02 September 2019


SUBJECT: Biloela family.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Labor is continuing to make the case though and earlier I spoke to the Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally.
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: This family was allowed to stay in Australia for a number of years and that's partly because the Department of Home Affairs under Peter Dutton has really lost control of processing times. It can take up to four years to get an asylum claim assessed now, two years for a spouse visa. The blowout in waiting times is something that's been the subject of Auditor-General reports as well – quite damning criticism from the Auditor General. But with this family too, they have been allowed to settle in Biloela, to put down roots, get jobs, volunteer, become part of the fabric of that community, start their family, and the Bileola community has embraced this family and is calling for them to stay and, you know, Tom, in a democracy, the Government are responsive to the people. And in this case, the Australian people are speaking loudly, right across this country, that they want this family to stay.
CONNELL: In that circumstance, though, if you're saying it should be up to what the people think I mean, you could highlight a whole lot of different families couldn't you and on each individual one, people might say “have compassion, let them stay” but how would that work is a policy?
KENEALLY: In this circumstance, Tom, what we have is a Tamil family, where there is some risk – the UN is advising that to return temples to Sri Lanka – there is discretion in the Migration Act precisely for these types of circumstances. And there is something that you might call the moral duty of time. That is, that because they have been allowed to stay here for so long, because the Department of Home Affairs isn't able to process applications efficiently, that this family has been allowed to create roots and to contribute, and they are contributing – they're working, paying taxes, being part of the local community, doing what migrants to Australia have done for decades, which is to put down roots and to contribute and become part of this Australian community.
CONNELL: Do you think or have any evidence that the family would be unsafe if they were returned to Sri Lanka?
KENEALLY: There is advice in the United Nations about the perils and the risks for Tamils in Sri Lanka right now. There is some argument as to whether or not the court has been able to properly assess that information. But again, Tom, we build the ministerial discretion into the Migration Act precisely for circumstances like this.
CONNELL: But as for that information, whether this specific family would be unsafe, do you have that knowledge? Have you asked the Minister for information about this particular family?
KENEALLY: I have asked the Minister on multiple occasions for information. Both myself directly and my office have had probably now close to a dozen requests to the Minister's office for information and none has been forthcoming. And I think for Minister Coleman, there is a failure of leadership here. He is the Minister for Immigration. This is his responsibility. This is his decision. He has vacated the space. And I think it is an indictment on his performance that he has failed, not only to exercised his discretion in this case, but he has failed to show leadership by fronting the Australian people and explaining himself.
CONNELL: You mentioned the general issue with safety of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Does that mean you'd make the case for the other 1800 that have been returned? That they should be allowed back to Australia?
KENEALLY: These are circumstances that need to be determined on their merits, Tom, and what I'm arguing with this family, the merits of their circumstances, merit ministerial intervention and the discretion that the Act allows.
CONNELL: So that merit what is that based on specifically other than the time they've been here?
KENEALLY: Because this family has been allowed to become part of the Australian community. This family do have clear fears themselves for their safety if they are returned, and I know from the information that their legal representatives are providing is that the court in their view has not been able to properly assess or access all of that information. Again, Tom, this is a case that has been allowed to drag on for months and months and months and years, in fact, and the Minister could have put all this to an end some time ago, by simply taking a decision that it was in the best interest of Biloela, of Australia and of this particular family to allow them to stay. 
CONNELL: But on that merit argument, the difference between this family – differences we know about between this family and the other 1800 Tamils that are returned – you're saying it's not a difference of their safety, but a difference of how long they've been here, so then they should be allowed to stay.
KENEALLY: Tom, what I'm saying is that each of these cases need to be determined on their own individual merits. I am not arguing here for an undermining or overturning to the Migration Act, I'm asking for it to be applied. I'm asking for the Act to be applied because it does allow for ministerial discretion. And in this circumstance where we have seen Peter Dutton take decisions before to allow two au pairs to come into the country, to allow a young man who has been held in Nauru in the offshore processing centre there to come to Australia to be joined with his family here. The Minister has taken these decisions before, the Migration Act has remained intact, and in this circumstance, when we have this strong outpouring of support from the Biloela community, from regional Queensland, from a wide range of people across the political spectrum – Alan Jones, Barnaby Joyce, Craig Foster, and the quite frankly, thousands of people who turned up yesterday to rally behind this family. This is an opportunity for the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to show real leadership, and real leadership sometimes involves standing up and saying, I am listening to the people who've elected me, and I'm going to respond to them.
CONNELL: On the particular circumstance we're talking about, the Government's talking about incentive that they don't want to provide. If you do allow this family to stay, are you not encouraging a couple of things. One – for any family in this situation to get in a long legal battle and the other one is to have children, that by allowing that family to stay, you do create a model.
KENEALLY: Tom, I think you ought to listen to what you are suggesting there, is that somehow the Australian Government should stop people from procreating? I don't think that's what you're suggesting there. But I think it's not an argument that even the Australian Government would contemplate.
CONNELL: Not that they should stop procreating but if you make a decision based on a family, and the main arguments are that they are a family, so they have children. And also they've been here for a long time, because of slower processing times, we're encouraging people to try to draw out the legal process and as well, that if they have children that'll help them stay here.
KENEALLY: Well, let's be clear here, what's drawing out the processes is the failure for the Department of Home Affairs to properly resource or manage visa processing times. The Auditor-General has done a fairly significant and thorough report on this that made the point that the Department doesn't even have the capacity to set timeframes or track complex and noncomplex application processes, visa applications, citizenship applications. And, quite frankly, that is part of the in competence in maladministration that sits squarely with Peter Dutton.
CONNELL: The situation with this family if they were allowed to stay – do you accept it's a zero-sum game? Another family wouldn't get in as a result?
KENEALLY: No. No that's not how the Migration Act works Tom and that's a furphy from the Government. And can I also say that the Government who are conveniently out there today talking about a potential, or an attempted boat arrival, because it suits them now to talk about “on-water matters”, despite the fact that Scott Morrison for years as Immigration Minister refused to talk about “on-water matters”. The Government needs to be clear – one, if they're suddenly going to start reporting attempted boat arrivals. Two, will they talk about airplane arrivals, as well and report on those? And, three, acknowledge the fact that in this third term, Liberal Government since they were elected in 2013, there had been 35 attempts for boats to come. One actually arrived, at the very week that Peter Dutton sought to challenge Malcolm Turnbull for the top job. So the Government have the responsibility here to be working in source countries, to disrupt the people smuggling trade, and it is a highly manipulative act for them to be putting information out there today because they want to stem, they want to stem the public sympathy and support for this family.
CONNELL: But we don't have an endless number of people to come here. Every family you allow to come here makes it less likely for another one to come. That's pretty straightforward isn't it?
KENEALLY: But, Tom, in this case, this would be a family allowed to stay here by the discretion that the Minister has – the power of the Minister has under the Migration Act, pure and simple. And that would be that.
CONNELL: But again, there's so many cases that come across his desk every year.
KENEALLY: Yes, and that is part of the responsibility for the Minister to make decisions. What I'm saying with this family and Tom, I feel we can go around all afternoon on this point, is this – that they have been allowed to stay here, they have been allowed to put down roots. They have done, as the Prime Minister says, they have ""had to go."" No one could have asked them to have more of a go than integrating as they have into the Biloela community, and the Biloela community wants them to stay. This wouldn't be the first time discretion has been used in the Migration Act. I'm sure it won't be the last. And this is a simple decision that can put all of this cruelty and this heartbreak for the Biloela community at an end this afternoon.
CONNELL: Kristina Keneally, appreciate your time. Thank you.
KENEALLY: Thank you.