the end people voted for the amended legislation and that was enough to get it through the Parliament.
JAYES: Mr Albanese, if you believe that this legislation is necessary you must believe that there are people on Manus Island and Nauru that desperately need medical attention in Australia and this bill…
ALBANESE: Laura, people have died.
ALBANESE: People have died in our care, on our watch. Australia is a better country than that. Australia is a good enough country so that we can protect our borders, keep in place those national security measures. I think we can have strong border protection without losing our national soul and that’s why the Australian people have increasingly become frustrated by the Government being prepared to just use people essentially and not give people care when they need it. And the fact that we’ve had people, either fatalities or people with acute health conditions, unable to get that assistance is something that needed to be rectified. This legislation does that but it gets the balance right as well by doing nothing to weaken our borders.
GILBERT: So if someone is critically ill and a new arrival – there is a new arrival – and someone’s critically ill they won’t be transferred though?
GILBERT: They stay there?
ALBANESE: It does not apply for any new arrival. It applies to only people who are there now. Bear in mind that when offshore processing was established no one believed that offshore processing meant, and the Government itself never came out and said: ‘What we’re going to do is we’re going to send people offshore for more than half a decade, deny them from hope’. What we talked about, and the Government talks about as well, was regional processing and finding places of third country settlement. The great failure of this Government has been to find places of third country settlement within a reasonable time frame and rejecting reasonable offers such as the offer of the New Zealand Government.
JAYES: But Mr Albanese, your history on this – your track record in government is appalling. How can you expect people to believe that if there are any new boat arrivals you’ll make the distinction? If you’re really taking this humanitarian approach, going to Kieran’s question, if there’s someone critically ill that’s a new arrival, you’re going to deny them access to Australian doctors?
GILBERT: Even if they can’t get the treatment in Nauru.
ALBANESE: Well the fact is, is the Government saying that people are going to get through – they reckon they’ve stopped the boats – and there’s nothing in this change that means that will occur. Of course what has occurred on this Government’s watch is that last year there were more applications for protection than any year in Australia’s history. Any year. And the point is that those people are of course coming by plane rather than by boat.
JAYES: This close to an election, sorry Kieran, the fact is that the people smugglers are using your track record in government as a selling point.
ALBANESE: No. What the people smugglers are doing is being encouraged by Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton. They’re the only people talking about a change in border protection policy, because there is no change in border protection policy in this legislation.
GILBERT: Mr Shorten received briefings from the security agencies. This morning Peter Dutton has asked Bill Shorten: ‘Is your approach – have you been – have you listened to the briefing?’. He has asserted that the Labor approach contradicts the security briefings. He knows what was said.
ALBANESE: No no. Peter Dutton knows how to play politics, how to run smear and fear because that’s all the Government’s got.
JAYES: Mr Albanese, thanks for your time.
GILBERT: Appreciate your time.
ALBANESE: Good to be with you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.