National Security

Transcript | ABC RN Breakfast | 08 May 2024

May 8, 2024

Wednesday 08 May 2024
Interview on ABC RN Breakfast
Subjects: Coalition’s recommendations to fix Labor’s rushed migration bill, PLAAF-ADF incident in the Yellow Sea

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The government's latest bill could force immigrants into detention if they don't comply with federal authorities to be deported back to their home country. It's just been reviewed by a Senate committee and there are all sorts of views about it. The Coalition has expressed concerns, and James Paterson is the Shadow Home Affairs Minister, welcome.

JAMES PATERSON: Thank you, Patricia.

KARVELAS: So you've said you're supportive of the intent of the bill. So what are the changes that you're demanding?

PATERSON: Well, first of all, Patricia, we recognise there's a public policy problem here when there are people who are found not to be genuine refugees, who refused to cooperate with their own removal, and that means they can languish in Australia for many years longer than they should. The government does need powers to deal with that. But I guess we've got two buckets of concern. One is the potential unintended consequences of this bill, and particularly that it could cause people to get on boats again. And the department itself acknowledged that in their submission to the inquiry, where they said elements of the bill could be used by people smugglers to encourage people to make that journey. We're really concerned about that. The second thing is this bill does grant extraordinary powers to the Minister for Immigration, and actually has very little checks and balances or oversight or restraints on those powers. And while sometimes powers like that can be justified by circumstances, we think it requires robust oversight and control to make sure that it's not misused.

KARVELAS: If your changes are not adopted by the government, will you vote this bill down?

PATERSON: We're trying to be constructive here, Patricia. We're trying to do the work that the government refused to do. Let's remember that they tried to ram this through the Parliament in 72 hours and tried to prevent this inquiry occurring. But as a result of the inquiry, we now know of the 118 submitters to the inquiry, 117 opposed the bill. But government senators made no effort to kind of reckon with that evidence and to propose amendments. In good faith we proposed amendments which we think improve the bill. The ball is in the government's court. We'll wait and see what they have to say before we determine our final position.

KARVELAS: Okay, it feels like Upside-Down world, if I can be frank in my own observation, you actually want the government to soften this bill?

PATERSON: Well, we think strong powers are necessary to protect the integrity of Australia's immigration system, but we think that there should be robust and appropriate oversight of those strong powers. I think that's actually consistent with what the role of the Parliament is, and particularly what the role of the Senate is. And it's not just this committee that's found that, but the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is chaired by a Labor MP, made similar recommendations. A Senate committee that looks at the scrutiny of bills and made similar recommendations. We're doing what the government has refused to do, which is yes, there's a problem here, but let's not go overboard and have an unfortunate effect on diaspora community who are very distressed by this bill.

KARVELAS: This Friday, the High Court will reveal its decision on an Iranian man who has refused to cooperate with his removal. This bill responds in part to that case. Is the Coalition at fault if another cohort of people is released because this bill wasn't in place?

PATERSON: Well, the government is very confident about its position in that case. And they also refused to say, despite being repeatedly asked in the Senate inquiry, how this bill would be used to deal with that cohort. The good news is that if the Commonwealth is unsuccessful on Friday, the Parliament is sitting on Tuesday and this bill could be passed very quickly, if it can be used in some way to deal with this cohort. So we think any kind of issues that arise from that case can be ameliorated by the Parliament in a timely way.

KARVELAS: So you've kind of alluded to this, but just getting to the detail, the Coalition report has highlighted the need to consider any impact on diaspora communities in declaring countries, that anyone's removed from as of concern. How can you change the law to ensure that they don't get caught up, but at the same time have the tough effect that you say you support.

PATERSON: So for your listeners benefit, this is a power that the Immigration Minister currently would have under the law, with no restrictions and no controls at all, to declare an entire nation of people unable to apply for a visa to Australia with a very limited area of exemptions. So that means no tourist visas, no student visas, no business visas, no family visas unless you fit into these narrow exemption categories. We've suggested some of those exemption categories should be extended. So it's not just immediate family members, but also siblings and grandparents and others to recognise the kinship nature of some diaspora communities and how important that is to them. We've also said that the Immigration Minister should have to follow a process before making those decisions, should have criteria that he has to consider, that the Parliament should have the opportunity to scrutinise that decision, that there should be a time limit on a ban from these countries, and that there should be an independent statutory review. Now, I think they're

all very reasonable things, which still allows the government to protect the integrity of our immigration system, but doesn't leave this kind of unfettered power in the hands of a single Minister.

KARVELAS: Just changing the topic. China says Australian aircraft flew close to China's airspace and endangered China's maritime security, and that the Chinese aircraft that sent flares were measures to warn and alert the Australian side. So they've basically contested the Australian view. What's your response to that?

PATERSON: Well, that's not consistent with our understanding of what happened. Our understanding is that HMAS Hobart was in international waters in the Yellow Sea, operating on a United Nations sanctioned mission, to interdict traffic to and from North Korea in violation of sanctions. That's an entirely appropriate thing for the Australian Navy to be doing. Indeed we do that with other partners in the region. It was not only not in China's territorial waters, it wasn't even in China's exclusive economic zone. And so it appears to be way out of the bounds behaviour from the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force.

KARVELAS: Okay. And what do you want the government to do now?

PATERSON: Well, we think the government needs to be extremely robust here because this is now a pattern of behaviour. And despite the talk of a stabilising relationship, the Chinese military is taking these dangerous actions which put the lives of Australian personnel at risk. We saw the sonar incident. We saw this incident. A few years ago there was an incident where chaff was released into the flight path of an Australian Air Force jet. We saw a lasing incident in Arafura Sea, in our own region. These are incredibly dangerous things. And the government's been describing them as unprofessional, I don't think unprofessional cuts it. This is far worse than unprofessional because it's done with malign intent. It's done with intent to intimidate. It's done with intent to coerce and we shouldn't tolerate that. We want the Prime Minister to raise this at the highest levels, to use what he claims to be a good relationship with Xi Jinping, to make representations on behalf of our country and our service personnel.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for your time this morning.

PATERSON: Thank you.


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