Subjects:James Ashby and Brian Burston, Medivac Bill
DEB KNIGHT:Now, when it comes to drama, Federal Parliament gaveMarried at First Sight a run for its money this week. The first Canberrasession of the year saw dust ups in the hallways, blood smeared on a Senator'sdoor, vocal protesters, and the first defeat of a government in the house in 80years. And they say politics is boring. For our regular Friday pollies chat,I'm joined by Labor's Anthony Albanese in Canberra and the Government'sAttorney-General Christian Porter here in the studio. Good morning to you both,gentlemen.
Good morning, Deb.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:Let's start with the drama, first off, surroundingPauline Hanson. This fight in the halls of Parliament between her chief ofstaff, James Ashby, and One Nation defector, Brian Burston. Christian, youwonder why politicians are on the nose. This sort of behaviour is justappalling.
Yeah it's awful. I mean, no one wants to see it.Thankfully I missed it. It's just something you don't expect in the halls ofParliament. You don't expect it in any workplace. It's just terrible.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:Yeah, so what can be done about it? Obviously we'veseen the investigation under way and we've seen James Ashby's pass beingrevoked, but do we need to actually take more action her, stronger action?
Well it's a matter for the President of the Senate. Mypersonal view is he did exactly the right thing and acted swiftly and removedthe pass that allows James to wander the halls, which was the right thing to doin my observation. Obviously it is a matter for those, sort of authorities tolook into it. But look, ultimately, you know, this is something that requiressome form of attention by authorities because you don't expect people to beassaulting each other in any workplace. And that's what's gone on, it's just assimple as that.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:And blood, Albo, smeared on the door of a Senator'soffice. I mean, this is going beyond the pale. We know things are gettingpersonal, though. You guys do get fired up in Parliament, but this is going toofar.
Now, well One Nation is a circus, of course. And oneof the problems voting for some of these extreme minor parties is you neverknow what you'll get. Brian Burston, of course, is one of the people who waselected who changed their political party whilst they've been in their firstterm. And I think the President of the Senate has acted completelyappropriately in cancelling James Ashby's pass. And indeed, the authorities doneed to look at this. It's very clear from the videos that an assault hasoccurred here and if that occurs anywhere, action should be taken, let alonewithin the Parliament House building.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:Absolutely. Well we have consensus on one thing, atleast.
Bipartisanship, so early.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:Bipartisanship, who'd have thunk (sic) it? NowChristian, the Government …
It’ll be downhill from here, Deb.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:Well, look out. Here we go.
Don't be such a pessimist.
ANTHONY ALBANESE:Well Pyne has gone missing, it's been such a bad week.
Well I'm so much more convivial and easy-going.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:He's in the air, he's flying, alright. We won't baghim when he's not here. Let's not do that.
Now the Government's, Christian, tenuous hold on powerwas highlighted this week. You simply didn't have the numbers to actually stopthis law allowing the medical transfer of refugees from Manus and Nauru, andthen you dragged out Question Time yesterday to avoid a potential…anotherdefeat on the Royal Commission into the treatment of disability care sector. Ifyou can't govern, surely you should call an election today?
Well, I mean, our view is that the law that was passedby Labor on Tuesday night in alliance with the Greens is a terrible law. Imean, it's bad for the country. I mean, obviously we're disappointed to lose avote on the floor of the House of Representatives…..
DEBORAH KNIGHT:And you nearly lost another vote yesterday, so if youdon't have the numbers, surely the public should actually be having a say here?
There was actually nothing that had come from theSenate to vote on yesterday, with respect to that issue.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well you dragged it out so that they couldn't.
Well, it was a long Question Time, but, I mean, theimportant issue here is what's in the best interest of the Australian people.That laws that Labor passed on Tuesday night are terrible. I mean it's now thecase that a Swedish backpacker has a greater, more stringent character testthan someone coming from Manus and Nauru on a Medivac that can be initiated andeffectively finalised without the discretion of the Minister, by two doctors. Imean, that is a bad law for Australia.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: But the reality is that you are overplaying thereality of this law. I mean, the PM saying that it's going to open thefloodgates is not the truth because it applies to the existing refugees onNauru and Manus. And saying that murderers and paedophiles will be led in isalso not true because there's still ministerial discretion. Why are youscaremongering over this?
I just think, respectfully, you're wrong on bothpoints. So it was previously the case that the Minister had an overarchingdiscretion, so if someone had been charged with or convicted prior to sentence,or there were reasonable intelligence briefings to suggest that they engaged inserious criminal conduct, it was previously the case that the Minister couldexercise the discretion to prevent that person coming to Australia.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:And what, that doesn't apply in the law here?
That has now changed. The laws that Anthony and hisparty changed …
DEBORAH KNIGHT:There is still ministerial discretion.
The ministerial discretion is very narrow. It relatesto …
DEBORAH KNIGHT:But it still applies.
Well, it is a very different discretion and muchnarrower from the discretion that previously existed.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:But it’s still ministerial discretion.
Well, there’s ministerial discretion that's looks likethis, right, which is what we got now, and there is ministerial discretion thatlooks like that, which is what is was previously. It's as simple as that. Sothis is not hypothetical; there are people in these offshore processingfacilities who have been charged with very serious offences, including sexualoffences against children…
DEBORAH KNIGHT:How many?
Well we are going through that audit now, and we willface 300 applications in the not too distant future.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:Which doctors are actually - they don't agree withthat number. We've got this sort of disagreement on the numbers.
Well how would they know? Because they're individualdoctors dealing with individual offshore processing transferees. Thoseapplications will come into us and we will see that in the next several weeks,there will be hundreds of these applications. And we will be on a very tighttimeframe to try and work out the types of backgrounds, criminal history checksthat we're talking about now. But we are already aware of people who have beencharged for assaulting doctors offshore.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:Okay. Albo …
And we won't have the discretion to stop them fromcoming.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:Albo, Labor, you guys are ramping up the claims ofscaremongering here, which you know, you're no innocents here, when it came tothe whole Medicare Privatisation Bill you ramped that up at the last election,so no one’s innocent when it comes to scaremongering. But is it true that Laborwas given the advice, that if this Medivac Transfer Bill came in that we wouldsee more asylum seekers and more boats coming to Australia?
No, that's not right, Deb.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:That's not the official advice?
And look the Attorney-General knows that he's talkingnonsense, with respect. Let's be clear about why this has happened. This hashappened because of government incompetence, that the people on Manus and Nauru- who are the only people this legislation applies to - have been there formore than five years, and the Government's failed to settle them. Thislegislation makes no changes, zero, to any of the border protection measureswhich are in place. This was a very simple principle though, which is that ifsomeone who is in our care - after all Australia has responsibility for - needsmedical assistance, they will be able to see it. Subject to of course, theministerial discretion, which you quite rightly have pointed out, is absolutelystill there.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:So why does it feel as though we're looking atcompletely different bills here? Because the Australian public is being toldtotally different stories from both sides of politics. Who do we believe?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well don't believe him because he's totallymischaracterising the bill.
ANTHONY ALBANESE:Have a look at the law.
Look, the reality is this. The law used to be the casethat the Minister had an overarching very broad discretion on character groundsto refuse people who, for instance, had been charged with a serious criminaloffence.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: So it's narrower but it’s still there?
Well, the ministerial discretion exists but it isconsiderably narrower, radically narrower. So it's the case now that a personcharged with a serious criminal offence, or where there's a reasonable groundsbased on intelligence that they'd committed a serious criminal offence, thereis now no power for the Minister to refuse that person. But they could refuse aSwedish backpacker on those grounds.
ANTHONY ALBANESE:Absolute nonsense, absolute nonsense.
Albo I've got to ask you …
ATTORNEY-GENERAL:You need to read the bill Anthony.
Albo I've got to ask you, why is Labor actually goingdown this path when it comes to boat people, too because it is Labor'skryptonite? This is the strength of Scott Morrison, on stopping the boats asImmigration Minister. It's almost as though you're allowing the Prime Ministerto snatch victory from the jaws of defeat (sic) here.
ANTHONY ALBANESE:What we did, Deb, was what Parliamentarians have aresponsibility to do, which is vote for a bill based upon advice, and basedupon the merits that are in that legislation. Christian pretends that there's ashort time-frame. These are people who have been investigated. People know whatthey had for breakfast yesterday, Deb. They've been in detention for more thanfive years. And the fact is the Government has failed. The fact is we've seenfatalities of people here, not just serious injuries and people beingcritically ill, we have seen people die. And we have a responsibility to act,just as we have a responsibility to make sure that we have strong borders. Butyou can be tough on people smugglers, without being weak on humanity.
Alright well, gentleman thank you for joining us.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL:Sounds like you can have it all, sounds too good to betrue doesn't it?
Well we will see what voters think because theelection does loom ever closer. But thank you gentlemen for joining us.
ANTHONY ALBANESE:Just call it, Christian.
See you next week, mate.
DEBORAH KNIGHT:Alright, Monday here it comes, Parliament resumes.