DEBORAH KNIGHT: Australia's border security is under the spotlight again this morning with the Morrison Government claiming to have uncovered a loophole in Labor's amendments to the Medevac Bill. Attorney-General Christian Porter joins us now from Canberra. Good morning to you. Give us an indication of where this legal advice has come from and what it claims.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, we said these were terrible laws and that they'd have unintended consequences and as we've come to try and work out how we would actually operate under these new laws that Labor forced through the Parliament, we've uncovered a loophole and the loophole is unfortunate and very significant. But in effect, a normal medical transfer that the Government has been conducting quietly and efficiently for many months connects back into the Act in a way that there is a power for the Government to remove someone back from where they came from - in this case, Manus or Nauru. The new Labor laws that were forced through the Parliament, with no debate and under a gag motion, don't connect back to the rest of the Act in the same way. So our best advice, very sadly at the moment, is that once someone arrives at the request of two doctors, we will not be able to send them back.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: So is this law then unworkable?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, it'll work very, very poorly as we suggested it would. It will mean that two doctors can effectively control and require, without the minister having discretion, the transfer of someone from Manus and Nauru. In this case, we've insisted that be at Christmas Island; but once they arrive, they're in detention and after their medical treatment or assessment is complete, we don't believe that we have the power to remove them back to Manus and Nauru.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: It did pass…
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So they in effect, stay in limbo.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: It did pass Parliament though; it was an historic loss for the Government. Are you committed to making this Medevac law work? Will you look at ways to make it operational?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, we're scrambling now frankly to try and find any other power that might exist or ability on the part of the Government to be able to remove people back to Manus or Nauru once their treatment has finished. But unfortunately, that is not obvious to us at the moment and Labor passed the law through; we are doing our best to make a terrible law work as best as we can, which is why we've opened Christmas Island again very sadly at $1.3 billion worth of expense to the Australian taxpayer. But ultimately, the responsibility for the laws is with Labor and they have drafted laws so hurriedly and so poorly that they're actually bringing people offshore, where they're not in detention, onshore to Christmas Island, where they will be in detention with no prospect of them ever being removed from detention.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Well, as I understand Christmas Island was excised from Australia under the Howard Government. So won't that effectively mean that under this loophole, as you point out, refugees will remain on Christmas Island not on Australia, on the mainland?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: We you better not tell people on Christmas Island, they're not part of Australia. Look, that excision from the migration zone was about people who unlawfully arrived by boat to Christmas Island and their ability to apply for a certain status once they arrived rather...
DEBORAH KNIGHT: So that won't apply in this situation?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No, it's irrelevant to this situation. These people would be brought from Nauru and Manus pursuant to a Labor law where two doctors under 198c of the Migration Act determine that they should come for further assessment to Australia.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Okay.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: In this case, we insist on Christmas Island. The problem is that in the Labor haste to force this through the Parliament, they didn't draft a way to get them back.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: But just quickly, does Christmas Island even have the facilities to treat the asylum seekers from Manus and Nauru? Because we're being told from people from the island itself that they only have six beds and that they need to be moved to Perth for medical treatment.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well obviously, we're working very hard and fast on that at the moment. But another very poor part of the drafting of this law is that unlike any other transfer to Australia, the minister has no discretion to refuse someone who might have a serious criminal record or where our intelligence agency suggests that they'd be a threat to the people of Australia. And the reality is that those types of persons, if they were to be transferred pursuant to this Labor law, have to be placed in a secure facility, which is why we have chosen Christmas Island. And as I said, that is going to cost the Australian taxpayer $1.3 billion and that's about providing the accommodation, the security, the medical services in a totally unnecessary way as we have said all along. So this is a terrible law and I'll tell you what, legal loopholes and poor drafting don't get much bigger than this.
DEBORAH KNIGHT: Alright, Christian Porter we thank you for your time this morning.