Thursday, 06 December 2018

Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC News Mornings


GREG JENNETT: David Coleman, you are the minister of the moment really in the middle of the game of brinkmanship that we're seeing play out on this last day of parliamentary sittings. What happens if the Senate passes this amendment that would allow asylum seekers and refugees to be brought to Australia? What will the government do in the House of Representatives?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well, let's just start at the start Greg…


DAVID COLEMAN: This is about Labor and the Greens teaming up again to end offshore resettlement and offshore processing. That's what this is about. And…

GREG JENNETT: Why? Why is that the case if a doctor offers - or two doctors, offer a medical opinion that a refugee or asylum seeker is under duress and suffering and needs to come to Australia. Why does that dismantle the whole process?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well, there's already a process in place for medical transfers in the appropriate situations Greg. And as the Prime Minister said, the advocates here say this is about children. Well there's actually ten children on Nauru, four of whom will shortly transfer to live in the United States under the government's successful resettlement agreement with the US. So we're talking about six children effectively on Nauru. But, Greg, we cannot forget the human catastrophe of what happened under Labor and the Greens last time. The notion that they should be the decision-maker on how Australia's border security should be managed is appalling. Eight thousand children were placed in detention Greg. Twelve hundred people drowned at sea, including children. And, you know, people in Labor and the Greens don't like to dwell on that…

GREG JENNETT: But why does it follow…

DAVID COLEMAN: They don't like to reflect on that.

GREG JENNETT: Okay why does it follow that those floodgates, that's I think is a word the government would use, reopen automatically because of this measure, which has checks and balances on it. It involves medical opinion and it may also involve the signature of a minister - yourself or a Labor minister.

DAVID COLEMAN: This is not about medical issues. This is about ending offshore processing and resettlement. That is absolutely the goal of this bill and that's what will happen…

GREG JENNETT: Because why? Because doctors will sign off. We're talking about a thousand people here, not six children or ten children, we're actually talking about the whole caseload. Are you suggesting all would be signed off on by doctors?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well we have – there are many doctors in place in the regional processing locations already. There is a process for medical transfers, as the Prime Minister said under his leadership, and in my role as minister more than 100 children have been transferred under that process. But let's just reflect on what is actually proposed here Greg, under this bill, under this proposal, if one or two doctors via Skype in Hobart, say that somebody on Nauru should come to Australia for assessment, not even treatment, merely assessment, that would occur even if the doctors who are actually on Nauru and are actually seeing that person say it's not required.

GREG JENNETT: Are you sure about that?


GREG JENNETT: Who's provided that advice that you can be diagnosing remotely via Skype?

DAVID COLEMAN: Absolutely that is in the Kerryn Phelps bill. So the Kerryn Phelps bill says that effectively any clinician in Australia can provide an opinion that someone should be transferred to Australia. And very importantly Greg, it's not only in a situation where that Skype consult says the person is ill, it's merely that the person says the person should come to Australia for assessment. So that effectively means Greg, that it will be very, very simple for all of those people to be transferred under this proposal. Now, less than 1 per cent of the children – 1 per cent of the people on Manus and Nauru are children, more than 90 per cent are adult males. And under the bill it also applies to people who have been found not to be refugees.

GREG JENNETT: If it was passed, you wouldn't – and if there is final ministerial discretion over any case put forward by the doctors. Do we take it as read that you would never sign that piece of paper that would allow someone under the provision of this bill if passed?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well Greg, once this bill is passed it's up to the discretion of whoever it is. And so basically what Labor and the Greens are saying is trust a future Labor minister to back Australia's border security. And we know that won't happen. I mean, this is an extraordinary proposal. It demonstrates very clearly that Bill Shorten does not support offshore processing and resettlement. It's been so important because it has saved lives Greg. We had 1200 people drown at sea under the previous government, the boats have stopped and that has meant that that extraordinary human catastrophe has been brought to an end.

GREG JENNETT: Now in the House it may well come down to Bill Shorten, equally because of the way the numbers sit there at the moment, it could come down to a few crossbenchers. I understand officials from Home Affairs and perhaps from your own department as well, have been reaching out as they say to offer briefings. What's the nature of that, what are they trying to impress on crossbenchers?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well it's very important that people have the full facts at their disposal, people who are effectively decision-makers on this important legislation. The advocates of this kind of legislation, Labor and the Greens, basically say – oh, it's all fine, it will have no impact on border security, it will have no impact on the marketing of people smugglers. Now that's absurd. Having been in this job for three months now Greg, I can tell you that is just flat out wrong and it's important that if people are contemplating such an extraordinary move as supporting this bill, that they are in full possession of the facts and of the huge consequence on people smuggling.

GREG JENNETT: And just to be clear, those facts, as they're being conveyed to crossbenchers today, are what? That the flood gates would in effect reopen? Is that what they're being told?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well, I obviously can't go into the briefings that are being received by the crossbenchers, but as the government has consistently said Greg, if you create a situation where people smugglers can say –  the gates are open – that's what they'll do. People will get on boats; we'll see the human catastrophe that we saw under Labor previously; we will see extraordinary human suffering as we did last time, not to mention the billions of dollars of cost to Australian taxpayers. This is as very radical proposal, it is an entirely wrong proposal, and for Labor and the Greens to purport to be the authority on how to manage Australia's border security is ridiculous. The Prime Minister is the person who fixed this problem four years ago and he certainly is not going to be backing down in the face of this threat from Labor and the Greens.

GREG JENNETT: Alright. I know you have other commitments, but I do just have two other lines of questioning to follow. One is, it was put to the Prime Minister in his media conference that you've been looking for a point of difference with Labor and this has now been provided today. Is that the way you analyse it? That you've actually got an opportunity here to define a difference?

DAVID COLEMAN: It's not about politics Greg. The person who is being political here is Bill Shorten. Bill Shorten is basically saying – here is a short-term political opportunity, through a parliamentary manoeuvre, to do something to try to embarrass the government, that's basically what is happening here. His regard for the consequences for Australia's border security is zero. That's what's happening.


DAVID COLEMAN: So Bill Shorten is the one who is trying to play politics with this. What we are doing is saying our policies have been effective, they have been the right thing for this country, and we will absolutely stick to them.

GREG JENNETT: Well, I'm sure he will speak for himself, Bill Shorten, through the course of the day. But just finally, tactically, because it's really, really important in the House of Representatives at the moment, the Prime Minister has said he'll use all tools and tactics available to stop this succeeding in the House. What does that mean? Where could this end today? Might you all suspend the Parliament and go home early?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, the PM's made a clear statement about that. We are very determined not to allow these changes to be passed through the Parliament. They would massively weaken Australia's border security, they would lead to the starting of boats again, and they would lead to the end of offshore processing and resettlement, which is one of the key tenets that has kept Australia's borders secure for all these years under this government. And we will not be agreeing to those changes and as the PM said, we'll be using all measures to seek to stop them.

GREG JENNETT: Alright. Well, we'll be watching the House and the Senate for that matter to see exactly how that plays out this afternoon. But Immigration Minister David Coleman. For your time on a busy day, thank you.