Subjects: Border protection, offshore processing
DAVID SPEERS: With me now is the Immigration Minister David Coleman. Minister thanks for your time this afternoon.
DAVID COLEMAN: Good afternoon David.
DAVID SPEERS: I know it's very busy there in the House, so I appreciate you ducking out for us. What concerns you most about this proposed change from Labor?
DAVID COLEMAN: It's a long list David. I mean, the first point - last time Labor and the Greens got together on border security, 50,000 people arrived, 1,200 people drowned at sea including kids, 8,000 people were placed in detention. Billions of dollars to the Australian taxpayer - that's the record. Today they say - trust us. Trust us on how to approach this issue. So that's the fundamental point. It is a purely politically…
DAVID SPEERS: Okay. But specifically, what change here would concern you?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well look, as you know one of the statements that has been made about this bill is that it's about removing kids from Nauru. Now David there are currently ten kids on Nauru.
DAVID SPEERS: And adults as well.
DAVID COLEMAN: Sure. But the…
DAVID SPEERS: And that's what 1200, is that right?
DAVID COLEMAN: There's well over 1000, yes. And of the ten kids on Nauru, four are shortly to resettle in the United States under our successful resettlement agreement. So let's just get that fact clear up front.
DAVID SPEERS: It's the adults as well, isn't it? More than 1,000 of them that we're talking about here.
DAVID COLEMAN: That's right. This would apply to more than 1,000 people, more than 90 per cent adult males, some adult females and a very, very small number of children.
DAVID SPEERS: So it's to do with how they are transferred for medical treatment. What change specifically concerns you?
DAVID COLEMAN: Look, a whole number, but bottom line on this proposal David, is that if any two clinicians anywhere in Australia say that a person should be transferred to Australia, not even because those doctors have said they're sick, but merely because they think they should come to Australia to be assessed, then effectively they must come to Australia. And let me just…
DAVID SPEERS: But hang on, the Minister would be able to say no.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well the Minister under this proposal has very, very limited discretion and the reality is that no Labor minister, based on their record is ever going to intervene in this sort of situation.
DAVID SPEERS: Well you can allege that, but it says that the minister can turn back on…
DAVID COLEMAN: Well it's got very specific circumstances David.
DAVID SPEERS: Minister can refuse transfer if prejudicial to security.
DAVID COLEMAN: Sure. And…
DAVID SPEERS: That seems pretty broad.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well it's there but that's only one characteristic and the other one that it mentions is if the Minister effectively is going to overrule the medical decision. So it's very limited discretion to the Minister. But the very important…
DAVID SPEERS: How is that limited discretion if the minister can simply say - on security grounds, no, you're not coming.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well…
DAVID SPEERS: That's very broad.
DAVID COLEMAN: It's actually very limited David because security is one issue but the broader issue here is - is offshore processing and resettlement to remain or not? Because what this bill does is it effectively enables every single person on Manus and Nauru to obtain from two doctors a simple statement to say, yes they should come to Australia to be assessed. If 50 doctors in Australia under this bill said, no, they shouldn't come to Australia to be assessed, but the 51st and 52nd said they should, they'd be coming.
DAVID SPEERS: But the Minister can still say no.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well, but in limited circumstances. There is a security provision there that mentions the specification under the ASIO Act.
DAVID SPEERS: It says that the Minister can just say, on security grounds, no.
DAVID COLEMAN: And also David, the issue though, is that the medical provisions are so broad that basically any doctor or any psychiatrist in Australia, if two of them say that they should come to Australia, then in the overwhelming majority of cases would occur. So let's not pretend that this is about some sort of orderly process of medical transfers. We have a process in place at the moment which has been effective.
DAVID SPEERS: Well just explain that process to us, because there's probably a lot of people who don't understand how it works at the moment. It's essentially done by a senior team within Home Affairs that judge medical transfers. Is that right?
DAVID COLEMAN: There's a recommendation from doctors who are based physically on Nauru - so actually see the person physically - as opposed to being based in Hobart or Perth or Alice Springs.
DAVID SPEERS: Well some doctors in Hobart, Perth or Alice Springs do treat those refugees and asylum seekers over there don't they, via Skype?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well that has been occurring, but clearly when we've got 65 health professionals in place in Nauru, that is obviously the optimal way to be treated. So basically what happens now is a recommendation is made to the committee, the committee includes a representative of the Chief Medical Officer of the Department, and that then processes transfers. And this has happened on many occasions David. We've had more than 200 kids moved off shore on medical transfers. So the notion that medical transfers have not occurred is patently wrong. The Prime Minister…
DAVID SPEERS: Well how many have? Is it true that there's around 700 here in Australia at the moment?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well it was recently published in Senate Estimates as broadly in that range, yes.
DAVID SPEERS: And does that resume the boat arrivals?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well it's been done David, in a way over a number of years in genuine situations. Not…
DAVID SPEERS: Sure, and I appreciate that. But has it started the boats again?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well this is very different, David. What's proposed here is, basically, instead of having an orderly process through the Medical Transfers Committee, basically it now goes to saying - any two doctors anywhere in Australia, even if another hundred doctors have said it shouldn't occur, can make that occur. Now, I think on any…
DAVID SPEERS: With the Minister being able to knock them back, we need to point that out. And I appreciate you think this is weakening it, but just to that point though, 700 or so have been transferred to Australia; it doesn't seem to have started the boats again, nor have the transfers to the United States started the boats again.
DAVID COLEMAN: Well that's - those processes have been done in a very orderly way David, and we don't basically create a situation where any two doctors anywhere in Australia can specify that a medical transfer must occur. Now, it is common sense David, it is absolute common sense, that under this proposal in a short order of time, pretty much every single person is going to have that certificate to say that they should come to Australia for transfers. Now, to suggest that people smugglers are just going to sort of ignore that and say - oh well, you know- I mean, that is absurd. And this is important, David, because what happened five years ago, you know, this is not ancient history. This is recent Australian history – 1,200 people lost their lives. The policy was administered by Labor and the Greens. While Labor and the Greens were in the formal coalition 4,700 kids were placed in detention and we are not going to allow a situation that goes back to that.
DAVID SPEERS: Will you allow a vote in the House?
DAVID COLEMAN: Well the Prime Minister said that he'll use all measures to ensure that this doesn't happen. This would be a very - this would basically be the end of offshore processing resettlement. It would be the beginning of boats.
DAVID SPEERS: So you might shut down the House this afternoon to avoid this?
DAVID COLEMAN: I'm not going to go into those specific issues, but the Prime Minister's been very clear in saying he feels very strongly about this, and he's right to do so because this would be the end of offshore processing in Australia.
DAVID SPEERS: Aright. Immigration Minister David Coleman. I know you've got to get back to the House. I do appreciate you joining us this afternoon. I appreciate it.
DAVID COLEMAN: Thanks David.