TRANSCRIPT - DOORSTOP (GILES) - CANBERRA - Wednesday, 4 December 2019

04 December 2019

SUBJECTS: The Morrison Government’s secret deal to repeal Medevac; ambassador roles.
ANDREW GILES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS: Afternoon everyone. Today is a sad day for Australia's democracy and it's a terrible day for vulnerable in need of medical attention. Earlier this year, the Parliament came together to do what the government should have done but refused to do and that was to ensure that vulnerable people in Australia’s care get medical attention on the basis of medical advice. We came together because we had to, we came together in the Labor Party and on the crossbench because we recognised that 12 people had died. We recognised that other people had their medical conditions made substantially worse by a Government that fought every effort to enable people to access medical attention through Australia’s courts – damaging people cruelly and needlessly.
That is why Medevac was needed; that is why it is still needed, particularly in the context of this Government which having wasted six years. Six years in which it could have accepted New Zealand's generous offer of resettlement. So today is a bad day for democracy. It's a bad day for Australia's moral compass and it demonstrates that our Government is completely heartless. Senator Keneally will talk about what has happened today and what it means.
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Thank you, Andrew. Just now in the Senate we had a vote that involved a secret deal, a secret deal between the Government and Senator Jacqui Lambie. A secret deal where the public, the Parliament and the media don't get to know what was agreed between senator Lambie and the Prime Minister in order for the Government to secure her vote. This is a bad outcome for democracy. This is a bad outcome though, for people that are on Nauru and Papua New Guinea who need life-saving medical treatment.
I do want to talk about the secrecy of this deal. I have to say, I think Senator Jacqui Lambie is a straight shooter. I think that as we saw from her statement in the Senate today, I know from my conversations with her that she does care about people on Manus and Nauru being able to get life-saving medical treatment. I know that she does have a compassion and care about the fact that people have been left in indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru, and I know that she would like to see a solution to that.
Now, it's been widely reported that her one condition involving a New Zealand deal, that is that the Government would seek to take up the offer from New Zealand to take refugees off Manus and Nauru. But that has not been confirmed. We have no information to confirm that. But it has been widely reported and Senator Lambie has not denied it. And the Government has not spoken about it. In fact, what we saw today is that Minister Cormann said there was no deal.  Jacqui Lambie said there was a deal. Clearly somebody is not being truthful with the Australian people. That's what happens when you do secret deals and then ask the Parliament to vote on them. If it is the New Zealand deal, let's just contemplate that for a moment. Because the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton repeatedly ruled out doing a deal with New Zealand. I think there is a genuine question to be asked here. Has the Australian Government, has the Prime Minister Scott Morrison changed his Government's policy. Has he done a backflip is he now going accept the New Zealand offer to take refugees off Manus and Nauru. And has he done that in order to secure Senator Lambie’s support for the repeal of Medevac. Let me say Labor has been calling for the Government to take up the New Zealand offer to resettle refugees from Manus and Nauru because we do not want to see people continuing to languish in indefinite detention. And we would welcome it - if that is the deal that has been done here.
Is that why the Prime Minister's keeping it secret? Because he has done a backflip on his Government's policy? He knows it's something that Labor would actually welcome. And because he so far more interested in paying playing political games, that he won't allow the public to know that his Government has changed policy. I mean, for goodness sakes, his own Cabinet Ministers have been kept in the dark.
We had Cabinet Ministers coming into the senate today, backbench members of the Government coming into the senate today and voting on legislation that involved a secret deal that they didn't even know about.
So I say to Senator Lambie – I sincerely hope the deal is one that you can live with. And I sincerely hope it is one that does deliver something good for the people in Manus and Nauru. And I sincerely hope that the Government and you are able to tell the public about it soon. You should have told us about it today. But I also say to Senator Lambie, and to the Australian public, why should we trust this Government? Why should we trust this Prime Minister? We know that when he makes commitments in public, he doesn't hold to them. We know that when this Government makes commitments in public, they just simply ignore them.
Last year, a year ago this week, they made a commitment to amend the encryption laws. They haven't done that. During the Wentworth by-election, the Prime Minister made a commitment to reverse the laws that allow religious schools to discriminate against gay and lesbian students. He hasn't done that. They’ve made a number of commitments to list certain medications on the PBS. They haven't done that. This is how they treat commitments that they make in public.  How can we - the Parliament and the Australian public, how can the media hold them to account for the commitments that they make? So this is a sad day for democracy. But I have to say, I think it's an incredibly sad day as well, for those people on Manus and Nauru, for those people in Papua New Guinea, those refugees and asylum seekers who need medical treatment. We didn't just put Medevac through the Parliament last year, because we wanted to, we put it through because it was absolutely necessary to do so to ensure that sick people get to see a doctor and get the medical treatment they need. I'm going to end on that point. And Andrew and I are happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Jacqui Lambie says that her proposal would improve the treatment of refugees in offshore detention and also ensuring the integrity of Australia’s strong border protection policies. If, as you say she's a straight shooter and compassionate shouldn't be welcome what she has achieved and doesn’t this suggest that this is a better result.
KENEALLY: I just said how can we know what the deal contains because it has been done in secret? The Parliament, the public, the Australian public, and the Australian media are unable to know what this deal contains. The public has a right to know if the Government has changed its policy. The public has a right to know, if the Government and the Prime Minister have done a backflip and have decided to accept the New Zealand offer, they should announce that.  Then how can we hold the Prime Minister to account for whatever commitments he may have made to Senator Lambie when he keeps them secret.
JOURNALIST: Senator Lambie says it’s because of national security reasons that she can’t talk about it, is that a valid reason for not disclosing the deal?
KENEALLY: We have had a debate about Medevac. And the Government's has at times to put national security information. Well, let's just say should say, someone has put national security information -- leaked it to the media at various times during this Medevac debate. Again, when we are having a secret deals done behind closed doors, when we have what appears to be a change of policy from the Prime Minister on public policy, being changed by the Prime Minister unannounced to Australian people in order to secure a vote in the Parliament, that is not how we operate in an open and transparent democracy. And for goodness sakes, it appears that the Prime Minister didn't even choose to trust his own cabinet colleagues with the details of this deal. How can anyone hold him to account for what he may have committed to Senator Lambie? I do think she's a straight shooter. I do think she has a compassionate heart. I just really hope that she hasn't been snowed here by a Prime Minister who will say and do anything when he's backed into a corner. And as I said, this is a man who's made public commitments about school students about drugs for PBS listing about our encryption laws if you can hold to the commitments he makes in public. How on earth can Senator Lambie or anyone else trust that he's going to hold the commitments that he's made in private?
JOURNALIST: Senator these refugees and asylum seekers are now left you say with less access to medical help after being there for six years. What responsibility does Labor take for them being there in the first place?
KENEALLY: Let's be clear Labor supports Operation Sovereign Borders. That includes regional resettlement, boat turnbacks where safe to do so and offshore processing. But offshore processing was never meant to be indefinite, ongoing, cruel detention. Yet under this third term Liberal National Government that is precisely what it has become. They have, under the leadership of Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton, shown no inclination whatsoever to pursue third party resettlement outside the US deal. Now we support the US resettlement deal and I pay tribute to Malcolm Turnbull for securing it. And we have continuously encouraged those refugees who’ve received an offer from the United States to take it up. But it is possible to do more than one thing at a time. Well, for most people that is. It seems for Peter Dutton, that's just a little too hard. Peter Dutton seems incapable of contemplating going out and negotiating third party resettlement, third country resettlement arrangements, particularly with a country like New Zealand, our closest neighbour, who have an offer on the table. Let's be clear, given the number of people who remain on Manus and Nauru, who remain in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru, under the New Zealand arrangement, the original deal struck by Prime Minister Gillard and Prime Minister John Key there would have been 150 people a year moved to New Zealand. Now if the Government had just stuck with that under the Abbott Government in 2014, there wouldn't be people on Manus and Nauru right now.  So let's be clear about it. You ask about legacy and responsibility. The Gillard  Government struck a deal with New Zealand to have 150 people moved every year; the Abbott Government cancelled that deal.  Anything that has happened in relation to people in Manus and Nauru  since 2014, since Tony Abbott cancelled that deal, is squarely the responsibility of this third term Liberal National Government.
JOURNALIST: Senator Lambie got pretty emotional today; it seemed like it was a hard decision. Do you believe it was? (inaudible)
KENEALLY: Of course I felt for her. As I said I think Senator Lambie has a compassionate heart and I think she has a genuine desire to see refugees on Manus and Nauru, PNG and Nauru, no longer stuck in indefinite, ongoing, cruel detention. I just hope for Senator Lambie’s sake for the sake of those refugees that the deal she struck is one that holds and one that delivers good outcome to those people. And if it does do those things, if it holds and it delivers a good outcome for the refugees in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, then it is a change of Government policy by Scott Morrison. It is a backflip by Scott Morrison. It is one he as Prime Minister needs to front the Australian people, front the Australian Parliament and explain. Surely the content of the deal can be explained in a way it does not endanger national security. If this is the deal, if this is the deal, surely that can be explained to the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: The Greens say they’ll be pursuing Senator Cormann and Senator Lambie for misleading the Parliament. Is that something you would support?
KENEALLY: We haven't contemplated doing that. I as I said here today, we are seeking from the Government to stand up and do what a democratically elected government – in an open and free society does – which is to explain a change, a shift, of government policy to their constituents.
JOURNALIST: Did you have a secret deal, a nod, wink, nudge from Bill Shorten to go to the US as ambassador if you won?
JOURNALIST: (inaudible)
KENEALLY: As I said, Senator Lambie has done a deal with the government and if she is choosing to keep it secret and that makes it very hard to hold the Government to account. So I would ask for people to consider, people who vote for her, they put their trust in her, and I think it is incumbent upon her for her to stand up and tell her constituency what she has done. Now, if she feels she can't do that, then she is going to have a very hard time being able to justify if the Government does not follow through on the commitments they have made to her. She is going to have a very hard time to hold them to account on the commitments they have made to her.
JOURNALIST: Pauline Hanson had a crack at Labor but also you personally in the Senate…
KENEALLY: Oh I didn’t hear that there was a lot of shouting.
JOURNALIST: The gist of it was Labor still doesn’t get the Australian people’s concern about border security. Did you want to respond to Senator Hanson?
KENEALLY: I think Senator Hanson might want to take note of a Essential poll that came out just last week that said 62% of Australians support the Medevac laws, and that's what makes it happening today in the Parliament so distressing, not just for those refugees who are going to be having less access to medical care, it's also a disappointing result for the Australian people who do support these laws. The majority of Australians do support these laws; that's what the data shows and we saw last week 51,000 Australians signed a petition that was delivered here at the Parliament to express their support for the these laws. What we had today was a Parliament where Senators from the Government, Senators from the crossbench including Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts, voting in secret – voting in, that is, voting for a deal that they don't know about. What happened today Senator Hanson went in, cast her vote for repeal of Medevac, it includes a deal that Senator Hanson wouldn't know about – that she doesn't even know what the shift is in Government policy – that Scott Morrison has committed to Senator Lambie. As I said, if the Prime Minister has done a backflip, if he has decided to accept New Zealand's offer to take refugees from Manus and Nauru – that is a change in policy, he should announce it to the Australian people. And frankly, it's a change in policy Labor would support so I think it's incumbent now upon the Prime Minister to explain what he has done.
JOURNALIST: Senator did you speak to anybody before the last election about the idea, the prospect, of you becoming US ambassador?
KENEALLY: [Laughs] Look let me just say the only approach I have had to become an ambassador, the only serious approach I've had to become an ambassador, was to be the Ambassador to the Vatican and that was during Malcolm Turnbull’s time as Prime Minister.
JOURNALIST: Did you discuss it with anyone at all before the election? The idea even?
KENEALLY: Look lots of things get discussed before an election. But no, this story today, I found it rather funny to be honest.
JOURNALIST: Is it not true in any respect?
KENEALLY: I am not going to stand here and canvas that people raise lots of ideas. I’ve got to say at one point somebody suggested I might consider running for the Lord Mayor of Sydney. I mean, if you want to put through the random number of things people have suggested I might consider in my career, we could be here for a while.
JOURNALIST: But was that specific idea discussed with Bill Shorten?
KENEALLY: Look, lots of ideas were discussed. I will say the one job that, and I don't think Mr Shorten would mind me saying this, the one job that he seriously wanted me to contemplate was being Minister for Home Affairs. Unfortunately we weren’t able to achieve that so here we are as the opposition’s person and very proud to do so alongside my colleague, Andrew Giles,. Here to do the kind of work that we're doing here today, which is to stand up for strong border protection without losing our humanity and we’ll continue to fight for that. Thanks everyone. Thank you.