Topics: Fourth released detainee arrested; Coalition cleaning up Labor’s mess on immigration detainees; Mark Dreyfus should apologise; PNG security deal;  

04:45PM ACDT
Wednesday, 6 December 2023


Greg Jennett:  A fourth former immigration detainee has been charged with two criminal offences. This 45-year-old Sudanese born man was arrested and charged over failing to comply with a curfew condition and allegedly stealing luggage at Melbourne Airport. Now, obviously, this feeds right into the debate that’s still swirling in the Parliament this week. Shadow Foreign Minister and Opposition Senate Leader Simon Birmingham joins us in the studio now. Welcome back.


Simon Birmingham: Hello, Greg.


Greg Jennett: So, this news has reached us while we’re on air. The Coalition failed with an amendment that would have sought to make the government front and declare such breaches when they occur, or at least I think when a detainee is put back into preventative detention. Is it your intention to make the government politically own this and any further arrests?


Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s not about politically owning things, Greg. It is the reality that Australians are judging this government by its abject failure in responsibly handling this situation. They did no contingency work. They were caught flat footed, and they have been led to every response. Not by themselves or their leadership, but by Peter Dutton and the Coalition. That ultimately, when we called for action and legislation, it was us calling for it and Mr. Albanese being dragged to it. Then it was the toughest of all measures until we proposed six amendments that were all adopted by the government. Then when they proposed further measures, we said, but it needs a preventative detention regime, which ultimately is what has been developed and is being legislated through the parliament this week. So, the government’s been dragged at every step. And Australians, of course, are judging them on their chaos and their failures.


Greg Jennett: Are you encouraged by the transparency that now seems to attend these arrests? We are getting, you know, officially badged AFP media announcements as and when they occur. And there might yet be more of them. Is that aiding public safety and awareness?


Simon Birmingham: Well, being up front is important, and it would have been far preferable for the government to be up front about these matters. Would have been even more preferable for them to be prepared to actually respond to the High Court case, which they weren’t prepared for in the first place. It would have been better for them to be capable of having a consistent response throughout this, when instead it’s been absolutely all over the place. Let’s remember, initially, the government was only going to release the one individual subject to the High Court case, and they were going to wait for the statement of reasons from the High Court. Then the government changed their mind and started releasing individuals without waiting for that statement of reasons. Yet if they had done so, they would have discovered the statement of reasons made clear a preventative detention regime, the likes of which Mr. Dutton and the Coalition were calling for, could have been implemented and should have been implemented.


Greg Jennett: Just on that point. I don’t want to dwell on it too long, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard you make the claim that they should only have released the one and not the 145.


Simon Birmingham: It was the government themselves, that was their initial response to the High Court to say we will await the statement of reasons. They then changed their minds in relation to that. And in doing so, of course, they’ve released many people, four of whom have now been arrested, creating this circumstance where Australians have seen these crimes potentially committed across the country. Most seriously, of course, an alleged indecent assault in my home state of South Australia. We said all along we were dealing with people who were murderers, who were rapists, who are paedophiles, and that Australians were at risk from the mishandling of this. And tragically, that’s proven to be correct.


Greg Jennett: And that was a very serious case indeed in South Australia. Mark Dreyfus is absolutely adamant, by the way, and he said so today at some pains and lengths to say that they were constitutionally required to release the 145 caseload at the same time, in relation to the Adelaide case that you identify, he says there is no apology warranted from any minister in the government. Do you agree?


Simon Birmingham: No, not at all. Mark Dreyfus’s reaction today. It was an appalling reaction. It was a denial. It was a dereliction of responsibility. It was an insult to the people who’ve been affected. And of course, it was way over the top in terms of the way in which he engaged with a journalist within this parliamentary press gallery. And I tell you what, if a Coalition minister in the previous government had stood there and done the same thing, Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher and Tanya Plibersek, all would have been lining up calling for that minister not just to apologise, but to be sacked.


Greg Jennett: Are your female frontbenchers doing that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Susan Ley has rightly been out there criticising the way Mark Dreyfus behaved, and he should apologise to the journalist in question. That’s not the way to engage in a respectful way. It’s particularly also not just the way he engaged, but when we bring it back to the substance. There is somebody in South Australia alleged to have been sexually assaulted. There are other victims of crime now across Australia as well, and they deserve the government’s understanding and acceptance of responsibility, not the state of denial that we’re seeing.


Greg Jennett: Okay, let’s move on from immigration matters to foreign affairs. PNG’s Prime Minister, I think, has already made it to town. Or if he hasn’t, he’s about to for a pretty major security pact agreement, as we understand it, to be landed tomorrow. Is that a game changer? What responsibilities do you think it’ll impose on Australia in this region?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ll all have to see the detail of the final agreement, whether it is a treaty level agreement or whether something else has been negotiated. And we hope that it is as comprehensive as possible, as ambitious as possible for security cooperation between Australia and Papua New Guinea. That was what was envisaged when negotiations were started some time ago. Prime Minister Marape has shown himself to be a good friend of Australia’s willing to work cooperatively with Australia and his government doing so as well. I hope the government of Australia, the Albanese government, has got the best possible agreement that is as comprehensive as possible to ensure that we and PNG are working in sync to underpin the safety security of our region.


Greg Jennett: Are the Australian agencies the relevant ones? I guess we’re talking about AFP and the ADF. They adequately resourced to meet obligations to potentially, we don’t know if it’s a treaty level pact, as you say, but if it is to meet those obligations in a country like PNG based purely on the enlisted power that they have.


Simon Birmingham: Well, again, we’ll have to see the detail of it to understand what implications, if any, there are for how Australian security personnel may be requested or called upon to assist in any circumstances within Papua New Guinea. We, of course, have a very special relationship with Papua New Guinea in terms of their independence, our responsibility and obligations to continue to work closely with PNG to respect that independence, but also to help to underpin it as much as possible, and their success. There are many challenges that PNG continues to face in terms of development, health and other challenges, and security sometimes is a barrier to achieving positive policy outcomes there. So, the more we can help to underpin that security, the better it is for the type of developmental outcomes we also wish to see.


Greg Jennett: All right, noted. We’ll get a measure of its scope tomorrow when it’s made official, I guess. Alas, time has beaten us, Simon Birmingham. More we could have covered, but we won’t. We dwelt on domestic matters, so we’ll wrap it up there. And thank you finally, for all your involvement with the program throughout the year. We’re wrapping up shortly.


Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much. Merry Christmas to all the viewers.