Immigration and Border Protection

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February 13, 2019


SUBJECTS: Medical transfer legislation and ensuring sick people get the help they require; Labor’s strong position on border protection.

LEIGH SALES: Shayne Neumann is Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. He joined me earlier from Parliament House. Shayne Neumann, was the advice of national security agencies to Labor that the medical evacuation bill could increase boat traffic to Australia?

SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION: Leigh, we always listen to the security agencies. We took a briefing from them. As a result of the briefing we had with the security agencies, we thought we would strengthen and clarify the bill. I think we’ve made it better. I'm pleased that it's the kind of bill that will allow people in Manus and Nauru to get the urgent medical care they need without compromising Operation Sovereign Borders. We can be decent and humane to people without actually prejudicing our border protection.

SALES: I notice you didn't actually answer my question there though, which is was the advice from those national security agencies, that the medical evacuation bill could increase boat traffic to Australia?

NEUMANN: Leigh, I don't reveal, unlike the Government, who have got questions to answer in relation to revealing classified information and splash it across the front page of newspapers, we don't reveal the briefings we’ve got from security agencies. We treat those briefings confidentially with respect. We value the expertise, we get them regularly, we value the professionalism and we take notice of that. That's why Leigh, Labor modified its position and strengthened the Bill, and that’s why we’ve worked constructively with crossbenchers to get this good outcome.

SALES: After you agreed to the changes of the bill, did you seek another briefing from the national security agencies?

NEUMANN: We were confident in our original position but we thought as a result of the discussions we had with the security agencies that the bill, as we've put now, is the kind of bill that would achieve the outcomes we want – to make sure that people on Manus and Nauru get the kind of
medical care they need, to be brought to Australia for that, if they can't get it in those regional processing countries. We have taken and have listened to the advice of security agencies and we do treat it with respect.

SALES: I take your point about keeping security briefings confidential but I'm going to labour this point because it's a very key point. Either they warned you that this bill could increase boat arrivals and you acted in defiance to that or they didn't warn you of that in which case the Government’s lying about that advice and using the national security agencies for political gain – so which is it?

NEUMANN: The Government is lying about a whole range of things. They're walking, talking billboards for people smugglers at the moment. This legislation for example is one thing about which they're lying. This legislation's about treating people with respect and making sure they get the healthcare they need – the medical care they need. The Government's lying repeatedly about Labor's position on border protection and they are the marketing tool currently for people smugglers. I think this Government should hang their head in shame. It's a disgrace the way the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs are actually encouraging people smugglers. I don't want to see people put their lives at risk by getting on leaky boats and paying criminal cartels to do so. I want to give a message to those criminal cartels – if you put people on boats, those people will never settle – they will never come to Australia - under a Labor government. Our position is really clear.

SALES: This bill is only for refugees currently on Nauru and Manus but won't it set a precedent? Won’t lawyers in the future be able to argue that these people were given these considerations and that therefore it would be discriminatory to others in the same position in the future to not be afforded the same rights?

NEUMANN: We've ring fenced the cohort in Manus and Nauru – we’ve made sure that, however small, this is not a marketing tool for people smugglers.

SALES: No I'm not saying that I'm saying it's a legal precedent?

NEUMANN: The legislation applies to those people only there. So court cases are being fought currently…

SALES: But people who arrive in the future though, can their lawyers not argue people in the identical situation in the past were given this right, therefore it sets a precedent that these new people should be given that right?

NEUMANN: I won't speculate what lawyers in the future might argue; I can tell you what’s happening right now. There are 900 people who have been brought here from Manus and Nauru by this Government for medical and other reasons. That has not resulted in Operation Sovereign Borders collapsing. It has not restarted the people smuggling trade and this legislation will not do so. The only way that will happen is if this Government encourages it to happen.

SALES: Why would viewers trust Labor's judgement on this issue given that the last time you were in power you took a policy that had stopped boat arrivals – the Howard Government's Pacific Solution – and overturned it, resulting in the restart of asylum seekers coming here via boat and countless deaths at sea as a result

NEUMANN: We know that Operation Sovereign Borders works and that's why Labor has listened to the experts.

SALES: My question was, you have a credibility gap here because of your performance in government?

NEUMANN: We've had our same policy for years and years and years. That is a bipartisan approach in Operation Sovereign Borders.

SALES: You’re still not addressing my point about the credibility gap because of your performance in government.

NEUMANN: People can trust us in government to exercise the same kind of commitment to Operation Sovereign Borders as this Government. We will resource Operation Sovereign Borders. One of the things we announced in December was to treble the number of Australian Federal Police in third countries to make sure we could intercept and disrupt people smuggling operations. Labor will do that in Government; we will be strong.

SALES: Thank you

NEUMANN: Good to be with you.