Topics: Legislation to create jobs and resilience for the future; Review into NSW Labor Party branch; Foreign fighters returning from Syria; The Medivac Bill.

Transcript, E&OE

13 October 2019

Simon Birmingham: Our Government continues to undertake targeted investments and deliver policies to be able to support Australia’s economy, to grow jobs and create more opportunities for Australians into the future. It stands in contrast today to the fact that the Opposition today simply announced a review into the terrible state, the corrupt state, of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party.

The endemic failures in the Labor Party in New South Wales have been evident for more than a decade, and yet it’s taken until now for the Labor Party to simply commission a review. Anthony Albanese is frankly looking like the leader for reviews rather than a leader of any action or substance whatsoever. Ask the Labor Party what their policy on tax is at present; they’ll tell you it’s under review. Ask the Labor Party what their policy on corruption in the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party is; apparently it’s under review. Well, where’s the action? Where are the policies? Where’s the sense of direction? It’s all lacking from Anthony Albanese and the Australian Labor Party. And it’s in contrast to what is a packed legislative agenda that our Government will bring forward to the Parliament this week. We’re going to have legislation that provides further support for the drought-affected communities, legislation that provides stronger laws in relation to protecting Australians from child sex offenders, legislation providing for trialing of drug testing of welfare recipients to help make sure that people have every support to get back to work. And just today, the Prime Minister has been out there announcing investment in dams, and support in drought-affected communities dealing with bushfires, while Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party are dealing with corruption simply by announcing a review. That’s just not good enough from an Opposition, but it won’t distract us as we continue to get on with the job of delivering Government that’s focused on helping people through tough times and creating jobs and resilience for the future.

Journalist: The New South Wales Labor’s talking about a whole new secretariat role, shouldn’t you be celebrating? Why is this a bad thing?

Simon Birmingham: The New South Wales Labor Party has been dragged in and out of the ICAC Commission for more than a decade. The endemic failures there have been obvious for such a long time. And what do we get now? A review. That’s the best Anthony Albanese can offer up, is a review into the corruption in the branch of the New South Wales Labor Party. Where’s the action? He has been a long-serving member of Parliament in New South Wales. He’s a former deputy secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party. He knows that system better than anybody else; where’s the action rather than just a review into something that has been evident as a problem for such a long time, and it’s just been getting uglier and uglier?

Journalist: On another issue, Kristina Keneally responded to advice from American authorities saying camps in Syria are a Petri dish for extremism, would you agree with that comment?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I haven’t seen the advice. I’ve seen some of Kristina Keneally’s comments this morning and I think she seems to be making up policy on the run when it comes to those in camps in Syria and bringing them back to Australia. That’s a terribly dangerous thing to be doing – to be making up that sort of policy on the run. We take the safety of Australians incredibly seriously. First and foremost, those Australians here and making sure there is no danger to them in terms of people who come to Australia or come back to Australia. And we want to make sure that where there are any interventions, we’re not unnecessarily or unduly putting the lives of other Australians at risk. The type of comments we saw from Kristina Keneally this morning in relation to repatriating people back to Australia are at best hollow virtue signaling, or at worst, dangerous policy on the run. Where’s the detail? How did she think this can be done? How is she going to do it without putting more Australian lives at risk?

Journalist: On the substance though of the extremism in those camps, do you think there’s a major risk of a resurgence of ISIS by letting the foreign fighters stay in those Syrian camps?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we know that people who were attracted to extremist ideologies when to Syria to fight in the first place. And that’s why we have to be very cautious about rushing to bring anybody back here, and it’s why we certainly won’t be following Labor’s policy on the run approach from Kristina Keneally. We’ll instead continue work case-by-case, with our security agencies and not endanger the lives of our diplomats or our armed services in terms of dealing with these circumstance.

Journalist: So you’re not worried about, by leaving them there, incubating further extremism?

Simon Birmingham: People who chose to go to Syria in the first place were attracted by extremist ideology, have actually been there fighting alongside other foreign fighters, alongside extremists. That’s why these are circumstances where we have to be incredibly careful about the individuals and how it is that we handle them if they are to return to Australia.

Journalist: In terms of the 20 Australian women and the more than 40 children in that camp, who does the Commonwealth plan on bringing home? Can you give any breakdown on that?

Simon Birmingham: Our approach continues to be a careful analysis, case-by-case of what’s possible, what’s in the best interests of Australian citizens in terms of their safety of those here in Australia; how it is we can safely deal with women or children. We’ve shown that we can do that before, but we do it extremely judiciously. We don’t just rush in and make blanket, sweeping policy on the run statements like Kristina Keneally and the Labor Party. We make sure that we follow the advice of our security services and that we don’t endanger our armed services or our diplomats when it comes to helping people in these trouble sports.

Journalist: So at this point at 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon, no plans to bring any of them home? Is there any plan at all?

Simon Birmingham: Well, in relation to any individual cases, again as we’ve demonstrated before, the best way to deal with them: case-by-case, cautiously, with the safety of Australians at the forefront of our minds, but also, if action needs to be taken it is often best taken discreetly and carefully without drawing attention or publicity to it that could only further endanger the lives of the individuals.

Journalist: Just briefly on one other issue, Labor and some experts say the Medivac Bill is working. Why is the Government still looking to repeal it?

Simon Birmingham: The Medivac Bill is unnecessary. All of the appropriate safeguards have always been there in relation to asylum seekers who genuinely need medical treatment. Or indeed, those who are not asylum seekers anymore, who have been found not to be refugees, who genuinely need medical treatment can receive it in the locations where they are. If further assistance is needed then all of the processes are there, and this bill has been shown to be nothing other than another vehicle that will be manipulated by lawyers and by those who seek to unpick our asylum seeker laws. The Labor Party has voted to weaken Australia’s border protection laws on around 78 occasions. We know they’re not genuine about it, and of course, this is just another example of where they seek to create another loophole that is completely unnecessary.

Journalist: One of the biggest reasons the Coalition argued against the Medivac Bill was that it would start the boasts again. We’d see a resurgence of boats arriving. Do you accept that that hasn’t happened?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve had to respond in different ways to deal with that as well, in terms of making clear that people who are airlifted still may not come to Australia. But there may be circumstance where they would go to Christmas Island or elsewhere, as a response to the Medivac Bill, was about putting in place polices that provided additional deterrents to make sure that we didn’t see those arrivals flow through.

Journalist: But my question was specifically about the resurgence of boats. That was what your Government was warning would happen.

Simon Birmingham: And that’s why we took advice to make sure that we took additional policy measures after the Medical Bill was passed to help ensure that Australia would not see that resurgence of boats, notwithstanding that extra hole created in our border protection laws by the Labor Party.

Journalist: So you’ve got those measures in place; why do you now need to repeal Medivac if the boats haven’t started again?

Simon Birmingham: Because this, the Medivac laws are unnecessary. They do create another hole in our protection layer, and we can see that they will absolutely be used as a lawyer’s picnic in terms of trying to create more debate, more circumstances where people who have come to Australia in a manner that is not part of our orderly immigration procedure then seek to stay here. And ultimately, you know, you’ve got to bring it right back to the basics. Our policies have been successful at stopping the boat arrivals, at stopping the deaths at sea, in ensuring that we can close down detention facilities, and we don’t want to do anything that jeopardizes the success of those policies. Because by maintaining that success, by ensuring we don’t have those arrivals in the future we are able to run an orderly migration program that brings genuine refugees to Australia in significant numbers under some of the most needy circumstances around the world.

Thanks guys.