ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
TUESDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2022
SUBJECTS: Foreign interference; character test;AusPost bonuses; Afghan refugees.
GREG JENNETT, HOST: Senator Perin Davey, who has been in Estimates, welcome, and Labor MP Catherine King, sitting in the house which had an extra-long Question Time today. Why don’t we start with the matter that we’ve discussed with Richard Marles and others, it’s about their heavy focus on national security. Almost a bombardment of issues being thrown Anthony Albanese’s way. On the matter of deporting, Perin, long term residents who have been convicted of serious offenses, if this was so pressing for the government, why wasn’t legislated sometime in the last two and a half or more years?
PERIN DAVEY: Well, we did bring it forward last year, I believe it was in October last year. We brought it forward, we couldn’t get Labor support. We have continued the discussions and we have also continued to focus on the need for this. We’ve also been dealing with COVID and many, many other issues. But this is important to the people of Australia, they do want to feel secure and they want to know that when people are not citizens, they don’t have, you know, long term rights necessarily, they’re on a visa that can be cancelled at any minute. That where they break the law in a serious manner, they then can get deported.
JENNETT: In all cases, even those which date back a number of years, I’m sure you’d be aware, probably even in your own jurisdiction, of families that are connected to convictions involving people who might have been teenagers at the time, suddenly being yanked back to the UK or typically to New Zealand. I mean, it’s very dislocating stuff. Is it always warranted in your experience? Have you had any representations to your office, for instance, from people saying, look, this is so line ball that it shouldn’t be pursued any longer?
DAVEY: Well, what we’re trying to do, and one of the things we have seen in the past, is that because there has been a sort, if they get sentenced to two years or more, then the deportation can take place. So, people are trying to skirt that, use a loophole and we have had examples where courts have erred on the side of caution and actually given people who deserve a longer penalty, less than two years so they can stay in Australia. Now, is that fair? There are a lot of Australians who think if you have been convicted of, you know, domestic violence or child sexual predation, then you deserve to feel the full weight of the law and if that results in deportation, then so be it.
JENNETT: Well, as Perin Davey says, Catherine King, we are talking about very serious offenses here. If you do the crime, you should suffer all of the consequences that come with that. Is that much agreed, even if you can’t agree to the Bill?
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Well, I think the first thing to say is, you know, back in 2014, Labor did work with the government to make changes to the character test. We’ve been trying to work with the last three different immigration ministers on finding out what is exactly the problem. The Immigration Minister has extraordinary powers, he was able to deport a tennis player, I’m not sure why if you can deport a tennis player, why you can’t deport a rapist or someone with domestic violence issues. He has got very broad powers.
JENNETT: So just on that, I think they draw a legal distinction between essentially a tourist and a permanent visa holder.
KING: Sure. Although he’s still got extraordinary powers in terms of the immigration minister. I think there’s some cynicism frankly, we’ve got five days of the House of Reps sitting, we’ve got two days of the Senate sitting, why the government has decided to bring this on. I think it says, in the words of a former New South Wales Premier, there’s a lot of politics and it’s not necessarily about people at the moment in terms of the way in which this place and this Government is operating.
JENNETT: I get the sense, and Richard Marles wouldn’t say this and you’re not exactly saying it either, Catherine King, that you don’t think this is going to be put to the test or Labor’s going to be having the blow torch applied here?
KING: It’s up to the government as to what it brings on in terms of its legislative program, both in the House and in the dying days of the Senate. We’ve got two days of Senate sitting, we’ve got four days, maybe five in the House of Reps. It’s decided that it wants to bring these issues on and we’ll obviously work with the government when we think it’s got sensible propositions, but…
JENNETT: But not in mean time, not adopting any position, just leave it hanging until…
KING: Well again, I think the Shadow Minister’s reached out to the government on several occasions around this particular Bill. I think it is pretty obvious that the government’s got no interest in actually working with us to define what the problem is. They certainly just want to keep highlighting what they think the problem is, without any particular solution, to put the blowtorch on Labor for political purposes, not to solve any particular problems. I think it’s pretty evident, they can deport a tennis player then they can deport someone for domestic violence.
JENNETT: On a related theme of national security, we had Labor’s Kimberly Kitching naming Chau Chak Wing. We’ve already read to our audience a statement that that businessman has released, Perin, but is this getting uncomfortably close to washing the national security linen in in public here? Would you prefer that the ASIO Director General dealt with all this stuff, cloak and dagger style?
DAVEY: Well, I appreciate the increased transparency that the new ASIO Director General has bought into his role. I note that he made his report last week. He didn’t identify people. He didn’t identify nations. He didn’t identify parties. He just identified the risk. I think that is healthy for our Australian democracy. Senator Kitching obviously felt she had information that she could air, I’m not across what she has said. I appreciate…
JENNETT: Think about the motivation on that though, if she was genuinely outraged at what appears to be, as best as we can piece it together, an attempt that was thwarted by a wealthy Chinese individual, she wants to make that as transparent as possible. Transfer that into your own situation, if you became aware that your National Party had been the target of some sort of infiltration attempt and you were truly outraged by it, would you be prepared to name an individual?
DAVEY: Quite possibly, never say never.
JENNETT: It’s one of the things that comes with the job, isn’t it?
DAVEY: It is very brave for Senator Kitching to have done what she’s done, particularly. you know, when the links are aligned allegedly to Labor. But I also understand, I think it’s very brave, I commend her in what she’s done in coming forward but I also appreciate why the ASIO Director General doesn’t want to get into the naming, because that also brings into question a lot of our monitoring capacities that we shouldn’t be discussing.
JENNETT: Yep, courage of your convictions. Catherine King, it takes a bit of a courage to use your parliamentary privilege in that way. Do you understand that motivation?
KING: I think the first thing I’ll say is on matters of national security, it’s incumbent upon all MPs and senators to respect the ASIO Director General’s advice and the ASIO Director General’s advice is very clear. It is in terms of foreign governments or foreign influence on elections and on elected officials, it’s not just one side of politics that this occurs to, it’s not just one level of government that it occurs to, and I think there is eternal vigilance every one of us needs to put in place in our interactions and dealings, no matter what they are. I think that in terms of naming individuals, it’s not the first time that’s happened, we’ve had him member of the Liberal Party do exactly the same thing.
JENNETT: That was Andrew Hastie.
KING: Yeah. I think, frankly, I’d respect that Director General on this matter. I don’t think it’s helpful, frankly, canvassing these views and matters of national security publicly. I think that we need to respect his position, respect his views and be very, very careful. I also don’t think that national security should be used in the way that we have seen it used in Question Time last weekend and certainly again today as a partisan political issue. I think that is a very slippery slope and I think the Minister for Defence in particular, needs to reflect very carefully on the way in which he is using and has done that, and I think he’s been rebuked pretty publicly by the Director…
JENNETT: By the…
KING: By everyone frankly. I think it’s a very, very dangerous path to go down. I understand why a desperate government might be wanting to do that, but I caution them very, very strongly against the Minister for Defence doing so.
JENNETT: So just to be clear, you can’t imagine a circumstance in which you would use privileged to name someone who you thought had done something untoward towards your party?
KING: I think the first thing is it’s incumbent upon all MPs and senators to be eternally vigilant about these issues and we know that there is increasing evidence of these things occurring and we interact with people all over the place, but I also think these matters are best dealt with by the Director General of ASIO and people should raise those matters directly with him.
JENNETT: Let’s flick it back to domestic concerns and Perin, I think you were on one of the estimates hearings today that heard from AusPost, and not for the first time, we weren’t talking about watches today, but we were talking about retention payments that added up to half a million dollars. Has this got shades of the watch episode coming back? How does this stuff sit with you?
DAVEY: Yeah, look, I mean the one thing. We’ve Australia Post which is an iconic Australian organisation that keeps Australians connected through old fashioned means, but it’s still an absolutely essential service they provide. But they also now provide it through licensed officers and agency agreements with small mum and dad businesses who aren’t getting the same sort of bonuses they’re getting. Some of whom have raised concerns with me, particularly in the regions. They might not even be getting their full suite of fees.
JENNETT: It looks a bit profligate?
DAVEY: To hear that Australia Post executives, that are already on a very generous six figure salary, are potentially getting six figure bonuses, it just doesn’t sit well with the mum and dad small post office agencies in, you know, Cooma and Deniliquin.
JENNETT: It cuts deep, doesn’t it Catherine, as we know in Nationals heartland, but what’s the view from your area? What’s the view towards this sort of largesse?
KING: Well, I think it’s shocking. Across the country we’ve seen rural post offices close, people losing services in my community. In Sebastopol, we’ve been fighting to get a post office reopened, Brown Hill is exactly the same thing and yet we see Australia Post and the Australia Post board, who is frankly stacked with Liberal and National Party people by the government making this decision…
JENNETT: Does it need an intervention? There was last time with the watches.
KING: This is a government business enterprise that needs to understand its obligations as a government business enterprise in providing services to regional and rural Australians and the excessive executive bonuses like this are frankly obscene and they are obscene to regional MPs across the board, it’s not something that sits at all comfortably with us. It’s an important service and If they’re going to do that, then reopen post offices in my community.
JENNETT: All right, well there’s a note of unity between Nationals and Labor. Just finally, a topic that we discussed on our program yesterday about processing Afghan refugee visas, particularly those who had helped the Australian forces in the war effort. Catherine, this struck a chord with you I understand, what’s the situation with those you’re aware of? Is there any processing that’s happening?
KING: Look, there’s a little bit and I do want to give credit to the Immigration Minister on this front. On the Wednesday night of the, you know, terrible scenes we saw as we pulled out of Afghanistan, I had Sadiq and Nadir in my community, one had a wife and a small baby at the gate trying to desperately get out. Nadir had his son and daughters and wife trying to get out as well. I’m very pleased to say that Sadiq’s family are now here and that’s very good to say. Nadir was recently made an Australian citizen, again which I think the minister for, but frankly there is a huge amount of Afghan families who are desperate to get to Australia and the government news to do its job in this regard and get them here to this country. They will make amazing citizens and we really want their families to be reunified here in Australia.
JENNETT: I think there’s an appreciation, just finally Perin, that this is slow and difficult work that has to be done. Are you aware that headway is being made in the process?
DAVEY: It is also important to acknowledge that after the initial 3,000 that we announced in August last year to come from Afghanistan, just last month we announced an extra 15,000 places, specifically for Afghans. 10,000 through the humanitarian program, 5000 through family reunification program, so things are happening, it is not as fast as many would like and that is not, you know, we are always open to reassessing and having a look at what more needs to be done.
JENNETT: Working with a Government like the Taliban, I guess the lines of communication aren’t that open all the time. Thank you Perin Davey, Nationals Senator for joining us on Afternoon Briefing, second time already this year, and Catherine King, we will have to get you back for a repeat appearance before too long.
CATHERINE KING – TRANSCRIPT – TELEVISION INTERVIEW – ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING – TUESDAY, 15 FEBRUARY 2022