Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3aw

Topics: Bill Shorten’s weakening of border protection policy and offshore processing


NEIL MITCHELL: On the line Immigration Minister David Coleman, good morning.

DAVID COLEMAN: Good morning Neil.

MITCHELL: Now you met security chiefs after it passed the House last night we‘re told. What’d they say?

COLEMAN: Oh look, obviously I can’t go into that in any detail.

MITCHELL: No, no, just a broad brush.

COLEMAN: Well look we’ve spoken before very clearly last week about what this bill would mean, and what this bill would mean is the end of offshore processing.

MITCHELL: But are they still concerned by security implications?

COLEMAN: Well look Neil I mean, Bill Shorten says he has addressed the security issues and that is absolutely absurd.

MITCHELL: Nah, but I’m asking what is the view, in as much as you can tell us. What is the view of the security agencies. Do they believe those issues have been addressed or are they still concerned by them?

COLEMAN: Oh look Neil, clearly there are still very significant concerns about this bill.

MITCHELL: Within the security agencies?

COLEMAN: Well again, Neil I don’t want to go into private briefings, it’s not appropriate to do that.

MITCHELL: I’m just asking for a general- I’m just asking- because you gave us detail last week. All I’m asking for is a general idea here, is the issue resolved according to our security agencies or not?

COLEMAN: Well no, I don’t think it is resolved Neil, and the point is that this bill completely dismantles offshore processing and it means the government no longer decides who comes to Australia.

MITCHELL: How does it dismantle offshore processing? I mean Richard Marles tells me that you’ve actually been bringing people of Australia for medical treatment anyway, is that true?

COLEMAN: Yes it is true that we’ve brought people.

MITCHELL: So how‘s it changing that?

COLEMAN: Okay well perhaps I’ll answer the question Neil. We have brought people to Australia for medical treatment over a number of years. We’ve done that.

MITCHELL: More than a hundred. More than a hundred is that right?

COLEMAN: Yeah, several hundred, but we’ve done that in a way Neil, very importantly, that is controlled by the Government of Australia on the advice of doctors who are working under contract and who are actually physically located in the same country as the patient. What Labor’s bill does Neil, and it’s quite extraordinary and it’s important to understand it, is it basically says if any two doctors anywhere in Australia say that a person should come to Australia, not because they’re sick Neil, but merely for assessment, merely for assessment, then the Minister has 72 hours to seek to reverse that.

MITCHELL: Which ASIO can overrule though, can’t they?

COLEMAN: On very narrow grounds Neil. Very, very narrow grounds.

MITCHELL: And the Minister has discretion?

COLEMAN: No that’s not correct Neil. So let me just talk it through. So the minister can say within 72 hours that they do not support that decision, it then goes to a medical panel. The medical panel then makes the final decision on all cases except some narrow security and criminal matters. So basically the ultimate decision maker here is not the government, it is a panel of doctors and or two doctors located anywhere in Australia.

MITCHELL: But if those doctors decide somebody’s coming, ASIO can stop it can’t they?

COLEMAN: If someone sits within the ASIO security definition, yes, but that’s a narrow definition Neil.

MITCHELL: Alright. The security issue is one of the concerns, the broader concern is the boats. Now Richard Marles makes the point, and to an extent I understand what he says, that by going on in the way the government is and saying: oh this is disastrous, the boats will come, they’re sending a message to the people smugglers here‘s something to sell. They’re not ethical people, they’re not decent people, you’re opening the window a little bit giving them hope to sell. Because the Prime Minister is saying: ohh all bets are off.

COLEMAN: Well Neil, we’re hardly going to stand by and let Bill Shorten dismantle Australia’s offshore processing system and wave it through and say it’s all fine. I mean seriously we are going to stand up.

MITCHELL: But that’s wrong. So they’re guaranteeing the offshore system continues, they’re guaranteeing there will be people in off-shore detention a year into their government.

COLEMAN: Well no, I don’t think that’s a guarantee that can be taken seriously at all Neil. I mean this bill will result in the end of offshore processing, it will result in substantially everyone who is on Manus and Nauru coming to Australia, and it will result in the Australian Government no longer being the decision maker about who comes to Australia. Now that is against all traditions of Westminster government and it is completely inappropriate. Bill Shorten’s been all over the place on this issue Neil, including yesterday where his position changed several times in the space of one day.

MITCHELL: Aww, if I’m a people smuggler I’m sitting in Indonesia thinking this is terrific. You and the Opposition are just fighting about something which gives me an opening, I’ll get on a boat.

COLEMAN: Well Neil obviously the government…

MITCHELL: Put people on a boat.

COLEMAN: The Government is responsible for the policies of the Government. Our policies have been successful. Our policies have secured the borders, they have stopped the boats and they have enabled people to resettle in countries including the United States. It is not our fault that Bill Shorten has come along and sought to dismantle the system and it is incumbent upon us to hold Bill Shorten to account for what he has done and we will continue to do that.

MITCHELL: If this goes ahead will it cost lives?

COLEMAN: Well look Neil, we saw last time when 1200 people drowned at sea when boats started. So when boats start there is that risk of that human catastrophe that we saw last time. We are very proud of the fact that we have stopped boats and as part of that we have stopped drownings at sea. 1200 people drowned, including kids, 8,000 kids were placed in detention and it was, if you look at Australia’s post-war policy history Neil, I would challenge you to come up with a bigger failure than what we saw under the Labor government last time on this issue and what they’re proposing to do now is going to set us off on a similar path.

MITCHELL: The ah, and I’m sort of lost in this, there were various amendments and things put up, at one stage there was an amendment that the medical transfers would only apply to people already on Nauru and PNG, not people who were picked up on a boat tomorrow. Did that get through or not?

COLEMAN: Well that’s what they say, but again, who’s going to listen to Bill Shorten on this issue?

MITCHELL: Well I don’t know. Is that one of the amendments? That if- it only applies to people there now?

COLEMAN: Well that’s what the amendment states. But the question is: what is the message that Bill Shorten is sending to people smugglers and to the broader community?

MITCHELL: Well if that amendment’s in there its saying anybody who gets in a boat now isn’t covered by this?

COLEMAN: Well who’s going to believe Bill Shorten on this anyhow?

MITCHELL: Well it’s in legislation isn’t it? If it’s an amendment that got up - it’s in legislation.

COLEMAN: Neil, Kevin Rudd said he wouldn’t change anything, he changed everything.

MITCHELL: No, don’t make us answer to Kevin Rudd. But it is in the legislation is it not, that it only applies to people on Nauru and Manus now?

COLEMAN: Well let me finish Neil, I mean if Bill Shor- so on 6 December Bill Shorten’s Labor senators voted for a piece of legislation that they tried to rush through the parliament on that day. In the last couple of days they’ve changed their position several times. All of their positions are about weakening offshore processing, about ending offshore processing and dismantling the existing system that has worked well. If somebody wants to place their trust in Bill Shorten on this issue that would be very, very misguided.

MITCHELL: Now you’ll be surprised to know Derryn Hinch loves to be in the middle of everything. Is his vote actually crucial here? Could he say, could he be the person who decides it? I know he’s getting briefings, could he be the person who decides it?

COLEMAN: Well look we’d certainly encourage Senator Hinch to not support his bill.

MITCHELL: But how are the numbers in the senate? Are you snookered or not?

COLEMAN: Well look, the numbers were very close last time on this bill and every vote matters and we would very strongly encourage Senator Hinch not to vote for this bill.

MITCHELL: But has he got the casting vote?

COLEMAN: Well as I said the numbers are very close on this issue Neil and we would encourage Senator Hinch not to vote for this bill. This bill, importantly Neil, takes away the discretion of the Minister to block the entry of people into Australia except on very narrow grounds and that would mean, for instance, that people who were charged with, for instance sexual offences against children, would not be able to be stopped from entering Australia under the law. Very clear. And it is entirely wrong the way this bill is constructed. It takes away the ability of the government to decide who comes to Australia.

MITCHELL: Okay. So, under which- under what criteria could ASIO and or the Minister ban somebody? If the doctors say this blokes got PTSD, he’s got to go to Australia, you ban him, no that’s rejected. What criteria?

COLEMAN: Well again, I think it’s probably for the Labor Party to speak to the legislation that they put.

MITCHELL: Well you’ve seen the legislation.

COLEMAN: But the- what it doesn’t enable is for the Minister to have what they have now which is the discretion to stop transfers and it does not include, as I said, people charged with criminal offences. It does not include people who have been convicted of numerous kinds of criminal offences, and it doesn’t include people for instance who are alleged to be say drug dealers or a whole range of other offences.

MITCHELL: Thank you very much. David Coleman is the Immigration Minister.