25 August 2019

SUBJECTS: Roundtable to discuss Peter Dutton’s failure to control our borders and worker exploitation of ‘airplane people’, Medevac, Regional Processing Cohort legislation, Cardinal George Pell, extremist content online.
DAVID SPEERS: Attention turns to asylum seekers this week, and for change, it will be Labor going on the offensive. It's highlighted the record number of asylum seekers who’ve arrived by plane in Australia - almost all of them are being found not to be refugees and then being put on bridging visas. There are now nearly 230,000 people on bridging visas in Australia, in fact, many of whom it’s feared are being exploited in the workplace as well. Tomorrow Labor will convene a roundtable meeting of migration and border security experts, industry and employee groups to discuss all of this and it comes as the Government continues to target those who've tried to by boat. It is seeking to repeal the Medevac laws passed against its wishes earlier this year. And it also wants to pass legislation preventing anyone who's tried to come by boat since 2013 ever been given permanent residency in Australia. Kristina Keneally is the Shadow Home Affairs Minister and joins me now. Senator, thanks for your time this morning. This roundtable you're going to be involved in tomorrow, what are you hoping this will uncover?
SENATOR KENEALLY: Well, what we know is that Peter Dutton has lost control of borders at our airports. We've got to give Scott Morrison and Kevin Rudd credit for stopping the boats - stopping asylum seekers coming by boat. But Peter Dutton doesn't seem to have missed the fact that the people smuggling operation has shifted from boats to planes under his watch. Some of the statistics you cited there, a blow out in bridging visas, a blow out in the number of people arriving in our airports - 80,000 since this Government came to office, that dwarfs the number that arrived by boat. As you say 90% of these people are found not to be refugees, but they are coming largely from Malaysia and China. They are being sent here by criminal syndicates and illegal labour hire companies. They come on legal visas. They are made often to apply for asylum, knowing that they'll be put on a two to three-year bridging visa. And then they are sent to work in exploitative conditions. And what we want to do with this roundtable is take a role that really the Government should be taking, which is to start to define the problem and to identify solutions. This is not a new problem, David, the issue of airplane arrival spiking has happened from time to time over the past few decades. And when it has, the Government has always jumped on it. Now what we see is this massive blow out in processing times in the Department of Home Affairs, which creates an opportunity for people smugglers to send people here and then send them off to work in quite exploitative sometimes slavery like conditions and fields like horticulture, hospitality, and quite distressingly, in sexual servitude. So we wanted to try to define the problem and start to identify some solutions.
SPEERS: Well, let’s unpack that a little bit. So nearly 200,000 - 230,000 people on bridging visas, there's a few cohorts there, some who are applying and on the list for skilled visa position after having been here as a foreign student or a temporary worker, some who are waiting for a partner visa because they've met their partner here. And then thirdly, the asylum seekers, as you say, on the asylum seekers, what are you saying the Government should do - if they've made a claim, it's been rejected, they going through a court appeal process, it can be very lengthy, what should the Government do about them?
KENEALLY: The Government has, through its cuts to Home Affairs and its neglect of really a customer service focus within immigration function of the Department of Home Affairs, presided over massive blowout. It’s a diversion of resources and a diversion of focus. And, you know, this may well be a quite a worrying sign following the merger of Home Affairs and Immigration. That is a securitisation of the Department of Home Affairs, leading to this blow out, as you say in partner visas, in citizenship applications and in assessing asylum claims. And it's precisely this blow out that the criminal syndicates are taking advantage of. It's not that the laws are flawed; it is in fact that the Department is not adequately resourced and has not put a focus on processing applications in a timely manner. And the Auditor General has identified this as a significant problem.
SPEERS: If you're saying it's not the problem of laws that need changing, it’s resourcing the Department better so giving the Department more staff more money to deal with this, again, with the asylum claims, what would that change? If these are people who are going through a court appeal process, what can the Department even with more resources do about that?
KENEALLY: There are there are a couple things there. David. One, you are correct to identify that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is also backlogged and is also failing to keep up. The Department had a $300 million cut, and the Department has changed its focus. It has really become quite focused on securitisation, oddly enough, has missed though this, this spike, and this is what officials and academics tell us, and we will unpack tomorrow at the roundtable, that when the Department in the past has seen this spike start to happen, they jump in at the source. They get control of it and they don't allow this massive blowout of people coming here, claiming asylum when they clearly are not refugees where they don't have a valid claim to asylum. It's that kind of work on ground and in source countries as well that the Department is not doing. Now you’re right when I said that, you know, laws may not be the problem here resourcing and focus is, but I would flag particularly in one area in horticulture and we do have farmers groups attending on Monday to the round table that there is a legitimate labour shortage in this area. There is not a fit-for-purpose visa, is what the farmers groups are saying and it is rife for exploitation. So even if growers want to do the right thing and hire people and pay them proper wages and conditions, they are often subject to what the labour hire companies are supplying and labour hire companies are often supplying, mainly supplying in the sector, we understand, workers who are coming here and being exploited and know that they can show [inaudible].
SPEERS: Are you saying these people on bridging basis are being used and abused, underpaid to pick fruit? You mentioned sexual servitude as well. There is evidence this is happening.
KENEALLY: Yes, there is, and in fact, don't just take my word for it. Last year, the parliamentary joint committee of migration chaired by Jason Wood - now Minister Jason Wood - made this very point in a report that there is evidence of criminal syndicates in illegal labour hire companies, trafficking people here, exploiting this loophole in our system - the bridging, this blow out and waiting times and able to use that to exploit people here - paying them, you know, a pittance. Sometimes $4 an hour. We've heard stories of workers who've had their passports removed from them who have been who've been assaulted, who had been denied, you know, the basic rights and pay and conditions that we would expect Australian workers, people working in Australia, whether they're Australians or here on visas, to be able to access and enjoy. And so again, the round table will look at all this. This is an attempt David to begin to define the problem and identify solutions. Labor can't solve this problem from opposition. This is really on the Morrison Government to get control of, but when they lose control of our borders at our airports, it undermines public confidence in the migration system. It cuts undercuts wages and conditions for Australian workers. And it relies on exploiting people - vulnerable people who are being trafficked here from overseas. This is not good for anyone, Australians or those people who have been sent here.
SPEERS: And let me ask you about boat arrivals. The Government wants to pass legislation that would stop anyone who arrived by boat since 2013, being given permanent residency in Australia. Will Labor oppose that?
KENEALLY: Well, in fact, the legislation goes a bit farther David. They want to stop people from even coming to Australia. And let's bear in mind that under Peter Dutton’s watch and by his own admission, nine out of ten people who have been brought to Australia from Manus and Nauru for medical treatment have been brought here not through Medevac but through the Government. So we now have nearly 1000 people in Australia. They're either here for medical treatment, or they're here with family members who are receiving medical treatment. Peter Dutton... [inaudible] 
SPEERS: This bill would stop them being given permanent residency is the point. Are you saying Labor will oppose that?
KENEALLY: Labor has opposed this bill in the last Parliament, and I make the point in the last Parliament, the Government bought this legislation forward and it sat on the notice paper in the Senate for 966 days. I mean, if this legislation was so necessary and important, the Government had ample opportunity - years in the last parliament to bring it forward. This is a Government about to celebrate under Scott Morrison his first anniversary and they’ve got all the wrong priorities. Here they are fighting the Medevac legislation - trying to get that repealed when it's helped about 130 people get medical treatment…
SPEERS: I’ll come to Medevac in just a moment. Sorry. Just to pick up on this, this point about whether those who have been brought here already on medical evacuations or accompanying someone for a medical evacuation, as you say around 1000 of them now from Manus and Nauru...
KENEALLY: Brought here by Peter Dutton.
SPEERS: That’s what I’m saying - medical evacuations under the Government system and a small number of them under Medevac. If you're saying they should not pass this bill, denying them permanent residency, they're in limbo. Do you think they shouldn't be even paying a residency?
KENEALLY: They’re in limbo now and David, this is a matter for the Government.
SPEERS: But what do you think? Should they be given permanent residency?
KENEALLY: I make this point of David. It's not just about these thousand people. This is anyone. This legislation would bar someone who has been settled in New Zealand from ever coming here for a holiday. This legislation ...
SPEERS: So, what do you think; should they be given permanent residency in Australia?
KENEALLY: This is a problem that Peter Dutton has to solve. He brought these people here.
SPEERS: But you can answer these questions to be fair, I mean, you say the there's a problem with this bill, you say they are in limbo. It's a pretty simple answer should that even permanent residency?
KENEALLY: You know what, this is a problem for Peter Dutton to solve. David, I don't know if you noticed, but at the last election, Labor did not win the election. Labor has been calling on the Government for years now to find a durable solution to the people on Manus and Nauru. Now, and those people who have been able to get offers from the United States, I strongly urge them to take them up. It is my understanding, there's a small cohort of that group who are in Australia now who have offers from the US and I urge them to take them up. Labor supports Operation Sovereign Borders, strongly supports it. But this legislation... 
SPEERS: But are you open to them allowing them to stay here permanently?
KENEALLY: We are open to talking to the Government as we did before the election about this legislation if the Government were to take up the New Zealand offer. The Government took it from New Zealand offer before the election ... Labor made an offer to support this legislation, if the Government took up the New Zealand offer to find a durable solution for these people. The Government refused to do that. And now they have the problem of 1000 people who are here that they have to solve.
SPEERS: Can I turn to Cardinal George Pell and Kristina Keneally. You're a prominent, prominent commentator on the Catholic Church for some time, what have you made of him losing his appeal on Wednesday, and the fact that hasn't really settled the matter? At least for some?
KENEALLY: David, the first thing I want to say is that I know that for not just the victim in the Cardinal Pell case, but for victims of child sexual abuse, particularly at the hands of the Catholic Church, this has been a really tough period and my thoughts are with them. And my heart breaks for them. The public conversation that is being had right now, and, and I make these comments not so much as a Labor Senator, but as a Catholic, and someone who had her entire pre-parliamentary career in the Catholic Church. I have to say I am, I am gobsmacked by the comments of people like Archbishop Peter Comensoli who, despite the fact that Cardinal Pell has been investigated by the police, assessed by a magistrate, had a guilty verdict by a jury, has had his appeal rejected by the courts - Archbishop Peter Comensoli has decided of his own volition that he can substitute his judgement in as judge and jury and decided this is a case of mistaken identity. And those people, those commentators and some media outlets who are cheering him on, and who are continuing to argue this case, I mean, conservatives are meant to respect institutions and value them. And yet here we have people just disregarding the rule of law, disregarding our court system, and deciding just because they might know Cardinal Pell, that they know what has happened. Now, I've noticed the Cardinal has another appeal option, and he may yet take that up. And I don't begrudge him if he decides to do that. But the type of commentary that we've seen from people like Bishop Comensoli really goes to the heart of why victims of child sexual abuse have really struggled for so many years to speak up because there's a fear they won't be believed... There's a fear that they will be excoriated. There is this disconnect, which I know that Peter Comensoli and others in the Catholic Church, that leadership of the Church between what has happened, thousands of victims, and how they're reacting today, you know, it's distressing. 
SPEERS: Let me ask you on Archbishop Comensoli - the Melbourne Archbishop has also said in relation to a bill before the Victorian Parliament, it would make it mandatory for priests to report suspected child abuse to authorities, he said he would rather go to jail than break the seal of confession. In other words, he would not tell police if someone confessed to him that a child had been sexually abused. What do you say to that?
KENEALLY: Here we have an Archbishop just declaring he is going to break the law, rather than report a child sexual abuse that is revealed to him in the confessional. I can't understand how he can stand in front of the Australian people and make that statement given all the evidence that has come out of the Royal Commission in relation to the Catholic Church and child sexual abuse. But, I also look at this David and I think of all the furore that happened when Sally McManus said that she would be willing to break an unjust law to stand up for the rights of working people, and the near meltdown that happened in some of our media outlets. And I think where are there outlets ... where is this outrage here? Where's the furore here? Bishop Comensoli has said he will break the Victorian law rather than report child sexual abuse. I can't support that. I can’t understand how a leader of the church would stand up and make that statement I don't understand in our wider community, and in particularly within some of the commentariat, why there isn't the same level of condemnation for him that there was for people like Sally McManus when she made her statement. It's a double standard. For Catholics, this has been quite a distressing period.
SPEERS: And finally, before we go, at the G7, the Prime Minister's just announced a change to stop the livestreaming of terror incidents on notorious sites like 4chan, 8chan, and so on, as happened in the Christchurch attack. The Esafety Commissioner wouldn't want to tell telcos to block them. Would Labor support that?
KENEALLY: On the basis of what we've seen in the media today - we haven't been briefed on this - this seems like a sensible measure, and a welcome one. What we do know from evidence that has come before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is that this is a complex problem. While we have a lot of focus on lone wolves, people who don't get radicalised on their own, they do get radicalised in a community and that is often online. But there is some risk here. I mean, some people in these chat rooms, they like the idea of being banned. It's almost like a form of e-martyrdom. So that's a risk that has to be managed. But I think overall, this is the right step for the Government to take. And we would welcome it. But we would encourage them to continue to work with the Intelligence Committee, because we're hearing lots of evidence about use of video games and chat rooms there and other ways that people have been radicalised and recruited both from far right and Islamic extremism online.
SPEERS: All right, Shadow Home Affairs Minister, Senator Kristina Kenneally, thanks for joining us this morning.
KENEALLY: Thank you.