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Monday, 04 February 2019
Transcript

Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

Topics: Saudi Arabia, Medical Transfer Clinical Assurance Panel, asylum seeker children off Nauru

E&OE…

SABRA LANE:

To discuss those policies and some of the issues raised in that report we just heard from Four Corners reporter Sophie McNeill, we're joined by the Immigration Minister David Coleman. Mr Coleman, good morning and welcome to AM.

DAVID COLEMAN:

Good morning, Sabra.

LANE:

As you just heard, Four Corners is focusing on the treatment of Saudi Arabian women who have tried to seek asylum in Australia; and allegations of women being turned away and put on planes in other nations; and claims that Australian visas were cancelled while they were in transit. What light can you shed on this?

COLEMAN:

Well, look, obviously, Sabra, we don't comment on individual cases. We have a very generous refugee program. 55 per cent of all the people in our refugee program come from the Middle East. In recent years, we've had more than 2700 Yazidis, largely women fleeing sexual slavery, come to Australia, and we granted more than 2000 visas under the Women at Risk program in 2017-18. So, we have a very strong refugee program; a very strong focus on women at risk; a very strong focus on the Middle East. And in fact, in November, Australia, at the United Nations, very clearly called for Saudi Arabia to dismantle the system of male guardianship, which is the source of so many of these problems. So to dismantle the system in both law and practice. So, I can't comment on the specific cases but we do have a very generous refugee program.

LANE:

Are you concerned by these claims?

COLEMAN:

Look, I think there are obviously concerns about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. Absolutely. And that's why we've called for the system of male guardianship to be abandoned. We take on…

LANE:

Will you examine these cases that are aired on Four Corners tonight and these claims that women, that they were stopped by Border Force officials from boarding flights and indeed that their visas were cancelled?

COLEMAN:

Yeah. Well look Sabra, each year we look at the composition of the refugee program and [indistinct]…

LANE:

Specifically, sorry Minister.

COLEMAN:

Yeah. Sure.

LANE:

Will you specifically look at these Four Corners cases or not?

COLEMAN:

Well, as I said, Sabra, I don't want to get into specific cases and I don't think it's appropriate to do so. I think the broader…

LANE:

But it's a simple yes or no. You will look at these cases or you won't?

COLEMAN:

Well, again, Sabra, I don't want to get into individual cases, but I will say that the issue of the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia is a concern; and on an annual basis, we look at the refugee program and the composition of that program and that's something that we'll be doing shortly.

LANE:

The sisters in Hong Kong - will you investigate this case?

COLEMAN:

Again, Sabra, I don't want to get into individual cases. I don't think it's appropriate to do so, but the broader issue is something that I have expressed our view on.

LANE:

Okay. To today's development, the Government is proposing a new medical panel to review decisions to reject the medical transfers of asylum seekers. How will it work?

COLEMAN:

So, a panel will be appointed that will be able to review decisions of the existing medical transfer committee in relation to offshore processing decisions. And that panel, if it is unsatisfied with a decision of the medical transfer committee, will report to the Minister and explain why they are unsatisfied with that decision. The ultimate decision in relation to medical transfers will still rest with Government, as it does today. That is…

LANE:

So it can't overturn a minister's decision?

COLEMAN:

That's correct. And it's an important principle, Sabra, because Labor's bill that it voted for in the Senate in December, would effectively mean that if two doctors in Dapto, based on a phone call with someone on Manus, decide that they should come to Australia, then effectively, they would come to Australia and that is an absurd mode of governance and it would effectively lead to the end of offshoring processing in short order. It would also apply to future arrivals. So if a future boat arrived and people were taken to Manus or Nauru; if two weeks later after that boat arrival, two doctors from Hobart said they should come to Australia, then effectively, they will come to Australia. That sends a very, very green light to people smugglers. We're the ones that have got kids out of detention, Sabra. We're the ones who stopped the boats. We're the ones who have got the kids off Nauru. We have a very strong record of managing this issue, and the Labor law would send us back to the Rudd-Gillard days.

LANE:

Well, it's a law that the Independents possibly favour. Dr Phelps has said this morning of the Government's proposed new panel that it is not good enough and that this bill before Parliament is the preferred choice.

COLEMAN:

Yeah. Well, as I said, Sabra, the bill that's before Parliament would lead to the end of offshore processing and offshore processing is fundamental to the success of our border security policies. It is fundamental to why we do not have people drowning at sea. We had 1200 people drown at sea under the previous government, including children. Offshore processing is fundamental to why we're able to get 2000 kids out of detention when we came to government. And to outsource the decision to any two doctors anywhere in Australia, who do not have to have even sighted the person on Manus or Nauru, is absurd, Sabra. Labor…

LANE:

Is this to avoid a parliamentary defeat next week? This is the whole idea of this new panel?

COLEMAN:

Well, this panel, as I said, it provides an additional layer of assurance. And as you heard in that clip from Ms Phelps…

LANE:

But why wasn't the assurance put in earlier? Why has the Government waited until imminent embarrassment on the floor to put this idea forward?

COLEMAN:

Well, let me just respond to the substance of the issue, Sabra. So the criticism made by Ms Phelps and others is that bureaucrats are making decisions, not doctors. Now, we reject that. That is not correct, but this clinical assurance panel, composed of doctors, would be able to review any decision not to transfer someone made by the existing committee, which is the substance of the criticism that is made. They would then report to the Minister on what they had found from that review. The alternative of the Labor bill is basically any two doctors say: someone has to come to Australia…

LANE:

That's a point - sorry, that's a point that you've made well already. To the children off Nauru, when exactly will the last four children be off Nauru?

COLEMAN:

Well, we expect that shortly, within weeks, Sabra. That's a matter for the United…

LANE:

Weeks? So not now, not next week, it's still sometime yet?

COLEMAN:

Oh, it's in short order, Sabra, but it's a matter for the United States as to the exact day on which the final group goes. They will - we've already had 456 people leave for the United States under our resettlement deal, and these kids and their families will add to that; and it's been a very successful resettlement agreement. We, as I said, Sabra, we're the people that have got the kids off Nauru and we got them out of detention as well.

LANE:

Alright.

COLEMAN:

We've got a very strong track record in this area.

LANE:

Immigration Minister David Coleman, thanks for joining AM this morning.

COLEMAN:

Thanks, Sabra.