SUBJECTS: National security; asylum seekers; Medevac legislation; John Setka; Mack Horton.
LAURA JAYES: Joining me now live is Labor Leader Anthony Albanese. Thanks so much for your time.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Good morning.
JAYES: The third arrival since the May 18 election, why do you think that is?
ALBANESE: Well of course it’s the third arrival since the Easter terrorism attack also, that occurred in Sri Lanka, Laura. So it’s not up to me to put out there what the motives might be for people who I can’t obviously speak for. But the terrorism incident over Easter in Sri Lanka was very serious obviously and it’s also perhaps the case that that might have played a role.
JAYES: Is that how you’re seeing it? Have you been officially briefed and are you just saying it’s one push factor?
ALBANESE: No, I haven’t. This has only been put in The Australian newspaper by the usual suspects and I am prepared to say that it’s obviously been put there by the Government.
JAYES: Why is that obvious?
ALBANESE: Because who else has put it there. The asylum seekers themselves, Laura?
JAYES: Perhaps a good question. Now, there is pressure on Labor this week on a number of fronts in this portfolio area. First on the Medevac legislation the Government does think this is a pull factor, are you willing to tweak it?
ALBANESE: No. The fact is that it’s working. If the Government has any practical suggestions they can put them forward, but they haven’t done that. They’ve just engaged in rhetoric. There are some 90 people have been brought to Australia under the Medevac legislation. There’s 900 have been brought to Australia by the Government itself prior to the Medevac legislation being there. So the Government hasn’t, I don’t believe, made a case for change. This legislation was pretty straightforward. It allowed for the Minister himself to appoint the committee that makes the decisions about these matters. Indeed, a number of the objections have been upheld by the committee when issues have been raised. Quite clearly the Government’s rhetoric was that if this legislation was passed last December then there would be floods of boats would be coming and everyone who was currently in offshore processing would be brought to Australia. That hasn’t happened. Indeed the numbers of 90 are very modest compared with the number of 900 that had occurred previously.
JAYES: But only two things have changed since the May 18 election, as you say the tragic Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka. But also the Medevac legislation has now been in place for six months or so. So there’s a push factor and a potential pull factor there, isn’t there? Even if you say what you say is absolutely correct. But isn’t it how the people smugglers are actually selling the changes here, the medivac legislation?
ALBANESE: The person who is undermining the Australian Government’s position on these matters is the Australian Government itself, through Peter Dutton. Who speaks about how there would be people coming and how it’s a weakening of the borders. It doesn’t do any of that of course, and of course anyone who arrives by boat or attempts to arrive by boat isn’t eligible under the Medevac legislation. It only applies to people who were already on Manus and Nauru, prior to the legislation.
JAYES: Do you accept, though, that that is a message being skewed by the people smugglers? The facts, you know, they don’t have truth in advertising in Indonesia or Sri Lanka or any of those places.
ALBANESE: Take a step back, Laura. The message is being skewed by Peter Dutton who’s saying things about this legislation that just aren’t factual.
JAYES: Okay. Let’s talk about the temporary exclusion orders now. It looks like you’ll be voting on that this week; will you be backing that legislation?
ALBANESE: What we’ll be doing is, one: Kristina Keneally has written to Peter Dutton asking for the legislation to be referred back to the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Joint Intelligence Committee has operated very well. These are difficult circumstances. We live in an unsafe world and the Joint Intelligence Committee has been able to receive briefings from the security agencies, has been able to come to positions on a unanimous basis. It’s chaired by Andrew Hastie, there’s a majority of Government members on that committee. And every single one of its recommendations, for a number of years, have been adopted by the Parliament and supported by Labor and the Coalition. Now what’s happened with the temporary exclusion orders, is that a number of the recommendations that were made unanimously by the Committee Chair, by Andrew Hastie, have been rejected by the Government. The Government hasn’t made a case of why that is occurring. Some of those recommendations are based upon international experience, for example that it should be under the UK legislation. It’s a judge who’s able to make the determination rather than the Minister. The Government hasn’t put forward a reason why that should be done any differently. It also has a recommendation that we needed to take into account, whether there is somewhere else for the person affected by the order to go. And the reason why that was the case, of course, was because people were concerned about legal challenges on these issues. So a common sense approach is what we’re taking Laura and an approach that’s consistent with what was previously a bipartisan position. This Government is obsessed by looking for arguments rather than looking for solutions. They won the election in May, ever since then they’ve acted like an opposition in exile. They’re looking for wedge politics and on each occasion they’re putting forward legislation, they’re not saying: ‘we’re putting this forward because it’s in the national interest’. They’re saying: ‘we’re putting this forward because it’s a test for Labor’. That’s a bizarre way for a Government that was elected just two months ago into its third term to be behaving.
JAYES: Sure, if they’re trying to wedge you that is one issue aside, but they will bring this legislation to a vote. How will you vote, will you be voting against it?
ALBANESE: We’ll give consideration at the time, Laura. We’ll have our normal processes that will occur, but I’d say to the Government: start governing in the national interest. Actually listen to the recommendations that were made by the Joint Intelligence Committee, by a committee in which the Government has a majority which is chaired by Andrew Hastie. Have a bit of common sense about this.
JAYES: Will you vote for it or not this week?
ALBANESE: This isn’t a minor change, Laura. One of the things that we will have is proper processes and we’ll have our caucus meeting this morning that will deliberate on these matters.
JAYES: So will you have an answer after caucus?
ALBANESE: I assume that will be the normal process that we have. We have caucus committees then we have a caucus and we’ll be doing that this morning.
JAYES: Just quickly, where’s the Setka issue up to? Did you jump the gun on this?
ALBANESE: Not at all. I acted swiftly. That was appropriate, indeed, when I acted swiftly, Laura you might recall potentially, on Sky I was asked: ‘why did you wait so long’? I’d been leader for two weeks but that didn’t stop people asking that question. John Setka’s values and actions aren’t consistent with being a member of the Labor Party. There’s no question that his ongoing presence as a member of the Labor Party is not in the interests of Labor. And the National Executive has the power to determine that. Now he’s been suspended from the Labor Party, that was done immediately and then he’s taken legal action to stop or delay his expulsion from the Labor Party. The judge has reserved his position. The judge will make an appropriate determination and of course it would be inappropriate to comment on that. We’ll respond once the court makes its decision. But we’ll do whatever is necessary to ensure that John Setka doesn’t remain a member of the Labor Party.
JAYES: We are just about to cover this story about Mack Horton as well. He stood up, or made a silent protest against his opponent Sun Yang, someone who he sees as a drug cheat. This is getting into the diplomatic realms now. Do you support Mack Horton on this?
ALBANESE: I think sport and politics shouldn’t mix, and I’m not about to mix it.
JAYES: Okay, we’ll leave it there. Anthony Albanese, thanks so much.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much.