Community Safety

Transcript | ABC RN Drive | 03 June 2024

June 3, 2024

Monday 03 June 2024
Interview on ABC RN Drive
Subjects: Andrew Giles imaginary drone program, government finally fixing Direction 99, China relationship

ANDY PARK: Joining me now is Liberal Senator James Paterson, the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs. Welcome to you, Senator. Good to be with you. What do you make of all this confusion over whether the government was or wasn't using drones to monitor released detainees?

JAMES PATERSON: It leaves a lot to be desired. And frankly, this is a government that just has no idea when it comes to community safety and national security. The Minister's statement, which he made twice in the Sky News interview, was wrong on Thursday, but his office told journalists on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday that his statement was true. And as you point out, the Agriculture Minister, Murray Watt, presumably after having been briefed by the Prime Minister's media unit, went on Insiders on Sunday and repeated a different version of the claim, which is also not true. I mean, it's a truly bizarre thing to invent a fictitious secret drone surveillance program operating in Australia, and it just shows this government has no idea.

PARK: Invent or accidentally slip up. I mean, what do you think the Minister was trying to do there?

PATERSON: Well, yet again, the Minister is trying to blame his department whenever something goes wrong. It's never his fault. But he's the one who disclosed this. His department didn't disclose this. His department didn't make this up and present it in Senate estimates when I asked him questions about it. Nor did Border Force. It's him who disclosed this. And it seemed odd from the get go, because this is not the sort of thing we do in Australia - have a secret drone surveillance program.

PARK: It's not something you'd support, Senator?

PATERSON: Well, there's no evidence that it would be helpful or necessary. Actually, what the government should do is just use the powers that the Parliament has given them. They have given them the power to require that all of these detainees wear ankle bracelets. The reason why this came out about drones is the minister was trying to defend the fact that he's not doing that. We know there's at least two murderers and at least 26 sex offenders from this cohort who've been released without ankle bracelets, even though the parliament provides for it. Or they could also use the other power the parliament's given them to preventatively detain someone who poses a risk to the community. And in the six months since that law was rushed through before Christmas, they haven't used it even on one occasion.

PARK: This drones clarification is just the latest issue affecting the immigration portfolio. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal's interpretation of Andrew Giles's ministerial direction 99, had resulted in convicted criminals being allowed to stay in Australia. Do you welcome the government's plans to use this new ministerial direction?

PATERSON: It is good that the government is fixing up the mess which they themselves have created by issuing Direction 99 in the first place. There was no need to issue this direction other than to appease Jacinda Ardern and the Prime Minister showed real weakness in doing that. But now having committed this error, caused these problems at the AAT, I guess at least it's good that they've admitted that they've got it wrong. But only after days of trying to again, blame other people for it. It was the Home Affairs Department's fault. It was the AAT's fault. Well, now they have conceded that in fact, it was their fault all along and it was their Direction 99 that's the problem.

PARK: But hang on, Andrew Giles makes the point that under the previous Liberal government, Peter Dutton, as Minister for Home Affairs, gave visas back to many people, including 102 sex offenders and 64 child sex offenders. I mean, the coalition hardly has clean hands on this issue either, does it?

PATERSON: Well, Peter Dutton has deported more people than any Minister for Immigration or Home Affairs Minister in history since federation. I don't think we can sustain any argument that he's somehow soft on foreign criminals, as the government is trying to do. I think what is clear here is that this government changed the direction from what it used to be. They elevated ties to the Australian community to become a primary consideration, and they even inserted new language in that consideration that required the AAT to consider if someone had been here since their formative years, then considerable weight should be given to that regardless of their level of offending. And that's exactly how you see someone who, for example, offended against 26 women and girls has been allowed to stay when they shouldn't be.

PARK: There does seem to be issues with both using the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and ministerial discretion as a basis for making these decisions as to who and when someone should be deported. Law experts have called for judges to be given this discretion. Would that make sense?

PATERSON: Well judges do have a role in this process. If a minister makes a decision, it is only a judge who can overturn the decision. There is judicial review and that sometimes can happen. Although the Prime Minister wrongly stated on Friday that it was the AAT that overturned minister’s decisions. Again, this is wrong. The AAT does not have the power to overturn minister’s decisions.

PARK: It's 5:21 pm. Liberal Senator James Paterson is the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs. We're talking about the government's handling of released immigration detainees. On another topic, Senator, the Chinese Premier, Li Chang, is set to visit Australia in the coming weeks. Do you welcome the Premier's visit?

PATERSON: We're very supportive of dialogue happening between Australia and China. We think it was unfortunate and counterproductive that when we were in government for a period, the Chinese government refused to engage in that dialogue. We're supportive of that. But it is important when you have the opportunity of dialogue to use it to secure Australia's national interest and to stand up for Australia. And unfortunately, under this government they have missed a lot of opportunities to do that. In particular, when the Prime Minister met President Xi in San Francisco just days after the HMAS Toowoomba Navy divers were hit by a sonar from a Chinese vessel, he failed to raise that when he had that opportunity, again that shows weak leadership from him.

PARK: But you acknowledge that mending relations between Australia and China is in a better place than when you were in government?

PATERSON: Well, the Chinese government deliberately withdrew diplomatic engagement with the previous government because the previous government stood up to it on issues like foreign interference in our democracy, on malign activity in the South China Sea, and very serious domestic human rights abuses in China. I think we in Australia need to be very careful not to reward them for that tactic by overplaying their hand here. It's good that that dialogue has resumed, but the Chinese government could withdraw it at any time in the future. And I don't think if they do so that we should portray that is a failure of Australia's. That would be a failure of the Chinese government.

PARK: So what do you think Prime Minister Anthony Albanese should be doing in terms of raising issues with the Premier when he's here?

PATERSON: Well, first and foremost, he has to raise issues like the incident with the HMAS Toowoomba, but also the more recent incident with HMAS Hobart, which occurred in international waters in the Yellow Sea on a UN sanctioned peacekeeping mission, which resulted in flares being dropped in the path of an Australian Navy helicopter - an extremely dangerous thing to do. The Prime Minister must raise that with the Premier when he's here. That is the opportunity to robustly defend Australia and stand up for our country.

PARK: Liberal Senator James Paterson, thanks for your time. Good afternoon to you.

PATERSON: Thank you.


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