Topics: New visa laws amended by Opposition; PM attending APEC

04:08PM AEDT
Thursday, 16 November 2023


Greg Jennett: Well, directly or indirectly. Shadow Foreign Minister and Liberal frontbencher. Indeed. Opposition Leader in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, will be responsible for shepherding some of the agreed changes to those visa laws through the Senate this evening. But he has made enough time to join us on the program now. Simon Birmingham, welcome back. Your side of politics is not only supporting visa change laws, you are in many ways front running the government towards them. Compulsory ankle bracelets. Criminal offences for breaches with minimum sentencing. How do you know these are constitutional?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Greg, it’s been necessary for the Opposition led by Peter Dutton and ably assisted by shadow ministers in immigration, in home affairs and the shadow attorney-general, all of whom to apply pressure to the Government over the course of the last week, because their handling of this situation has been confidence destroying and shambolic, to say the least. It’s a situation where the government should have been prepared for the possibility that the High Court would make this finding last week, and yet they were caught flat footed. Their story has changed at almost every possible turn from day one, when they would be awaiting the release of the findings and the detailed reasons from the High Court before releasing more than the one individual. To of course, now we know that more than 80 have been released, and still no statement of reasons from the High Court to a range of other iterations along the way where there would be no legislation. Then by yesterday, after days of questioning from the Opposition, there was to be legislation. This morning it was the toughest legislation there could possibly be. And now, as you’ve just heard, with a range of listening to the Deputy Prime Minister, quite reasonable propositions put forward by the Coalition, the government has yielded and said, yes, they’re all good ideas to. Well, we’re pleased they’re adopting our suggestions, but they should have been front footed, not back footed on this key issue.


Greg Jennett: So in negotiations through the course of today, and I take it these discussions only started today, did they?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we learnt last night that there was likely to be a bill and the Coalition got to be briefed on that bill and a briefing that started around 7 a.m. this morning. After seeing that, we worked quite hard as a team from eight-ish onwards to make sure that we put forward six amendments. We got those amendments drafted in that time, and now the Government’s working through with the far greater resources  Government has to look at those six amendments. We’re pleased they’re going to support them. But it shouldn’t have come to this, Greg, that is the remarkable thing here that the Opposition has had to lead the Government to acting, lead the government to legislating, and now lead the government through the legislative process in proposing what should be in their bill.


Greg Jennett: Was there anything you asked for which was rejected?


Simon Birmingham: We put forward six proposals to the Government and those six proposals as the Deputy Prime Minister has indicated they are supporting in principle. Now, we’ll see the detail when they come back to us as to whether they have changed the detail based on the legal advice the Government has at its disposal. But this is a situation where the Opposition looked and saw some pretty logical things that if you are releasing individuals who have been charged previously in relation to child sexual offences, well, of course there should be exclusion zones around schools. Why on earth didn’t the Albanese Government think of that first?


Greg Jennett: So, do you get the sense they would have agreed to anything you had put forward? Might you have had more ideas than the six that you did? The reason I ask, by the way, is Dan Tehan spoke about a, quote, new regime with preventative detention orders on the 84 detainees who’ve been released. So, do you know what he’s talking about? Did you put a preventative detention order regime to the Government in negotiations?


Simon Birmingham: Well, of course, there are limits to what you can do in the space of a few hours. So, there are clear things you can do with a bill the government is proposing and putting in place measures, such as the one I just suggested before, or having some minimum mandatory requirements, so that if these visa conditions are breached, Australians can have confidence that people will be detained following the breach of them. They’re things you can easily draft up and put to a government. More complex scenarios which may prove to be appropriate or necessary-.


Greg Jennett: Or unconstitutional? I mean, preventative detention orders would run every risk, wouldn’t they? Against the High Court decision of last week, of being indefinite detention and therefore unconstitutional.


Simon Birmingham: There will no doubt be further debate once everybody gets to see the statement of reasons from the High Court, and we will all want to look closely at that and understand how we can put in place appropriate safety into our system, because that’s what this is all about. It is what we have been calling for from the moment this case was, this decision was handed down last week that we rose last Thursday in the Parliament and said to the government, this has occurred. What are you going to do now? And the answer at that stage essentially was nothing. We’re going to wait and see. Well, thankfully, constant pressure from Peter Dutton and the opposition has brought the government to acting. But they’re only acting and they’re only providing that extra safety for Australians because of this Opposition pressure.


Greg Jennett: Yeah, I don’t want to labour all or any of the six amendments that are coming through, but just on the logic of it, why not give a minister discretion to decide whether an ankle bracelet for a tracking device is necessary or not, based on the circumstances of each released detainee, rather than making it mandatory across the board?


Simon Birmingham: Well, these individuals were detained. Preferably, they would have been deported, but different circumstances in each case means that hasn’t been possible. But they were detained because of very serious considerations about the threat they pose to Australians. And so, we think in these circumstances, the prejudgement, in a sense, has already been made that they posed very serious threats to the safety and security of Australians. And so being able to monitor their movements and their activities is a simple, bare minimum in terms of how you might ensure that, given they’ve been released under the Labor government, how you go about making sure you’ve got enough identification of their activities to have confidence in the future.


Greg Jennett: Well, it fairly bluntly does that on the changes that are going to be passed tonight. What have you got a few hours left in you?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the Senate has agreed that it can sit up to 11 p.m. I know the House is hoping to see us all done and dusted in a time frame that enables this to pass around 8:30. I think in the House, the commitment we have given is it will pass today. The Government has shown a willingness to adopt our amendments. We will work constructively with them now to make that happen as quickly as possible. But we still have some questions we want to have answered on the way through, particularly once we’ve seen and settled all of the drafting of those amendments.


Greg Jennett: All right, Simon Birmingham, why don’t we talk about something that’s not strictly related? But somehow it became entangled in this debate today as Shadow Foreign Minister, where does APEC meetings or summits, if you like, rank on the ladder of important summits that leaders really should attend, come what may?


Simon Birmingham: Look, APEC is an important gathering of world leaders. There’s no denying that. And it can provide a very useful platform for different bilateral meetings and the like. Of course, Prime Minister Albanese has had bilateral meetings with the United States president and the Chinese president just in the last couple of weeks. And there are really a couple of questions that come to bear about his travel at present. One is, why is it that it was necessary to go to the United States twice in the space of a few weeks? Could they not have properly negotiated the scheduling in terms of his bilateral visit there, to either be at a distinctly different time or at the same time as this one-


Greg Jennett: It was a request of a host in Joe Biden who would evidently, as the Prime Minister has outlined it, have been grateful for a leader to come.


Simon Birmingham: And these dates are always negotiated between the parties. And Australia gets to have a say in those negotiations as well. And the other then, even if it was just a day or so in terms of the Prime Minister departing to make sure he saw this through and was there dotting the Is, crossing the Ts around the safety and security of Australians, as he should. And this is demonstrably more important than some of the pic ops that that have emerged to date in terms of tech industry engagements that the Prime Minister may have been having.


Greg Jennett: That’s in the lead up to APEC. Is it dispensable now on a leader’s calendar? If they’ve done a sufficient number of other multilateral summits or bilateral, is that the standard?


Simon Birmingham: Well, let’s take the example of President Biden, who cancelled his trip to Australia for the Quad leaders meeting because of domestic issues around the passage of budget legislation through the US Congress. Of course, it’s always possible for heads of government to say something very pressing has come up that relates to the safety of my citizens, the security of my nation, the budget considerations of the country or otherwise. And in this instance, that was the case. The Albanese Government is entangled in a mess, much of its own creation. Yes, the High Court handed down this decision, but if they’d done the homework, if they’d been prepared, then they wouldn’t be in the type of mess they’re in today.


Greg Jennett: It’s certainly been a roller coaster ride, watching.


Simon Birmingham: Very, very polite of you.


Greg Jennett: That bill.


Simon Birmingham: You should go into diplomacy.


Greg Jennett: Wind its way towards passage this evening, we’re told. Which probably means we have to let you go. Simon Birmingham really appreciate you finding some time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Greg. My pleasure.