David Bevan: As I say, on Wednesdays we like to gather some of the big heavy hitters together to discuss for you the big national issues of the day. Of course, the GST is right front amongst them, but also is this decision by the High Court which will affect I think immediately about 200 people, of those how many are children?

Matthew Abraham: Thirty-seven. Thirty-seven babies.

David Bevan: Thirty-seven babies.

Matthew Abraham: Yeah, so 250 asylum seekers, 37 babies.

David Bevan: Right, but if you’re listening to Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney-General, Labor’s Shadow-Attorney General in AM, he was saying look two and a half years ago nobody, nobody imagined that there would be 1000 people just languishing in indefinite detention. Well. Really? Nobody saw this coming?

Matthew Abraham: Because you couldn’t even get a cigarette paper between the policies of Labor and Liberal eventually in terms of detention and offshore policies. Now, one of the features of Super Wednesday is they’re national players who are local, not sourced from the outer suburbs of Sydney. Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education, welcome. Kate Ellis, Labor MP for Adelaide and Shadow Minister for Education. Welcome Kate Ellis.

Kate Ellis: Good morning.

Matthew Abraham: And Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia and Spokesperson on Immigration and Early Education also joining us.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Good morning.

David Bevan: And Simon Birmingham, I think you’re there now.

Simon Birmingham: I am indeed David. Good morning to you all.

David Bevan: Excellent. We know it’s very busy today, because Federal Parliament has got back. Let’s begin with the asylum seekers and the High Court decision today. Kate Ellis, we heard your Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, saying in AM look nobody thought we were going to end up with this situation. And yet when he was pressed by Brissenden, well, are you saying it’s time to end offshore detention, he couldn’t get a straight answer. Do you think it’s time to end offshore detention?

Kate Ellis: No, look we think that offshore processing has played a really important role in ending the cruel deaths of men, women, and children at sea. But the difference here is, and the important thing to note, is that processing times have blown out under this Government, they have more than doubled what they were previously. What that means is the average person is now sitting for 445 days in offshore detention before they are even processed, and that is an absolute disgrace. We need to do everything that we can to ensure that people are treated as humanely and as quickly as possible.

Matthew Abraham: But are there still a lot less children in detention full stop than there were during the Labor years? Under the previous Labor Government…

Kate Ellis: Well look, what we do know …

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Is that a yes or no, just quickly before we go on to what we do know.

Kate Ellis: That is me saying I don’t have the numbers in front of me of how many people are where. But what I do know …

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] From memory, there were a lot of children in places like Baxter and other detention centres.

Kate Ellis: Well of course, of course.

Matthew Abraham: Watching adults sew their lips together, and fight, and all the sorts of horrible things that often go on in crowded detention centres.

Kate Ellis: Look, of course I had the chance to visit Baxter and see some of the conditions there, and it was incredibly important that we moved people into the community. And when we’re talking about the numbers of children in detention we need to be sure that we’re talking about a number of different things, whether that’s in offshore facilities, whether that is in onshore detention facilities, or whether that is in what was called community detention, which we were very proud to increase the number of people who could live humanely, who could have access to decent services. What we’re talking about now is people in other countries, and we are hearing reports of the conditions which are not acceptable under Australian standards. They are Australian [indistinct] …

David Bevan: [Interrupts] Okay, so Labor’s position is fairly clear, keep the offshore processing, offshore detention centres, but just process them more quickly.

Kate Ellis: Well …

David Bevan: In a nutshell, that’s it?

Kate Ellis: That is it …

David Bevan: Okay.

Kate Ellis: … with the addition of ensuring that people are treated in a dignified, humane manner under the Australian Government’s name. But we’re not washing our hands of [indistinct].

Matthew Abraham: Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well good morning guys.

Matthew Abraham: Good morning.

Sarah Hanson-Young: Look, you know, I find it extraordinary to hear members of the Labor Party say nobody saw this coming. I mean, the amount of medical experts, human rights advocates, and of course I remember several times standing up and saying unless we put proper laws around this, leaving people languishing in indefinite detention and having laws that allow the minister of the day to ship children off to Nauru means it will happen and children will be damaged. And I’ve been to Nauru, I’ve seen the damage done there. And many of the children- I just want to clarify the numbers actually. Out of the children we’re talking about the Minister, Peter Dutton wants to return to Nauru, it’s 90 overall, 37 are babies.

Matthew Abraham: Yes.

Sarah Hanson-Young: And the children who have- who are here, have been transferred back to the mainland because they’ve already suffered in Nauru. Some of these people have had their claims assessed, but it’s not whether they’ve had their claims processed or not necessarily, it’s that we have dumped them indefinitely in Nauru. And that’s the Labor policy, and sadly that’s the Government policy. The question today for the Prime Minister is if this High Court case loses this morning, it comes down at 10:15, Peter Dutton says all of these people will be on the next plane back to Nauru. That means effectively putting children back into very abusive environments. This constitutes child abuse, and will the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, authorise that? And does the Labor Party …

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Or is it better than having them drown at sea though Sarah Hanson-Young?

Sarah Hanson-Young: Well you know, I think …

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] You’d have to concede that the policy that you decry of both the Labor Party and Liberal Party has stopped that dreadful thing happening.

Sarah Hanson-Young: You know, I find it extraordinary that we can’t have come up with a better solution than abusing children to save others drowning at sea. The search and rescue out in the waters, the processing and helping people’s claims through the UN in Indonesia and Malaysia before they even need a people smuggler would go a long way to stopping people drowning at sea.

Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham Liberal Senator for South Australia, Minister for Education and Training, for you is it just the status quo? You would be hoping the High Court would back in the Government line, send the kids back to Nauru and get on with it?

Simon Birmingham: Well, obviously we do hope that the High Court upholds the position of the Government, but that is a matter for the High Court. Nobody wants to see children in detention one day longer than is necessary, and it is important to understand that on Nauru the detention centre operates essentially without fences so that people are able to freely move around the island.

Sarah Hanson-Young: It’s an island prison.

Simon Birmingham: It is also important to appreciate…

Matthew Abraham: That is a good point it is not? It doesn’t need fences?

Sarah Hanson-Young: It doesn’t need- you can’t get anywhere.

Simon Birmingham: It is an island, but it’s also a community, it’s a nation, and people are able to move freely around the island and engage with the locals, engage with the community, and [indistinct]-

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] and is one of the people who is able to move freely around the island, the person exposed in the ABC 7.30 report who raped a five-year-old boy and is still on the island, along with others.

Sarah Hanson-Young: That’s right.

Matthew Abraham: Is that one of the people who has free access to Nauru and are you comfortable sending back some 90 children, including 37 babies, to a detention centre where there is an alleged rapist?

Simon Birmingham: Well Matthew, clearly allegations like that are taken very seriously, are properly investigated, and are handled in the most appropriate of ways, and that is very important that we do follow those processes. I think it’s important people do understand, because we had Kate say at the outset that processing times have blown out, well when the previous government came to government there were four people in detention at the end of the Howard Government, four illegal maritime arrivals, there was nobody else. Then in July 2013, so close to the end of their time in government, there were 10,300 people in detention, around 2,000 children. Now by processing people and by stopping the arrival of new people, we’ve managed to get the number of children who are in detention down to 78 from 2,000 under the previous government. We’ve been working very hard to bring it down, to suggest that times have blown out is a ridiculous proposition when of course the previous government had inherited essentially nobody in detention to start with, and left then an enormous caseload for us to deal with when we came to office.

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Interrupts] The problem [indistinct].

Simon Birmingham: To deal with it we have been getting people out detention and resettled we are doing, and of course most importantly the policies, including offshore detention, have worked in stopping the boats.

Matthew Abraham: Sarah Hanson-Young, is Simon Birmingham telling porkies here, or has he got anything wrong? He seems to be quoting facts.

Sarah Hanson-Young: There are a few misdemeanours in there. And the issue here is that people are being dumped indefinitely on Nauru and in PNG. They aren’t- it’s irrelevant as to whether they’ve been assessed as refugees or not, the Government has no plan for what to do with them. And so whether these children who are already here, most of them have been found to be refugees, they’ve been processed, the problem is sending them back to Nauru where they have been abused, where they’ve suffered torture and trauma already.

Matthew Abraham: Okay.

Sarah Hanson-Young: And that continues the abuse. And I think many Australians are just shaking their head today and wondering how can Malcolm Turnbull be overseeing this? I thought he was meant to be a Prime Minister with some heart and some empathy, and if he oversees this he won’t be.

Matthew Abraham: Alright, well at quarter to nine- at quarter to nine.

Simon Birmingham: [Interrupts] I think if I can just quickly say it’s critical in this debate that we understand that nobody loves the solution we’re at, but equally the problem we had before was of course lots of boats coming, some of them drowning in the ocean, and of course lives lost as a result of that… 

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Interrupts] We’ve got to come up with a better way than this Simon.

Simon Birmingham: And I can remember very emotional debates, including you being very emotional Sarah about children drowning in the seas as a result of boats coming. The boats are not coming anymore…

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Interrupts] So let’s give people a safer option…

Simon Birmingham: The boats are not coming anymore, we are giving people safer options, we are filling our refugee intake by taking people from the most needy circumstances around the world…

Sarah Hanson-Young: [Interrupts, indistinct] They’re harming themselves in detention.

Simon Birmingham: … including 12,000 additional Syrians. So we are absolutely doing that. 

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over, indistinct] it’s not good when you just talk over the top… [indistinct] not talk over the top of… that’s fair enough, okay. So I think the battle lines are clearly drawn on this. Not so clearly drawn are the battle lines on the GST. Kate Ellis, you’re the Minister for Education, you promised effectively full-on Gonski education. You say you can fund it without the GST; Jay Weatherill says you can’t. Who’s right here?

Kate Ellis: Well, first I don’t believe that that is an accurate portrayal of Jay’s position. As he mentioned on ABC’s own 7:30 program the other night he recognises …

Matthew Abraham: [Interrupts] Well okay, how about I read back to you what he said on this program. He said of your education reforms: we haven’t seen any coherent or sustainable way in which that’s going to be funded.

Kate Ellis: Yes, and more recently than that- I mean if we want to have a factual discussion let’s talk about what people have actually said. More recently than that, the South Australian Premier has said that he welcomes our education policy, and he sees that it is fully costed and fully funded. So let’s just be clear about that.

Matthew Abraham: Oh, he’s now saying he doesn’t need the GST? Are you saying that Jay Weatherill’s changed his position now, he does not believe that you need a GST to fund Labor’s education reforms?

Kate Ellis: No, what the South Australian Premier is saying …

Matthew Abraham:  I haven’t heard him say that.

Kate Ellis: … and what premiers all around Australia are saying, is that the $80 billion cuts to schools and hospitals that the Turnbull Government is enforcing upon the states is providing a major challenge for them to deliver services into the future. We don’t disagree with that. We have outlined our education policy and how it would be funded, and that has been accepted by people across the board, including by the South Australian Premier, but he continues to say …

Matthew Abraham: Well …

David Bevan: [Interrupts] But Kate Ellis, you can’t have it both ways. Jay Weatherill can’t continue to ask for a GST to fund education and say that he has bought Bill Shorten’s plan on this. You can’t have it both ways.

Kate Ellis: No, and what the Premier has continued to say is that they still have a big hole when it comes to the money that the Turnbull Government is ripping out of hospitals, and that they need a solution to that. Now we are yet to …

Matthew Abraham: And education.

Kate Ellis: … outline all of our [indistinct] policies. We have announced.

David Bevan: [Interrupts] Well do you agree- I can ask you this question, Kate Ellis, do you agree with Jay Weatherill that there’s still a big hole that needs to be filled, and Bill Shorten hasn’t filled that hole.

Kate Ellis: No, I agree that we have big- Government is cutting $30 billion from our schools, and that last week I was very proud to announce that Labor will reverse those cuts and that we have a fully funded, independently costed plan on how we will deliver that money. I certainly also stand by the fact that the Turnbull Government is also ripping money out of the guts of our hospitals, and that we will have more to say on health policy moving forward.

But where I do absolutely disagree with the Premier, and I’m happy to put this on the record, is that Federal Labor will oppose any increase to the GST, which would hike up the cost of everything and would hit poor and middle income families. We do not believe that that is the solution going forward, and we will continue to maintain that position.

Matthew Abraham: Kate Ellis, thank you.

Kate Ellis: Thank you.

Matthew Abraham: She’s a Federal Labor MP for Adelaide. Sarah Hanson-Young, Greens Senator for South Australia, and Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia. 

Senator Birmingham’s media contact:                   James Murphy 0478 333 974
                                                                                    Nick Creevey 0447 644 957
Department Media:                                                   media@education.gov.au