05 November 2021



SUBJECTS: ICAC witness; Australia Border Force; Simon Birmingham; journalists questioning French President; Quarantine Services Australia.

Welcome back. Well, a key witness in ICAC’s inquiry into Daryl Maguire’s visa scheme has been allowed to leave the country, and now cannot be located. Monica Hao was a migration agent, she was due to appear in September - in August Border Force allowed her to leave. They say it's because ICAC never communicated that there was a summons for her to appear.

Earlier I spoke with the Shadow Home Affairs minister Kristina Keneally. 
KRISTINA KENEALLY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Come on here, Tom. Australian Border Force was the lead Federal Agency investigating the Cash for Visa scandals. And how do we know that? Because they've told us that at Estimates. Mike Pezzullo, the Secretary of Home Affairs has told us that at Estimates. If there is any agency in the Federal Government that should know which individuals are embroiled in the Cash for Visa scandals, it is Australian Border Force. It beggars belief that the right hand of Border Force didn't know what the left hand was doing. This, I hope is just incompetence and not something more sinister.

CONNELL: But even if they were aware of the investigation, the legal point of this at this stage was ICAC – that’s where the summons was issued. What we’ve heard is that ICAC didn’t notify Border Force. Was that not ICAC’s job?

KENEALLY: ICAC and Australian Border Force had been working on the same investigations, they've been following the same lines of inquiry. And again, we know that from Senate Estimates. Australian Border Force was and is investigating this very cash for visas scandal. It does beggar belief that Australian Border Force was unaware that this individual was one of the key people wrapped up in this Cash for Visas scandal and one of the key people that would need to be interviewed either by Australian Border Force themselves or indeed by the ICAC. What we have here is a Liberal Party cash for visa scandal, a scam being run allegedly by Gladys Berejiklian’s secret boyfriend Daryl McGuire, and now we have a Federal Liberal Government, the Morrison Government, that seems to have let one of the key players, a key witness at ICAC, leave the country with permission. I think there are some serious questions that need to be answered here. 

CONNELL: How do you say this was the Federal Liberal Government that did this?

KENEALLY: This is the Morrison Government that shut the borders. This is the Morrison Government that put in place the rules requiring people to get an exemption to leave the country and it is the Morrison Government, through its agency, the Australian Border Force, that has seen this key ICAC witness in this Liberal Party cash for visas scandal be allowed, with permission, to leave the country and now ICAC can't find this individual or question them.

CONNELL: So, have you asked the ICAC if they did notify Border Force or if this was their error, have you checked that?

KENEALLY: Well, what we have seen from ICAC is the tabling of documents saying that they cannot locate this person and that this person has been allowed to leave the country. Now ICAC hasn't revealed the communication between themselves and Border Force. But I come back to the point Tom, this isn't the Sports Rorts scandal. This isn't the Car Park Rorts. This isn't, you know, the Leppington Triangle. This is a scandal, a cash-for-visas scandal where Australian Border Force themselves are the lead federal agency investigating this matter. If there is any scandal in which Australian Border Force should have known, it would be this one. 

CONNELL: Shouldn’t you be asking first of all, or clarifying with the ICAC whether it did make an error, before accusing the Federal Government of it being its fault?

KENEALLY: Let's be clear here, Tom. ICAC have been up front. They say we want to talk to this person, we can't locate her, she has been allowed to leave the country. Who let her leave the country? The Australian Border Force.

CONNELL: But it might have been the ICAC effectively.

KENEALLY: Who’s investigating from a federal perspective the cash for visas scandals?  Australian Border Force. What is the only agency, the one key agency in government that should know who the key players are in the Liberal Party cash for visas scandal? It’s Australian Border Force. The questions I think need to be answered here Tom, the questions that need to be answered is, did the Minister for Home Affairs or Immigration know about this exemption? Did their offices make any inquiries about this exemption? 

And how did it come to pass that one of the key people in this cash for visas scandal, a scam run by the former Liberal MP Daryl McGuire, the boyfriend, the secret boyfriend of the former Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian. How was this person allowed to leave the country?

CONNELL: Another question though, and I do want to move onto another topic, but another question is did the ICAC let Border Force know? That’s a question we need answering.

KENEALLY: Absolutely we do, but as I've said ICAC have been quite upfront about the fact that they wanted to interview this person. They have been unable to interview this person and the only reason they can't locate this person. 

CONNELL: Yes but they haven’t let us know whether they passed that crucial information on.

KENEALLY: Well, Tom, Tom, that is important. But the fact of the matter is you can't ignore that Australian Border Force is actually the lead agency federally for investigating this very same matter. If there was one agency that would know, if there is one agency, one agency federally that knows Tom, it's the Australian Border Force. 

CONNELL: A couple more things to get – First of all, to Simon Birmingham made an interesting comment this morning on this whole French-Australian fracas – he said it was perhaps unwise for journalists to be pressing the French President and they should think about their ethics. 

KENEALLY: (Laughs) What is Senator Simon Birmingham seriously proposing here? That Australian journalists are allowed to travel overseas to cover the Prime Minister but only if they give him favourable coverage? That they're supposed to check the questions they want to ask and the people they're supposed to interview with the Morrison government? Give me a break. 

These Australian journalists were doing their jobs. And just because they ask questions, just because, you know, Mr. Morrison, or Mr. Birmingham doesn't like the answers, doesn't mean they don't have the right to ask those questions. I tell you what's not wise here and this is what the government is trying to distract from, what is not wise here is breaking up a $90 billion submarine contract deal with the French via text message. Pathetic, a lack of diplomacy and leadership. Certainly unwise, and certainly Australian journalists should be asking questions about that.

CONNELL: Just finally, one of your chief criticisms of the Government during the pandemic was about building more quarantine facilities. Is it fair to say we’re not at a point with our vaccine rates and opening up that we’re not going to need more federal quarantine facilities? That’s not going to be an issue that is still going to be relevant at the next election?

KENEALLY: We've certainly seen welcome news that fully vaccinated people will be able to come into the country without quarantine. I think what we learned though through the last pandemic, through this, through this pandemic, is that when we need to scale up quickly to have fit for purpose quarantine, the Commonwealth Government was nowhere to be seen and went missing. I am quite curious, though, Tom about what's going to happen at National Cabinet today because, as I understand it, they're going to be briefed, in the so- called National Cabinet, about the second government report into quarantine. And I am quite concerned that that report appears to have been done by Jane Halton. She appears to be also advising a private sector fee-for-service quarantine group called Quarantine Services Australia.

So one, conflict of interest perhaps, for Jane Halton in both this private sector role and in her role with the National Cabinet. I think we need to get to the bottom of that. Secondly, this somewhat interesting little company called Quarantine Services Australia seems to be, has one acting CEO, one Mr Scott Briggs, someone who's described as being as close to the Prime Minister as you can get. So really, I really think there are a lot of questions here. We're starting to explore them at estimates, we'll continue to pursue them, because if the Morrison Government insisting, we need private sector fee-for-service quarantine, that's going to be run by Liberal party mates, and funnelling money into Liberal Party mates’ back pockets, I think we've got some serious issues that need to be examined.

I'll make two observations here, Tom. One, I think we will need some form of quarantine, whether it's for this pandemic or a future one or and we do have some and we need to be able to scale it up quickly in circumstances where we would have a pandemic again or indeed if we get another strain of COVID that we're not currently vaccinated against. 

But to there are other uses for such facilities, such as, in times of bushfires or other natural disasters. We still have people in the South Coast of New South Wales living in tents and caravans, while the $4 billion fund that the Morrison Government set up has spent zero dollars. Zero, Tom, all it's done is gain interest in the bank. So, come on. 

And then the third point I would make is this. If we're not going to need huge scale quarantine into the future, why is the Morrison Government hand picking, hand picking, without a tender, this Quarantine Services Australia company linked directly to former Liberal Party figures like Scott Briggs and David Gazard. They've been handpicked. They could get a contract here, Tom, that would see them earning billions of dollars a year. They’re talking about 60,000 people potentially going through this private sector, fee for service quarantine facility. 

So some really big questions coming out of today's national Cabinet about the role Jane Halton, about the role of Quarantine Services Australia and about what the Liberal Party, this Liberal Government funnelling money to its mates. We know they treat taxpayer money like this Liberal Party money. 

Let's wait and see what happens with Quarantine Services Australia but you can bet your bottom dollar I'll be asking about this through the Senate processes.