Wednesday, 13 March 2024

Radio interview with David Lipson, ABC AM

Subject: NZYQ bridging visa Rs

DAVID LIPSON: There's been another bungle by the Department of Home Affairs in relation to almost 150 immigration detainees set free after a high court ruling last year. Several men who've been arrested again for breaching their visa conditions could be released after it was revealed the government issued them with invalid visas. Andrew Giles is the immigration Minister and joined me earlier. Minister, thanks for being with us. What went wrong?

MINISTER GILES: Thanks, David. Look, in managing that group of people the high court required to be released late last year, the department became aware in recent days of a technical issue with the visas that affected this group of people. Now, this is an issue that actually dates back more than a decade to the creation of the visa class back in 2013. This issue has been identified and has now been resolved with incredible efficiency. We, in dealing with this issue, are always guided by what's best to keep communities safe and also by adherence to the law. And I want to reassure your listeners and the entire Australian community that there's been no lapse in the constant monitoring of this cohort as a result of this technical issue. And I reiterate that we've now resolved it and I want to express, of course, my appreciation of and gratitude for all the law enforcement authorities that have been working so hard to keep communities safe.

LIPSON: So, some of these detainees, or ex detainees who were released after that higher court ruling but then arrested again, are going to be released. How many and what can you tell us about them?

GILES: Well, this, of course, will only affect the issues that relate to breaches of the visa, not any offences committed under state and territory laws. That's a really important point.

LIPSON: Right. So, for example, there was one I can remember who faced two counts of indecent assault. Those sorts of charges won't be dropped.

GILES: Well, I should be very careful in saying this. Obviously, any matter relating to the laying of charges or going to a prosecution is a matter for the relevant law enforcement body, not a matter for government. But it is the case that these visa issues only relate to the visa conditions and breaches relating from them.

LIPSON: When did you find out about this?

GILES: Only in the last couple of days.

LIPSON: Right. So, there were some reports that the department was aware of this in December that they're not correct.

GILES: No, they're not correct.

LIPSON: Okay. Will this have any impact on the monitoring of the entire cohort of detainees going forward?

GILES: No, there has been no changes to the monitoring arrangements, as I've said consistently, and indeed, as senior officials of the federal police said in Senate estimates only weeks ago, these are people who are being constantly monitored. We know where they are. And all of these visas have been reissued.

LIPSON: So, the visas have been reissued already. Was that able to be done just with the stroke of a pen, if you like. Or do these ex detainees have to sort of come in, be rounded up again to be processed?

GILES: No, they don't need to be rounded up. The decision can be made by the delegate without that happening. And that has happened in respect of all of those affected visas have been reissued with appropriately strict conditions. And again, there has been no change to the strict monitoring arrangements for every one of these people.

LIPSON: So, who do you blame for this?

GILES: Well, this is not a question about blame. This is the question about dealing with problems as they arise and doing everything possible, working with our law enforcement authorities and bodies like the Community Protection Board to ensure every step. Our focus is on community safety. This is not a question about blame, it's a question of looking to resolve problems.

LIPSON: But would you have preferred that the ten or so that were arrested for breaches of their visa conditions, that's the sort of monitoring that was put in place to keep the community safe. Would you prefer that they were still under lock and key?

GILES: Well, we want to have the strongest possible framework in place to deal with community protection in response to the high court decision. Now, we've got to do that in accordance with the law and to make sure that we are doing everything possible to equip our law enforcement authorities to do their job. That's what this is about. That's what everything that I have done through this journey has been about.

LIPSON: And what is the number that are going to be released?

GILES: Well, no one's being released as a result of this, David. This relates to a group of people that were released because of the high court decision. It goes to their visa conditions. And as I say, every one of those visas where there was an issue, that goes back to an issue that relates to 2013 decision making has now been re granted with appropriate and strict conditions.

LIPSON: I'm sorry, because there was reporting again overnight that some of those who had been re arrested for breaches of conditions.

GILES: I now understand the question that you're making. So, the issue here again goes back to the question about the responsibility of the commonwealth director of public prosecutions and indeed state prosecution bodies.

LIPSON: But how many?

GILES: Well, again, that is a matter for them. The issue here goes to the nature of the charges that might be laid that relate to issues solely of questions that relate to breaches of visa conditions. But again, these are matters for the appropriate prosecutorial bodies.

LIPSON: Okay. I'm not sure entirely what that means, but, your critics have been calling for you to resign for months already. Are you going anywhere?

GILES: No, I'm focused on doing my job, on making sure that we keep in place a regime that keeps Australians safe.

LIPSON: Minister, Andrew Giles. Thanks for being with us.

GILES: Thank you very much, David.