Subjects: Medical evacuation legislation.
DAVID SPEERS: Thanks very much for your time this afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good afternoon David.
SPEERS: What made Labor decide this new law was necessary?
ALBANESE: We decided it on its merits. We put politics aside and we looked at the fact that people have been on Manus and Nauru for more than half a decade; that many of them, there’s substantial evidence, need medical assistance.
SPEERS: You don’t think they are getting that?
ALBANESE: That needs to be codified. Part of the reason why, the evidence that they need medical assistance, was just given by Peter Dutton no less – the fact that 400 people are here getting medical assistance. If you add in their families, there are 900 people here. Nine hundred is more than there are on either Manus or Nauru. But at the moment …
SPEERS: But if it is happening, if it is already happening as he says, why do we need to change?
ALBANESE: Well it needs to be codified properly. You can’t run, be it migration or health care, on an ad hoc basis. What this does is codify it. It does it in a way as well which makes sure that we are protecting our borders. I mean, you can protect your borders without giving up your national soul. What Peter Dutton wants to do is to deliberately mislead the Australian people. I notice that both he and the Prime Minister wouldn’t give a straight answer to the very simple question that you asked Minister Dutton and the Prime Minister was asked this morning, which is this: Will this impact on any new arrivals, this legislation? Because the answer is no, but they won’t say that because they don’t actually want to give a message to the people smugglers.
SPEERS: What would happen if a new arrival, someone came here by a boat, were transferred to Nauru and were really crook or their mental illness was so grave that they can’t be treated there, what would happen to them?
ALBANESE: Well they will have to be treated there. They certainly can’t be transferred to Australia under this legislation. It has no impact on them whatsoever.
SPEERS: But Labor’s position here is what, even if they are so crook, they would still have to be treated there?
ALBANESE: Well let’s go back a step David. This has no impact whatsoever on the current border protection regime that is in place. There are not people who have recently been put on Manus and Nauru. There is no reason whatsoever why there will be a single new person put on Manus and Nauru. If, as the Government says …
SPEERS: You can’t guarantee that no-one will ever come on a boat again.
ALBANESE: If, as the Government that says – it is the Government that says it has solved this issue with the regime that has been put into place.
SPEERS: If a boat comes now and they go to Nauru and they are really crook, are you saying there is adequate medical care there?
ALBANESE: What I am saying is one, if you go back, that won’t occur because the Government says it’s got this in place – there are no changes whatsoever to the border protection regime – that’s the first point.
SPEERS: OK, but if someone does go there?
ALBANESE: I’m not into hypotheticals.
SPEERS: You really don’t think there will ever be a boat?
ALBANESE: The fact is that the Government has put in place a system and one which Labor supports – the measures that have been put in place. Now, none of the clauses in this legislation impact on that whatsoever. All this simply does is codify the fact that for those people who are currently on Manus and Nauru, who need medical assistance, that they will be able to get it and that in itself …
SPEERS: But it just sounds like a two-tiered system now. If someone goes there now they have to be treated.
ALBANESE: It is explicitly a two-tiered system.
SPEERS: So the medical care must be adequate enough for them?
ALBANESE: It is explicitly a two-tiered system David and we make no apologies for that because when we were working out the precise details of this legislation, we very consciously ensured that there are no signals sent to people smugglers or those who are thinking of coming by boat,. The only people who are sending signals, encouraging people smugglers it would appear, are Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison as the Prime Minister.
SPEERS: This two-tiered system, it just seems a bit strange that perhaps you’d have two people with the exact same condition; one is going to be treated there, one is not.
ALBANESE: But David there’s different systems in place now. If you want to look at where different systems are in place, have a look at the fact that the greatest number of applications for protection visas in Australia’s history is under the current Government and it indeed is just last year, the record number. Now the fact is that those people all arrived by plane, rather than by boat.
SPEERS: That is a fair point, but I think we’re getting away from this concern under your new – what is now the law of the land once it receives Royal Assent – you’d have different refugees on Nauru receiving different treatment.
ALBANESE: We make no apologies David for the fact that we have ensured that there are no signals to people smugglers that would encourage …
SPEERS: You must, therefore, think that the medical care is adequate on Nauru …
ALBANESE: There are no pull factors in this legislation, none.
SPEERS: But it is the medical care adequate on Nauru for that new arrival?
ALBANESE: You’re missing the point, David. If you go back a couple of steps …
SPEERS: This goes to the very point – whether there is enough medical care.
ALBANESE: No, what it goes to, is you putting up hypotheticals on the basis of something that isn’t happening at the moment. I put this to you – how many people have arrived by boat, have been sent to Manus and Nauru this year? None.
SPEERS: None, because this government stopped the boats.
ALBANESE: And what’s changed in that regime by this legislation? Absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing. Now you know that’s the case because you’re an intelligent, objective journalist. It is only Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison who refuse to acknowledge that fact. And what they’re doing here is trying, indeed, perhaps to even encourage, they are trying to mislead the Australian people because all they’ve got left …
SPEERS: You think they’re trying to encourage boats to come.
ALBANESE: All they’ve got left is is a fear and a smear campaign. This is a government that showed yesterday they’ve lost control of the Parliament, they’ve lost control of the agenda. All they’re interested in is fighting each other and scaring the Australian people.
SPEERS: They’re reopening Christmas Island. Would Labor keep it open?
ALBANESE: What for, why are they doing that?
SPEERS: You would shut it down?
ALBANESE: Once again what they’re doing is just trying to create action based upon a myth. There are no changes to the border protection regime from the legislation that was carried. And we wanted to make sure that the very simple principle that I’ve spoken about with you before – you can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity, that’s my firm belief. That is what we ensured occurred with the legislation that was carried, not just in the House of Representatives, but in the Senate today. And it’s interesting isn’t it that Derryn Hinch, someone who I think is someone of integrity, got a security briefing and then voted for the legislation.
SPEERS: That principle about being tough on borders while maintaining humanity, sounds very sound. So too does the principle that the elected minister of the day should have the final say on who comes to Australia. Do you agree?
ALBANESE: Look, the elected minister of the day has enormous say here.
SPEERS: Not complete say.
ALBANESE: Well, the minister of the day never has complete say over anything, David, that’s the truth. I’ve been a minister for six years. I know that departments, bureaucrats, advice – that’s all publicly available, as you know. What we have in a democracy is accountability of ministers, we don’t have a free for all where a minister is the dictator. What we have under this system is that, one, you have to have two doctors. That’s the first step. It then goes to the Departmental Secretary. The Minister can, upon advice either of character grounds or of national security grounds that can be referred to – he can say no at that point – or it can be referred to the panel the medical panel. What’s important is that he appoints the panel and the panel includes the highest public medical officers in the land, as well as other doctors. So is Peter Dutton saying when he sits here that ‘I don’t have a say in this’; that he’s going to appoint doctors without any regard to whether they will take seriously whether there is a serious medical need here. The fact is that if you look at his actions in approving 900 – if you count the families of those who are here now – it exposes what a nonsense this fear campaign is for a Government that’s run out of any positive agenda. So all it’s got is negativity.
SPEERS: You heard the Government’s attack in Question Time. That under this system, that you’ve just explained with the panel doctors and so on. If someone who has charges against them or is facing trial but has not yet been convicted they could still be brought in.
ALBANESE: The idea, David, that someone facing charges of rape won’t have those charges heard and that there’ll be a transfer here and that will not trigger a warning in terms of national security, from the security agencies, is a complete nonsense.
SPEERS: Well, this is the problem, though, when you codify – getting back to where we started – the Minister’s discretion. This could be taken to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The legislation, the law now says the Minister can only override if they’ve been convicted.
ALBANESE: David the current circumstance is that a whole range of matters get taken of the Minister to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. You know that’s the case. The Minister knows that’s the case. That’s why he never has unlimited power. That’s why we have a whole lot of issues that appear either before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or before other parts of the judiciary. The Minister is accountable for his actions. There’s nothing different about that. What the Government is trying to do desperately and it’s quite remarkable, that what effectively you have here when you take away all of the rhetoric, is a government that is trying to scare people on the basis of false information and in contradiction, indeed, of its own actions in bringing people here to get medical assistance which it itself acknowledges it has done, as I say again, for around about 900 people if you take the families into account.
SPEERS: Anthony Albanese, thank you very much for joining us this evening.
ALBANESE: Thanks for having us on, David.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.