Topics: Visa checks; Albanese Government failing border protection; Government terms;

04:25AM AEDT
22 February 2024


Greg Jennett: Well, there’s a few topics around today in the news with an international focus. We’re joined this afternoon as we regularly are by Shadow Foreign Minister and Opposition Senate Leader Simon Birmingham, who joins us from Adelaide. Welcome back to the program, Senator. Visa processing from the Middle East. Peter Dutton’s led this criticism of processing for Palestinian refugees in particular. He says, we don’t know whether these people are Hamas sympathisers. Even if that were established, would that be grounds for refusal of a visa?


Simon Birmingham: Well, Greg, it’s good to be with you. And yes, if it were established, then it would be grounds for a visa not to be issued in the first place, and there ought to be grounds for a visa to be refused and cancelled. Hamas is a listed terrorism organisation in Australia. It is illegal to support Hamas, to donate to Hamas, to engage with Hamas in Australia. We should absolutely be taking all steps to ensure that Hamas sympathisers are not entering our country. We’re at a time, an era where, tragically, the world is seeing a rise in anti-Semitism. Australian Jewish communities are feeling the pain and angst caused by that rise in anti-Semitism here in our own country. There’s been inadequate political leadership in combating and addressing that from the get-go, particularly immediately after October 7th. The concerns those Australian communities have will only be compounded if there is any threat or risk that people coming to this country could harbour Hamas sympathies.


Greg Jennett: Are you casting aspersions or are you not casting aspersions over the officials involved in this day to day and in many cases spanning many years, right back to when the Coalition was in power and dealing with refugees in the ISIS war that they’re not applying due process. Is that the allegation on them?


Simon Birmingham: Well, we are troubled by the processing times that have been released by the idea that people have been processed in times as little as one hour, according to reports run by the ABC and information revealed by the relevant government agencies. So, the confidence that we think Australians need and deserve in the type of security assessments that are undertaken should be high, and it is hard to see how that confidence can be sustained when security checks and processing times are so very, very short.


Greg Jennett: Let’s move on to reports. You may have seen Simon Birmingham concerning Indonesian cooperation with boat stopping activities by Operation Sovereign Borders, obviously in the context of recent boat arrivals on the mainland. Some of these reports seem to emanate from Rote Island, which has before been cooperative via its police force and other maritime agencies there in working with OSB. So it has happened in the past. Do you believe there’s a lack of intelligence sharing, or could be from Australian authorities with their Indonesian counterparts presently?


Simon Birmingham: Greg let’s be very clear. Indonesia is a trusted and valued partner when it comes to border protection efforts with Australia. Because strong borders for Australia and effective border protection policies are not only good for Australia, but they are good for Indonesia. In terms of stamping out the awful trade of people smugglers and ensuring that Indonesia is not used or abused by those people smugglers as a middle pathway or middle point for people seeking to make the dangerous journey to Australia. The Indonesian government work very closely through the Coalition years in successfully ensuring that Operation Sovereign Borders stopped the people smuggling trade, and that we were able to effectively intervene where there were any instances of attempts. Now, clearly something in the Australian end has broken down in terms of the diminished number of maritime surveillance flights of other maritime surveillance activities. These things are really of concern. But as part of getting back on top of it, the Albanese Government needs to make sure that it has seamless relations and ties there with the Indonesian government too, shares the necessary information, because we know they are a capable and willing partner.


Greg Jennett: Could there also be a push factor internally from Indonesian domestic policy about its visa arrangements? I’m sure you’d have seen reports yourself that there is a more truncated accommodation of asylum seekers or non-permanent residents in Indonesia, people who otherwise might want to have taken a boat to Australia. Could that be a push factor from Indonesia?


Simon Birmingham: Well. Indonesia is perfectly within its rights to make sure that in terms of its own borders and its own sovereignty, it is applying policies to ensure the order of its own migration programme, and that rights to visit or stop in Indonesia are not abused by individuals, be they part of a people smuggling racket or otherwise. The Australian government needs to work effectively with Indonesia, recognising they have their rights to their policy settings. We have our rights to ours, but by working together, we have to ensure we stamp out the people smuggling trade. It’s been done before. It could be done with effective policies. The Albanese Government walked away from temporary protection visas, has sent the wrong signals in the way they’ve handled the NZYQ case and the release of detainees and the flip flopping there. We’ve seen maritime surveillance cut back discussion of financial cuts to Home Affairs and Border Force activities. All of these things send the wrong signals, and Anthony Albanese needs to take responsibility for writing those wrong signals and getting back on top of this issue, including working cooperatively with Indonesia.


Greg Jennett: All right, last one on these or related matters as it happens or as it stands, we now have between 50 and 60. We don’t quite have the number of individuals on Nauru whose claims will be processed. If they are found to be refugees. Where should they stand in your view, in relation to the resettlement arrangement with New Zealand up to 450 places over three years. Should they get first dibs on those places ahead of refugees who’ve been here on the Australian mainland for a long period of time on bridging visas?


Simon Birmingham: Look realistically that is a matter for the government of the day here to work through with the government of New Zealand. There’s a new government in New Zealand since deals were struck, and I trust the Albanese Government is doing the heavy lifting required to make sure that those arrangements with New Zealand can and will be honoured that the new government understands the agreements that were entered into and is given the reassurance again, in terms of the checks and balances that are in place about who is transferred, how they are transferred when they are transferred, and ultimately that the resolution of these cases is ideally achieved through those type of pathways.


Greg Jennett: Let me bring you back to a domestic topic, which we, you know, always try to do. Changing hats to Opposition Senate Leader Simon Birmingham and noting, yes, you are a Senator like Nita Green. We were talking to her earlier in the program with Jenny Ware. But four-year terms, the Prime Minister seems frustrated and always has been, I think it’s fair to say by three years, but he’s not going to be holding a referendum any time soon, certainly not before the next election. In principle, where does the Coalition stand if the opportunity presents on four-year terms?


Simon Birmingham: Greg, we’ll be up for an election whenever it’s had. We, like the Australian public, are kind of right over the Prime Minister talking about when there’ll be budgets, when there’ll be elections, anything it seems, but cost of living. That’s what he really ought to be focusing on. My personal view is that four-year terms are preferable for the nation. For the long run. All of the states and territories have shifted from a three-year term to a four-year term. US presidents do a four-year term. Elsewhere around the world we see four- and five-year terms in a range of places. But let’s be clear right now, household pressures aren’t thinking about 3 or 4 year terms for governments. They’re thinking about paying the bills, how they pay the bills, those pressure points. The Prime Minister seems to have spent most of this week distracted by talking about when the elections will be and using budget timing as a tool to exacerbate that conversation somehow.


Greg Jennett: Understood. Let’s see if we return to a substantive debate on referenda of any type in the future, near or far. Simon Birmingham, we’re going to wrap it up there. And thank you once again for joining us on Afternoon Briefing.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Greg. My pleasure.