Thursday, 21 February 2019

News Breakfast on ABC News with Michael Rowland & Madeleine Morris



Subjects: Medevac, Helloworld, weapon sales

MICHAEL ROWLAND: A legal loophole in the Medical Transfers Bill may permit asylum seekers treated here in Australia to stay in this country permanently.

MADELINE MORRIS: That's according to government's own legal advice. We can talk now to the Attorney- General Christian Porter who joins us from Canberra. Thanks for joining us Christian Porter. What is the advice?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks Madeline. Well, it's not an advice that we would want to receive but the advice says that the Labor laws that were rushed through Parliament which require transfer of persons from Manus and Nauru to Australia on the say of two doctors, don't have any connection into the Act where the provision exists to remove them and return them back to Manus and Nauru. So in effect, the very bad drafting of these terrible laws means that this is a one-way ticket and that people would be permanently detained in this case on Christmas Island.

MADELINE MORRIS: So why wasn't this picked up at the time that it was going through?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean we said that this was a terrible law; we nominated a whole range of known bad consequences; we indicated we thought that there would be unintended consequences. Now that we're trying to deal with this terrible law, we're obviously going through the mechanics and logistics of trying to make it work as best we can and as we've done that, we've seen that there are a whole range of problems with the legislation that weren't apparent earlier. Indeed, another problem has been that this applies also to people who have already resettled in Papua New Guinea so it's a terrible law. But this legal loophole is very significant; it means in effect, you'd be bringing people from Manus and Nauru who are not in detention to Christmas Island, placing them in detention with no lawful authority to end that detention and return them back to Manus or Nauru.

MADELINE MORRIS: So are you able to simply draft another amendment and then add that to the existing legislation?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, we're looking for any other power that might underpin an authority for the government to return people once they received their medical assessment at Christmas Island. But the only way that this maybe fixed eventually is through legislation and it's quite likely that would have to apply retrospectively because we are facing hundreds of people's arrival in the very near future.

MADELINE MORRIS: So you'll be releasing this advice then, Mr Porter? As you did last week about the advice about the constitutionality?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We'll certainly give a summary of the basic structure of the advice and the problem. That no doubt, will be tested over the course of the day; we won't release the full advice.


ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, we don't want to have our advice used against us in litigation if we do find some way to return people to Manus and Nauru. We'll obviously, use every power under our auspices to do that.

MADELINE MORRIS: So what's the difference between that and the advice about the constitutionality last week that you did release?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I didn't release that; actually, that was the Speaker who released that. We do not routinely waive legal privilege over the Government's legal advice.

MADELINE MORRIS: There's just a story in The Herald Sun today that I want to bring your attention to and it's taking about 22,000 Malaysians who have apparently come to Australia seeking asylum in the last three years. The Government's spent a huge amount of money fighting their cases, which have largely been found to be completely un-based. Now, doesn't this really put a lie to this idea that there's a border emergency from boats when actually the real border emergency is from planes?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, the comparison between unlawful arrivals by boat and arrivals by plane is an utterly false comparison for a variety of reasons but most fundamentally, people who arrive by plane and then apply for asylum are overwhelmingly found not to warrant refugee or asylum status and 95 per cent of them are sent home straight away. They of course, arrive lawfully with full documentation so that we can research them and their claims, 95 per cent of which are unsuccessful and of course, it wouldn't have escaped your notice that people arriving by plane don't risk their lives, the lives of their children or the lives of our personnel by taking a very perilous journey by sea.

MADELINE MORRIS: Can I just take you now to the Helloworld situation? How many other senior Liberals have had dealings with Helloworld that wouldn't pass the pub test?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well look, I mean obviously, that issue has arisen. My understanding is that people have responded where they have been asked if they have connections with Helloworld. I've certainly never had any connection with them whatsoever.

MADELINE MORRIS: So you'll be supportive then of Labor's questions for an inquiry of the matter?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I'm sure that this matter will be the subject of inquiry from the Prime Minister or to the Members of Parliament but I'm not exactly sure what it is that you're saying has occurred or needs to be investigated.

MADELINE MORRIS: Well, I'm just going basically from the response that we've had from our viewers this morning, Mr Porter, which is basically saying that they are very unhappy with what this seems to have brought up about questions between about propriety within senior
Liberals and members of the Liberal Party who end up winning major Government contracts.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well look, if you can put something specific to me that I can sensibly answer of course I will.

MADELINE MORRIS: Well okay. Is it okay that Joe Hockey - according to leaked emails, DFAT emails, requested a meeting be set up between Helloworld and DFAT and then a formal tender process for DFAT work began a year later and that he's one of the Helloworld subsidiaries; QBT is a tenderer for that.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I understand they're unsuccessful in that tender. Of course, this company was awarded contracts under the previous Labor government. It's not particularly unusual that the Australian companies going to American and bidding for work seek meetings. Again, if there is something specific that you want to put but in those specific circumstances, doesn't seem that there's any impropriety there.

MADELINE MORRIS: Okay, so you wouldn't suggest that there's any kind of – anything which Australians should be worried about or isn't, is this just a sort of thing – these sorts of goings on, which just actually create Australians' distrust – further distrust in politicians?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I mean I think that this is an issue that has been trumped up and overblown by a Labor Party who has destroyed our border security in the short space of two weeks. And it's done so that good people like yourself will ask not terribly specific questions on an issue of minor importance when our border security's at risk.

MADELINE MORRIS: I asked you a very specific question about Joe Hockey and his dealings with the embassy and DFAT and Helloworld.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think I gave you a very specific answer to that question.

MADELINE MORRIS: Can I just take you further to something which was brought up yesterday and that is the sale of 500 remote weapons systems to Saudi Arabia. Now as Attorney-General, are you satisfied that we aren't violating any arms control laws when the Government yesterday was unable to categorically say that those weapons controls systems wouldn't be used in the human rights atrocity that is Yemen?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well obviously, those sort of issues need to be very carefully considered. I'm not the Defence Minister and I wouldn't comment on those circumstances particularly as to the legality or to the lawfulness or otherwise, until I received a full briefing which I haven't.

MADELINE MORRIS: Okay. Are you seeking a briefing?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Again, I'm not the Defence Minister. I'm sure that if the Defence Minister requires my assistance or that of my department that they'll ask.

MADELINE MORRIS: Okay. Alright. Well, thank you very much for joining us together – joining us today, Mr Porter.