Immigration and Border Protection

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December 10, 2018

SUBJECTS: Peter Dutton’s lies about urgent medical transfer legislation; the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government’s failure to negotiate third country resettlement options for refugees; Labor’s strong border protection policy.

TOM CONNELL: Shayne Neumann thanks for your time today. Let’s start with what Peter Dutton has said today in relation to the ASIO advice. He says that people convicted of murder, sexual assault, child abuse, physical violence and domestic violence would not be able to be blocked by the Minister from getting a medical evacuation – explain why not?

SHAYNE NEUMANN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION: That’s just simply nonsense. Anyone that’s an unacceptable risk to the Australian public under this legislation that’s proposed by Labor and the crossbenchers would be able to be excluded by an Australian Immigration Minister. Anyone that breaches the idea of the national security could be excluded. This legislation provides for the protection of Australia’s border integrity and territorial integrity from serious threats. Does Peter Dutton really want the Australian public – or expect them to believe – that an Australian Immigration Minister, Labor or Liberal, wouldn’t protect the Australian public from serious criminal activity? That’s nonsense; it’s simply nonsense. It’s simply a lie by Peter Dutton – a desperate and dysfunctional Government.

CONNELL: Let’s step through the detail because this talks about the ASIO Act in terms of when a Minister could intervene. It mentions things such as threats to national security, as you mentioned, the broadest one which you’ve been seeking to highlight mentions that the Minister would be able to intervene ‘for the protection of Australia’s territorial and border integrity from serious threats’. Let’s take someone convicted of domestic violence – how would they pose a threat to our territorial and border integrity?

NEUMANN: It’s importing serious threats; I mean do you really believe that this is not a threat to the Australian nation and the Australian community? It’s rubbish. I mean if Peter Dutton had a problem with the security arrangements in the ASIO Act why hasn’t he sought to amend it? I think this is a desperate Minister telling lies in relation to this issue. We’re talking about a situation where the Government has failed to provide viable third country arrangements – people have been left to languish in indefinite detention – and what’s wrong with listening to treating clinicians, retaining Ministerial discretion, and protecting our borders at the same time. This is an important piece of legislation. It’s important to know Tom that the Government is desperately lying about this situation because they know they’re facing defeat because the Australian public has had enough of a Government that really is not concentrating on border protection in terms of third country resettlement nor are they concentrating on a decent, compassionate outcome. You can be strong on border protection but you got to treat people decently and listen to treating clinicians. The Minister retains discretion. It’s a lie when I’ve heard Minister after Minster say the Minister doesn’t retain discretion – the Minister does retain discretion under these amendments.

CONNELL: But I’m just looking at that discretion specifically to do with that ASIO Act. So as I said, it mentions in this Act that the Minister could intervene for the protection of Australia’s specific about this ‘territorial and border integrity from serious threats’. So again if you’ve got someone that’s committed a domestic violence act how is that, protecting or intervening there, how is that in Australia’s territorial and border integrity?

NEUMANN: It’s a serious threat to the Australian public, a serious threat to the Australian nation if people are committing serious criminal activities and engaging in acts of violence. I mean, no Australian Government Immigration Minister is going to let someone into the country in those circumstances so where was…

CONNELL: I’m not saying that you would seek to let them in Shayne Neumann if and when you become the Minister, so you’re saying in that situation…

NEUMANN: Tom, Tom we are confident in our legal advice. We have consulted lawyers; we fought hard to retain Ministerial discretion, the security protection. We fought also hard to make sure that there’s an Independent Health Advice Panel but we fought hard, and negotiated hard with the crossbenchers, to retain ministerial discretion. An Australian Government Immigration Minister retains the final decision making in relation to this matter and it’s wrong for the Government to say to the contrary.

CONNELL: I just want to bring you back to that definition again – the protection of Australia’s territorial and border integrity. If someone’s committed a criminal offence that doesn’t relate to Australia’s territorial and border integrity, how will you block them being evacuated to Australia?

NEUMANN: Tom does the Government really want the Australian public to believe honestly, that an Australian Immigration Minister, Labor or Liberal, will bring criminals into this country? We will not do so.

CONNELL: The question is whether or not there would be that power given that it’s the ASIO Act so that’s the question here.

NEUMANN: Of course it is. We are very confident in our position in relation to this matter. Don’t forget what this is about – this is about the Government not listening to treating clinicians. It’s about the Government about failing to find third country arrangements for these people. It’s about a Government that’s actually fighting case after case after case in the Federal court, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer’s money, and in the end having to give in. We’re about making sure that we can keep strong border protection but getting rid of the ad-hoc complex processes and listening to treating clinicians in relations to this matter. The Government should be supporting this legislation; that’s what they should be doing in February next year.

CONNELL: And just in relation to this power again under the ASIO Act now there’s a caveat within the amended legislation Labor’s supporting that says for any time the Minister refuses a transfer on security reasons, it says the Minister must have regard to the best interests of the relevant transferee. What does that mean in terms of weighing up their best interests and welfare versus security?

NEUMANN: Well of course a best interests test is necessary; there’s also a reasonable necessity test in terms of medical transfers in relation to transitory adults. I mean the truth of the matter is that this legislation shouldn’t be necessary if the Government had not left these people languish for five years and not found durable positions for these people overseas. They should accept the New Zealand offer; they should have accepted the American offer months before.

CONNELL: I know we’re talking about in terms of resettlement I just want to focus on this part of it though. So this is a caveat within this legislation, a section of it, it says must have regard of the best interests, how is that weighed up against security? Because it’s not listed they just a security carve out and then best interests. What trumps the other?

NEUMANN: Well the security aspect of course is absolutely paramount in relation to this matter. Best interests of these people is to make sure they get the medical attention that they need and the Government has not been providing adequate medical attention and that’s why this legislation is necessary. If the Government was concerned about the health and welfare of these people, if the Government really wanted to make sure the medical and psychiatric assessment diagnoses and treatment was provided for these people, they would support Labor’s Bill next year.

CONNELL: On the best interest though, if you were an asylum seeker, a refugee, couldn’t you challenge a decision from the Minister if it says weigh-up security and weigh up best interests? It doesn’t seem to say in the legislation anywhere I’ve read that one trumps the other.

NEUMANN: Ministers decisions are challenged all the time across the Migration Act. Peter Dutton’s decisions are being challenged all the time at the moment. This is a bloke that by the way because of problems over Section 44 of the Constitution has about 1600 of his decisions currently being challenged in courts in relation to his eligibility and the lawfulness, constitutionally, of his decision making. This is about making sure that people in Manus and Nauru get the health treatment that they deserve. I might add that Labor’s been concerned about this for a long time. We initiated the Nauru Files inquiry; Senate recommendations of which recommended 19 months ago that the Government improve the care and welfare for these people on Manus and Nauru. The Government’s failed to respond; this legislation is necessary because of the Government’s failure.

CONNELL: In terms of what you just said there, that decisions challenged, you’d expect challenges if someone could not come out for medical evacuation with this new legislation, you’d expect challenges?

NEUMANN: There are challenges to Minister’s decisions all the time. Peter Dutton’s had thousands of challenges to his decisions. If we win and I’m the Immigration Minister, there will be challenges to my decisions. When Scott Morrison was the Immigration Minister, he had challenges to his decisions. This is nothing new and for the Government to claim that it is, is simply lying.

CONNELL: The legislation says the Minister must approve or refuse a transfer in 24 hours. What if security agencies say they need longer?

NEUMANN: Look, it didn’t take Peter Dutton more than a few hours to approve some visitor visas for au pairs. When it comes to life-threatening or urgent decision making…

CONNELL: But you criticised that process…

NEUMANN: Of course. I’ve criticised his process because he was actually lying to Parliament about the issue. When it comes to actually life-threatening or urgent medical transfers, this is important to do and the Government’s doing that now. But often as a result of court cases at the cost of hundreds of thousands dollars of taxpayers’ money.

CONNELL: But back to that question if agencies say they need more than 24 hours, what happens? You just have to say yes?

NEUMANN: No it’s a question of listening to treating clinicians and what’s necessary to save someone’s life to make sure that they get the care they deserve and need. Ministers do that now. Peter Dutton’s had court cases against his decision making all the time. This is nothing unusual to find Ministers for Immigration having their decision challenged in court.

CONNELL: Not talking about the challenge, but if you’re told by a security agencies ‘hey we’d like a bit longer to look into this person’ you’ve got to deliver a decision in 24 hours regardless?

NEUMANN: We’ve known about these people for over five years. Honestly? Tom these people have been in immigration detention, they’ve been in regional processing facilities for close on six years. We know about these people. The security agencies know about these people. The Minister knows about these people. Don’t fall for that nonsense by the Minister in relation to this particular matter.

CONNELL: The longer term future of those at the moment, Shayne Neumann, that are already in Australia because of these evacuations – there’s about 800, they’re described as unlawful non-citizens, more could come – what would happen to them under Labor?

NEUMANN: We’ve said all along that the Government should actually lift the bar – they’re stopping those people applying for the US refugee resettlement arrangement. We’ve said all along they should lift the bar and allow those people to go to America. We’ve also said they should be negotiating with New Zealand – we would do that straight away. They’ve had the offer of 150 per annum on the table for nearly six years now New Zealand and the Government should negotiate with New Zealand straight away. Before the Wentworth by-election the Prime Minister talked about that; there’s two options there Tom.

CONNELL: Would they ever have an option to get a visa in Australia?

NEUMANN: No no we’ve said all along, can I make this point to you, we will never let the people smugglers back in business. We believe in turn backs when safe to do so, we believe in offshore processing, and regional resettlement. A Shorten Labor Government will never let the people smugglers back in business.

CONNELL: Just finally can I ask about the process if two doctors want to bring an asylum seeker just for an assessment to Australia under this legislation, you as Minister can overrule – we’re talking about medical grounds. If the medical panel then says no they should come out here, unless there’s a security issue, you won’t be able to deny that – that’s accurate right?

NEUMANN: The legislation provides that security arrangement remains in place and in fact the Minister can make those decisions. There’s a reasonable necessity test at first instance with the two treating clinicians. Then the independent medical panel – which includes the Surgeon General, the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, it includes representatives from the AMA, the Royal Colleges, with expertise in paediatrics, psychiatric, and other forms of public health – could recommend to the Minister. Ultimately the Minister retains the decision making under this legislation and could make a decision in relation to this matter.

CONNELL: But not purely in relation to health. If this this independent board says they need to come out here for assessment after the initial two doctors said yes and you, if you were the Minister said no, the board has the final say unless you come in on security grounds. That’s right?

NEUMANN: Yes that’s right the broad ranging definition on security grounds and other grounds remains in place in relation to this matter. The Minister still retains broad discretion in relation to this and for the Government to allege to the contrary is nonsense.

CONNELL: Very last question – not considering any amendments to this legislation ahead of February 12? It’s good to go as is?

NEUMANN: I think this is a good piece of legislation, it listened to treating clinicians, it’s got support of organisations like the AMA and the Law Council of Australia. It has the support of a whole range of stakeholders in this area. I think the Government should be listening to their voices and should be supporting this legislation when it comes back in February. I think it would be a good signal, can I say, that we’d be strong on borders but decent and human in the way we treat people if we got bipartisan support in February next year.

CONNELL: Shayne Neumann you’ve been generous with your time. Thanks for your time today on Sky News.

NEUMANN: Good to talk to you Tom.