offshore processing and resettlement
CHRIS KENNY: I'm joined now live from Canberra by the Immigration Minister David Coleman. Thanks for joining us David.
DAVID COLEMAN: Hi Chris.
KENNY: First up, is this a medical issue or a border protection one? Surely, you are providing adequate medical care to the people in Australia's care on Nauru and Manus Island.
COLEMAN: Yes, we are. We have very strong medical care. On Nauru for instance Chris, there are 60 medical professionals for about 420 transferees; so that's a ratio of about one medical person for every seven transferees on Nauru. And similarly on Manus through Pacific International, there is a strong standard of health care provided. And we also of course do enable medical transfers in appropriate situations but importantly Chris, when that occurs it occurs on the recommendation of doctors who are physically located in the same country as the patient. And under Bill Shorten's law, the people who would be recommending these transfers and requiring these transfers would actually be on the telephone or on Skype in Australia and extraordinarily, they wouldn't even need to find that the person needed treatment; they would merely need to say that the person needed to come to Australia for assessment and that's a very low bar…
KENNY: Yeah, I understand that David; I appreciate that but cutting to the chase those almost 900 people who have come from Manus and Nauru to Australia and remain here; surely you could be upfront with Australian voters and say that many of those you know have either exaggerated their medical conditions, concocted them, even harmed themselves deliberately to get the medical transfer to Australia?
COLEMAN: Well look Chris, we've had the medical transfer process in place for some years now. It's not something that we make a big fuss about and we don't seek to go and publicise everything that occurs there but we have had medical transfers, as I've said, for some years - we think that's appropriate not only to Australia, by the way, also to Papua New Guinea and Taiwan but where it's appropriate…
KENNY: Sure, we understand that and we understand that you don't want to go into details of individual cases and of course where the medical care is required of course they must happen, but you have had instances where you believe that you've been tak en for a ride by these medical transfers have you not?
COLEMAN: Well, I think there's always cases where we have people who come and then obviously launch court action to seek to stay in Australia.
KENNY: Well, virtually all of them.
COLEMAN: Medical transfers I'm not - well, a large number of them do Chris, that's right. But medical transfers are not a path to permanent settlement in Australia. Our policy is very clear in this area and that is that people who arrive unlawfully by boat will not settle permanently in Australia, but Chris there's a really big contrast between what we had which has been an orderly process with the input of doctors located in the same country and Bill Shorten's law. And it's Bill Shorten's law, it's not Kerryn Phelps'. I mean Kerryn Phelps is always the one out there talking about it Chris, but there's only one Kerryn Phelps. There are 18 Labour senators who vo ted for this on the 6th of December and they wanted it to be the law of Australia on the 6th of December because they wanted to rush it through the house that day. So if they did have their way, we wouldn't be talking tonight Chris about whether or not this law comes into being. We'd be talking about the hundreds of people who would have transferred during the two months. Because the advice from our agencies is very clear that this bill if passed is the end of offshore processing. It will overwhelm our existing detention network and we believe it will mean that we will have to reopen Christmas Island at a cost to taxpayers of more than a billion dollars. It's an extraordinary…
KENNY: Yes, it's very important we explore that, it's very important we explore that David Coleman. You're saying and on advice, but others in government are saying that all of those people still being held on Manus and Nauru, that's about a thousand people w ould come to Australia. Why are you certain they would come to Australia? Are you certain that they are all sick and suffering? That their psychological trauma is that bad that they would all qualify or do you think that they would just be able to convince doctors or do you believe doctors would conspire with them? Why are you so certain that all of them would get here?
COLEMAN: Yeah, you've just got to look at what's in the legislation, Chris. So basically, any two doctors anywhere in Australia can say that someone should come to Australia and they don't have to say they're sick. This is a very important point; it's often misreported. They merely have to say that they think the person should come to Australia for an assessment. Now, one doctor could quite easily provide that certificate for 50 people and there's nothing to stop one person on Manus or Nauru going to 20 different doctors until they find the two who will provide it. So basic ally, everyone will get that…
KENNY: But couldn't your medical review overturn such advice?
COLEMAN: Well, there is a 24-hour process for the minister on reasonable medical grounds to object and then there's a 24-hour process for the medical panel to review it, but the reality is, Chris, that the system would be so overwhelmed so quickly by hundreds and hundreds of people with these two doctors that in short order the large proportion of, the large bulk of them would be in Australia. I mean it's self-evident. And so if we as a country, as a government, must control the decisions about who comes to Australia. There is a fundamental principle of sovereignty of Westminster government Chris. What this law would do is say: well no actually the government does not decide, the two doctors or the panel decides. And that is just absurd, and I mean the Labor Party has been out there saying that they support that, you know, there should b e ministerial discretion and the minister should have the final say. Well they should tell that to the 18 senators who voted for this law in December; you know, they voted for a law that does not provide that at all.
KENNY: There is no doubt that if this transpired, as you say, it would be the end of offshore processing. The question then is whether or not that would be enough to spark people smugglers again, no one really knows. We have our suspicions, but the risk would seem pretty extreme. At the heart of this, Michael Johnson, is your own- sorry, the heart of this, David Coleman, is your own government's inability to resettle all those people on Manus and Nauru, the overwhelming majority of whom are already classified as refugees. I know the US option has been a brilliant breakthrough, hundreds are being resettled in the US. But just when can you resettle everyone on Nauru and Manus Island? Because that is the problem here, getting the - allowing these people to get on with their lives.
COLEMAN: Well, we have 456 people resettled in the US. There is maximum of 1250, we expect further resettlements in the US very shortly. Another point that's sometimes overlooked in this debate, Chris, is that refugees who are on Manus Island are also able to permanently resettle in Papua New Guinea. So that is an important option for refugees who have been found to be refugees on Manus, they can permanently resettle in Papua New Guinea.
KENNY: Have any taken up that option yet?
COLEMAN: Ah yeah, a number have actually…
KENNY: How many have taken up that option of permanent settlement in PNG?
COLEMAN: About 60. About 60 people have done that. And that is an option for people on Manus Island, Chris. So, it's important to note that there's the US resettlement option and there's also the Papua New Guinea resettlement option. And we continue to successfully move people to the United States, but we do this in an orderly way, Chris. We're not going to go back to a situation - we will never ever allow a situation of what happened before, where, you know, 8000 kids were placed in detention, where 1200 people drowned at sea, including children, and where 50,000 people arrived on boats. If you look at Australia's post-war history, Chris, it's very hard to find a more catastrophic example of public policy failure than what we saw under Rudd and Gillard. We've fixed it, we stopped the boats, we got the kids out of detention, we've got kids from Nauru, and we have an orderly system of medical transfers that works in appropriate circumstances. So what we now have is the people who effectively created the problem in the first place, coming along and saying, well let's change the law to basically, you know, improve things even though things have been fixed by this government. So it's an extraordinary situation.
KENNY: Well, if the Labor Party teams up with the independents in Parliament this week, David, and actually makes these changes, do you commit that, should you win the election, you would get rid of it? That you would legislate to restore the strength of offshore processing?
COLEMAN: Well, the PM's been very clear on this, Chris, and he's made it clear that he won't be negotiating on these very core principles. I mean, after all, the PM was the one who first fixed this problem and then Peter Dutton has so successfully managed it in subsequent years. So the PM understands this intimately. He will never adopt a system like that that Labor voted for because, you know, if you end offshore processing, the boats start again. And another important point on that Chris, the focus - a lot of the focus is on the thousand people who are currently on Manus and Nauru, but Labor's law applies to any future arrivals as well. So w hat that means is, if a boat arrives and people are taken to an offshore processing location, then once they get the two doctor's certificates - and it might be just a couple of weeks after they arrive - then this whole process starts again.
KENNY: Yeah, yeah, that's why it's such a risk.
COLEMAN: So that gives people smugglers a very, very strong piece of marketing material, Chris.
KENNY: David Coleman, thanks so much for your time.
COLEMAN: Thank you.