SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY
DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY
LABOR SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES
MONDAY, 27 SEPTEMBER 2021
SUBJECTS: Biloela Family; Barnaby Joyce’s inability to help the Biloela family; the upcoming Federal Election; Mr Morrison failing his two jobs; energy and climate change policy uncertainty under the Morrison Government.
PAUL CULLIVER, HOST: Senator Kristina Keneally is the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and joins me this morning. Good morning.
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE & SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Good morning. How are you?
CULLIVER: I'm very well, thanks for joining us this morning. Firstly, what actions do you think the acting Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce could have taken in the last week in support of the Biloela Tamil family?
KENEALLY: Well, you know, Barnaby Joyce is the acting Prime Minister this week. He's also, his regular day job of the Deputy Prime Minister, and that's not a position without power either. Now while I believe that Barnaby is genuine in his support for the Biloela family and I was disappointed, and I have been disappointed, that he hasn't been a more strong advocate over these last few months, since he took the job back, of getting this situation resolved.
Now, the only thing I can imagine, is that perhaps Barnaby Joyce has met a force that he can’t overcome and that is the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Because it does seem to me, that there is no one person in the country that seems stubborn and unwilling to allow this family to come home to the regional Queensland town that wants them in Biloela, than the Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
You’ve got Barnaby Joyce, you've got Tony Abbott, you've got Malcolm Turnbull, you've got Alan Jones, you’ve got Julie Bishop. You have so many people in regional Queensland that want this family to come home. I can only imagine that Barnaby Joyce is unable to persuade Scott Morrison, and sadly this family remains in limbo.
CULLIVER: It was something of a surprise to I think everyone, including the lawyers and the family themselves, late last week when the visa extension that had been suggested in court ended up being 12 months.
That pushes it well into September of next year, of course, which is a good many months past when the next federal election must take place. I asked the lawyer acting for the family, Carina Ford about this. She said, well to paraphrase, she couldn't see how there wasn't a political dimension to this. What do you make of the fact that it has been pushed out that far now?
KENEALLY: Well first I want to say that this is a bittersweet decision, because on the one hand, it gives Nades and Priya, the parents, a little bit of breathing space and not facing that continual stress every three months as to whether their visas will be cancelled. But on the other hand, I have to agree with the Courier Mail's editorial last week that it just seems like a heartless decision.
It's cruel, it means that the family, while they have a visa to be in Australia, because the youngest child Tharni, has been denied a visa, they're unable to come home to Bilo and it seems to be calculated and cruel and for no good purpose, except perhaps there is a political dimension here. And that is that this Government is unwilling to take a decision that is in the best interest of regional Queensland, the best interests of this family and just seems to want to kick it off into the long grass.
And remember the consequences of that are that two little Australian born girls, who have spent most of their life, and Tharni has spent almost all her life, in immigration detention. The effects of that detention I saw first-hand when I visited them at Christmas Island. It is tragic, the circumstances in terms of Tharnicaa’s illness that allowed them to come to mainland Australia, it seems cruel to keep them from being able to come home to Biloela, a town that just loves them and wants them back.
CULLIVER: We put multiple requests to the Minister of Immigration, and indeed the Minister of Home Affairs over the past many months and years even, and because of the pending court actions, we've been told they're just not going to speak to us. Does that bar them from making a decision here? Does the pending court and legal actions mean that they just can't get involved until they've been resolved?
KENEALLY: Of course not. I think it's important for your listeners to know that Immigration Ministers make thousands and thousands of discretionary decisions every year. They make them before court cases are resolved, they make them without any court cases. All immigration ministers have what's been described sometimes as ‘godlike powers’; they have powers to make a discretionary decision about individual cases, and they do that, they exercise them all the time. This situation could end today, it could have ended yesterday, it can end tomorrow with the stroke of a pen from the Immigration Minister.
And again, I come back to the view that it seems the stop gap here is Scott Morrison, a man, a father of two daughters himself. My requests in my appeal to him on behalf of friends and family, the friends of the Biloela family and the family themselves is to consider the circumstances of these two little Australian born girls who are like his own daughters in many respects. All that their parents want for them is to be able to grow up safe, to grow up and contribute to the local community and to be part of the Australian community. The Biloela community wants that as well. And I hope the Prime Minister starts to listen to that.
CULLIVER: I mean it's so strange to talk about politics in the context of a family's future. But that is the reality of it. Is it strangely beneficial to you leading up to the federal election to be able to campaign for this family?
KENEALLY: I would have loved, at any point in the past few years, for this to have been resolved. The focus of the next election campaign needs to be on the fact that Scott Morrison failed to do his job on vaccines and quarantine. That people across Australia are wondering what the future lies in terms of the debate about energy and climate change.
We know, regional communities know, the National Farmers Federation knows, beef and livestock Australia knows, that the sooner we have clarity on getting to net zero emissions, that means the jobs that come from new technology, the jobs in farming and agriculture and in mining and resources that will come from that, *interruption* but that's my point. That's what the next federal election needs to be about.
This situation is one that I have seen so many people across Australia moved in their compassion and their recognition. As parents, they themselves love their children, they see that Nades and Priya love theirs, they understand that the Biloela community loves this family and wants them home. And that should happen, that can happen, it should happen today.
CULLIVER: Senator, thanks for your time today.
KENEALLY: Thank you.