30 August 2019


SUBJECTS:  Biloela Family; NSW ICAC.
ANNELISE NELSON, HOST: Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally. Kristina, thank you for your time.
NELSON: What do you make of this latest development? It's an extraordinary story. The plane stopped mid-air to land in Darwin – just keep this family in the country.
KENEALLY: The thing about this family – Priya, Nades, and their two children, both born, The children born here in Australia – you know, they're part of the Biloela Queensland community. That community wants them to stay. This family was ripped out of their home in the middle of the night when they were first taken into custody by Border Force. They've been held in detention, despite the fact that Peter Dutton has said there's no children in detention. Their daughters have suffered, particularly the youngest, some pretty significant health impacts from that detention, and now ripped out of the detention centre in the middle of the night to be put on a plane. By all accounts, that was incredibly traumatic scenes, and now the plane being brought down in Darwin, and this Federal Court injunction. I have to say, Annelise, this is a circumstance where the Minister for Immigration David Coleman and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison need to be listening to the community. They are elected by the Australian people, and there is a strong groundswell campaign from Australians – from the people of Biloela, right through to Sky News' own Alan Jones, who are arguing for this family to stay in Australia. The Minister has the discretion. All of this court process is unnecessary. The Minister, or the Prime Minister, today under the Migration Act could just exercise their power, bring this to an end and give this family, and particularly their children, some certainty, some safety, and allow them to go home to Biloela.
NELSON: So the Home Affairs Minister has said that the due process was followed, that they have the discretion, but he doesn't have to exercise it, and that they're not asylum seekers.
KENEALLY: The Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had no problem ignoring due process when it came to two au pairs that he used his discretion to allow to come into the country. Now, I don't know who he was acting for then, what interests he was representing. Here he has a circumstance where his own home state Queensland – Queenslanders, rural Queenslanders, those classic 'quiet Australians' that Scott Morrison likes to talk about – are standing up and very loudly making their voices heard. This is a time and a place for that discretion to be exercised, and can I also say court processes haven't allowed for all aspects of this family's case to be brought forward so far. Circumstances have changed in Sri Lanka. There is advice from the UN that allowing Tamils to come back to Sri Lanka would put them in jeopardy.  There are serious concerns about the father, Nades, and his safety if he is returned to Sri Lanka, and this is the type of case where that discretion has been built into our law, because sometimes the courts can't, or don't, get it right. Now, I think the court process has worked right now in a very important way to allow this stay in their deportation. This does give an opportunity for the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, himself a father, to listen to the quiet Australians he claims to represent, and to allow this family to stay in Australia.
NELSON: One of the things I don't really understand about this case that – it was flagged with me when we were speaking with the family friends from Biloela – is she said that they want more migrants in their city like this family, because they get to work in factories that they're having trouble staffing. This is actually part of the Government's own migration plan is to have people outside of the capital cities in regional areas, and so what do you think it is about this family in particular? Is it just they don't want to set the precedent of them being able to say that they are asylum seekers, so they get to say that they should be coming as working migrants?
KENEALLY: But let's not forget it's the Government themselves, through their own delays in processing their own blow-out in visa processing, citizenship, application processing – pretty much any type of processing that happens in the Department of Home Affairs these days – that has allowed for this family to stay here for so long, to put down roots, for their children to be part of the local community. You know, they are contributing economically. Their children would contribute to helping to keep the schools going, and more migrants would help a lot of rural and regional communities, and so this is a really confounding set of circumstances where this seems to be contrary to everything the Government says it's seeking to do with regional migration and also what the regional community itself wants. You know, precedent is always, of course, important. I'm not disregarding that, but Peter Dutton set precedent when he allowed two au pairs to come into the country, not through due process. The migration system hasn't come crashing down as a result. We put discretion, ministerial discretion, into the law for a reason, because there are times and circumstances that are not able to be accommodated within the existing due process or court processes. And don't tell me also that the Government can't talk about individual cases. The Prime Minister was out himself yesterday talking about an individual case – rightly so, someone who should be deported because they've committed a crime. This family has committed no crime except expressed a desire to contribute to our nation. Our nation, particularly in the community of Biloela, has responded and welcomed them. The two people who seem intent on kicking them out are David Coleman and Peter Dutton, and it really now it's up to the Prime Minister to intervene.
NELSON: And just while I have you, there's some really alarming evidence coming out of ICAC in New South Wales. New South Wales Labor has lost now its third General Secretary in a row. Jamie Clements, Sam Dastyari, and now Kaila Murnain from allegations of corruption. What's wrong with New South Wales Labor?
KENEALLY: You know I'm incredibly angry and disturbed at the evidence that has come out of the ICAC hearings in New South Wales. I want to be clear that I completely and 100 per cent support the decision taken by Jodi McKay, the Labor leader. She has been principled, clear and focused and she is completely focused on cleaning up and ensuring integrity in those processes. I have a view that the Party needs to take this opportunity – the branch of the Party in New South Wales – to take a step back. To review its structure, its focus, its purpose, the roles. Should we have all of these responsibilities that sit within one General Secretary, and what are the qualities we're looking for in a General Secretary? Should it be someone who is a bit older, or perhaps we split the administrative and the campaigning functions? And frankly, I also have a view that it might be a time to look at changing the physical location of head office. You know sometimes to change culture, you have to change environment and, frankly, this should be an opportunity for the branch of the party in New South Wales to consider what the right structure would be, if the structure we have is fit for purpose – there'd be plenty evidence to say that it isn't – who and what types of persons are best qualified and necessary in those roles, and whether or not we should continue in the physical location where we are. There's a lot of advantages. We're close to our union colleagues and Unions NSW. We are a Party that's based on the union movement and representing working people. I don't want to divorce from that, but I do think it's worth considering whether remaining in Sussex Street, with all the associations of the past – sometimes to change culture, you have to change environment and this might be an opportunity to do that.
NELSON: And there's really serious cultural issues. I mean, if you had a bank where you had three consecutive CEOs be sacked for corruption...
KENEALLY: Absolutely. Well, to be fair, Sam Dastyari left head office to join the Senate, that was, his issues came later, not as General Secretary.
KENEALLY: But you are absolutely right to say, any other organisation would say, ""What is going on here within our structure? Are the types of people that we are hiring, and the way we are operating, and how do we make changes to improve that in the future?"" You know, Kaila Murnain, and this is what makes me quite sad in the circumstances, had made some significant changes to improve governance and representation within the Party but clearly has fallen short. And that's why, you know, Jodi's decision has been absolutely the right one. I would say now to the broader organisational wing of the party – this is a time. It is necessary to determine whether or not you have got the right administrative structure, the right campaigning structure, the right types of people are being hired, the governance support sort of put around them, and frankly, the physical location, whether or not it should continue to be in Sussex Street.
NELSON: Senator Kristina Keneally, thank you for your time. I know you had to run out of a committee meeting. So appreciate you coming in.
KENEALLY: Thank you.