Ross Greenwood speaks to Former Liberal MP and immigration minister Philip Ruddock who says the government historic defeat in the House of Reps after an amended bill on the medical transfer of asylum seekers passed 75-74 will start the boats up again.
Ross Greenwood: As we go to air tonight, Australia, If it’s not in a constitutional crisis, it could be very close to one of those. In fact, the Prime Minister is now meeting after an historic loss on the floor of the House of Representatives earlier today. The first since 1929 which led to a government basically quitting the following day. Let’s go to our press conference with the Prime Minister right now.
Scott Morrison: The Labor Party have already said that if they were elected, that they will return to the policy of providing permanent visas that lead to citizenship for people who arrive or enter Australia illegally. That is the first tranche of the Border Protection Framework that we put in place in 2013. They have said that they will abolish that and they will restore providing permanent visas to people who illegally enter Australia.
Tonight, and I should say, last year, the Labor party voted on that occasion in the Senate without even taking any advice when it came to the national security implications to abolish offshore processing as we know it. This is the second tranche of the Border Protection Regime that we’ve put in place. Now, the Labor Party may want to delude themselves that what they have done tonight does not do that. That only further demonstrates their lack of understanding about these issues.
The Labor party have shown Australia tonight that they cannot be trusted on the second of those core planks of the Border Protection Framework that have been so successful in stopping the deaths, getting the children off Nauru, getting children out of detention, ensuring that we could restore certainty and stability to our refugee and humanitarian intake. When Bill Shorten tells you and the Labor Party tells you, that they can be trusted to turn back boats where it’s safe to do so, I think the Australian People got their answer tonight. He can’t be trusted to do that either.
Ross Greenwood: Okay, there is the media conference from the Prime Minister. It’s ongoing from Scott Morrison. We’ll bring you any other important parts of that, but I should tell you that Bill Shorten tweeting just a short time ago, that the legislation Labor passed in the House of Representatives ensures that people in Australians’ care, can get urgent medical treatment when they need it. The Australian people understand their nation can be strong on borders and still treat people humanely. We can preserve our national security and still look after people to whom we owe a duty of care. The legislation gets the balance right.
In the meantime, Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister says, “People smugglers and their customers are the only winners from Labor’s weakening of our border protection policies because ample medical treatment offshore and onshore was already available. The Labor, it’s get on a boat, get to Nauru, get sick and get to Australia.” Says Tony Abbott. This is a genuine test for Bill Shorten, there is no doubt, yet that legislation has passed.
Now, I should make an observation, this is also a constitutional issue as raised by Anne Twomey who is a constitutional expert from Sydney University. Because, effectively, the government turned this into a money bill, because money would have to be paid to a medical panel, who would make decisions about which refugees were sick enough to come to Australia. It then became an issue of the validity of the government to remain in office. Here’s just a little of what Anne Twomey had to say.
Anne Twomey: Where we get to a tricky point, however, is if the government is now asserting that this is a money bill, then if the bill actually gets passed against the wishes of the government, that would be an indication that the government has lost control over the finances of the country. Now, that’s critical in terms of confidence and loss of government.
Ross Greenwood: Indeed, they have lost that vote. The question now is constitutionally whether they have the right to stand. I will say, “Yes, there’s no doubt.” Bill Shorten, in order to try and make certain that this went through, not as a money bill, says the medical panel would receive no remuneration. That’s a position agreed with the cross-bench to avoid constitutional concerns of this being a money bill.
I wonder whether that will wash or not. Well, one man who will have a view, no doubt, but also, some knowledge of this area is a former immigration minister and Attorney General to Australia, former father of the House of Representatives and of our parliament. The second longest-standing MP in Australia’s history, the man is Philip Ruddock who is on the line right now. Many thanks for your time, Philip.
Interview with: Philip Ruddock, Former, Immigration Minister
Philip Ruddock: Pleasure, Ross.
Ross Greenwood: Given your previous positions, the position tonight that there has been the very first vote against the government piece of legislation in the House of Representatives. In 1929 that has been successful, Stanley Bruce went to the Governor General and next day to call a federal election. Is that the now the position that Scott Morrison is in?
Philip Ruddock: Well, I’m not going to offer any advice in relation to those matters. The matter is for the Prime Minister and his colleagues to determine, but I would assert this. I am extraordinarily disappointed at what is happening in relation to refugees. Can I just say, I spend an enormous amount of time, still, in my retirement focused on refugees. I go to refugee camps around the world. The last one I went to was Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, where there are almost a million people out there.
The people that concern me are those that the refugee advocates here seem to forget, the people who are in immediate risk and danger in places that are so remote from Australia, that we don’t think about them, we don’t care about them. There are 22 million refugees. It’s a view is that those that are offshore who have money to pay people smugglers and free enough to travel should have our priority. Where do the other 22 and a half million sit? Are we going to take them all?
My view is we should be assisting those who need help most. I get very disappointed when you’ve got advocates who seem to be only interested in those who have sought to bypass other places where they’ve been safe and secure, and come here.
Ross Greenwood: Is Tony Abbott correct to say that the Labor policy is effectively, “Get on a boat, get to Nauru, get sick and then get to Australia.”?
Philip Ruddock: Look, it is absolutely true that when we left office we had essentially mothballed [sic] Nauru and Manus Island. That had happened in 2007 when the Howard government lost office and what we had that was no boat arrivals. When Labor came into office, we then had in a very short period of time, as they unwound the measures that we had put in place, 70,000 people come. We still have not been able to deal with the caseload that was introduced by the Labor Party when they unwound the measures that had been put in place under the Howard government.
Ross Greenwood: That being the case, Philip Ruddick, is the vote on the floor of the House of Representatives today a sign to people smugglers and those people seeking to come here as asylum-seekers on those boats. Is it a sign to them that they should start to make their way to Australia because it’s highly likely that they’ll end up in Nauru or on Manus Island and as a result by virtue of the medical panel, end up in Australia?
Philip Ruddock: You put yourself in their situation. You’re a people smuggler. What you want to do is to make money for yourself by finding people who have money, and as I said, are free enough to travel and say, “I can get you to Australia and if you get to Australia the way in which the system works is that you’ll inevitably able to make an asylum claim. In all likelihood, one that will be successful.”
Do you think they haven’t got something to sell? Of course, they have. One of the points that Scott Morrison was making a moment ago about temporary protection visas. One of the reasons for temporary protection visas is that the United Nations convention which deals with refugees makes it very clear that if somebody is within your jurisdiction an obligation not to return them to a situation of persecution.
The refugee convention doesn’t say you have to give them permanent residence. Temporary protection visas ensure that you would always be in a position to inquire whether it was safe for people to be able to return home. If it was, you would be able to return them. Unwinding that measure to give them permanent residency does remove one of the disincentives to people seeking to come by boat.
Ross Greenwood: Do you think now that this issue of arrivals by boat, asylum-seekers as it were, becomes a significant election issue. It’s quite clear that the Morrison government is well behind in the polls. That Bill Shorten has almost got a clear run into the lodge at the next election. We do know that this isn’t a motive issue. Do you believe it’s sufficient to make people change their view about Labor and change their allegiance, in fact, to the government?
Philip Ruddock: Let me just say, I don’t make my judgments in relation to those things in terms of where the political advantage may or may not be. I look at it from a point of view of principle. In my view, Australia is a generous country that wants to help those who need help most and I strongly defend Australia fulfilling that role. Do you know, with the twenty-two and a half million people that I’ve mentioned, if you look at the countries that actually receive people as refugees, you take about 150,000 people in total during the course of a year.
The question always would be, who do you take? There are plenty of people you can take. 22 and a half million. I think you should always be protecting the places to help those who need it most. I think if you put that argument to the Australian people they would say, “We want a government in place that will protect our system to ensure that we can help those people who are in greatest need.”
Ross Greenwood: What you’re telling me if that those people who might make their way to Indonesia and then, some would argue, on say, the Labor side, or some refugee advocates might argue that it shows their desperation to throw themselves on boat. Given the fact, of course, that the past time that we spoke about the 70,000 that tried to come and some 12,000 people perished in the seas on the way to Australia, which clearly is reprehensible. It should never been allowed to happen under those policies.
Philip Ruddock: No, Ross. Australia is one of the most desirable destinations if you are going to be resettled as a refugee, and particularly if it’s going to be permanent, to come to. If you’ve seen the people who’ve been going to the United States who are saying, “We’re not altogether happy that we’ve been sent to the United States. We think we’d rather be in Australia because we get access to benefits, welfare. If we go to the United States we have to work.” That seems to be the argument, that Australia is a very generous host to people who are refugees.
We provide them with accommodation. We provide them with work place support. We provide them with health benefits and programs to assist them. It is the case that Australia to most people is far more attractive than when you’re in Indonesia, for instance, or Malaysia or many of other countries they might travel through, but they say, “We’d rather be in Australia than where we are elsewhere where we in fact are safe”. In my view, if they’re safe, that’s where they ought to stay.
Ross Greenwood: Phillip Ruddock is our former liberal MP, also former immigration minister and attorney general, second longest serving MP in our House of Representatives. Glad to have you on the program this evening, Phillip.
Philip Ruddock: Thank you, Ross, and I’ll speak to you again.
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