30 August 2019


SUBJECTS: Biloela family; religious freedoms; Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop; Scott Morrison using toilets as a desperate distraction; Confucius Institutes, NSW ICAC.
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Last night dramatic, traumatic and extraordinary scenes, as the Biloela family, this Tamil family is ripped out of the detention centre in Melbourne and put on a plane to be deported. Is this Australia in 2019? Is this what we have come to? A Government taking to children who are born in this country; ripping a family out of a community in Biloela - a community that wants them there - and deporting them? At a time when there is a genuine and serious question about the safety of Tamils being returned to Sri Lanka. This cruelty, this trauma, this dramatic set of circumstances, all of this can come to an end today; it can come to an end now. No matter what happens in the Federal Court today, Minister Coleman and Prime Minister Morrison can stop this now.
Under the laws of this country, the Minister for Immigration has the power and the discretion to make a decision, and he can do so today, he can return this family back to the community in Biloela that wants them there. The Prime Minister could stand up today and direct the Minister to do this. None of this trauma to these children, hurt to the Biloela community, none of this is necessary. None of this cruelty from this Government is necessary here. We are a country - it says it in our national anthem - that welcomes people and we have a community in Biloela, Queensland that has welcomed this family. That has integrated them, made them part of the community, made them part of the fabric of Australia, and yet our Government seems intent on cruelly ripping them out of Australia, deporting them in the dead of night. And now, only thanks to the decision of the court, that they have this chance again to have their case heard.
Now, I want to say something here, and I don't normally like to mix religion and politics. But I want to make an appeal to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister put his Christian faith on full display in the campaign; the Prime Minister speaks openly about his Christian faith. And you know, I applaud him for doing that. It's part of who he is. Now, I'm a Christian too. I'm a mother; the Prime Minister is a father. And I appeal to him as a parent, and as a Christian, to look into his heart and decide what the generous Christian response here is. Decide what the Australian response here is. This is an opportunity for the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to show what Christian Leadership looks like. It is compassion. It is welcome. It is the story of the Good Samaritan. And the people who Biloela have been showing that by their advocacy and their fierce determination to return this family of four home to that community. This is an opportunity today, for all this legal manoeuvring to have to come to an end. We don't need to rip a family out of their home in the middle of the night. We don't need to put them in detention for a year, we don't need to watch their children suffer health problems because of that detention. And we certainly don't need to rip them out away from their mother, separate them from their mother, and put them on a plane in the middle of the night in an attempt to deport them. We are a better country than this and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Minister for Immigration David Coleman have an opportunity, now today, to bring this to an end and allow this family to stay in Australia. I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton has said this family and not refugees and are not owed protection from Australia. What's your response to the Government saying that?
KENEALLY: We have now in, in before us, evidence from the UN and others that returning a Tamil family to Sri Lanka does put their life in jeopardy. We have the discretion in Migration Act that allows for the Minister to take decisions. Can I make the point that Peter Dutton has offered to intervene to allow two au pairs to stay in the country but yet cannot find it within his heart - this Government cannot find it within their compassion - to look upon a family of four, two children born in this country, who have known nothing else, a family that does face the risk by all accounts as Tamils returning to Sri Lanka, a family that is wanted and loved by their local community and Queensland. This is why we have discretion in the Migration Act, and Minister Coleman should use it.
JOURNALIST: Peter Dutton says the courts have decided though that these people aren't refugees. Why should he go against the court's ruling to allow them to stay?
KENEALLY: Why did Peter Dutton go against all laws and processes when he allowed to au pairs to stay in the country? Who is he speaking for then? Why did he use discretion in that circumstance but not in this one? This is a compelling case. This is a case where we do know there are risks to returning Tamils to Sri Lanka. This is a case of two children born in this country. This is a case of children who have suffered because of their detention, suffered health problems because Australia has put them in detention, and this is a family that is wanted and loved by their local community. This is exactly why the Minister has this type of discretion under law and Minister Coleman should use it.
JOURNALIST: Is there a risk of creating a loophole or weakening the laws somewhat in allowing people to stay once they have children here? For instance, this couple were told they weren't going to be allowed to settle in Australia, they've gone on to have children, and now the argument is that because they've had children here that they should be entitled to stay.
KENEALLY: The argument is broader than that. The argument is that this is a family that was allowed to stay here by the Australian Government for a period of time. Allowed to set down roots, allowed to form links, allowed to contribute to their local community and now in the middle of the night, in traumatic scenes being ripped out of this country. Again, Minister Dutton thinks it's okay to intervene when it comes to two au pairs but doesn't think it's okay to intervene when we have a family that is wanted and loved by the Biloela community. Again, the Migration Act has within its capacity the Minister to make these types of interventions. There's a reason we do that because, sometimes, court processes don't allow for all the evidence to come forward. Sometimes circumstances justify intervention. And I come back to my point, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison could stop all of this today and I appeal to him as a father and a fellow Christian that he takes action to intervene, show compassion, show some humanity and show that you listening to the local community. You know the thing about democracy is elected leaders are meant to listen to the people who elect them. And here we have in Biloela, Queensland, a community that is standing up and saying we want this family back, asking that their elected representatives respond. Now I have made no less than eight representations to Minister Coleman on behalf of his family. I note that across the political spectrum we have people like Alan Jones standing up to advocate for this family. This is something that should be crossing political divide and is. This is a family that is wanted by the local community and so far the pleas of the Australians have fallen on deaf ears from this Australian Government.
JOURNALIST: Is this sending a poor message to the people smugglers though that if you come to Australia, settle for a bit, have children you'll be able to stay?
KENEALLY: Let me tell you what the poor message to people smugglers is - the fact that under Minister Dutton's watch, we have seen the number of airport arrivals blow out to 80,000. That is people who have arrived though our airports, they're trafficked here by people smugglers, they are applying for asylum. 90 per cent of them are found not to be refugees. Most of them are coming from Malaysia and China; this is an organised people smuggling ring. Now, let me make this clear, that has nothing to do with this family, that has absolutely nothing to do with family. You asked me where the risks are in terms of the messages to people smugglers. The risk is the fact that Peter Dutton has missed that the people smugglers have changed their business model from boats to planes. But none of that has anything to do with this family. This is a Tamil family seeking asylum because it is risky for them to live in Sri Lanka. By all accounts, Priya, the father – excuse me, by all accounts Nades the father of this family, is at grave risk if he is returned to Sri Lanka. Now, it may be the case the court has not been able to consider that evidence. It may be the case that circumstances have changed since the court first heard it. But this is precisely why the Migration Act allows for the Minister to have this type of discretion. I make the point again, Peter Dutton exercised this discretion when it came to two au pairs. Why the Government in this circumstance can't find its compassion and it's heart. Why can't listen to local Queensland community - by the way, one that has elected a Liberal National Coalition Member - why they aren't listening is beyond comprehension. And all of this - these traumatic scenes, the trauma that has been done to these children, that can stop today, if Minister Coleman and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison take a decision. No matter what happens in court today this can be stopped by the Minister's intervention.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of church leaders are calling for extra safeguards in their religious discrimination bill?
KENEALLY: Can we finish on this issue and then I'm happy to go on.
JOURNALIST: You said you made eight representations to Minister Coleman's office.  What's been the response?
KENEALLY: None. Stunning silence from Minister Coleman on behalf of the representations I have made, representations made by voices such as Alan Jones, representations made by and the campaign they're running. Silence. Minister Coleman is not listening to the Australian community. He's not listening to the people of Biloela who want this family back - Priya, Nades and their two children.
JOURNALIST: Would it be different if they lived in the city rather than a regional area?
KENEALLY: No. I just make the point that we have a community that wants this family back. That actively sees them as part of their community. That has welcomed them, and yet we have a Government that is cruelly and heartlessly not listening. Okay, are there any other questions?
JOURNALIST: What do you make of church leaders calling for extra safeguards on the religious freedoms bill, would you agree that that's needed?
KENEALLY: Well, first of all the Government has only just released their draft legislation; it will go through a Senate process, we will examine it. I'm on the record and have made quite clear that I am open to a conversation about how we best protect religious freedom and I look forward to examining the bill. Obviously, church leaders are going to want to have their say on this, so are other civil groups within society and other people within the community. I'm waiting to see how the Government intends to conduct that consultation. This is a difficult issue. You know, I wish the Government well in bringing this legislation forward. I think it's an important conversation to have but let's let that consultation occur.
JOURNALIST: Did Christopher Pyne and Julie Bishop breach ministerial standards with their post-politics roles?
KENEALLY: This is an issue that the Senate has considered and thinks there are serious questions to be answered.
JOURNALIST: Do you think scrutinising this though will deter people from going into politics because they won't have a job on the other side?
JOURNALIST: Have you had a chance to look at the draft religious discrimination bill yourself yet?
KENEALLY: No, I have not, I have been in committee meetings for the past two days. In fact I have taken a little bit of time out of those meetings today to come and speak with you.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor think corporate Australia's gone too far into worker's private lives?
KENEALLY: I'm not sure on the context of that question.
JOURNALIST: In terms of regulating how they can express their… (inaudible) 
KENEALLY: This goes precisely to the issue that is been examined under religious freedom bill. I don't intend to run a running commentary on it, there will be in a consultation process and a Senate inquiry process. As a Cabinet and a Caucus we will consider the bill the Government's putting forward.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of the gender fluidity? The toilets in the PM&C?
KENEALLY: Can I just say to the Prime Minister, we have stagnating wages. We have cost of living going up. Health costs are going up, it's more expensive to see a doctor, it's more expensive to see a specialist. We have the Reserve Bank calling out for action to stimulate the economy. We've got a Prime Minister who's got an infrastructure program, we are not going to see 70 per cent of it spent in the next four years. We have an economy that has got slow growth; it's not even keeping up with the Government's own growth projections and this is what the Prime Minister chooses to talk about? You know, there are some real challenges in the Australian community, in Australian economy, and it's clear the Government doesn't have a plan and to address it if this type of distraction debate is what is occupying his mind.
JOURNALIST: Senator Keneally, I just wanted to ask you about Confucius Institutes. The New South Wales Department of Education is closing that. That arrangement was struck and your Government in New South Wales. I just wanted to ask, having seen that result there, do you think that maybe it was a mistake to open that?
KENEALLY: Well, look, I've seen the reporting on that, in fact, some of them – I checked into this after you raised this issue – because, if I can be blunt, the MOU is not something I can recall being signed. In fact there's some evidence that perhaps the MOUs were signed as early as 1995; it's not even clear whether it was under the then Fahey or Carr governments. It's a bit unclear. But let me say this - Labor hasn't been in Government in New South Wales for eight years. And, of course, I think it's completely appropriate whatever the MOU arrangements are, for whatever types of services. that they are regularly reviewed. And you know, well done to the New South Wales Government for doing it, but these are actually questions that are more appropriately put to the current New South Wales Government in 2019 - considering what the appropriate arrangements are for the provision of those services.
JOURNALIST: Are you confident that Federal Labor wouldn't face similar revelations to what we saw in the New South Wales ICAC this week?
KENEALLY: Again, this is a matter that to pertains to state laws and to state electoral donations. I will say I am incredibly distressed by the revelations that have been come forward at ICAC. I am angry and frustrated that this has been allowed to occur, and I congratulate Labor leader Jodi McKay for her strong, clear and principled decision to suspend the General Secretary and her determination, which I believe she has showed up over a number of years, to ensure absolute integrity within that branch of the Party.
JOURNALIST: So you agree Kaila Murnain needed to go?
KENEALLY: I endorse 100 per cent the decision taken by Labor leader Jodi McKay. Thank you.