Subjects: Border protection, medical transfers from Nauru and Manus, immigration
JOHN STANLEY: The Immigration Minister David Coleman joins us on the line now. Mr Coleman, good morning to you.
DAVID COLEMAN: Morning John.
STANLEY: Now, in terms of the boat turn back policy, it has been very successful. I'm presuming it's happening as we speak without a lot being said about it.
COLEMAN: Well look, there's three key elements of our successful policies John. There's boat turn backs but there's also offshore processing and resettlement and there's also temporary protection visas. What Labor has said already is they're going to get rid of temporary protection visas, and they've also said effectively, that they'll get rid of offshore processing because basically what they're saying is they're going to outsource that to doctors from the Minister, and effectively on the advice of any two doctors anywhere in Australia - could be in Mudgee, could be in Hobart, could be in Perth, wherever - if two doctors say that somebody should come to Australia merely for medical assessment, then unless the Minister objects within 24 hours, they come, and then even if the Minister objects they can be overruled by a medical panel and then the person comes to Australia anyway.
STANLEY: So in that argument yesterday, Richard Marles was arguing to David Speers that ultimately the Minister, regardless of what the doctors are saying, would have the final decision. Is that your reading of it? Because you've seen the legislation as David has.
COLEMAN: What Richard Marles said yesterday is completely wrong. So, either he deliberately misled David Speers or he does not understand what the Labor Party voted for. And it's really important John, this isn't just some theoretical policy. The Labor Party already voted for this. They voted for this in the Senate. They wanted to vote for it in the House of Representatives as well. So if the Labor Party had had its way on that day, this would've already passed through the Parliament. So just to explain how it works, as I said, if any two doctors consult somebody, say on Manus Island via Skype, and they say they think it's necessary for that person to come to Australia for medical assessment - they don't have to find the person is sick, they merely have to say that they think the person should come to Australia for assessment - then the Minister has 24 hours to object on medical grounds, and what Labor minister is going to do that? And even if they do, they can be overruled by a medical panel and the only exemptions - exception to that is if the person breaches security as defined under the ASIO Act, which is very, very narrow. So what Richard Marles said yesterday was 100 per cent wrong and what Labor has already voted for is a fundamental change to our offshore processing system, which in effect will lead to its end because it will be so straightforward to obtain those two medical certificates that substantially everyone will get them.
STANLEY: Okay. So you're saying that the boats would start again but if Operation Sovereign Borders is continued as it's operating now, they'd be able to stop them, would they or wouldn't they?
COLEMAN: Well John, I mean, obviously the best way to ensure that boats don't make it to Australia is to stop the boats before they come - so to basically disrupt the flow of boats - and that's why all three elements of our policy are so successful. You need temporary protection visas, you need offshore processing, you need boat turn backs. I mean, we can't forget what happened - it was only five years ago John, it's not ancient history. We had 50,000 people arrive unlawfully under Labor, we had 8,000 children forcibly placed in detention, and we had 1,200 people drown at sea. Now what we know in recent years is that the government's policies have worked. The problem has been solved. What Bill Shorten now says is he wants to fundamentally change the system, and then he basically says - trust me, you know, trust me Bill Shorten on border security. And Australians are much too smart for that. I mean, we need all three elements of our successful border protection policies. This Government's record is very, very strong in this area and because Labor is pandering to the left of its party and to the Greens, and because they wanted to try to embarrass the government in Parliament, they've adopted this position which will lead effectively to the end of offshore processing and will restart boats. And one other point that's really important John, Labor's policy applies not only to the people who are on Manus and Nauru now, but also to any future arrivals. So imagine this scenario John: under a Labor government a boat arrives, imagine people are then taken to an offshore processing country such as Manus and Nauru, a couple of weeks later they get two medical certificates from Australia saying that they should come to Australia for medical assessment. Unless the minister seeks to intervene within 24 hours those people come, and even if the minister does, it will be overruled by a medical panel anyway. So this doesn't just apply to the people who are on Manus and Nauru now, it applies to future arrivals as well.
STANLEY: If they arrived here.
COLEMAN: Yeah. It's very powerful marketing material for people smugglers.
STANLEY: We're going to hear a lot about this between now and the next election from you. The other issue of course that you've got to deal with is the broader question of immigration. You represent, I think, I'm correct, I look at your electorate with one of the more multicultural electorates in the country. I think, am I right? You're the first Liberal member in memory, I think, when you won that seat in 2013.
COLEMAN: Yeah that's correct.
STANLEY: So, what do they tell you in your electorate about population and about the broader immigration numbers in Sydney where that area is certainly one of the areas affected by the congestion that we're facing?
COLEMAN: Yeah absolutely John. I mean congestion, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, is a very real issue and people should be allowed to express their views on that and to speak openly about that because it's a real issue in my electorate and it's an issue in many electorates around Australia. Now, the PM's already flagged that there will be a reduction in the overall immigration…
STANLEY: But what are your people telling you? Because they're mostly immigrants - or sons and daughters of immigrants - in your electorate. So what do they tell you about what they want?
COLEMAN: Well, people are supportive of immigration and immigration's been a positive thing for Australia of course John. But the level of immigration needs to be appropriate and importantly, it needs to match the regional needs. We've got this situation in the country now John, where we've got places like South Australia, like Warrnambool, like parts of Queensland, and other areas where they're basically saying we need more people, we need more migration. The migration system's not providing those people but is providing a very, very large intake into Sydney and Melbourne. So one of the things I'm looking at very closely John, is how we better match those regional needs for population to our immigration program. So the overall cap is one issue, but then there's another issue which is within that cap, how are the numbers distributed, and how do we get more people to the regions to fill those population needs and some of those gaps in the labour market?
STANLEY: Because the trick for you as I see it, if you were to come out and say -because everyone talks in this absolute term about the cap - and you come out and say: well look the cap is going to stay the same or maybe we'll bring it down a little bit but I can tell the people in my electorate and people in the inner city and the people who are really feeling the congestion that the new people coming are going to be going, say, to South Australia, the regions, we're not going to be continuing to pull people into Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane where they can't cope.
COLEMAN: Yeah and the PM and I are very conscious of this issue of congestion in Sydney and Melbourne.
STANLEY: But can you tell them that? Can you give them a guarantee?
COLEMAN: Well look, obviously we'll be making announcements next year in relation to the migration program but the broad point you're making John about the need for an increased proportion of the program to be going to regional areas is absolutely right. The system has not provided enough people to regional areas and it should do so. And that's absolutely something we're very focused on.
STANLEY: All right. Well, good luck with that. Thank you. Thank you very much for your time.
COLEMAN: Thanks John.