Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Interview with Greg Jennet — ABC News 24

Topics: Bill Shorten’s weakening of border protection policy and offshore processing


JENNETT: David Coleman welcome. You've seen the now declassified warnings or advice I suppose you'd call it from the Home Affairs Department. Does the Government, now that the change has gone through the parliament, accept or maintain that all 1,000 people on Manus and Nauru can be expected to transfer to Australia?

COLEMAN: Well, we think this bill is extremely dangerous Greg, because what it does is it dismantles offshore processing. Bill Shorten has shown himself to be a political opportunist who has had regard to the  politics of the situation and not the national interest. Now, to address your question, the way the bill is structured it will lead to the substantial majority of people who are currently on Manus and Nauru coming to Australia in short order.

JENNETT: Yes, in short order I think was defined as about a month from Royal Assent. Is that still what you're planning?

COLEMAN: In short order, and as you've seen today, the PM's taken action in reopening Christmas Island. Now we've shut 19 detention centres Greg because we'd stopped the boats and were able to stop that flow of people into Australia. We're now going to have to reopen Christmas Island at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the taxpayer. So, this bill as voted for by Labor, as pushed by Labor and as effectively authored by Bill Shorten will cost Australian taxpayers huge amounts of money.

JENNETT: About $70 million I think in the first year alone, in this current financial year. Is that what you're planning?

COLEMAN: Well we’ll see very substantial costs in the reopening of Christmas Island Greg. And the reason we have been successful in reducing the extraordinary costs of this area is because we closed detention centres, because we got people out of detention. When we came to office Greg there were 2,000 kids who had been forcibly placed in detention by the Labor Party- Labor government - we got them out, and that is a very good thing, and that enabled us to close detention centres. Because of this bill and because of what’s going to happen as a consequence of this bill, we now have to reopen Christmas Island detention centre. And that is an absolute indictment on what Bill Shorten has done.

JENNETT: We‘ll get to some of the details of the bill in just a moment. But just on Christmas Island – by when, how quickly are you activating its reopening?

COLEMAN: It's been- that process is beginning now and we expect in a short period of time that it will be up and running and operational. So, the PM took a decision on that issue and that's now in the process of being implemented. And we need to do it because we know that there are literally hundreds of these cases that are going to be presenting themselves under this bill.

JENNETT: Contested claim number 1 - which is something you’re going to have to consider closely - is around what we call character provisions that the Government could block a transferee from coming to Australia. In the Senate today Mathias Cormann was talking about paedophiles and other criminals being able to come to Australia. And yet the bill speaks of the Minister who reasonably suspects that a person may have committed a substantial crime. So you and/or Peter Dutton will still have provision, won't you, to block out the very people that Mathias Cormann is talking about?

COLEMAN: Well it's very clear on the bill. It says only the definition of section 501(7) of the Migration Act, which broadly is someone who's been convicted of 12 months or more. Now, there are very large numbers of the situations that don't comply with that Greg. At the moment there is complete discretion on the part of the Government, and that’s how it should be in this situation. This makes it very narrow. Examples would include people charged with serious offences, people who have been convicted of offences, people for whom there are issues in relation to their identity, which is an issue that does arise in the context of these matters.

JENNETT: You would actually know, wouldn’t you? Because these changes are confined to the existing case load, and because most processing is now complete as we understand it, you would know whether any of these categories applied to individuals already, wouldn’t you?

COLEMAN: We have very serious concerns about a number of people, absolutely.

JENNETT: As paedophiles or as criminals?

COLEMAN: There are absolutely people, Greg, who very clearly are not captured by this definition, for whom we would have serious concerns. And that is what the Labor Party has done through the construction of this bill. They saw a political opportunity, and this goes to character - it's really important Greg – because they saw a political opportunity. They in December, rushed the bill through parliament without even taking a security briefing, and then after having finally taken the advice, they have still pushed this through the Parliament. It reflects very poorly on them. The Prime Minister has been very, very clear on this issue. Bill Shorten has been all over the place and Bill Shorten is a threat to our border security.

JENNETT: I just don't want to dwell too much longer on the minutiae, but just on the question of criminals. This change really codifies existing practice. Now, if one of these people or suspected criminals, if you like, were currently sick on Manus or Nauru and your advisers said they need to come to Australia for treatment, you would presumably approve, and may have even done so in the past?

COLEMAN: I don't think that’s correct to say this codifies the existing practice. That's not true Greg. This creates an obligation on the Government to bring people to Australia. At the moment the Government makes that sovereign decision, as it does in effectively all other areas of public policy under the Westminster system. What this is saying is that the Government must bring people to Australia under these circumstances. Now, at the moment, as I said, that discretion is broad and obviously the department reviews these matters very carefully. In the future, it will not be possible to do that. So, it will not be possible to review those matters in that way. The person will have to come to Australia and that's inappropriate.

JENNETT: Is your conviction on these matters – because your hand may be signing documents soon - so strong that you would object to do it on conscience and possibly even resign? Is this how strongly you feel about having to do something you don't want to do?

COLEMAN: Well Greg, obviously I will always follow the law of Australia and as the law of Australia has been defined, I will follow it.

JENNETT: But normally, under normal circumstances you enact provisions that are government policy. We’ve never, we’ll not for 90 years, been in this circumstance before. Does the history of this weigh on you? Are you personally conflicted in a way that you may not want to continue in your current [inaudible].

COLEMAN: Well Greg, obvious the law is not one that we support. We are very strongly opposed to it. It basically says that offshore processing will end. Offshore processing has been absolutely fundamental to the success of our border security. And Greg, it’s very important for people to know that there are substantial medical resources on Manus and Nauru now. On Nauru the ratio of health professionals to people is one health professional for every seven people.

JENNETT: 60 I think is the number overall.

COLEMAN: 60:420 roughly. So, there is no city or town in Australia that has that ratio of healthcare. So, the assertion that healthcare is not provided is absolutely false, and that premise is flat-out wrong. As you know, we have transferred people for medical reasons in appropriate cases.

JENNETT: 800 plus.

COLEMAN: That includes family members and so on. But yes we have, and as you know, we got all of the kids out of detention that Labor put there. There are no kids on Nauru, apart from four, who are about to permanently resettle in the United States. So, we have addressed this issue. We have - in terms of medical transfers - we have done that, as the PM says in a way that is quiet. We don't seek to publicise it or make a fuss about it. But we have done that over a number of years.

JENNETT: Yeah, which does raise- we won't go into it because I know you have Question Time approaching, but it does raise the issue that everyone raises, so what's the difference - you're doing it, you're signing off on it.

COLEMAN: No it's an important point. There's a very big difference Greg. At the moment we have a process which is managed by the government of Australia. In the future we will have a process which is not managed by the government of Australia. That is a very, very huge difference and it is absolutely inappropriate. It will outsource those decisions away from the Government and that is completely inappropriate.

JENNETT: Yep, and willingly or not you’re going to be at the sharp end of it. David Coleman, but for sharing your thoughts today, thanks for coming in today.

COLEMAN: Thanks Greg.