Subjects: Syrian humanitarian crisis; NXT political party.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Senator Simon Birmingham this issue raised by Premier Jay Weatherill and it was a Liberal Premier John Olsen in the Kosovo crisis who opened this State’s arms to asylum seekers under safe haven visas, would you support that for South Australia now with people fleeing Syria?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I would be very willing to work with Premier Weatherill and talk through what options he is looking at in developing on this issue. This is a true humanitarian crisis of a scale like the world has not seen for many years emerging and unfolding in Europe at present. Australia has a great record in terms of being a generous country when it comes to refugees, we take more per capita than any other nation in the world we took 4,500 refugees from this conflict in Syria and Iraq over the last year and we’re committing to do more and we should do more and I trust that as a Federal Government we will do more and we would welcome the opportunity and I would welcome the opportunity to talk to Premier Weatherill and his colleagues about how we can help.
DAVID BEVAN: But won’t this just encourage more people to get on rickety boats and help the people smugglers and all of the arguments that you’ve used to turn back the boats coming to Australia?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: They are different issues in the sense that people travelling by boat to Australia have passed through usually multiple countries in which they could seek safe haven. What we’re dealing with here in Europe are different circumstances of a scale that is far greater.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Looks very similar.
DAVID BEVAN: We had little children dying at sea just like this little boy that died on the coast of the Mediterranean and the Government said the best thing we can do to stop that happening again is to turn back the boats, now you’re saying the best thing we can do is to take these people.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We have millions of dislocated people in Europe at present by stopping the boats coming to Australia we have stopped those deaths at sea, we have stopped people smuggler activities and we are now in a situation where we can manage our refugee intake by taking people who stop and seek safe haven in other countries that they have passed through en route to Australia, we can consider those refugee circumstances and we can consider the refugee circumstances of people fleeing Syria and Iraq we have a scale and a problem that is quite different from what we saw coming to Australia and we should treat it.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well you’d have to wouldn’t you, otherwise it’d look like incredible inconsistency if not hypocrisy you’d have to come up with a different version you have to say this is different because if not your previous policies just [inaudible].
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: it is different. We didn’t have Indonesians coming by boat to Australia the only Indonesians on those vessels were the people smugglers themselves. In this case we are talking about people directly fleeing an awful conflict.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Through Italy and Greece.
DAVID BEVAN: Germany’s not next to Syria.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No of course it’s not and that’s an issue that Europe is grappling with as people do traverse right through.
DAVID BEVAN: Well, Italy’s not next to Syria Greece isn’t next to Syria.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Indeed but when you look at the scale, when you look at the nature of the conflict, the conflict between Daesh and the death cult there and the conflicts between the brutality of the Assad regime, you can have little doubt about the merits of people fleeing that conflict in those circumstances and indeed the scale of that problem is something the world hasn’t seen for a long time and it will require unique approaches and different approaches.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: When you look at the scale, when you look at the nature of the conflict between Daesh and the death cult there and the conflict between the brutality of the Assad regime, you can have little doubts about the merits of people fleeing that conflict in those circumstances and indeed the scale of that problem is something the world hasn’t seen for a long time and it will require unique approaches and different approaches.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: We will eventually get to your letter of concern for Nick Xenophon. Nick Xenophon, Independent Senator for South Australia, welcome to the program. Before we get on to that, given that we’re on a roll here, do you accept that there is a difference both in scale and the brutality of the regimes that people are fleeing?
NICK XENOPHON: Well the short answer is yes and this is the biggest refugee crisis that Europe has faced since the end of World War II. I think it is interesting that Pope Francis said “open our arms to these refugees” even the Vatican is opening its arms to families of asylum seekers. We need to do things differently, of course, in terms of security screenings, community safety that is critically important but, we need to have a different model for allowing asylum seekers in the country and I think we need to dramatically increase the asylum seeker intake. I supported the government’s temporary protection visa policy, it is a tough policy, but I think it was necessary to stop people smugglers.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: What about safe haven visas?
NICK XENOPHON: Well I supported safe haven visas, but what we need to do now is to dramatically increase our refugee intake because of the crisis in Syria.
DAVID BEVAN: Now one of the questions Simon Birmingham has got for you, now that you’ve decided to field candidates in lower house seats, is would Nick Xenophon and the candidates from his political party vote to maintain all of the policies that have stopped the illegal flow of boats to Australia?
NICK XENOPHON: Well my answer is yes but, in addition to that we ought to increase the humanitarian intake as recommended by the.
DAVID BEVAN: So you’re happy to turn back the boats too, but so long as they’re boats heading to Australia and to Australia’s islands, but you’re happy to take people when they turn up in the Mediterranean on boats?
NICK XENOPHON: The problem with people smugglers operating out of Indonesia is that there were people drowning, 1,200 people drowned.
DAVID BEVAN: …people are drowning in the Mediterranean!
NICK XENOPHON: That’s right and we also need to have as many people as we can take. There is a humanitarian intake of 13,700, I think I share with Scott Morrison, along with others, to increase the humanitarian intake by another 7,500. Not enough, we now need to dramatically increase that.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Senator Birmingham, back to why we asked you on the program, are you panicking now by issuing ten questions for Nick Xenophon asking him to do what no other political party does and that is tell you who they’re running, when they’re running, surrender their advantage in any seat, you sound like you’re spooked?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: No not at all, but on Friday Nick when out again, as he has done on many occasions over the last few months, proclaiming that he would be running candidates and I think that South Australian voters need to appreciate that Nick Xenophon himself won’t be running in the next election, it will be candidates from the Xenophon political party and I think we have a reasonable expectation as South Australians that we should get some transparency around that political party. I can tell you that in terms of replacing Andrew Southcott in Boothby, in the next month or two, hundreds of Liberal Party members will come together, they’ll have a vote and they’ll choose the next Liberal candidate for Boothby. I don’t know how the Nick Xenophon candidate for Boothby will be chosen; I don’t know whether they will always vote in accordance with what Nick says. I think South Australians, if they are going to have this choice at the next election, need to know a lot more about how this political party will work because we’ve seen in the past…
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: You must be worried. Can you admit you’re worried because he would pose a big threat if he ran, for instance, in Boothby now that the incumbent has decided to pull up stumps?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well look, I think we need to tackle all minor parties nowadays and give them appropriate scrutiny because the lesson from this Parliament, if you look at the Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer’s Party that came in to this Parliament with four members, two of whom have now upped stumps and are acting as independents and doing their own thing, is that these independent based political parties that spring up along the way are often very unstable, very disunited and you quickly see that you have elected people who are quite the opposite of who the voters thought they were voting for in the first place.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Or you have elected people who answer to the voters and not to party machines.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well I think that if you look at Jacqui Lambie and her falling out with Clive Palmer, if you look at Glen Lazarus and his falling out with Clive Palmer you’re seeing the fact that voters who thought they were voting for the Palmer Party have instead got a rag-tag bunch of independents and that’s what democracy has given us, but I don’t want South Australians to make the same mistake and not at least scrutinise who the Xenophon candidates are, what they stand for, whether they will stand alongside Nick all of the time or whether they will be taking their own course on different things and indeed should, what I think is unlikely, but should they win any lower house seats, who they would support to form government.
DAVID BEVAN: Well Nick Xenophon, what guarantees can you give South Australian’s that you won’t repeat what Clive Palmer has done?
NICK XENOPHON: I learn lessons from the past; I learn from what people like Clive Palmer have done, it has been a very thorough process. I think Simon Birmingham; I really do feel sorry for Simon resorting to such desperate tactics. Go to nxt.org.au that will show you about process, outline policies and the like. That’s why there has been a very strongly deliberative process for the last 8 to 9 months. Election Advisory committees have been set up in a number of states.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: How many people have put their hands up to stand as your candidate?
NICK XENOPHON: 450 around the country. That’s been whittled down to about 50, so it has been…
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: …were there a few lunatics in the 450?
NICK XENOPHON: I could say something very cruel now to you, but I won’t.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Go on! David hasn’t applied, has he?
NICK XENOPHON: You’ve answered it already!
DAVID BEVAN: Just for the record, I’m not applying, I’m not applying!
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Sure.
DAVID BEVAN: Nick Xenophon, did you get some loonies?
NICK XENOPHON: No it was actually a very good field, it was a very good number of people.
DAVID BEVAN: Then why are you laughing?
NICK XENOPHON: I was thinking about you applying!
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: The 450 candidates or applications or expressions of interest, what’s the shortlist looking like?
NICK XENOPHON: The shortlist is looking really good,
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: 45? 100?
NICK XENOPHON: It’s about 40 or 50 around the country and there will be candidates announced.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: and Stephen Pallaras former DPP?
NICK XENOPHON: I’ve spoken to Stephen and he of course has a lot to offer. I spoke to him about a range of other issues including his expertise.
DAVID BEVAN: If you win seats, Simon Birmingham wants to know, and you can understand why, if they will support the formation of a Labor government?
NICK XENOPHON: Seriously? I mean honestly it depends on a whole range of things in terms of what is best.
DAVID BEVAN: Ok so you don’t know what you’re going to do! If you vote for Xenophon he could end up installing a Shorten Labor government and people should know that.
NICK XENOPHON: Or a Liberal government. It depends on a range of factors and it is a pity that the coalition doesn’t focus on fulfilling election promises.
DAVID BEVAN: Are you targeting Labor seats as well as Liberal seats?
NICK XENOPHON: There will be Labor seats as well.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Which ones in South Australia.
NICK XENOPHON: In South Australia, Makin is one.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Adelaide?
NICK XENOPHON: Adelaide is another.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: So you’ll run as vigorously in Labor seats as in Liberal seats?
NICK XENOPHON: That’s the whole idea.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Nick Xenophon, thank you. Simon Birmingham seems to be a lot of people that want to run for the Xenophon Party.
DAVID BEVAN: Did you put in an application?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Certainly not! And I’m sure, to help Nick out there, anywhere you get 450 applications there are sure to be a few crazies amongst them!
DAVID BEVAN: Even in the Liberal Party?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Even in the Liberal Party.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And some of them get elected, that’s the funny thing!
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: What we have heard there though, gentlemen, is that Nick does need to spell out to the Australian people and the South Australian public in particular how they would choose who they would support to form Government because if they’re in that position we deserve to know, not to have the type of surprise that happened when the Gillard Government was formed.
DAVID BEVAN: Thank you, Simon Birmingham.