National Security

Transcript | Sky News News Day | 01 March 2024

March 1, 2024

Friday 01 March 2024
Interview on Sky News News Day
Subjects: Poltician turned spy, NZYQ cohort reoffending

KEIRAN GILBERT: On this I spoke to the shadow Home Affairs Minister, James Paterson.

JAMES PATERSON: Kieran, I strongly support, and the Coalition strongly supports, as Peter Dutton has said this morning, what Mike Burgess did. It was very important that he declassify this case and he share it with the public because, frankly, there has been some complacency and naivete about the seriousness of foreign interference and espionage in this country. And I think that's been demonstrated by the reaction, because Mike Burgess has been saying for three years that foreign interference and espionage is our principal security concern. But when he said that a politician has betrayed our country, people are shocked that this could happen. Well, that's exactly what that means. They have been people who betrayed our country. It's not just one person who has betrayed our country. A number of people have betrayed our country. That's what happens in in these sorts of environments. It's also my very strong view that not me, because it's not my role, nor Mike Burgess, should do that in a public forum because that would initiate defamation proceedings. And in order to defend yourself, you'd have to make a truth argument, which would require you to reveal classified sources and methods. And understandably, our intelligence agencies don't want to do that. If this person is to be named, the only way that that can happen and should happen is that the government should use the protection of parliamentary privilege to go in and make that disclosure. There's no other safe way for this to happen, and that's up to the government to decide whether it should happen.

GILBERT: But I guess the question is why? If this is the claim that's made against this individual, a former politician, why haven't charges been laid?

PATERSON: There's a very good reason for that, unfortunately. I would love nothing more than for this person to face the legal consequences for their actions and for everyone else in that category to also face the legal consequences for their actions. But the truth is Kieran there was a period in our country from about 2015 up to 2018 where a lot of this conduct occurred that wasn't adequately captured in the law. There were a lot of case studies like this one that led the government at the time to legislate the espionage and foreign interference legislation that now would capture this conduct. And if anyone repeated that behaviour today, they could be prosecuted, they should be prosecuted, and I would strongly support them being prosecuted. But this historical conduct that occurred before those reforms is not captured by the law.

GILBERT: Which I think many of our viewers would find surprising that if a politician or any individual, particularly a former politician, was recruited by a foreign intelligence service and commits effectively treason, it's almost an ancient crime, is it not, treason? How would we not have it on the statute in terms of a crime?

PATERSON: You're right Kieran. There were some treason offences on the books prior to 2018. But the problem with those laws is that it set an impossibly high burden to prove a case. And that's why they were virtually never used in 100 years that they were on the books until these reforms were enacted. And nothing would be worse than trying to charge someone with treason and to have that charge fail, because that would be a massive propaganda victory for our adversaries who would have successfully recruited, cultivated a politician, turned them against our country, and then been exonerated by our legal system. So those consequences would be absolutely catastrophic and shouldn't have been contemplated. That's the whole reason why we changed the law. We made it easier to prosecute someone. And we've just had this week of the first ever sentence handed down under those laws for Sunny Duong and his attempt to influence our political system, he was given a two years and nine months sentence - a very serious criminal penalty for this conduct. And it sends a very strong and positive message for anyone else trying to engage in this behaviour. There are now consequences.

GILBERT: Can you see why Joe Hockey and others have reacted so forcefully to Mike Burgess speech that it impugned all former politicians?

PATERSON: On the one hand, I do empathise with Joe Hockey and others who feel this way, because they've got an understandable desire to know who this person is and whether they had any relationship with them, or whether they have any ongoing relationship with them. I do understand that. The one area, though, where I do respectfully disagree with Joe Hockey is that this does not cast aspersions on all former politicians. Far from it. The director general provided enough details in his threat assessment to give us a pretty narrow group of people that this included. He talked about someone who was a retired politician prior to 2018 who was leading overseas delegations, at least one overseas delegation, perhaps others, that included academics to a foreign country that was sponsored by that foreign country. And I think we can all read between the lines and know that was China, that allowed that country an opportunity to cultivate and potentially recruit people on that delegation. Now, through open source methods, you can identify only about 4 or 5 people who are in that category. This is not hundreds of politicians, let alone thousands of former politicians. It's a very small group of people. And so the idea that this has a reflection on everyone is just not true.

GILBERT: Can it be made retrospective? As Peter Dutton suggested he might like to see. Is that something the coalition will pursue?

PATERSON: Look, it certainly is an option. The Parliament does from time to time pass retrospective laws. But generally parliaments are reticent to do so because of the rule of law implications of doing so. There's a principle, in a rule of law democracy, that you should be tried for the law that was on the books at the time, not laws that are created in the future that apply to past conduct. Having said that, if you were ever going to have a retrospective law, one pretty good criteria you could apply to that would be people who betrayed the country, because I think it always was the intention of the Parliament and the government of Australia for people who betrayed their country to face consequences. So we'll have a discussion about that in the Coalition. We will look at that. It's an option open to the government right now though, as well. They can take action if they wish to.

GILBERT: A lot of focus, just finally on Dunkley, the by-election and on national security. The police withdrew charges that had been directed at one of the former immigration detainees. Your colleague Sussan Ley tweeted, off the back of that about the broader immigration detainee issue this morning. Jason Clare, the Labor frontbencher, said, "I don't know really, you must wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and think after 25 years of being a member of Parliament. Is this what I've become? Reducing to putting out tweets like this?" Jason Clare's scathing about Sussan Ley that she should pull that tweet down. What's your reaction?

PATERSON: Well, Sussan Ley and everyone else was relying on the advice of Victoria Police. And not just Victoria Police but also Border Force, both of whom put out public statements confirming that an NZYQ detainee released into the community, had been arrested on these sexual offences and that that was a person who had previously been convicted of sexual offences, which is why they were in immigration detention in the first place. So all we can do as politicians is rely on the advice that we're given to us by police and law enforcement authorities, like Border Force, and it is incumbent on them to get this right. We would like to be able to rely on them. We are not in a position to second guess them and we undertake our best endeavours and our best efforts.

GILBERT: But she hasn't taken the tweet down.

PATERSON: Well, I think she's also making a broader point about this NZYQ cohort. Unfortunately Kieran we do know that there are seven murderers, 37 sex offenders, 72 other violent offenders and a whole range of other people guilty of serious domestic violence and other crimes who were among this cohort of 149 people who have been released into the community. Who the government has not redetaineed using the preventive detention regime that the Parliament gave to them for this exact purpose. And that some of those people have re-offended in the community. The last update we had from about a month ago was at least 18 had re-offended, and at least seven had breached the conditions of their visas. So the point that Sussan Ley is making is still accurate, in that there are people in the community who should not be here, who should not be out in the community, who are offending against Australians because of the inaction of the Albanese government.

GILBERT: Shadow Home Affairs Minister James Paterson, appreciate your time.

PATERSON: Thanks Kieran.


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