Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Interview with Tom Connell, Sky News

Topics: Bill Shorten’s weakening of border protection policy, onshore protection claims and women at risk visa program


TOM CONNELL: Immigration Minister, David Coleman joins me now here in the studio. Thank you for your time. 


CONNELL: This move from Nauru - they're going to ban teleconference appointments leading to medical evacuations. Does this mean effectively nobody in Nauru realistically, will be getting these medical evacuations?

COLEMAN: Well Tom look, Nauru's a sovereign nation and obviously, Nauru will make decisions that it thinks are appropriate for Nauru. And we've worked with Nauru successfully on medical issues and medical evacuations over a number of years and we'll continue to talk with the government of Nauru. But as you know, people are on Nauru because Labor put them there because of the catastrophic failure of border security. Offshore processing and the existing arrangements in relation to medical transfers have been very successful in securing Australia's borders; people are no longer drowning at sea, we are not putting children in detention - Labor put 8,000 children in detention. And all of these policies have worked very effectively and this bill that Labor has passed upends offshore processing - it is going to create a very substantial number of people coming to Australia in a short period of time. And look of course, we'll always work with Nauru but Nauru is a sovereign nation.

CONNELL: You mentioned there a sovereign nation but who's actually responsible for these people? Nauru or Australia?

COLEMAN: Well, the people are in Nauru and they are under Nauruan law. Australia provides services; we obviously are involved in the provision of healthcare
through HMS and so on. But it's under Nauruan law and that's…

CONNELL: So they're no longer, in any sense, in the care of Australia?

COLEMAN: Well, these matters have been before the courts and so on Tom. But the bottom line is that Nauru is a sovereign nation and as is PNG and we work closely with those nations on offshore processing. But the reason we have to work with them very closely - the reason these people are there is because of what we saw as a catastrophic failure of Australia's border security; that's what happened under the previous government and now we have a situation where the situation is under control; where boats have stopped; where people aren't being placed in detention; where kids are not being placed in detention; Bill Shorten wants to come along and upend it. And a really important point here Tom is the talk about people who are ill and so on - firstly, the bill; people do not have to be ill, they merely have to be- physicians merely need to say they have to come for an assessment. Secondly, one doctor can specify an unlimited number of people to accompany that individual to Australia; an unlimited number Tom.

CONNELL: They have to be connected though, right? 

COLEMAN: No, that's not correct. So this is an extraordinary point Tom, so I’d encourage you to look at bill closely. Family members are included, you're right, but then it also says and other accompanying persons; there is no limit on the number of accompanying persons. One doctor can specify those accompanying persons.

CONNELL: You wouldn't suggest a doctor is going to say bring a hundred of your mates along.

COLEMAN: Well Tom, I think there are obviously doctors who express very strong views on offshore processing and I think it's extraordinary that Labor in its bill, has provided for a situation where an unlimited number of people can accompany the individual person; I mean that's what it says in the bill in black and white. The only scenario where the minister or the government could stop all of those accompanying people from coming is if they're in breach of the security definition under the ASIO Act or they've been to jail for 12 months. So that's an extraordinary point Tom and something that needs further scrutiny. 

CONNELL: Okay, fair enough. On the evacuations that could go to Christmas Island. Who decides whether they go to Christmas Island or the Australian mainland?

COLEMAN: Well that's a process that we- the government will manage, Tom. I mean the government has…

CONNELL: But who? Do you decide?

COLEMAN: Well, I'm the responsible minister, yes. 

CONNELL: So you decide whether they'll go to the mainland or Christmas Island?

COLEMAN: That's correct. And the government has made clear that we are going to need to re-open Christmas Island and as was confirmed in Senate Estimates testimony the other night. And the reason for that Tom is because we are expecting a very large number of people because of the radical changes involved in this bill. 

CONNELL: So just on that though, in terms of the medical facilities, what are they like on Christmas Island compared to Nauru and Manus Island?

COLEMAN: We will ensure that adequate medical facilities are provided.

CONNELL: What are they like now, because you're saying you're expecting this in the short term; what are they like right now?

COLEMAN: Well again, we'll ensure that adequate medical facilities are provided. So if a person needs to be treated for a particular matter, adequate facilities will be provided at Christmas Island. But we're going to have to deal with processing of hundreds of people in a short period of time; this has never happened before Tom. And sometimes, people try and make a comparison and say: well, the Government's brought people for medical transfers before - and that's right, we have. But we've done so in a way that the Government of Australia actually controls, not in a way in which hundreds of people can arrive in a very short time. 

CONNELL: I understand that, but given you're saying it could be hundreds at a time, what are the facilities like right now? Are they any better at Christmas Island compared to Nauru and Manus Island?

COLEMAN: Well again Tom, we'll ensure that the adequate facilities are there when people arrive.

CONNELL: But just to pick up on that one. You say: we will ensure - does that mean they're ready to go now? 

COLEMAN: Well again Tom, we will ensure that adequate facilities are provided to treat people, and that's absolutely what will occur. 

CONNELL: Does that mean you'll need to build new facilities or make any adjustments…

COLEMAN: Well again Tom, we'll ensure…

CONNELL: …take medical equipment there?

COLEMAN: We'll ensure that adequate facilities are provided. If people are transferred here for medical purpose, adequate medical facilities will be provided.

CONNELL: And if they can't be in that short term, because you say there could be hundreds in the short - in the next few weeks, whatever it might be. If that's not ready to go at Christmas Island, you'd bring them to the mainland?

COLEMAN: Well again Tom, adequate medical services will be provided; that's absolutely the case. But the key point here is we have never experienced a situation where based on the say so of potentially two doctors who have never met the person and a volunteer medical panel, that people can be brought to Australia for assessment along with any other number of people that are nominated by one doctor - that is an extraordinary situation. We expect - we fully expect that it's going to lead to a very large number of people coming, and that's why we need to re-open Christmas Island which we closed of course, because we've shut 19 detention centres. 

CONNELL: What about if they are sent to Christmas Island, you decide to do that, could that be subject to a court challenge?

COLEMAN: Well, one of the issues of course Tom, is that court challenges are very common in this area. The bill provides very clearly that people need to be in held detention for the purpose of coming here for the purpose of providing medical care. But, look, you're right in suggesting that court cases are often launched in this area, that's true. 

CONNELL: Could happen for that particular [indistinct]…

COLEMAN: Well look, I mean obviously we wouldn't be the applicant in that case, but you can never rule out court cases Tom, because there are any number of people out there who do not, in terms of activists and so on, who lodge court cases. But what we have to do as a government is deal with this extraordinary change in the Australian law. It's going to upend offshore processing, and we need to deal with the fact that we're going to get very large numbers of people, and Christmas Island is an important part of that. 

CONNELL: Can I ask you about other aspects of immigration. Been a bit of talk about plane arrivals. They've gone from 9,000 to 18,000 to 28,000; these are people arriving and seeking asylum in Australia. Is that increase a concern?

COLEMAN: Well look, I think the first point that you've got to focus on here Tom, is people can apply but the question is do they actually get what they are seeking? Now last year, 95 per cent of those people that you're referring to did not get asylum. So the fact that someone applies is not determinative of the outcome. This is a global situation, it’s happening all around the world. And of course, when people arrive by plane, they're not risking their lives at sea. It's not like under Labor where we've had to spend 16 - this is important Tom - $16 billion is the total cost to Australian taxpayers of these unlawful boat arrivals. People who arrive by plane come under a visa, then they put in an application for protection; the overwhelming majority are rejected. 

CONNELL: I'm just wondering though if that's a concern; it's tripled. You've also got a big increase in Malaysia and Chinese citizens, in particular, claiming asylum. Is this a concern, the increase? Are you looking into why this is happening?

COLEMAN: Well look, we're always looking at a range of issues across the migration program. But as I said Tom, the fact that someone applies - 95 per cent last year were rejected. So that is the key point, because then the question is: how many of these people are actually successful in their claims. 

CONNELL: Just finally and quickly, going into one other aspect. Visas for women at risk are at a five-year low, down to 940. Is that a number you'd like to lift?

COLEMAN: Well Tom, I've actually instructed the Department to increase the proportion of the program that's allocated for the Women at Risk program. It's been very successful for our Government in terms of increasing the number of women at risk coming. It's something that I believe in very strongly. And I've instructed the Department to increase the number of visas granted to women at risk. 

CONNELL: Immigration Minister David Coleman, thanks for your time. 

COLEMAN: Thanks Tom.