Topics: Bill Shorten's weakening of border protection policy
KIERAN GILBERT: We're joined live now by the Immigration Minister David Coleman. Thanks so much for your time Minister.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good morning.
GILBERT: I want to ask you first up, Mark Riley's Channel 7 report at the end of last week said that 64,000 people over the last four years have arrived by plane and sought asylum. 64,000 - an enormous number. How do you explain the difference between the weight the Government gives to those arriving by boat, versus that huge number that have sought asylum arriving by plane? What's the difference?
COLEMAN: Well look, 95 per cent of those people- asylum claims are rejected. So you can have a significant number apply but 95 per cent of them were rejected last year, so that's the very important point Kieran. I think also, very important to note in terms of boat arrivals, we obviously see those very tragic human consequences. So we saw 1,200 people drown at sea when boat arrivals occurred. We saw, of course, 8,000 kids placed in detention and there are enormous costs under the boat arrivals. The cost to Australian taxpayers since 2007 from the unlawful boat arrivals that occurred in that period is now up to over $16 billion. So boat arrivals are of extraordinary concern.
GILBERT: Is that more than the plane arrivals. The cost?
COLEMAN: Oh well absolutely. And the Government's position on boat arrivals is very, very clear, and that is that people who arrive unlawfully by boat will not settle in Australia and it's a very important principle because we don't want people getting on those boats and risking their lives at sea. And that's why the changes that Bill Shorten rushed through the parliament are of such grave concern, because they dismantle the existing system of offshore processing. They take the system of medical transfers from an orderly process where doctors who are physically located in the same country as the individuals make recommendations, to one where doctors in Hobart or Devonport or Perth decide the outcome. And it is a very, very irresponsible action that the opposition has taken.
LAURA JAYES: But the Government has control over who you appoint to the panel, so therefore you can make it non-partisan if you have the power to do so. And this idea that it has dismantled border protection - how? Because my understanding is that the recommendation or the advice given to Bill Shorten in these briefings, well that advice was taken on board and it only applies to those existing on Nauru and Manus Island. So how does that dismantle?
COLEMAN: Well let's pick up on that point Laura. I mean, so let's analyse what Bill Shorten is basically saying here to people smugglers and people who might…
JAYES: But I don't want to…
COLEMAN: No, no, no. I want to address your point.
JAYES: I know, but I want to go the substantive issue of this bill now. I take the point that Labor's history shows that they may go further on this, but that is not what's happening now. So on this policy alone, how does it dismantle border protection?
COLEMAN: Well let me pick up your specific point about the cohort to whom the bill applies. So basically it applies obviously to everyone who's there on Manus and Nauru now. It is a very, very low threshold that's required in order for people to come to Australia, and so we expect that in short orders substantially everyone will come to Australia. Then Bill Shorten turns around and says: oh but if I'm elected…
JAYES: Everyone's sick then?
COLEMAN: No, that's not correct, because the bill doesn't even require people to be sick Laura.
JAYES: It requires them to be assessed to be sick.
COLEMAN: That's right. All that's required is that somebody says that it's necessary that they come to Australia for assessment.
JAYES: That would be a failure of the people you appoint to your panel, though, wouldn't it?
COLEMAN: That is an extraordinarily low standard Laura. So, here's what we believe will happen, is that we'll have a very large number of people come based on this law. Now, Bill Shorten's argument is then to say: well, if we're elected we'll actually turn around the entire system which we just created and then go back to how it was for any new arrivals. Who's going to believe that? Because, it's a very important point.
GILBERT: But as Laura said though, this is the security agencies' advice, so, you know, and that was confirmed by Derryn Hinch publicly that this was what he was advised by the security agencies and Mr Shorten and the rest of his team are saying; well we listen to them and hence it's just the current cohort. So, are the agencies wrong then in their advice?
COLEMAN: Well I don't think I would accept a second-hand characterisation through Mr Shorten, but what I would say is, think about it from its pure common sense perspective. So Labor changes the law that has worked, that has been very effective in securing our borders and has been fundamental to offshore processing. So they change that law. As a consequence, we're going to see very large numbers of people arriving from Manus and Nauru. And then they say: but, oh don't worry about it, because if we're elected into government, we'll just ensure that that doesn't happen for any new arrivals. That just does not stand up to common sense Kieran.
JAYES: How is it different from the almost 500 sick people on Manus and Nauru who have been transferred to the mainland and have not returned over the last four or five years?
COLEMAN: Well, it's extremely different Laura. So under the current process, what happens is a doctor who is physically located in the same country as the patient…
JAYES: It doesn't matter, those people are here, and you have sent them back, so isn't that a dismantling of border protection on your logic?
COLEMAN: No, no, not at all, because what we've had Laura, is an orderly process where people are given medical care in the country of Manus or Nauru. If there are issues that can't be addressed there, they can be transferred to Pacific International Hospital in Port Moresby, some people have gone to Taiwan, and a significant number have come to Australia. That occurs on the advice of doctors in the same country. What Labor is doing, and it's very important, is their saying two doctors who are based in Dapto can say this person should come to Australia for assessment.
GILBERT: Yeah, but you talk about the Dapto doctors, what about the chief medical officer, and the chief medical officer of Home Affairs or Border Force? They're on the panel which would oversee the two doctors. So you keep saying two doctors but it's actually a panel of experts that would oversee them.
COLEMAN: Well, there's eight members of the panel Kieran, and as you know, the legislation's specifies quite prescriptively who should be appointed, and from what organisations they should be. But the bottom line is, a system where recommendations are made by doctors who are in the same country, and where the Government of Australia ultimately decides who comes.
GILBERT: But it's the Government that appoints the chief medical officer, the Government that appoints the chief medical officer of Border Force. I mean, these aren't, you know, your average GP's. These are very senior government appointed medical professionals. So instead of saying just two doctors, why don't you say two doctors then reviewed by a medical panel? That's more accurate.
COLEMAN: Well, there's a panel of eight people, and again, as I say at the moment, the process is: a recommendation is made, the Government of Australia currently decides when a medical transfer occurs, right? Now, I think the average Australian would think that was entirely appropriate and the Government of Australia should make that decision. It is indisputable that under Shorten's law, the Government of Australia does not decide, except with those narrow exceptions on the 12 month criminal or the ASIO issue.
JAYES: I just want to ask you about Jenny Morrison as well. She has revealed that her husband cried and wept on his knees over this detention centre issue, and children, and more broadly families in detention. You've only been Immigration Minister for a short amount of time, but do you get where she's coming from? Both what you've experienced personally, and you know, Scott Morrison being in that portfolio for so long?
COLEMAN: Sure. I mean, it is a very complex area of public policy, and it's an area of public policy where people of goodwill have all sorts of different views. But the bottom line is, we know what happened between 2007 and 2013. If you look at Australia's public policy history since the Second World War, it is very hard to come up with anything that is as bad as what happened in that period. People died, kids died, 8,000 kids were basically locked up in detention and we can never ever let that happen again, and this Prime Minister is not going to let that happen again. And that's why it's important that we pursue policies which secure our borders and also provide the appropriate care of people.
JAYES: David Coleman, thanks for your time this morning.
GILBERT: Thanks Minister. Cheers.
COLEMAN: Thank you.