Subjects: One Nation, Medical evacuation legislation, election.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Good morning to you both gentlemen.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning Deb.
KNIGHT: Let’s start with the dramas first off surrounding Pauline Hanson, this fight in the halls of Parliament between her chief of staff James Ashby and One Nation defector Brian Burston. Christian, you wonder why politicians are on the nose. This sort of behaviour is just appalling.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yes. It’s awful. No-one wants to see it. Thankfully I missed it. It’s just something that you don’t expect in the halls of Parliament and you don’t expect it in any workplace. It’s just terrible.
KNIGHT: So what can be done about it? Obviously we have seen the investigation under way and we have seen James Ashby’s pass being revoked. But do we need to actually take more action here, stronger action?
PORTER: It’s a matter for the President of the Senate. My personal view is he did exactly the right thing and acted swiftly and removed the pass that allows James to wander the halls, which was the right thing to do in my observation. Obviously it is matter for those sort of authorities to look into it. But look, ultimately you know this is something that requires some form of attention by authorities because you don’t expect people to be assaulting each other in any workplace and that is what has gone on. It’s just as simple as that.
KNIGHT: And blood Albo, smeared on the door of a Senator’s office. This is beyond the pale. We know things are getting personal. You guys do get fired up, but this is going too far.
ALBANESE: Well One Nation is a circus of course and one of the problems voting for some of these extreme minor parties is you never know what you will get. Brian Burston of course is one of the people who was elected who has changed their political party whilst they have been in their first term and I think the President of the Senate has acted completely appropriately in cancelling James Ashby’s pass and indeed the authorities do need to look at this. It is very clear form the videos that an assault has occurred here and if that occurs anywhere action should be taken, let alone within the Parliament House building.
KNIGHT: Absolutely. Well, we have consensus on one thing at least.
PORTER: Bipartisanship so early.
KNIGHT: Bipartisanship. Who’d have thunk it?
ALBANESE: It will be downhill from here Deb.
KNIGHT: Look out, here we go.
PORTER: Don’t be such a pessimist Anthony.
ALBANESE: Well Pyney has gone missing it has been such a bad week.
PORTER: I am so much more convivial and easy going.
KNIGHT: He’s in the air. He’s flying. We won’t bag him while he is not here. Let’s not do that. Now the Government’s, Christian, tenuous hold on power was highlighted this week. You simply didn’t have the numbers to actually stop this law allowing the medical transfer of refugees from Manus and Nauru. And then you dragged out Question Time yesterday to avoid another potential defeat on a Royal Commission into the treatment of the disability care sector. If you can’t govern, surely you should call an election today?
PORTER: Well our view is that the law that was passed by Labor on Tuesday night in alliance with the Greens is a terrible law. I mean it is bad for the country. Obviously we are disappointed to lose a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives …
KNIGHT: And you nearly lost another vote yesterday so if you don’t have the numbers, surely the public should be having a say here?
PORTER: There was actually nothing that had come from the Senate to vote on yesterday with respect to that issue.
KNIGHT: But you dragged it out so they couldn’t.
PORTER: Well it was a long Question Time but the important issue here is what is in the best interest of the Australian people. The laws that Labor passed on Tuesday night are terrible. I mean it is now the case that a Swedish backpacker has a more stringent character test than someone coming from Manus or Nauru on a medevac that can be initiated and effectively finalised without the discretion of the Minister by two doctors. I mean, that is a bad law for Australia.
KNIGHT: The reality is that you are overplaying the reality of this law. The PM saying that it is going to open the floodgates is not the truth because it applies to the existing refugees on Nauru and Manus and saying that murderers and paedophiles will be let in is also not true because there is still ministerial discretion. Why are you scaremongering over this?
PORTER: I just think respectfully you are wrong on both points. So it was previously the case that the Minister had an overarching discretion, so if someone had been charged with or convicted prior to sentence or there was reasonable intelligence briefings to suggest that they had engaged in serious criminal conduct it was previously the case that the minister could exercise the discretion to prevent that person coming to Australia.
KNIGHT: And what, that doesn’t apply here?
PORTER: That has now changed. The laws that Anthony and his party changed …
KNIGHT: There is still ministerial discretion?
PORTER: The ministerial discretion is very narrow. It relates to …
KNIGHT: But it still applies?
PORTER: It is a very different discretion and much narrower from the …
KNIGHT: But it is still ministerial discretion?
PORTER: There is ministerial discretion that looks like this right (indicates small gap with hands), which is what we’ve got now, and there is ministerial discretion that looks like that (indicates larger gap with hands), which is what it was previously. It is as simple as that. This is not hypothetical. There are people in these offshore processing facilities who have been charged with very serious offences including sexual offences against children.
KNIGHT: How many?
PORTER: Well we are going through that audit now and we will face 300 applications in the not-too-distant future.
KNIGHT: Which doctors are – they don’t agree with that number. We’ve got this sort of disagreement on the numbers.
PORTER: Well how would they know because they are individual doctors dealing with individual offshore processing transferees. Those applications will come in to us and we will see, but in the next several weeks there will be hundreds of these applications and we will be on a very tight time frame to try and work out the types of backgrounds, criminal history tests, that we are talking about now. But we are already aware of people who have been charged for assaulting doctors offshore. And we won’t have the discretion to stop them from coming.
KNIGHT: Albo, Labor, you guys, are ramping up the claims of scaremongering here. You are no innocents here. When it came to the whole Medicare privatisation you ramped that up at the last election, so no one is innocent when it comes to scaremongering. But is it true that Labor was given the advice that if this medevac transfer bill came in that we would see more asylum seekers and more boats coming to Australia?
ALBANESE: No, that is not right Deb,
KNIGHT: That’s not the official advice?
ALBANESE: And look the Attorney-General knows that he is talking nonsense, with respect. Let’s be clear about why this has happened. This has happened because of government incompetence that the people on Manus and Nauru, who are the only people this legislation applies to, have been there for more than five years and the Government has failed to settle them. This legislation makes no changes, zero, to any of the border protection measures which are in place. This is very simple principle though, which is that if someone who is in our care, after all, Australia has responsibility for, needs medical assistance they will be able to see it subject of course the ministerial discretion which you quite rightly have pointed out is absolutely still there.
KNIGHT: So why does it feels as though we are looking at completely different bills here, because the Australian public is being told totally different stories from both sides of politics. Who do we believe?
PORTER: Well don’t believe him, because he is totally mischaracterising the bill.
ALBANESE: Have a look at the law.
PORTER: The reality is this, the law used to be the case that the Minister had an overarching, very broad discretion on character grounds to refuse people who, for instance, had been charged with a serious criminal offence.
KNIGHT: So it is narrower, but it is still there?
PORTER: Well ministerial discretion exists but it is considerably narrower, radically narrower. So it’s the case now that a person charged with a serious criminal offence or where there is a reasonable grounds based on intelligence that they have committed a serious criminal offence, there is now power for the Minister to refuse that person, but they could refuse a Swedish backpacker on those grounds.
ALBANESE: Absolute nonsense. Absolute nonsense.
PORTER: You need to read the bill Anthony.
KNIGHT: Albo I’ve got to ask you why is Labor actually going down this path when it comes to boat people too, because it is Labor’s kryptonite. This is the strength of Scott Morrison on stopping the boats as immigration minister. It is almost as though you are allowing the Prime Minister to snatch victory form the jaws of defeat here.
ALBANESE: What we did is what parliamentarians have a responsibility to do, which is vote for a bill based upon advice and based upon the merits that are in that legislation. Christian pretends that there is a short time frame. These are people who have been investigated. People know what they had for breakfast yesterday Deb. They have been in detention for more than five years and the fact is the Government has failed. The fact is we have seen fatalities of people here, not just serious injuries and people being critically ill. We have seen people die and we have a responsibility to act, just as we have a responsibility to make sure that we have strong borders. You can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity.
PORTER: Sounds like you can have it all. Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?
KNIGHT: Well we will see what voters think because election does loom ever closer.
ALBANESE: Just call it Christian.
PORTER: See you next week.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.