National Security

Transcript | ABC 7.30 | 27 March 2024

March 27, 2024

Wednesday 27 March 2024
Interview on ABC 7.30
Subjects: Government’s rushed migration bill

SARAH FERGUSON: James Paterson is the Shadow Home Affairs Minister, Senator Paterson, welcome to 7.30.

JAMES PATERSON: Thank you for having me.

FERGUSON: Did you block this legislation for the purely political reason of keeping the government on the hook on this issue?

PATERSON: Absolutely not Sarah. Actually, I would have much rather have voted for the legislation today, and I was hoping the specially convened Senate hearing last night with the Department of Home Affairs would have provided some basic answers to the questions that we had about who this scheme was targeted at, how it would work, and what the implications of it were. But not just Coalition senators, but crossbench and minor parties senators walked out of that hearing none the wiser about this very urgent, so-called urgent scheme.

FERGUSON: What's the what's the specific piece of information that you didn't get that meant that you couldn't support the legislation that you say that you are in favour of?

PATERSON: Well, to take a brief step back, that the normal course of events in Parliament is we don't rush legislation through in 36 hours, and we should only do so if there are exceptional circumstances that justify it. And so the burden is on the government to demonstrate what that urgency is or what those exceptional circumstances are. And the first question I asked last night was, why is this legislation urgent? And I didn't get an answer to that question. No Senator got an answer to that question.

FERGUSON: So you're saying no just on the principle, on the basis that they are rushing it, not because there is anything missing for you in the legislation as it exists?

PATERSON: Well, because we haven't had a lot of time to consider it, and because we haven't had time to get advice from experts and stakeholders, we just don't know. But on the surface, there are a couple of issues. First of all, these are pretty extreme powers. So just to take one of those powers, the Minister for Immigration, after consulting the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, can unilaterally declare that an entire nation of people cannot apply for visas to come to Australia unless they fit into a very small category of exceptions. So that means no tourist visas, no student visas, no skill visas.

FERGUSON: A situation that exist in the US and in the UK.

PATERSON: But never in Australia. We have never had this in Australia. And a power like that in the hands of a minister, not the parliament or the courts, I think deserves some parliamentary scrutiny. That's just one example. We're also concerned, as a result of that, that an unintended consequence of this could be people are more likely to get on boats to come to Australia if they have no other means of getting here.

FERGUSON: Just explain that. Because if you're thinking about taking a boat passage to Australia, the fact that this new legislation that's going to see you being deported, isn't that actually a stronger disincentive?

PATERSON: No, because the problem is that a lot of people who try to claim asylum or permanent residency here in Australia, they come here on another visa and they fly here by plane. If you ban them from doing that there is no way for them to get to Australia but via boat, and we're concerned that this will be a pull factor to get people coming on boats again.

FERGUSON: And yet you are prepared to vote for this legislation once you've had some proper scrutiny?

PATERSON: Well, we want to have good answers to those questions before we agree to vote for the legislation.

FERGUSON: So what would change your view in regards to, naming those countries, using those countries and perhaps as leverage that visas won't be issued if they continue to refuse to take their citizens back?

PATERSON: I think there's a couple of things the government could do to reassure us. The first is that it could restore Operation Sovereign Borders to what it was under the previous government, and that would involve reintroducing temporary protection visas, so that people who did somehow find their way to Australia and were able to make an asylum claim would know that they could never permanently settle in Australia because they would only get a temporary protection visa. But this government abolished that and undermined that deterrent. They could also restore the on sea surveillance days and the aerial surveillance days which have crashed under this government.

FERGUSON: So these are broader topics. But in relation to this legislation, because you have indicated, I think your colleague indicated that you would be prepared to come back, to an emergency sitting of Parliament to vote for it. So in terms of what it will actually take, what the threshold is for you, it's not all of those things. What is it within this specific legislation? That is the threshold issue or the key threshold issues for you.

PATERSON: They're all fair questions Sarah, but difficult ones to answer without proper time to scrutinise legislation. I want to see what comes out of the inquiry, and I want to get answers to those questions. How many people is this going to actually apply to? In what cohorts are they? How many of those are in detention, how many of them committed crimes? Are any of them in the community? Which countries are they from? How does the government intend to apply this legislation? What is the interaction with the ASF17 case coming up in the High Court? None of those questions are answered. So until I have the answers, I can't give you a good answer.

FERGUSON: Just on this last night, I think the Home Affairs Department, in the brief inquiry that you ran last night, and I accept that it was it was very brief that you brought on last night. They said that this is a significant gap in the immigration system that they have found. Given that your side of politics in government either didn't see it, didn't know that it was there or didn't do anything to fix it. Well, isn't it in the national interest now to fix that gap?

PATERSON: Well, the government says that they've suddenly discovered this gap in the legislation. It's been there for years, if it is there and I don't accept -

FERGUSON: Your own time in office.

PATERSON: Absolutely. I don't contest that. But why then is it so urgent if it's a gap that's been in the legislation for years, which they've only just identified? They haven't linked those two things together. What we have said this is a legitimate public policy problem. We have people who've been found not to be refugees, who we can't send back by virtue of them failing to cooperate. That's a problem. We need to fix that. We're open to working with the government on that, but not with a blank cheque without proper scrutiny.

FERGUSON: I suppose they did say there was a link in so far as when that case, which you just referred to of an Iranian man who's before the High Court at the moment that this legislation were to be passed, would give them a tool, a means of dealing with his case, in the case of other similar situations, if people are going to be released as a result.

PATERSON: Yes. Well, it was in response to a question I asked that that admission was made, and it was the fifth or sixth time that we asked that question, because the Department was so anxious not to draw any link at all. And I agree, it is a potential tool to help manage this issue. But the Commonwealth has also said they're confident that they'll prevail in the case. And if they don't, we have said we're prepared to bring the Parliament back for an emergency sitting to pass these laws. But again, they would have to demonstrate that they intend to use these laws. The last urgent law that we passed in this space before Christmas was a preventive detention regime. It's now been four months. How many applications is the government made under that scheme? Zero. So we're just not going to take it on trust that it's urgent if the government's not actually going to use it.

FERGUSON: Let me just ask you about that specific case. This is the case known as ASF17, an Iranian man who refuses to cooperate with the immigration system, although he's asked to be deported. I understand he says he'd be persecuted if he were returned to Iran. Do you think that returning that man to Iran would be the right course of action?

PATERSON: Well, I haven't been briefed on the full circumstances of his case. I've read what's in the public domain about it, which is not as much as the ministers have the benefit of. And the ministers in the government said this person should be deported and they

should be deported back to Iran. So I'm not going to second guess that without the benefit of the information that they have. I understand why he may not want to return to Iran.

FERGUSON: Would you support the return of an Iranian man who says that he's bisexual? Back to Iran, knowing all that you do about the current regime in Tehran?

PATERSON: I understand why there are many Iranians in Australia who don't want to go back to Iran. I absolutely respect and understand that. But we also have a system of law in this country to determine whether someone meets the legal test for a well-founded fear of persecution, and is therefore a refugee and can be granted asylum. And if you don't meet that legal test, then you're not entitled to that protection. So if his lawyers in his case hasn't been able to be prove to that standard, it's not for me without the benefit of the full information to second guess that.

FERGUSON: Let me put the question in a different way. Is it your position that there are countries to which you simply can't send people back to?

PATERSON: There are some circumstances where you can't send people back. So stateless people is an obvious example, they can't be sent back. There are some countries where there is a well-founded fear of persecution. They can't be sent back there.

FERGUSON: That's not the case in Iran?

PATERSON: Well, it's not for me to say about this person's circumstances. Yes, there are some people who definitely can't go back to Iran. If you're an activist for the rights of women in Iran, you're campaigning against the compulsory wearing the hijab in public - absolutely, that would be a well-founded fear of persecution. We can't send you back. Whether this person meets that test, I can't say for sure.

FERGUSON: On a separate matter, there's been a leak suggesting that Minister Clare O'Neil left the head of her department in tears. Do you have any evidence to support that claim, and the number of questions that were asked today in the parliament?

PATERSON: Well, there's been a report in the media on Sky News today that cited that cited four sources from within the government for that story.

FERGUSON: Do you know any of those sources?

PATERSON: Well, I wasn't my story. I didn't bring it forward. We asked the question based on a story that was in the media. I think that's a reasonable way to approach it. We will have the opportunity before the Senate tonight. There's another Senate estimates hearing with the Home Affairs Department to test some of those propositions.

FERGUSON: But as far as you're concerned and of your own sources in the department. Has anybody been able to corroborate that allegation?

PATERSON: Well, I wasn't in the room. I'm not in a position to either corroborate or refute that story. Only the minister is. And I note when asked seven times in question time today, on not one occasion did she rule it out. On not one occasion, did she say that did not happen, that it was false.

FERGUSON: James Paterson, thank you very much.


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