TRANSCRIPT - RADIO INTERVIEW - 3AW - Monday, 3 June 2019

03 June 2019

SUBJECTS: Appointment as Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Peter Dutton’s Maladministration of the Home Affairs Department.

NEIL MITCHELL, PRESENTER: Senator Kristina Keneally, the new Home Affairs spokesman for the Labor Party. Good morning. 
THE HON. KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE: Good morning, Neil, and good morning to your listeners.
MITCHELL: Can we just – just get it clear. Personally, do you still think that turning back the boats is cruel?
KENEALLY: Well, I don’t think turning back boats is cruel. In fact, I think it’s necessary to ensure that people are not drowning at sea. I think it’s necessary to ensure that we secure our borders. What I do have concerns about is that while offshore processing is a necessary part of ensuring that people don’t take these leaky boat journeys – don’t become victims of the vile commodification of human beings that people smuggling is – under this Government, people have been allowed to languish indefinitely, and often times in cruel conditions, unable to get the medical care that they need. Now, I think, Neil, that as a mature, first-world, democratic country, we can secure our borders without being cruel to our fellow human beings.
MITCHELL: But you did believe a few years ago it was cruel, didn’t you? You were personally unsettled by boat turnbacks.
KENEALLY: Well, Mr Dutton…
MITCHELL: You’ve changed your mind, have you?
KENEALLY: Well, actually, if you read the article that…
MITCHELL: I have. I have.
KENEALLY: … Mr Dutton is parading about today – and I would encourage your listeners to do so. I’m quite comfortable with the fact that it’s on The Guardian website and remains there, because it’s an honest and open reflection about how…
MITCHELL: But have you changed since – have you changed your mind since then?
KENEALLY: Well, in fact, Neil, if you let me complete the sentence, the article that I wrote was an honest and open reflection about grappling with an initial discomfort, but a recognition – that article concludes with a recognition – that this is the right decision.  That Labor took the right decision in 2015 to adopt this policy, and that I do support it, and I have since. What I have continued to say…
MITCHELL: Sorry. I’m sorry. Look, I have to interrupt.  I’m confused.  You wrote in 2015 that you were uncomfortable with it.  Are you saying you are now comfortable with it?
KENEALLY: Yes, I am, Neil. And I’m being quite clear about that, and, in fact, the conclusion of that very article asserts the comfort that I have with it, because it is the right decision in order to secure our borders, to stop people drowning at sea, but we cannot allow offshore processing to become indefinite and ongoing offshore detention where people have no chance of resettlement in third countries, and are unable to get the medical care that they need.
MITCHELL: Okay. In 2017, in a column you said Malcolm Turnbull should bring the refugees to Australia. You said, quote, “If the boats have stopped because of turnbacks and other efforts, why does Australia need to keep detaining refugees in offshore detention facilities”.  Have you changed your mind on that as well?
KENEALLY: Well, as I just said, I don’t think people need to be there indefinitely…
MITCHELL: No, but do they need to be there at all?
KENEALLY: Well, they do, and I’ve made that point in an article I wrote in 2015, and let me just say how…
MITCHELL: This is 2017, the one I’m quoting.
KENEALLY: Yes – look, Peter Dutton is doing what Peter Dutton does, and this - - -
MITCHELL: No, I’m – this isn’t Peter Dutton, this is me. I haven’t got this from Peter Dutton.
KENEALLY: Well, sure, Neil, and as I’ve said, I’m quite happy to have this conversation, because these are open and honest reflections about where the community has gone on this issue, but let me be clear, Neil. Let me be absolutely clear. As I said in 2015, and I have continued to hold since, that offshore processing, turnbacks were necessary – where it’s safe to do so – and regional resettlement are fundamental and absolutely necessary to ensure two things – that our borders are secure, and that people are not dying at sea. 
MITCHELL: Okay. Well, how long – when do you want to bring people to Australia?  You – you say you want short-term offshore detention, which is a bit of a change – you didn’t want any – but how quickly would you bring them to Australia?
KENEALLY: No. The people should be resettled in third countries.
KENEALLY: Let’s be clear about this. Kevin Rudd started this process at the end of his prime ministership of offshore processing.  What we have seen since then is Scott Morrison to continue that and I think it has worked.
MITCHELL: But you’ve changed your mind again, because in 2017, in a column, you said Malcolm Turnbull should bring the refugees to Australia.
KENEALLY: No, actually what I said is it’s an option that he had.  He’s choosing not to take it, and the Government needs therefore to get moving on regional resettlement- third-party resettlement. They’re choosing not to do that. Neil, let’s be clear. The Government could have taken up an offer from New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees. They’ve refused to do that. The Government has struck a deal with the United States, and I have publicly congratulated them for that. At the time, there were a lot of questions as to whether or not that deal would ever eventuate in anyone going to the US. Now, I’m pleased to say about 500 people have. There is still capacity within that deal for more to go. In fact, if the Government wanted to, they could be out there actively looking for regional resettlement deals to remove these people from Manus and Nauru.
KENEALLY: In an ideal circumstance, Neil, we don’t have anyone on Manus and Nauru, because we are able to keep the boats from coming, and we are able to ensure our borders are secure. 
MITCHELL: What is Labor’s policy now on Temporary Protection Visas?  They were to be abolished.  What are they now – what is it now? 
KENEALLY: Neil, you are correct. That has been our policy, and our remains our policy until we have changed it, and as Anthony Albanese has made clear, we’re going to have a review of all our policies, but we do remain steadfast on this point about boats, about regional resettlement, about offshore processing, about turning boats back when it’s safe to do so. 
MITCHELL: So what’s the effect if you do abolish Temporary Protection Visas?  What does that do?
KENEALLY: Well, Neil, we’re going to go through a process.  You’re not going to expect me here to be making policy on the run, or to be making…
MITCHELL: No, I was asking about implications, not policy.
KENEALLY: Well, and again, the implications we will consider as part of a Shadow Cabinet.
MITCHELL: Okay.  What about bringing in the relatives of visa holders? Is that still policy?
KENEALLY: In fact, what is really quite extraordinary is that Mr. Dutton has overseen an absolute blow-out on visa processing times. We currently have people waiting for partner visas – over two years wait to get a partner visa. We have 230,000 people who’ve applied for citizenship – people who are waiting to become Australian citizens, to pledge allegiance to Australia – and they’re on a long-term waiting list thanks to the cuts and the chaos of the Department under Mr. Dutton. You know, what I intend to do with this position is to hold – well, really, two things.  One, to apply a blowtorch to Mr Dutton’s maladministration of this portfolio.  We have seen 81,000 people arriving in our airports to seek asylum.  Mr Dutton has overseen that blow-out – a massive blow-out in the number of people…
MITCHELL: So how would you stop that?
KENEALLY: Well, this Government has cut our AFP presence overseas, and…
MITCHELL: So you would increase the AFP presence overseas – Federal Police overseas, would you?
KENEALLY: This is an area the Government needs to explain why they have cut the AFP presence overseas. The Government has absolutely failed to notice that they model of people coming here to seek asylum has switched from boats to planes.  Now, there is nothing wrong – there is nothing wrong with people seeking asylum – but when we see a massive blow-out to 81,000 arrivals over the past four years in our airports, you have to ask what’s going on. On top of that, we’ve seen bridging visas crash through a historic high – crash through over 200,000 people on bridging visas in March this year. To put that in context, in December 2013, the number of people on bridging visas was only at 92,000. 
KENEALLY: So Mr Dutton, who has overseen cuts, he has overseen delays to visa processing, he’s overseen a blow-out of people arriving at our airports, and he has blithely ignored this what is going on within his own Department. 
MITCHELL: Is it still policy then to increase the humanitarian intake of refugees to 27,000?
KENEALLY: Well, part of my role, Neil, is in fact as both Shadow Minister for Home Affairs and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, and that recognises the importance of immigration as both an economic tool, as well as a, really, a statement of who we are as Australians. There’s a lot of focus on who we keep out under this Government; there has been far less focus on who we bring in, and why we bring them in. 
MITCHELL: So what is the answer?  27,000 – are you locked in to that?
KENEALLY: Again, as Mr. Albanese has made clear, there are a number of our policy areas, which are going to be under consideration. We will, of course, have a policy that we take to the next election.
MITCHELL: Will you review the – making it easier to remove citizenship?
KENEALLY: In what capacity?
MITCHELL: Well, I mean, people who commit offences in this country, but mightn’t have dual-citizenship.  Can you review that – is there anything you can do about that?
KENEALLY: If the Government has legislation to bring before the Parliament that they want to make suggestions, that’s up to them to do so. Let me observe – the Government, before the last election, we were in the extraordinary circumstance, they got legislation proposing the exclusion orders, and what we had is the Parliamentary Joint Intelligence Committee had a very good look at this. They made a number of suggestions.  It was the first time in the nineteen year history of that committee that Labor had issued a dissenting report, and the Government has failed to satisfy the Parliament that their legislation is constitutionally valid, so, you know, let’s make clear. Since the election has occurred – since that legislation was first tabled – we have had people like Mike Pompeo and others saying that countries need to consider their responsibility to these foreign fighters. So it’s up to the Government – we’re not the Government – it’s up to the Government to satisfy that their legislation is constitutional, and it’s up to them.
MITCHELL: Well, what’s your view of the children though?  The children of foreign fighters coming back if those foreign fighters have died.  What’s your view of that? 
KENEALLY: Well, Australian citizens, particularly if they are children who have been taken to these circumstances by their partners – they are children.  They do deserve our – they are our responsibility.  We do need to look after them.  We need to be careful to do this in a way that is safe.
MITCHELL: But you’d bring them back – you would accept them?
KENEALLY: I think we have an obligation, and it’s not just me saying this.  This is leaders in other countries who have also made this point – the United States has spoken very strongly, and I did – I have heard the Government – Scott Morrison and others – make the point that we need to think very carefully, and be very considerate of the fact we have obligations to these minor children who were taken to these places by their parents.
MITCHELL: What do you consider the most important national security issue for the country?
KENEALLY: Well, Mark…
KENEALLY: Sorry, I apologise – Neil.  Let me just say, Neil, this is an important part of the portfolio, and when it comes to our national security, there are a number of threats that we face, of course, like every country in the world, but I do think we need to be incredibly mindful in this next term of Parliament how we deal with issues around cyber-security, how we deal with issues around terrorism, of course. These do remain pressing concerns for our country.
MITCHELL: Now, obviously, from your – people know of your background – the United States, and your accent. Is Donald Trump barking mad? 
KENEALLY: Well, he’s the President of the United States, elected by that country.  I wouldn’t use those terms.
MITCHELL: Bill Shorten did; I just wondered whether you…
KENEALLY: Sure, sure. Look, a number of figures on both sides of politics in Australia have made comments in the past about Mr. Trump. Let me be clear that I respect the Office of the President of the United States, and the US remains a very – and always will be – a very valued friend and ally in the United States. 
MITCHELL: Of course. 
KENEALLY: I might say, Neil, that, you know, my family history – we take the ANZUS alliance very seriously.  Indeed, I am here today because a grandfather came over from the US during World War II, and met an Australian up in Brisbane.
MITCHELL: Just a final question. When you refer to applying the blowtorch to Peter Dutton – wouldn’t be considered appropriate if he said he was going to do it to you, would it?
KENEALLY: You know, Neil, I don’t really have a problem with standing up in Parliament, or any other forum, and having a debate.  I’m not afraid of an argument, I’m not afraid.
MITCHELL: No, I’m just thinking of, you know, the blowtorch thing, and, you know, male-female. I think it’s a very clever idea to put you in there, because it draws this contrast between, you know, the Peter Dutton and your approach.  I think your approaches will be clearly different, but if Peter Dutton was saying I’m going to turn a blowtorch on Kristina Keneally, I think people would be unsettled by that.
KENEALLY: Well, I’m going to turn a blowtorch on his record.  That’s what I’m going to do. 
MITCHELL: Right. Fair enough.  Thank you very much, Senator Kristina Keneally.