02 September 2019

SUBJECTS: Biloela family, Scott Morrison’s “on-water matters”, 81,000 airport arrivals claiming asylum on Peter Dutton’s watch.
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Well how absolutely convenient for the Government. We wake up this morning to front pages telling us all about a boat that attempted to come some weeks ago. It does seem quite convenient. Let's remember that Scott Morrison when he was Immigration Minister used to refuse to talk about ""on-water matters"". If he said it once, he said it 100 times – ""the Government refuses to talk about on-water matters"". Scott Morrison refuses to talk about ""on-water matters"". But today we wake up to front pages talking all about “on-water matters” and that's because this Government is just a little too concerned that the people of Australia are standing up and speaking on behalf of the family from Biloela. The people of Australia are standing up and advocating that this family, this Tamil family, that put down roots and have been welcomed and embraced by regional Queensland, the Government are just a little too concerned that Australians are starting to speak up too loudly on behalf of this family. And so what does the Government do when it's politically convenient for them? They decide it's okay to talk about ""on-water matters"". Well, let's talk about ""on-water matters"" then, Mr Morrison, let's talk about them.
35 boats have attempted to come since this Coalition, this third term Coalition Government has been in office. That's 35 boats attempting to come under this third term Coalition Government. One boat actually made it. It came here the very week that Peter Dutton unsuccessfully challenged Malcolm Turnbull for the top job. And what we do know, this Government, which does like to control the information, which does like to limit from the Australian people the information that is available to them – sometimes they talk about on-water matters, sometimes they won't – what we do know is that this Government has cut the Australian Federal Police presence in source countries. What we do know is that this Government has two Cape Class patrol boats sitting in dock in Western Australia – not out patrolling the shoreline; not doing what taxpayer dollars were spent to get these boats to do – because the Government doesn't know how to fuel or service those Cape Class patrol boats. Don't take my word for it, the Auditor-General has produced a whole report on this, the failure of Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison to be able to run those Cape Class patrol boats. What we also know is that this Government, under Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have completely missed the fact that people smugglers have moved to airplanes. That's right. People smugglers are now using our visa system and airline arrivals – airport arrivals – to smuggle people into Australia. This is this scheme that they use. People come here on legal visas, tourist or student visas. When they get here, these criminal syndicates get them to apply for asylum knowing that under Peter Dutton's incompetence and mismanagement, that visa processing times have blown out two to four years. So what happens, they get put on a bridging visa while their claim for asylum is assessed and then labour hire companies use them in exploitative conditions, often in horticulture, or in hospitality. Don't take my word for it again, Today in the Australian Financial Review we've got Bill Bulmer, the head of AusVEG, making the case that this criminal syndicate, this people smuggling operation, is actually undercutting wages and conditions in Australia. It is leading to an exploited workforce where people are being paid as little as $4 or $5 an hour and being held in conditions that quite closely approximate slavery. Peter Dutton has missed all of this but yet the Government, so concerned that the Australian people are speaking up loudly on behalf of this family from Biloela, decide that they have to release information about on-water matters about a boat that attempted to come weeks ago in order to distract and to intimidate. If the Government was serious about securing our borders, it would be doing something about the blowout in airplane arrivals, which far dwarfs the number of people who have attempted to come by boat. If the Government was serious about securing our borders, it would do something about getting those Cape Class patrol boats that are sitting in dock in WA out patrolling the coastline. If the Government was serious about controlling our borders, it would increase the Australian Federal Police presence in third party countries; it would be seeking to disrupt the people smuggling trade in source countries. Now, let me say this – Labor quite clearly supports Operation Sovereign Borders. That includes boat turnbacks, regional resettlement, and offshore processing. But Labor also calls the Government to account when it has failed to secure our borders – at our airports, when it fails to get the Cape Class patrol boats out in our waters and when it fails to invest in police, the Australian Federal Police presence in third party countries.
On the family from Biloela – Nades, Priya and their two children. It is possible that this ends today. This cruelty and this circumstance can end today. It can end with a stroke of a pen. It can end with David Coleman doing his job exercising his power under the Migration Act and using the discretion that it grants him. We live in a democracy and in a democracy, the people are sovereign. And in Australia today we have had hundreds of thousands of people sign a petition. We have had people rallying in all major cities across the country over the weekend. We have voices such as Alan Jones and Barnaby Joyce calling out for this family to be allowed to stay in Australia. It is time that the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, show some compassion, show some Christian leadership and listen to the Australian people. Scott Morrison needs to remember that he is the Prime Minister and that means he's responsible to the Australian people. The Prime Minister has often spoken in the past about his Christian faith and I've applauded him for doing that. Alan Jones said today that the Prime Minister could show some practical Christianity and I've endorsed that call. But I think even more importantly, the Prime Minister could show some responsibility to Australian people and show that he is listening. This is an opportunity for the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to make clear to David Coleman and to Peter Dutton that this circumstance is precisely why we have discretion in the Migration Act so that this family can be allowed to stay in Australia. I'm happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: The Government says the family has broken the law and therefore should be deported. Why should they make an exception for this family given that other people are deported in the exact same circumstances?
KENEALLY: This family is in Australia and has been allowed to stay in Australia because of the poor administration of Peter Dutton's Department of Home Affairs. That is, it has taken years for their claim to be assessed. In that time, they have done what many people do. They have formed relationships, they have gotten jobs, they have had children, they have become part of the fabric of the Biloela community. The Government right now says that it wants migrants and it wants refugees to go to regional communities, to contribute to local economies, to become part of the local community. This family did exactly that and the Biloela community has wrapped their arms around them and has welcome them into the community. This is exactly why we have discretion in the Migration Act. I might also add there is some evidence from the UN and others about the risks post to Tamils returning to Sri Lanka. The Government can use its discretion in circumstances where the court has not been able to consider all of the relevant factors. That's why we have discretion in the Act. If this was a simple case of being able to, through some computer algorithm, determine who can be here and who isn't, we wouldn't have discretion in the Act. And Peter Dutton, who has used that discretion to let two au pairs come into the country, well, if he can use it for the au pairs, why can't he use it for this family?
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has just come out saying that by keeping the Tamil family here it sends the wrong message to the people smugglers. Do you think that that's a valid concern?
KENEALLY: The way the Government stops the boats is by investing in Australian Federal Police presence in third party countries. It's about having those Cape Class control patrol boats out operating. And quite frankly, by noticing the fact that 81,000 asylum seekers have come through our airports since they took office – that more than doubles the number of people who have come by boat. 90 per cent of those asylum seekers who have come through the airports have been found not to be refugees. And that's because they are not asylum seekers; they are being trafficked here to work under exploitative conditions. Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison have failed to notice that. Now, Peter Dutton has used his discretion in other circumstances such as allowing two au pairs to stay in the country. Such as allowing a young man who was from Nauru who was being held in offshore processing on Nauru to come to Australia. We have allowed people through the US deal to go to the United States. That is a deal that Labor supports and is one that I encourage any asylum seeker or refugee who has an offer from the United States to take that up. But if we can do all of those things and they're not pull factors, I don't see how allowing one family to stay – a family that is part of the fabric of the Biloela community, a family that Australians have gotten behind and rallied behind – I cannot see the logic in the Prime Minister's argument. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison has decided today that it's okay to talk about “on-water matters”. After years of refusing to talk about “on-water matters”, and quite frankly, it's just a little too convenient for this Government. It's manipulative and it needs to end. The Government can bring this all to an end today by simply allowing this family to stay.
JOURNALIST: The fact that this family has been in Australia for so long on bridging visas – do you think this situation requires changes when it comes to how quickly visas are reviewed?
KENEALLY: Right now in Australia we have 230,000 bridging visas. Now to put that in context when Labor left office, it was around 80,000. We have seen a more than doubling in the number of bridging visas. Why has that occurred? It's occurred because under Peter Dutton's incompetent administration of the Department of Home Affairs, we have lost a focus, quite frankly, on customer service, on efficiency, on managing the migration system. John Howard used to say it's fundamental that the public have confidence in the visa system, in the migration system and they need to know that it is efficient and predictable. What we have now, to get a spouse visa or a partner visa takes more than two years. Citizenship application times have blown out to two to three years. It takes two to four years to process an asylum seeker claim and those are for people who have arrived with papers on airplanes. The fact that there are 230,000 bridging visas in Australia should be a clarion call, a warning sign that is going off, that our migration system under Peter Dutton's incompetence is at straining point. That is a significant risk for our business community and for public confidence in the migration system. Peter Dutton needs to turn his focus to the administration of his own Department.
JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to the Government about the Tamil family whether it be Mr Coleman or...
KENEALLY: Yes, absolutely. I have written to Minister Coleman, my office or I have had no less than eight representations. We are in regular attempts at contact on behalf of this Biloela family. Deafening silence, deafening silence. I mean, quite frankly, we have here an extraordinary coalition of voices calling for this Biloela family to be able to stay in Australia. Craig Foster, Barnaby Joyce, Alan Jones, people from rural and regional Queensland, people from right across Australia. I don't know maybe the Government's waiting for Gillon McLachlan to call up Peter Dutton and intervene the way that appears to have happened with those au pairs. I don't know what would motivate this Government to act. They need to listen to the Australian people and the Australian people are making their views very loudly heard.
JOURNALIST: Would you like the Government to release (inaudible).
KENEALLY: The Government holds all the information here. Prime Minister Scott Morrison holds all the information and he is manipulating the release of that information. When he was Immigration Minister and it suited him, he didn't talk about on water matters. Now that he's Prime Minister and it suits him politically, he's willing to release this sort of information that one boat a few weeks ago attempted to come. Well, the Government needs to get clear – what is their policy on releasing this kind of information? Are they going to do it regularly? Are they going to make regular reports to Parliament? Is this a change in policy from the Prime Minister or is he just doing what marketing and ad men do which is manipulate information to try and manipulate the Australian public. The Australian public deserves better from their Government. Now the Australian public wants the boats to remain stopped, the Labor Party supports that aim that's why we support Operation Sovereign Borders. What we don't support is a Government manipulating information and playing quite convenient tricks with information to suit their political agenda. Either they're going to make regular reporting about boat arrivals or they're not. And frankly, if they're going to start doing that, I also call them to start reporting on airplane arrivals and what they are doing to stem that problem.
JOURNALIST: Is it safe currently for Tamils to return to Sri Lanka?
KENEALLY: There is advice from the United Nations that that is a risk and that is advice that should be fed into this decision making. It's exactly why we have discretion in the migration system.
JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister keeps referring to the courts having their process but they don't actually have a say whether somewhere is safe to return to – does that process need to be looked at further?
KENEALLY: Well this again is why some discretion has been built into the Migration Act because it's a recognition that courts are not always able to take into account all of the relevant information. Otherwise, as I said, we would simply have a computer algorithm that determines who could be here and who isn't. The fact of the matter is, in this circumstance this family would argue, and the Biloela community would stand next to them arguing, that not all of the relevant factors have been taken into account by the courts, nor can they be and that's why the Minister should use his discretion here. Alright thanks everyone.