Topics: Bill Shorten’s weakening of border protection policy and offshore processing
OLIVER PETERSON: Medivac legislation has passed the Senate. So let's go to David Coleman. He is the Immigration Minister and he joins me on Perth Live. Good afternoon.
DAVID COLEMAN: Afternoon Ollie.
PETERSON: How does this bill give people smugglers the green light?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, this bill dismantles offshore processing Ollie, which has been absolutely fundamental to our border security because what this bill basically means is that the Government of Australia would no longer decide who comes to Australia. It's a very important point. At the moment, we have a system that the Government controls that determines who transfers to Australia. Under this bill, that will be taken away from the Government and that will be outsourced - firstly to any two doctors anywhere in Australia, and then potentially to another medical panel. But the bottom line is, this means that the Australian Government is not able to decide who comes into Australia, and that is an absolute decimation of our existing system, our existing successful system of offshore processing.
PETERSON: Alright. But this only applies to the people who are currently on Nauru or Manus. So if any further boats arrive in Australia, they won't be subject to this bill.
COLEMAN: Well, that's Bill Shorten's- well, that's what he's saying.
COLEMAN: Bill Shorten has been all over the place on this issue. I mean you remember he tried to rush this through the Senate and the House of Reps in December. They voted for it in the Senate in December. Just as recently as yesterday, he had three or four different positions. And the bottom line is here, he is significantly, substantially weakening our successful border security policies. And people smugglers don't deal in nuance Ollie. So they're not going to be sitting there, sort of listening to Bill Shorten's finer points. They're going to be simply noticing that Bill Shorten is dismantling offshore processing.
PETERSON: Alright. But are they at the ready already Minister? Are the people smugglers ready to send more boats towards Australia in the coming weeks and the coming months?
COLEMAN: Well look, there's no question that people smugglers are out there. They take a very close interest in what is happening in Australia. And they obviously will notice such a massive change in policy.
PETERSON: But there's no intelligence to suggest they're at the ready, they're on their way, or they're preparing to send more boats towards Australia?
COLEMAN: Well look, I wouldn't comment on intelligence, other than to say that it's common sense to note that people smugglers are out there; they are evil. What they care about is making money. If they can see an opportunity to put people on boats to make money, they'll do it. And the opportunity that Bill Shorten, by changing these laws, is going to create marketing material for those people smugglers. And let's not forget Ollie, last time Labor was in government, 1200 people drowned at sea, including children and 8000 kids were placed in detention. Now we got those kids out of detention. We've got kids off Nauru. We are the ones who have actually got this chaotic situation that Labor created under control. And now, Labor comes along and says: they want to change everything.
PETERSON: Alright. Why are you going to reopen Christmas Island?
COLEMAN: We're reopening Christmas Island Ollie because the advice is we're going to need it. And the reason that we expect that we're going to need it is because of the flow of people that is going to come as a consequence of these changes. We've proposed…
PETERSON: So when will it open?
COLEMAN: Well, that process has commenced today.
PETERSON: Alright. Who would go there then; new arrivals? I thought they'd go to Manus or Nauru.
COLEMAN: Well look, we're expecting a significant number of people to come to Australia, Ollie, and Christmas Island will be there for that contingency when that happens. I mean we closed 19 detention centres. We closed 19 detention centres because we stopped the boats, we were able to get kids out of detention. We actually only just closed Christmas Island down a few months ago Ollie, as a result of our successful border protection policies. But as a consequence of this, the advice to us very clearly is we need to put it back into operation and that's what the Prime Minister's decided to do.
PETERSON: Alright - do you really need this or is this just a stunt from the Government?
COLEMAN: No. Absolutely not. I mean, this is absolutely needed. The advice to us is that we should be expecting very substantial numbers of people, and it's just self-evident if you read Labor's law – it’s deliberately structured to end offshore processing, and that means large numbers of people coming to Australia. That is explicitly what it's designed to do. And of course Ollie the argument that Bill Shorten makes is that this is all about health care. Well, on Nauru right now Ollie, there are 64 medical professionals for a total of 418 refugees and asylum seekers. So that's one medical professional for less than every seven people on Nauru. Now, what town or city in Australia has that level of medical support? We provide very substantial medical support and where it's necessary and appropriate to do so, we do transfer people to Australia and to other countries for medical treatment; we've been doing that quietly for a number of years. But what this bill would do is basically end the existing system, take the decisions out of the control of the government, and that is completely the wrong way to legislate under the Westminster system of government where governments are accountable, not unelected individuals.
PETERSON: Well, there are some allegations that some of those people on Manus and Nauru have committed very, very serious crimes. Are you worried that a doctor may be able to influence whether that particular individual comes to Australia when a Minister of the day would have said: no way, we don't want somebody here who may have committed rape or they may have committed murder?
COLEMAN: Well Ollie, it's very clear - if you have a look at amendment 14 that Labor made yesterday, it defines very clearly the very limited discretion of the minister to stop someone coming to Australia. It's very limited. At the moment, if someone comes to Australia on a tourist- as a tourist or as a student or as a skilled employee, there's a very significant set of checks that are applied to them before they can be granted a visa. Now under Labor's law, those checks are not made and the standard for someone coming from Manus or Nauru is actually much lower than it is for somebody coming on a regular visa. So, to your question of is there the opportunity for people to come where there are serious issues as to their character, serious issues as to allegations of crime, and indeed of crimes being committed - yes, there are absolutely those issues under what Labor's voted for.
PETERSON: How many boats have been turned around in Australian waters since the Liberal National Government was formed in 2013?
COLEMAN: Well it's been a significant number Ollie, but as you know, in recent years that number's come down very substantially because the trade in people smuggling has been stopped by this Government. I mean, when we came into office back in 2013, you know, the system was completely out of control. There were 800 boats arrived under the previous government with 50,000 people on them. You'll recall in 2013, when our Government said we're going to fix this, we're going to get this situation under control, people said it couldn't be done. People said it was an intractable problem. Well our government fixed it. We got kids out of detention. We've stopped the boats and now Labor comes along, out of sheer political opportunism and says we want to dismantle the successful offshore processing system that this government has built. That is a very, very poor piece of political behaviour by Labor. It tells you everything you need to know about the cynical political opportunism of the Opposition.
PETERSON: Well they're saying you're opportunistic or the Government's opportunistic, and they're saying you're trying to strike fear in the Australian people, in fact, you probably hope that boats arrive between now and the election because you're rolling the dice; this is your last chance to save the furniture and save the Government.
COLEMAN: Absolutely not Ollie. But I tell you what we're not going to do. We're not going to wave through Bill Shorten dismantling Australia's successful border protection laws. I mean, who would seriously expect us to do that? We're the ones that have solved the problems; we're the ones that have got the kids out of detention. We didn't put them there Ollie. We didn't put them there; Labor did. We're the ones that got the kids out of detention. So, do you seriously expect the government, when Bill Shorten comes along and says he's going to dismantle the system that has worked so effectively, to just simply say – that's all fine. We're not going to do that Ollie, because we know how to manage this. We've managed this very successfully. We've provided medical transfers when necessary and we provide a very substantial amount of medical care. But we're not going to just sort of sit here and let Bill Shorten dismantle the system.
PETERSON: Immigration Minister David Coleman, thank you for your time.
COLEMAN: Thanks Ollie.