Topics: Bill Shorten's weakening of border protection policy, population and immigration level
CHRIS KENNY: Now I want to get back to the immigration debate, the population debate and border security - and I'm joined on the line now by the Minister for Immigration, David Coleman. Thanks for joining us David.
DAVID COLEMAN: No worries Chris. Good to be with you.
KENNY: First up on border security, you're lumbered with these laws that Labor and the Greens and Kerryn Phelps passed. You didn't want them but you have to manage them; they've weakened our border security, there's no doubt about that. But you're looking at ways to manage them so that they don't do any damage and one of those is to take people who want additional or extra medical care in Australia, rather than bringing them to the mainland, taking them to Christmas Island. Is there any movement on that front as yet?
COLEMAN: Well no, the laws haven't come in yet, so it hasn't started to happen. But we need to reopen Christmas Island Chris, because we're anticipating we're going to get a very large number of people in a short period of time, and the reason is because Labor's outsourced the decisions about who comes to Australia from the Government of Australia - who should have that decision and always has in the past - to effectively some doctors based in Australia and then a volunteer medical panel. So we are going to have a very large number of people come, and of course under Labor's laws we can't even apply the character test which we apply to people coming to Australia on visas from every other country on earth, that the character test doesn't apply, and so we are going to unfortunately have to let people in that we otherwise wouldn't, but the bottom line is that Christmas Island will be available for processing people, for treatment where it's necessary and we're opening Christmas Island on the advice of our departments, and we have to do it because we're going to have a huge influx of people. We've actually closed 19 detention centres Chris, this is the great irony. Labor – 50,000 people came, 8,000 kids placed in detention, 2,000 kids in detention when we came in, got them all out. We've closed 19 detention centres, but as a consequence of this absurd law that Labor's rushed through the Parliament, we are going to have to reopen Christmas Island.
KENNY: You're saying the laws not in force yet. Is that because the Governor-General has not assented to it? When do you think the law will act- when will the law actually be in play?
COLEMAN: Yeah, that's just going through the normal process, quite shortly Chris. And then once that occurs, basically any two doctors in Australia, so it could be in Dapto, could be in Devonport-
KENNY: Yeah, we understand they can do it on Skype and all the rest of it. But are you saying there's nothing happening already? You don't have refugees already having these consultations and getting their applications in because there's been some reporting around that?
COLEMAN: There's no question that people are getting ready for when the new system comes in and, the thing is Chris, as you know, we have transferred people in the past for medical treatment in Australia when it's appropriate to do so, but we've done it in an orderly way and in a way in which the Australian Government controls.
KENNY: Well, you've done it quietly. Let's be upfront about this, this is the trouble here, Labor and the Greens and others, Kerryn Phelps, pretending that Australia would deny people medical treatment. Obviously we've brought them here and given them the medical treatment. Most of them have then taken action through the courts to stay here. But you've deliberately kept that quiet because you don't want to send a signal to people smugglers.
COLEMAN: Well that's right Chris, and we are very concerned that this large influx of people is going to send a very clear message that people smugglers can exploit because they can just simply point to the large transfer of people and say: here's a marketing message that we can put up into the Asia Pacific region to say, that the route is open for business. And I mean, Bill Shorten basically says, he says: well yes we've changed the law now, but if we get into government, we'll go back to the old system as the Coalition Government had in place. And that's just absurd. No one's going to believe that. And the other thing that we've highlighted this week Chris, there's about 60 people who have already resettled in Papua New Guinea, who actually aren't on Manus Island anymore. They've been given refugee visas and have resettled in the Papua New Guinea community, so that's a successful resettlement.
KENNY: Don't tell me they can now apply to come to Australia too?
COLEMAN: They can now apply to come to Australia too Chris.
KENNY: That is absurd. That is going backwards.
COLEMAN: Well, exactly. It's basically reversing a successful resettlement, that's what it's doing and that is just what happens when you get these different groups all coming together with the goal of embarrassing the Government in the Parliament, but not with the goal of doing what's right for Australian border security and doing what's right for the management of Australia's offshore processing program.
KENNY: I've got a couple of questions that have been emailed in from Beverly; quite good question getting into the detail of some of this. First up, these laws that have been passed by Nauru where they're saying they're not going to let anyone leave their country, their care on medical advice unless those doctors have seen them in person. In other words, they're not going to allow them to do it via Skype or remote consultations like that. Do you know if those laws will still apply if you're looking at taking the refugees to Christmas Island?
COLEMAN: Well look, Nauru's a sovereign nation Chris and I don't speak for Nauru and you can imagine that that wouldn't be appropriate. What I would say is-
KENNY: But the expectation would be it would still apply, right? Their law is about medical transfers to Australia and Christmas Island is part of Australia.
COLEMAN: Christmas Island is a part of Australia, absolutely. But we've worked very constructively with Nauru over a number of years, we'll continue to do that. And people need to remember, and I mean this is something that I think the Labor Party's forgotten. Nauru is a sovereign nation, it's just like Australia or any other nation and it will always look at things from its perspective and make decisions as it sees fit. But having said that, we work constructively with Nauru and we'll continue to do that.
KENNY: Yeah. Well the Nauruans, and I've been there and spoken to them, they're understandably, they get a bit insulted by this because they have 10,000 people who love that island and love the medical care they get there. Sure, they fly to Brisbane sometimes for some medical attention, some specialist medical attention, but they're pretty proud of their hospital, their medical services and the way they look after refugees and they just see themselves being trashed by activists in Australia day in day out. The other question that Beverly raised which I think is an interesting one is; you have a medical review team of some kind at the moment already don't you, headed by the Chief Medical Officer. Under this law, with this voluntary doctor's panel, is that going to be replaced or will you still have a separate panel that is perhaps your chosen panel?
COLEMAN: The new law effectively supersedes the existing process so there is a- so basically the two doctors make a recommendation and then it goes to the Minister who has 72 hours to consider it. If the minister doesn't agree with the two doctors, it then goes to a volunteer medical panel and it's specified in the legislation, the bodies that effectively can nominate people to that medical panel. And then if the panel agrees with the two original doctors, then basically that person is coming to Australia with some minor exceptions on serious criminal matters. The other thing that's really important Chris, and a lot of people I think still don't quite appreciate this, of those two original doctors, if any one doctor nominates other people to accompany the person for whom the medical recommendation is made, they have to come. And the only exception is the criminal and security matter. So for instance, if a doctor says: well this person needs to come to Australia for an assessment, as you know, they don't have to be sick they just need to come for an assessment. But the doctor can also say: and the following five people should come with him, under Labor's law. And under Labor's law, the Government has no power to stop that, absent those very minor exceptions for serious criminal breaches of the ASIO Act.
KENNY: Well this is getting worse and worse. This is just getting worse and worse. You need to keep talking about this all- up hill and down dale because there's two new pieces of information there for me today, where you're saying that of course they can bring in additional people for company effectively, it might be a husband or a wife, but it could be others.
COLEMAN: Well there's two categories Chris. There's a family category, but then in addition to the family category there's another category and it just basically says accompanying persons.
KENNY: I could say this mate's my- this is my best mate and I rely on him and I really need him to come with me, otherwise I'll be even more distressed. The other issue is this one that you've raised about those who have already been resettled in Papua New Guinea, getting a second crack at coming to Australia. This is just an outrageous abuse of the process, again, something else the people who passed this legislation never would have contemplated.
COLEMAN: Well indeed and as Christian Porter said yesterday, the other flaw in the legislation, the way they've drafted it, the power to return people which exists currently, actually isn't in the law because of sloppy drafting. So there are just so many problems with this law Chris, and it is just a very damning indictment on Bill Shorten because if you sort of rewind back to December, why are we in this situation? We're in this situation because Labor thought; look here's a short term political opportunity to win a vote on the floor of the House of Reps and that was their motivation.
KENNY: Yeah and that's what they did and we've heard from the head of border security and from ASIO in the last week, that if is those laws that Labor voted for back then before they were watered down a bit, would have been catastrophic. They're bad enough as they are. But what they initially voted for was going to be catastrophic is the word they used. David Coleman, while I've got you, I need to get you on population policy. I'm certain someone in your office has brought to your attention the petition that former prime minister Tony Abbott is running. It's against government policy effectively. Now, I know we've heard this from Tony Abbott before, he says we should cut our immigration rate, we should reduce our immigration intake until we can improve our infrastructure and other settings. But he's now running a petition in the lead up to the campaign, it's all over his website Battlelines. He says he believes Australia should reduce its level of immigration, at least until our infrastructure can catch up. He's already got 10,000 signatures. Two questions for you David Coleman. One is will the Government take up a similar policy? And secondly, if not, how do you feel about a former prime minister, under the Liberal banner, campaigning to change government policy?
COLEMAN: Look, just on the first question Chris, the PM has already said publicly in terms of the rate of migration that he is expecting that the number, the annual number will come down in the next budget, which is the normal time that we publish the immigration number, and it's been suggested that that could be in the order of around 30,000 people. So that suggestion's already been made and in terms of the crowding in-
KENNY: Just to be clear on that because there's been a lot of talk over this issue and there's been a lot of nuanced discussion. You're suggesting that in this year's budget we could see, we're likely to see a 30,000 people reduction in our permanent migrant intake?
COLEMAN: Well look, again, I wouldn't want to pre-empt the outcome of the budget Chris, but the PM's been pretty clear in what he said back before Christmas on this issue. And in terms of infrastructure and overcrowding, I think for a long time people have felt that it's almost like you're not allowed to talk about concerns about overcrowding and infrastructure issues and people are worried that they shouldn't say such things. But the reality is in Sydney and Melbourne in particular, there are very significant and legitimate concerns about the density of the population. My own electorate Chris in Bankstown area and the St George area in Sydney, we've got a very high population density. So it's very reasonable for people to raise those issues. Interestingly though, at the same time we've got many regions of Australia actually crying out for more people. So South Australia - they want a lot more people and regions like Kalgoorlie, Tasmania, parts of Victoria, western New South Wales, Cairns - there's a lot of places actually Chris that are wanting more immigration. So what that suggests is we can do a better job of balancing the needs across the country and getting the system to better match the needs around the nation. In terms of Tony being involved in that debate, it's absolutely his right to do so and the issues around immigration are something that the Government's always looking at very closely.
KENNY: Thanks so much for joining us David, appreciate it. Have a good weekend.
COLEMAN: Thanks Chris.