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TRANSCRIPT - RADIO INTERVIEW - ABC RN BREAKFAST - THURSDAY, 9 NOVEMBER 2017
SUBJECTS: New Zealand refugee resettlement offer, Manus Island closure, Turnbull’s failure to negotiate third country resettlement options, Turnbull’s citizenship crisis.
FRAN KELLY: With conditions now reaching critical point for the refugees and the asylum seekers inside, we’re joined by Labor’s Immigration spokesperson Shayne Neumann. Shayne Neumann, welcome to Breakfast.
SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION: Thanks Fran good to be with you.
KELLY: It was Labor that reopened the Manus processing centre in 2013; how much moral responsibility do you accept for the plight these men are now in?
NEUMANN: The Liberals are in their fifth year of Government and they haven’t prioritised negotiating third country resettlement arrangements. They’ve put all their eggs in the US refugee resettlement agreement. They should be listening to even Kevin Andrews, the former Immigration Minister, who broke ranks and called on Malcolm Turnbull to accept the New Zealand offer which we thank the New Zealand Government for making.
KELLY: So Labor would accept the New Zealand offer?
NEUMANN: We would; we’d have to work to negotiate those terms and conditions but if the Government can be satisfied with the arrangements they’ve made with the US resettlement arrangements- the terms and conditions that wouldn’t put in place any pull factors- then surely they can negotiate with the New Zealand Government on similar arrangements.
KELLY: We asked the PM about this yesterday he said it was different that people smugglers, basically that people view Australia and New Zealand as essentially the same thing, they’re so close to us, and we know that there is a flow of people back and forward, that that’s the issue. Do you accept that?
NEUMANN: Well I don’t accept that. The reason for that is that the Government been quite prepared to negotiate with the US and be satisfied that there’s not pull factor with the US, I think...
KELLY: Yes but his point is that New Zealand is so much closer to Australia is a point that he made.
NEUMANN: I don’t accept that; they’ve been satisfied. I call on the Government to release the terms and conditions of the agreement with the US. I’ve called on the Government repeatedly to release those terms and conditions. The Government can say that but…
KELLY: What’s that going to tell us though? We know that the US has agreed to take a certain amount, that they’re in charge of that amount, but we know it’s going slowly.
NEUMANN: It would show the terms and conditions which satisfy the Government that the people smuggling business will not be back in place. If that’s the case, they can do with the Americans, they certainly can do it with the New Zealanders.
KELLY: Ok let’s go back to the situation on the ground in Manus at the moment with that detention centre. Kevin Rudd, as we mentioned, reopened the camps after the boats started up again when Labor unwound most of the Howard-era border protection framework and Labor today, as I understand it anyway, is still in lockstep with the Government when it comes to never letting these men, these refugees, settle in Australia. So what steps, if any, are you taking to try and help resolve this problem or have you washed your hands of the matter?
NEUMANN: Well we’re the Opposition, so we’re calling on the Government. Australia has a moral obligation to ensure that these refugees have access to essential services- including security, health services, medical services- and we want the Government to be upfront. The Turnbull Government must work with PNG to guarantee the safety and security of these people and these men should immediately relocate to alternative accommodation in East Lorengau and the other facilities so they can access water, food, shelter, and receive the appropriate medical attention.
KELLY: Sorry let me get that clear, you’re agreeing that the court ruling, that these men should leave the centre now and relocate to the alternative facilities in Lorengau. Is that your position?
NEUMANN: Yes it is our position. The PNG Government wants that to happen, the Australian Government wants that to happen. The PNG Supreme Court in their decision made comment in relation to this matter so we’re agreeing with the Supreme Court, the Australian Government and the PNG Government that men must relocate. The situation is going to get worse- there is no access to security, the health services, food, sanitation- the kind of services we would call the necessities or essentials of life- they must relocate immediately to the alternative accommodation.
KELLY: They’re not staying there for fun presumably, they say, as we’ve heard here on the program anyway, because they feel unsafe once they leave the detention centre, they feel less safe in the general community. Do you share those fears or do you believe they will be safe?
NEUMANN: And that’s why the Government must guarantee and work with the PNG authorities to ensure the safety and security. We’ve got skin in the game, we’ve got a moral obligation- that’s what the Supreme Court of PNG made comment on and mentioned the other day.
KELLY: Well actually the Supreme Court said they weren’t Australia’s responsibility, they’re PNG’s responsibility.
NEUMANN: We’ve got a moral obligation that’s exactly what we have. We’ve got skin in the game as a country in relation to this matter Fran and we should be working with the PNG Government, which is a sovereign country which has got the legal obligations in relation to this matter. These people are currently on a PNG military facility. The RPC is closed. They should be moving to alternative accommodation. This has come about because of the Turnbull Government’s failure, utter incompetence and woeful failure to find third country arrangements, but also to not have things in place early enough, and not be transparent enough about what alternative accommodation’s being put in place. We know from Senate Estimates recently Fran that the Government was still building the facilities and hadn’t signed contracts in relation to this matter. It’s utter incompetence by the Prime Minister.
KELLY: Just on that, I mean that is the concerns we’ve heard from the UNHCR and others on Manus that the alternative accommodation at Lorengau- some of it anyway, one part of it- is not suitable because it’s not finished yet. Peter Dutton said it’s in good shape; Malcolm Turnbull told us yesterday it’s high quality. What have you don’t to check on the state of the housing? Are you satisfied it’s ok?
NEUMANN: They can’t stay in the current facilities Fran; it’s impossible to stay there for the long term. There’s no access to essential services. They must move to alternative accommodation- Hillside Haus, West Lorengau and the East Lorengau Transit Facility.
KELLY: And are you satisfied that housing is alright?
NEUMANN: We’re reliant on the best advice we have from the PNG Government, the Australian Government and even the Supreme Court of PNG in the last day or so when they made comment in relation to their satisfaction as well.
KELLY: Greens Senator Nick McKim has visited the detention centre on Manus Island last week. Why haven’t you gone there to look firsthand? Isn’t it part of your job to do that?
NEUMANN: The best advice I have from stakeholders is that my presence, or even Nick McKim’s or even the Minister, will not actually act to de-escalate the tension, the problems that are there. I’m not about to engage in political tourism in relation to this issue. I’m about trying to work in a bipartisan way with the Government to achieve the best outcome to de-escalate the tension in that facility.
KELLY: I don’t know about political tourism is it. I mean, you say your sources say the accommodation is fine; the UNHCR, as I’ve said, and Amnesty and others say it’s not fine. I mean, couldn’t you help don’t you think to sort out some of the tension perhaps on the ground?
NEUMANN: Well Fran I’d love to be the Minister but I have an adjective in front of my name called “Shadow” so I don’t have the powers of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection behind me or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We’re the Opposition. It’s up to the Government to work with the PNG authorities in relation to this matter. If we were in power, we’d be doing that. We’d be negotiating with the New Zealand Government, we’d be asking the Americans to expedite the resettlement and we’d be looking to other third countries arrangements.
KELLY: You’re listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is Shayne Neumann, the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. It’s seventeen minutes to eight. You’re right, you’re not in Government yet but if Richard Di Natale is correct the ongoing citizenship debacle could trigger a general- he says it will trigger a general election within months- and if the polls are right, Labor would be back in Government so this would be your concern. But can I ask you more generally about the citizenship saga now, Bill Shorten won’t agree to the Prime Minister’s plan for a disclosure regime, is that because Labor has something to hide and three of your own MPs are under a legal cloud? Is that why he’s stringing it along or will Labor ultimately agree on this?
NEUMANN: Not at all. We’ve got strict processes. You know every time we have an election and I as a candidate since 2004 have had to nominate, I get annoyed at the onerous aspect of what we have to go through. You can’t nominate for the Labor party without going through these processes. It’s dealt with at the State level, it then goes to the National Secretary, then our lawyers vet it and advise on it and have to come back.
KELLY: Yeah but has the ball game changed since the High Court ruling last week because people like Justine Keay. We now know that yes, she applied in advance of nomination but she didn’t get the final paperwork back until after she was elected. Reasonable steps was a previous court ruling but has the latest High Court ruling overruled that?
NEUMANN: I’m confident in our legal advice in relation to these issues is accurate. We’ve got nothing to fear from transparency and disclosure. We welcome it. That’s why we’re pushing Malcolm Turnbull for a much stronger disclosure process. I know from my electorate, when I was out there on the weekend talking to people at mobile office in Yamanto in my electorate in Ipswich, I know the feedback I got back repeatedly was about this topic. No other topic was raised by my constituents more with me last Saturday than that very topic of citizenship. The Government’s in crisis; the Prime Minister’s conflicted. He needs to show some authority and leadership in this area. If people haven’t fulfilled the constitutional requirements under section 44, they should be referred to the High Court. This is a leadership issue for the Prime Minister.
KELLY: Shayne Neumann thank you very much for joining us.
NEUMANN: Good to be with you Fran.