Thursday, 10 June 2021

Interview, Breakfast with Neil Breen - 4BC

Topics: Torres Strait, Sri Lankan Tamil Family, Operation Ironside.

NEIL BREEN: Every week I speak to the Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews. Yesterday she was travelling. Normally on a Wednesday I'd talk to her but we've got her on a Thursday this week. She's on Thursday Island as we speak. Good morning to you, Minister.

KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil. How are you? And a big hello from Thursday Island.

NEIL BREEN: Yeah, what's happening up in the Torres Strait?

KAREN ANDREWS: Well, there's lots of things happening up here. I came up here for a couple reasons. One, I needed to understand the environments in which the Australian Border Force is working, to have a look at the vessels that they have here in the Torres Strait. But I also wanted to speak to some of the local communities, particularly about COVID, how they're coping with the border closed down between PNG. And to be honest, I was on some of the northern islands yesterday, and they are incredibly close to PNG - about three kilometres away. So there's actually, in the past, there's been a lot of traffic between PNG and these islands. And of course, with the borders closed, that has diminished greatly. And they're having a little bit of an impact on the Australian communities in the Torres Strait. And it's probably having a pretty big impact on those in PNG at the moment. So we were talking through what some of the options might be with vaccinations et cetera.

NEIL BREEN: Yes, well, of course, the Pacific's a problem now. Like, we were hopeful of travel bubbles between a lot of the nations. PNG we've been familiar with. Fiji was in a great space but Fiji's having an outbreak. And for us to open up to those countries, and those countries need us. Those little villages in Fiji and through those islands, they need our money.

KAREN ANDREWS: Oh look, they certainly do. So, it would be great to be able to reopen some bubbles at some stage in the future, as early as possible. But we've got a little way to go to make sure that we're prepared, that we have everything in place that we need. But in the meantime, the Australian Government is providing a lot of support to the Pacific region. It’s well over $600 million is going into the Pacific communities, including PNG. We're providing support with vaccines, with medical equipment, PPE. So we will support them in any way that we can.

NEIL BREEN: Minister, there's confusion right across Australia as we speak about the Tamil asylum seeker family from Biloela. We know they're on Christmas Island. They've been there for a couple of years. The young girl's got sick. There's reports she maybe wasn't given the medical attention she needed on Christmas Island. She's in Perth. It's a shocking situation - this three-year old's got pneumonia and sepsis. It's a terrible thing for a little girl to go through. Everyone is confused. Is this family ever going to be allowed to be settled in Australia considering those two kids were born here?

KAREN ANDREWS: Well, a couple of things, Neil. Firstly, I don't have a medical diagnosis for the child, so I wouldn't be commenting anyway on that. What I've been advised by Border Force is that there is access to medical support on Christmas Island, that the family has access to that. And as soon as it was recommended that there be an evacuation to a Perth facility: that happened. So the appropriate action, I believe, has been taken by Border Force. Whilst the children have been born in Australia, there's significant international obligations that we have in terms of residency and citizenship. What I can say and I'm really going to have to be very careful about what I do say, because the matter is before the courts…

NEIL BREEN: But this is the problem, Minister, no one ever says, no one ever says anything about this. The Government has his this away in a bottom drawer. You've got Marise Payne telling Jim Wilson on 2GB Drive this week that negotiations are underway to resettle them in the US or New Zealand. They know nothing about it. The ABC's reporting last night, no one knows anything about it. This story is just a mess. You've got half a million people have signed a change.org petition to keep the family here. It's a problem for the Government. And people just want someone to talk to them straight for once in their lives and say ‘you know what, they're not staying’ or ‘you know what, there's a chance’ or something.

KAREN ANDREWS: I did try and be very clear two days ago when I said, broadly for the cohorts, that we were looking at resettlement moments. This family, where they've had their cases determined, have been deemed to not be owed protection by Australia, which means that they don't have refugee status, and that has been upheld every time that there's been an application before the courts for those particular family members. That mean there is no obligation for us to provide protection to them, which means that they should be returning to their home country of Sri Lanka. They do currently have an application before the courts and there's other actions that are being taken by the family. That needs to take its time to proceed, and I'm not going to say or do anything to prejudice either the Government's position or the position of this family.

Now, in relation to resettlement options, the arrangements that we have in place with the United States and New Zealand are in respect to refugees. This family does not have refugee status for those that have currently…

NEIL BREEN: So, why did the Foreign Minister say that negotiations were underway? Was she wrong? Did the Foreign- did Marise Payne get it wrong?

KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we are negotiating with New Zealand in particular, and there is already a resettlement agreement for refugees with the United States. That's as far as it has gone from my point of view, and I've been very clear on that. So the family does not have access to those two programs because they are for resettlement of refugees.

But having said that, I am working to deal with a large number of cohorts that we have here in Australia that needing to be resettled who cannot and will not be allowed to resettle permanently in Australia. So that is a broad response and that's what my comments were two days ago. So, it wasn't in relation to the specifics of this family. And if you go back and look at the transcript of what I said, I made that clear and the Prime Minister came in and said directly afterwards that this was in relation to cohorts. So it was not a comment specifically about that family.

At this point in time, we are hoping that the young girl recovers very quickly. Her health is the primary concern for me and for others at this point in time. I believe she is getting the best care possible for her at the moment. And we are doing all we can to make her and her mother, who is with her, comfortable.

NEIL BREEN: Okay. So I think I understand everything you said there, and I think that's why there's confusion across Australia, because that's your position and you're the Home Affairs Minister. But the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, had a different position that she said publicly about the US and New Zealand. And that is why there is mass confusion and there always is surrounding this family.

KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I can tell you that any discussions that I have are in respect of broad cohorts of individuals, not a specific family.

NEIL BREEN: Okay, now on to another issue. There was this amazing Operation Ironside this week, the work by the Australian Federal Police and the FBI in the United States and agencies all over the world. There's been arrests all over the world; 38 people arrested here in Queensland. What I'm really keen on are these big wigs. Now, we've got the mafia man and we're looking for this Hakan Ayik who could be hiding out in Turkey or somewhere like that. Are we confident we're going to get him at some point, the big dog?

KAREN ANDREWS: Look, he's going to be difficult, but clearly not impossible. So, he's renounced his Australian citizenship. So, he's currently in Turkey. I think it was a good call by the AFP Commissioner, Reece Kershaw, when he said that Hakan Ayik is pretty much a marked man and for his own protection, he should hand himself in. And I think that's probably fair enough, because he will be a target. He has encouraged many other people to go on the platform where the AFP, FBI and others have been able to look very closely at the messages. And as Commissioner Kershaw said, they're not having a chat about the weather. They're actually lining up how they're going to drop off and collect drugs, how they're going to murder people. I mean, it's just not a nice place to be. So, Hakan Ayik is potentially likely to be taken out by some of the people that he's betrayed.

NEIL BREEN: Yeah, I don't know that he'll be missed either. Karen Andrews, the Home Affairs Minister, thanks for joining us on 4BC Breakfast. Enjoy Thursday Island.

KAREN ANDREWS: I will indeed. You take care.