STEPHEN JONES MP
SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCIAL SERVICES AND SUPERANNUATION
MEMBER FOR WHITLAM
ABC AFTERNOON BRIEFING
TUESDAY, 15 JUNE 2021
SUBJECTS: Murugappen family; farm workers.
PATRICA KARVELAS, HOST: I want to put that to my political panel this afternoon, Liberal MP Russell Broadbent and Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation Stephen Jones, welcome to both of you.
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good to be with you.
RUSSELL BROADBENT, LIBERAL MP: Thanks PK.
KARVELAS: Russell, I have to start with you. The family of Tamil asylum seekers will be allowed to live in community detention in Perth, but is that good enough? I mean the family doesn't have any clarity on how long they can stay in Australia and the Biloela community wants them back.
BROADBENT: Well, the process, I'm very happy with the ministerial process so far that's put the family back together in residential care in Perth with, they’ll have all facilities, including schooling and health facilities, to support the two little girls. So with what the Minister's done so far there, but it does not allow them to go back to Biloela, you're right PK.
KARVELAS: Is that good enough though? Would you like it to go further?
BROADBENT: Well, that is the law. That's how the situation that we go through in these processes. I'm not sure whether they are still court process is going through at the moment. But if there are, we have to work through those at the same time. It's a tragedy that this little girl became so sick. And we have responded to that. And the nation's responded to a degree, too. The nation has responded and that's important.
KARVELAS: Well, the nation's pushed the government, haven't they, to respond?
BROADBENT: The nation's responded through a system that works. It's responded through people like myself and Trent Zimmerman and other members that spoke today. And that message has gone all the way through the Government, so the system worked. And I like a system that worked on behalf of these people.
KARVELAS: Okay, so you say, you happy with the process so far. That was the language you used “so far.” Would you like it to go further?
BROADBENT: There's always more work to be done Patricia. There's always another family to deal with. There's always another situation in these really complicated areas of immigration. And we have rules and systems and laws. And that's why I have been very disappointed with some politicians who have just used this for their own coverage rather than in the interests of the people involved. I think to a degree that I have been used and that's not right. I like to do what is right.
KARVELAS: Stephen, have they been used?
JONES: I don't know who or what Russell is referring to there. But what I do know is we've got kids and their family who are no longer stuck in a jail-like facility on Christmas Island. That's a good first step. They need to be reunited in the community that wants them and loves them and where they can play a meaningful role. Where they have jobs, where they can contribute. Where they have jobs in a town that's got a labour shortage and they can meaningfully contribute. And I think that would be a good outcome. I think the Minister should use the discretion that he has under the Immigration Act, a discretion designed just for circumstances like this. Where the humanity of the situation overwhelmingly should override, whatever the tough policy is the drives the current law. The humanity of the situation should be given primacy and I hope that’s what follows.
KARVELAS: So Russell Broadbent, would you like to Minister to use that that discretion?
BROADBENT: No, I've been around for a while PK and I know there's thousands of other cases where I've had to say to people, you can't stay. I've had to say to them face-to-face, you’ve run out of options and they’re in exactly the same position as these people have found themselves. And their communities wanted them to stay too, but they had to go back. Some of them have gone back, they've reapplied and now come to this country and received full citizenship. You know, if you do for one, we have laws that you got to do for everybody. Is that what Stephen and the Labor Party is saying? No, it's not. So they're in a dilemma. Do all people in this situation, do they get a benefit to stay when others miss out on a few points and can't come to this country from Greece, from Italy, from America, from, I’ve dealt with all of these, from the UK. All of these people wanting to come here, no different to these people. Children just the same. Suffer the children to come unto me, I hear what you're saying. But you've got to be consistent. We all have to be consistent.
KARVELAS: Let me challenge you on that. The ministerial discretion is not consistent. It's a discretion. That's why it exists.
BROADBENT: No, going right back to Robert Ray, Robert Ray wanted to get rid of ministerial discretion and so everybody was under the same law and there were no changes. That didn't happen. The backbench screamed because there are always situations whereby you need to judge a particular situation for the benefit of those people. Like, I think Ken O’Dowd made a very good judgment. He said for the broader community, two years ago, for the broader community would be better off if this couple and their children stayed. And I think that advice from a backbencher should have been followed then we wouldn't be here where we are today. But on the other hand, Peta, we do have laws. And if it's good, it can't be just for one couple. Is the Labor Party's arguing, is Kristina Keneally really arguing, it's for everybody now?
KARVELAS: Well, let me ask you a question Stephen Jones, because the Immigration Minister says granting the family of visa and permanent residency would start a flood of boats. Do you think that's the case?
JONES: No, I don't. And I don't accept the floodgates arguments that I suspect Russell is alluding to. I simply don't accept that. I think what we have here is the very cruel execution of a policy. You've had two children who’ve been locked up for most of their lives in detention. Born here in Australia but locked up for most of their lives. Surely we can do better as a nation than to use the incarceration of children as a threat to everybody who wants to come to this country. Look at the example we're setting. We will incarcerate your children just in the same way or incarcerating these children if you try it. Frankly I think we can do a lot better than that as a nation and we have done a lot better than that as a nation. So I don't accept the argument that Russell and others are putting here. The reason we have ministerial discretion is so that we can deal with these situations in exactly the way that we've been presented with this one, and I think we should. I don't think we're going to see a flood gate if this family is reunited with this community up in Biloela.
KARVELAS: So Russell are you disappointed this wasn't dealt with two years ago?
BROADBENT: Of course. Look I don't have to lay out my caring credentials to anybody. But Stephen wasn't here when we've been through this so many times before.
JONES: I was actually.
BROADBENT: It leads to brick walls everywhere.
JONES: Russell I'm not for a moment doubting your caring credentials. You've actually been on the right side of this more often than any, so I'm not doubting for a moment your caring credentials. I think I said I'm not your program before PK, you're a decent bloke.
BROADBENT: I did not argue anywhere around floodgates. I did not argue around floodgates at all. I’m talking about there has to be some consistency.
KARVELAS: Let me ask this, moving away from your consistency argument which you've made. Let's go to the Immigration Minister saying that there would be a flood gates about, he said this, of boats that if they were given permanent settlement in Australia. That's a furphy, isn't it?
BROADBENT: Well, no, that's. If the Minister wants to make that argument, which I heard his interview, he made it very strongly. That is his concern. That is his fear. That's what he believes.
KARVELAS: Do you believe it?
BROADBENT: And in this country you can put in with that argument. I think we've got a very strong border protection regime in place which has found that for the last eight years there hasn't been anybody apply to come, apply for status, that has come on a boat for eight years. And I my view is that won't happen again. But there are issues around the refugees we have in this country and how we care for them as a nation. Whether they staying, whether they're here for a short time to be returned or whether they can go even go back to their own countries. So there's broader issues amongst this whole situation that we face today.
KARVELAS: But Russell if this family stayed permanently, it wouldn't open up a floodgate of boats would it?
BROADBENT: No but I think it would open a floodgate of applications from people in similar situations which is not fair on all the other people that have done the right thing.
JONES: We do things that aren't fair all the time, or the Government does things that aren't fair all the time. You grant an au pair residency, status, or extend a visa while somebody else is incarcerated or somebody else's deported. So it happens all the time. We don't have to look at the whole world. We can just focus on the circumstances of these individual kids. And as to the policy, and this has been looked at quite a lot and in quite some detail, most analysts agree that of the two elements to the policy. One is boat turn backs and the other was mandatory offshore processing, and I'll come back to that processing point, the one that had the biggest impact was the boats turn back. The mandatory offshore processing, yes it is a deterrent. But actually, both the Government and Labor has said at the time, this is processing. It is never intended to be indefinite detention. And for this family, it has become indefinite detention. That is cruel and unusual. There are other options available to the Government in these circumstances and for the other people who are detained. And they should be exercising them, instead of using the suffering of a small group of people as a deterrent for a very large group of people.
KARVELAS: Russell Broadbent why is the government so hell-bent still on sticking to this idea of no permanent solution for this family? Because you know you know what that must be like for children. That feeling of uncertainty is absolutely crippling. You know it, it's immoral to put people in a position where they don't know what their future looks like.
BROADBENT: Patricia that's the process and that is the law of this nation.
KARVELAS: So why don't we change it? If the law makes people feel like that, haven’t we got the law wrong?
BROADBENT: By changing the law you would open up for no hesitation, all you'd have to do is just get here and apply. It can't work that way Patricia. It can't work that way, and I know you've been around this issue for a long, long time like I have. And there's a whole lot of things that are being repeated now, and I just don't want any mistakes to be repeated by the nation. We've learned our lessons over a period of time. I know many in the Labor Party are beside themselves that we're even having this discussion, beside themselves. So of course, politics is being played out in this. But we don't admit it ever.
KARVELAS: But let's be fair, it's been played by both sides of politics isn’t it?
BROADBENT: Absolutely. And I've seen it all.
KARVELAS: It’s not just the Labor Party, the coalition plays politics on this too.
BROADBENT: Yeah. But the focus has to be on the two little girls. And then the focus is on the parents. Now, what do we do with this particular? I think we will find a way through with this particular issue around the Biloela people. And is it all the Biloela people want the people back? Is it a few what? You know, I don't know. I don't live there. And they have this name, named after a town. So therefore, that issue can be dealt with. But there's always the broader issue of how we deal with immigration in this country. And there's a whole lot of great stories of refugees which I've spoken about in the House of my own experience which are very important. And I’ve just got say to you Patricia, there's a whole lot of issues here. And if we were given the responsibility tomorrow to manage the nation's immigration program, you and I might be making some very difficult decisions we never thought we'd had to make.
KARVELAS: Yeah well that's why I don't run for Parliament, my friends, and I asked the questions.
BROADBENT: And that's why I'm not a television presenter.
KARVELAS: That's good. We're all doing the jobs were meant to do. I don’t want to make the laws but I want to question people on the laws that are made because I think that's in the public interest, right?
BROADBENT: Fair enough.
KARVELAS: All right, just finally on another issue. The Nationals say they've done a deal to ensure more farm workers come to Australia. This is just breaking this afternoon. Just starting with you, Stephen Jones, we don't know all the details. But is that a good idea if we allow more farm workers to come into the country?
JONES: Oh look, there's obviously a shortage, or there's obviously a problem I should say, with agricultural labour in Australia at the moment. There's crops they can't get away, so we know we have a significant problem. But I've got to say what I found alarming today was not so much this announcement breaking late this afternoon from the National Party but the study I read earlier today that less than 2 percent of Australian agricultural workers are being paid the legal wage. So if we've got problem with agricultural workers in this country, you might start by ensuring that they're paid properly and they aren’t being ripped off or not paid correctly. I think if we're going to deal with this in a sustainable way, it can't be that we're always trying to fix labour market shortages by bringing in people from other countries when we've got high levels of unemployment in this country. And as any economist will tell you, you're the first problem you got to do is deal with the wages issue. And if the wages, even the low level of minimum wages, aren't being paid properly, then that might be a good place to start to fix the problem.