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20 October 2021


SUBJECT/S Alex Hawke, Strengthening the Character Test Bill, immigration, deportation of Indigenous Australians, nuclear power, Teochow Association, safety of politicians while campaigning.
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Just moments ago, the Morrison Government lost a vote in the Senate on its own legislation. The Morrison Government lost a vote on the Migration Bill. When Labor and the cross bench united to ensure that the bill did not pass. This Bill, Strengthening the Character Test was first introduced by the Morrison Government in 2018. Over 1000 days ago. The Government reintroduced the Bill in 2019. I wrote to the then Minister David Coleman in 2019, to outline Labor's conditions for supporting the Bill.  The Minister never responded. Minister Tudge never raised it with me. And only late last week, did Minister Hawke raise this Bill with me.  1000 days it has been on the notice paper, and suddenly the Government has decided that they wanted to take some action. And yesterday at midday I met with Minister Hawke, we sat in his office, we agreed that we could probably reach negotiations and a settlement on this Bill. We agreed that between us, we could probably find a way for this Bill to pass the Parliament. Minister Hawke and I talked about the ways in which we would work together, as we have on other issues, to ensure that women and children who've experienced domestic violence would have safer lives in Australia. We talked about changes he might make to the Ministerial Direction. We canvassed the ways that the Government's own amendments to their own bill, which they only just introduced might be strengthened to ensure that the low level offending wouldn't be captured. We agreed that we would defer vote on this Bill until the next sitting fortnight, so that we could come to a position that would see the Bill passed in the parliament. And then four hours later, the Minister welched on the deal, the Minister sheepishly pulled the deal, and then he tried to blame the Senate leadership.
Understand that there is only one person that can tell a Cabinet Minister to pull a deal and that is the Prime Minister. That is the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who’s always more interested in the political outcome than a pragmatic solution. A Prime Minister who loves the headline but never delivers. A Prime Minister who is playing politics with women and children's lives. The outcome today in the Senate where the Government lost the vote on its own legislation could have been avoided by the Government, if it had just waited two weeks, and Minister Hawke and I finish our negotiations. This Bill would have passed the Parliament. And indeed passed it, with stronger safeguards in place for women and children who are the victims of domestic violence. Shame on you Prime Minister. Shame on you.
I am happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: What crimes should be excluded from this legislation? And would you support it if it wasn’t retrospective?
KENEALLY: What I had said to Minister Hawke yesterday, in a meeting, was that the Labor opposition, was going to be flexible on the issue of retrospectivity. Indeed, we only raised retrospectivity initially, because Jason Wood and the Government Controlled Committee on Migration, the Joint Standing Committee on Migration had recommended that retrospectivity be removed. It was the Liberals that initially recommended the removal of retrospectivity. We were willing to be flexible on that. And what we made clear to the Government is that low level offending, things like grabbing at someone’s sleeve, should not be captured by this Bill. Minister Hawke agreed with that, which is why he put forward an amendment. We talked about the ways - how that amendment might be strengthened. But unfortunately, the agreement that Minister Hawke and I had yesterday, to have that conversation over the next two weeks, was cut off hours later, clearly by the Prime Minister, who yanked Minister Hawke's chain.
JOURNALIST: You raised concerns over the relationship with New Zealand during your speech, but also said that Labor will support the deportation policy that's currently in place, so what is your proposal on how are you going to address that?
KENEALLY: It's a great question. That is a great question. And I would point you to, again, the Liberal controlled Joint Standing Committee on Migration, again, chaired by Minister Woods at the time, that said the Ministerial Direction on New Zealand citizens should be revised. And that is the position we put to the government. And that is the position I continue to hold. Indeed, we circulated an amendment today that said that the Bill shouldn't come into effect until the Minister has done that work to review the Ministerial directions in relation to New Zealand and to ensure that New Zealanders who have spent the bulk of their lives here in Australia are treated as well, to be blunt, the people who have grown up here in Australia are still a problem for Australia. And this is the way New Zealand treats Australian citizens. It is the recommendation, again, of Jason Wood’s and a Liberal controllled Committee. And we think there is sense in that and that’s the position we put to the Minister yesterday. Again, the Minister and I had an agreement that we will spend the next two weeks coming to a settled position on this Bill. He understood I would have to take it back to my party room. He agreed that that is what he would provide. And then hours later he welched. There's only one person who can compel a Minister, cabinet Minister indeed, that they have to welch on a deal and that's the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister who wanted a political outcome not a pragmatic policy solution that actually helps women and children.
JOURNALIST: The Government has applied to the High Court to overturn a precedent that prevents the deportation of Aboriginal people. What is your view on that decision?
KENEALLY: The Government should abide by the High Court’s ruling.
JOURNALIST: Senator Keneally, last week you met with the President of Australia's Premier United Front organisation. Is that appropriate to meet with that individual?
KENEALLY: Last week, I met with the President of the Teochow Association in Fowler, I was invited to do so by a local councillor in Fowler. And this is an association that has many members in Fowler who come from Teochow province in China. And indeed, I can guess from the insinuation you're making that you're concerned about some aspect of foreign interference. So am I, so am I. Indeed, the committee I'm on, the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security, is currently reviewing foreign interference transparency standards. And we should. Because as Mike Burgess, the Director General of ASIO has pointed out, foreign interference is at an all-time high. But what we should not do, what we should not do is look upon those Australian citizens who have migrated to this country, whether it's from China, Cambodia, or anywhere else, and assume that they are all somehow agents of foreign interference. They are Australians. And as the Labor candidate for Fowler, I'm not going to shy away from engaging with community groups that represent people; Australians from multicultural backgrounds. They are there in Fowler, in Southwestern Sydney. And indeed, what did they show me? Their plans for a new temple that they're building right now. And I look forward to attending the opening of that temple.
JOURNALIST: Isn't it possible to meet Chinese community members that aren't Presidents of the Australian Council for the Peaceful Reunification?
KENEALLY: He is the head of the TeoChow Association in Fowler.
JOURNALIST: Did you know about that association with this group before you met with him though?
KENEALLY: I knew he was the head of the TeoChow Association in Fowler.
JOURNALIST: But not the association of the United Front?
KENEALLY: No, I did not know that. But I must say he is the head of the Teochow Association in Fowler. I'm going to talk to the local community in Fowler. I'm not going to shy away from that.
JOURNALIST: Now, admitting that you didn't know that, do you regret meeting him, given <inaudble>
KENEALLY: No, because I must say, I've had no information come from the National Security Agencies subsequent to my meeting that there was any risk at all.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you about nuclear energy? Do you support nuclear power in Australia?
KENEALLY: Because the future of energy in Australia is green, it's renewable energy. It is renewable energy and the only people standing between this are the National Party. And indeed right now we have the National Party gathering together in some secret room. The Prime Minister is not even part of the discussion. And, the entire future of our energy sector, is at stake. Jobs, lower prices, lower power prices, clean energy jobs, lower emissions, our leadership on the global stage. All of this is currently sitting in the hands of some gang of four which seems to include Bridget Mckenzie and Keith Pitt - two notable opponents of Net Zero. And By the way, I have a question for Bridget Mckenzie. Does she take Cabinet solidarity seriously? Because what is she going to do when the Prime Minister and the Cabinet commit to NEt Zero. Is she going to back that in, or is she going to resign from Parliament?
JOURNALIST: Senator, the Treasurer has raised the issue of revamping the migration intake, you've had some strong opinions in that space, do you believe post-covid there is a case for a larger intake of immigrants?
KENEALLY: We need an immigration system that ensures that Australians win the first go and a fair go at jobs. We need a migration system that stands out as <inaudible>. We need a migration system that builds upon Australia's successful legacy since Chifley of permanent migration. Of permanent settlement. Let's understand something here. This Liberal government over the last eight years has pushed temporary migration to historic highs, it has led to shocking exploitation of temporary migrants. It has led to wage theft. And once wage theft sets in amongst a group of workers it spreads across the economy. It has led as the Reserve Bank Governor Phillip Lowe has pointed out, to a suppression of wages in Australia. So it's not just about the size it is also about the composition. And I have said that now for almost two years, It is not just about the size, it's also about the composition. I heard the Minister of Immigration on ABC this morning. He claims that their permanent skills intake is 160,000. Either the Minister is deliberately misleading or he is mistaken about his own portfolio. Because that 160,000 is about half and half between permanent filled, and family migrants. Now we will have more to say before the election on our migration policy settings. But what we have right now is a Government, the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, who delivered an intergenerational report that predicted that temporary migration is going to double over the next 40 years. Where is their plan for migration opening up post-COVID? Where is their plan to get wages moving again? Where's their plan to secure Australian jobs? This is a Government in name only. Always there for headlines, never there for the outcome.
JOURNALIST: So the question is, have you come to a view on whether there should be an increase in the number of permanent migrants coming here?
KENEALLY: My argument is, and has consistently been, it is the composition, and the size. Now we will have more to say about the migration settings but understand this, these are the principles I'm working from. We need a migration system that stamps out exploitation full stop. That ensures that Australians have a first go and a fair go in jobs. We need a skills system that invests in Australians. And we need a migration system that restores the link between temporary and permanency, and opens up more pathways to permanency. This country was built by migrants. Permanent migrants who got to come here and settle here. Even John Howard said, you invite them to come permanently to your country or you don't invite them at all. Even Peter Costello says Australia has never been a guest worker nation. Well guess what? Scott Morrison has turned Australia into a guest worker nation. He has pushed temporary migration to the historic highs. He has in words of the Reserve Bank Governor, Phillip Lowe, created the conditions, as Philip Lowe said, where employers could just go and get workers from overseas, suppressing wages. That's not the system we need going forward. And those are the principles that are informing my view.
JOURNALIST: Kristina can I ask you about the security of politicians? How concerned are you given what we've seen in the UK with the death of David Ames MP. What concerns do you have about going into an election campaign? What more does the Government and AFP potentially need to do?
KENEALLY:Well, I am quite concerned about the safety of any member of parliament no matter what their political background. I do want to say, as someone in the Home Affairs and Immigration portfolio that I am aware, both personally and across the board about the efforts that the AFP makes to provide security and safety for members of parliament. I think it would be quite a shame if members of parliament were unable to engage freely with their electorate. But I also recognise and know quite well, there are threats that are made against members of parliament. What I would like to see here, and what I hope to see here, is a constructive conversation between the Government and the Opposition about the steps we might take together. Because I think we all have an interest in this. It's not a partisan issue. It's an issue of our democracy, and this is an issue of community safety. Because if Parliamentarians are at risk, so are the people that they're meeting with, who come along to meet them. I would say this though. I am concerned about the rise of right wing extremism and I am particularly concerned about certain members of parliament who have, in their social media postings on the platforms they choose to use, have chosen to give wink, nod gentle encouragement, and indeed clear endorsement on platforms like Telegram. And so what I would encourage the Prime Minister to do is to show some leadership here. Because if extremists in the community are getting encouragement by members of parliament, it only creates more dangerous environment for all of us.
JOURNALIST: Ms Keneally we've heard from Mr Hunt in here today his children have been subject to threats. David Littleproud says at times he's been subject to death threats too. You've been the Premier of New South Wales and a Senator for New South Wales. Have you been subject to those sorts of threats and protection from the AFP?
JOURNALIST: How hard is that for you, Kristina? You know, this is your job, but you get a lot of added scrutiny as a part of that. How hard is that?
KENEALLY: Well I will say when my children were younger, it was quite stressful. I would have had situations, when as the NSW Premier, where I've had the police in my house with their guns drawn, clearing rooms to ensure that an intruder wasn't there. And my children, upstairs. That’s hard. Sure. But it is part of the job, unfortunately. But I am concerned to the extent that I and others are seeing online, the types of commentary, threats, and indeed, in recent months, I have been the subject of threats, specific threats from specific groups. But it's a risk of the job, I accept that.  But it shouldn't have to be. If there are things that we can do as a community, to make clear that we reject extremist views, hatred, division, that we all have, whether we're Members of Parliament, whether we work in national security agencies, whether we're members of stakeholder groups or community groups, we all have a role to play in standing up and in turn, Australian democracy is worth preserving, it's better than this, and if there are things that Labor can do to assist the Government or our National Security Agencies to make a more secure and safe environment, I'm happy to do that. But I would say it begins at the top with a clear statement that the type of extremist language that we are seeing. And some of the anti- democratic sentiments that extremist groups are promoting really should be called out, and named and rejected by Australians.
JOURNALIST: Do you worry about campaigning during an election in full public view given what we saw in the UK where Sir David Amess has been stabbed by presumably a constituent <cut off>
KENEALLY: I'm going to be blunt with you, it crosses my mind. It crosses my mind. But I am comforted by the fact that I know that the AFP takes these situations seriously.
JOURNALIST: How widespread of a concern would that threat to your safety be made intelligence agencies?
KENEALLY: Well, I think it would be fair to say that at various times, most members of parliament will have received some type of either threat or had experienced some type of circumstance. I think what the tragic circumstances with Sir David Amess in the UK shows is that these are these are legitimate concerns to have. And so what I would say to any parliamentarian state or federal, that if something causes you concern it is worth reporting to the police. Any other questions? Okay Thanks, everyone.