TRANSCRIPT - TV INTERVIEW - INSIDERS - Sunday, 13 October 2019

13 October 2019


SUBJECTS: Returning foreign fighters; Syria; record numbers of asylum seekers arriving by airplane and being exploited; Medevac.
FRAN KELLY, HOST: Kristina Keneally, welcome to Insiders.
KELLY: Well you heard Peter Dutton there making it clear Australia won't necessarily bring home the women and children, or all of them anyway, stuck in the Lebanon camp. Do you back that response from the Government?
KENEALLY: Fran, I have been briefed by the Department of Home Affairs on the Australian men, women and children who are over in either in prison or in that camp in al-Hawl. In relation to the women, the Department does advise me that some of them do retain a determination to commit terrorist acts, however the Department also advises me that, in their view, some of the women are genuine victims, that is they were taken to Syria either deceived or taken against their will and of course  I think all Australians would agree with the Prime Minister and Minister Dutton that the 40 or so Australian children or children who have a claim to an Australian citizenship are indeed innocent victims.
KELLY: What to do about it then? The stakes are pretty high there. The Minister said during the week that some of the women could pose a mass casualty threat. That certainly lifts the stakes. In your view, could our Government bring home these people, even the ones that are highly suspicious of still being a great threat with the laws we have in place to manage this and still keep Australia safe?
KENEALLY: The Government has a full toolkit, a full set of laws passed by the Parliament supported by the Labor Party, that give them the ability to detain and prosecute and control people who would seek to do us harm. These laws include control orders, preventive detention orders, temporary exclusion orders, suppression orders and a range of terrorist offences that include prosecution for entering a declared area. The Temporary Exclusion Orders were only passed by the parliament a few months ago and they are specifically designed to manage and prosecute where appropriate the return of those foreign fighters.
KELLY: Is that a yes, is Labor's position that these women – these Australians, all of them – should be brought home and managed here under our laws?
KENEALLY: The United States, in fact, has been calling on its Western allies to bring their people back and, indeed, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor recently observed that leaving foreign fighters in Syria is similar to when foreign fighters were left in Afghanistan in the 1970s. Those people went on to form al-Qaeda. So while there is a risk to bringing these people back, there is also a risk to not bringing them back. That is where I think Minister Dutton and the Prime Minister need to be more clear with the Australian people. While there are risks, we do have legislative tools in place to protect our national security and there is a significant risk, both to the region, the world and indeed to Australia if foreign fighters are left there in Syria. We are seeing reports today of foreign fighters, of ISIL members, who are escaping prison, due to what is going on there in northern Syria.
KELLY: So the Government should bring them home?
KENEALLY: If possible the Government needs to consider the options in front of it. I know from having met with the families of some of these women and children that they have been concerned for some time that the window of opportunity to extract these people has been narrowing and will at one point close. So that is something that only the Government can speak to. The families have had a sense in recent weeks that the Government had been preparing for an extraction – only the Government can confirm that – where we are at now, Australians would expect the Government to be making the right decisions, both in terms of our national security and morally.
KELLY: More broadly, the point about the campaign, the Turkish campaign against the Kurds could see a re-emergence of the threat that ISIS poses around the world. What is your view on that and should Australia – or could Australia – have had any more influence in this?
KENEALLY: Well it seems the United States President's decision to withdraw from the region is one that caught the world by surprise; indeed it certainly seemed to have caught his Republican Party members by surprise. However, where we are at now, we are in a circumstance where the US Department of Defence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have all warned that the camps in Syria are a petri dish for extremism. The risk that ISIL fighters are escaping from prison does give me great concern from the perspective of Shadow Minister for Home Affairs that we may see a resurgence of ISIL in the world. That doesn't make the world and it certainly does not make Australia more safe.
KELLY: Last week you accused the Government of overseeing a crisis greater than that posed by boat arrivals, you were talking about an increase in the number of people arriving in Australia by plane and claiming asylum. Peter Dutton's response to that was ""What would you do about it? These people are coming in lawfully and they have passports and visas and they can apply for protection and yes, or no.” That is the system, isn't it?
KENEALLY: That is a short and accurate description of the system but it misses what is happening here and that is where Government has failed in terms of securing our borders at our airports. We have had 95,000 airplane arrivals, that is people arriving at our airports to seek asylum. What this represents is criminal syndicates and illegitimate labour hire companies are trafficking people into the country to work and to work often in exploitative conditions, those close to slavery. What happens is they get people here on - usually on electronic tourist visas, they force them to apply for asylum once they are here, knowing it will take some four years for that claim to be processed. In that time frame, people are sent out to work in horticulture, hospitality, in beauty and nail salons, often for a few dollars an hour. They are working in conditions where often their passport is taken from them. They are sometimes subject to physical and sexual abuse. This is a mass exploitation of people that is occurring because of this loophole, this blow-out in processing times in asylum. If there was a quick process for assessing the asylum claims of these people, just a few months, people smugglers would not be bothering.
KELLY: Who is running the racket though? When you say the people smugglers, are they the same people smugglers that were running people on the boats before?
KENEALLY: The information I have had is sometimes they are. People smugglers and traffickers, they are in the business of trafficking. The end game is not particularly their concern but what we do know, and this comes from Assistant Minister Jason Wood in a report last year by the Joint Committee on Migration in the Parliament is that these are criminal syndicates and illegitimate labour hire companies running this scam.
KELLY: What can the Government do about it, in terms of how can it recognise that someone coming in are going to be part of this, as you say their claim for protection won't ultimately stand up and they may be part of some kind of trafficking. How can they know that to stop it and is it the same kind of issue the Minister says it is nothing like the threat posed by boat arrivals, people arriving without identification papers and no passports, we don’t know who they are and, of course, they run the risk of dying at sea?
KENEALLY: Fran, it is true Government says nobody dies on a plane. First of all, they don't know if people have died when they have come here to work in these exploitive conditions. Secondly, do we want to run an economy based on an exploited trafficked work force? Thirdly, when people are trafficked here for jobs, they are taking jobs that are not available to Australians and their extremely low wages are depressing the wages available across the economy. What can be done about it? This is not a new problem. When this problem has arisen in the past, particularly when you see countries like Malaysia and China, spike in claims for asylum, the Department of Immigration officials have gone the way they have in the way of boats and sought to disrupt these smuggling operations. Secondly, if there was an efficient processing time for asylum claims, what we have seen under the Department of Home Affairs is a blowout in almost every category of processing – citizenship, visas, asylum claims. Quite frankly, it is the blowout that is creating opportunity for these smuggling operations.
KELLY: Is the blowout because more people are coming? What do you blame the blowout on?
KENEALLY: One, we have seen cuts in the Department of Home Affairs and, two, we have seen a loss of capacity when it comes to application processing. The focus in the Department, since it has been amalgamated with Border Force and all of our security agencies, has been more heavily on security and less heavily on application processing. We currently have a waiting of 210,000 Australians – sorry, not Australians, they are permanent residents – who want to pledge allegiance to Australian citizenship and the blowout now is over 410 days in their time frame it is taking.
KELLY: Finally, the parliamentary inquiry, the report from the inquiry into the Medevac repeal bill, will come out later this week. Today we have eleven of the medical colleges, the surgeons and physicians and all sorts and the AMA calling on the Government not to scrap this law. Is the Medevac regime working as it was designed to work?
KENEALLY: Fran when we're sick we seek doctors' advice. What we have here today are eleven of the most significant medical colleges in the country, doctors of every type across Australia, saying that their prescription is “Medevac works”. Yes, Labor stands by these laws and supports them. We stand with the doctors in noting that Medevac is ensuring that people who are sick are able to get the medical treatment that they need.
KELLY: Kristina Keneally thanks for joining us on Insiders.
KENEALLY: Thank you.