SUBJECTS: Refugee Resettlement Deal, Malcom Turnbull Foreign Envoy Appointment
GREG JENNET, HOST: Peter Khalil, the issue of refugee resettlement from Nauru has occupied the parliament’s mind again this week. For a period of time, Scott Morrison appeared open to a conversation about New Zealand resettlement, it’s not going to happen, is it, under the Coalition government?
PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL LABOR MEMBER FOR WILLS: Well, it really saddens me honestly Greg, because I wish the politics would be taken right out of this issue. They put forward a piece of legislation two years ago, that called for a lifetime ban for any refugees ever entering Australia, and we oppose that, quite rightly we made a very strong public statement saying that is absolutely ludicrous. What happens if someone becomes a Minister in a New Zealand government, and she’s got to come back to an APEC meeting in Sydney? Is she going to be barred, if they were formerly a refugee? It’s a ludicrous bit of legislation. It didn’t have to go ahead for them to do the US resettlement deal, even though they said we should have supported it back then, now he’s doing the same thing, saying oh in order for me to accept the offer from New Zealand you’ve got to support this lifetime ban again. He doesn’t have to do that.
JENNET: So that ban that you’re talking about, as originally produced by the government would apply to resettlements anywhere on the planet, and yet your own Labor Party has reached what it’s calling a compromise position which is that it would lifetime ban anyone resettled in New Zealand. So if we talk about narrowly defined, New Zealand, what is the difference?
KHALIL: So when he did this, we had this big caucus discussion in our Labor caucus, what is it that we can do to take the politics out of this and get these kids off Nauru, last week we actually put forward proposed legislation to enable medical transfers of children and their families, and this is a Labor policy and announcement last week, and their families to come to Australia for medical treatment, on the advice of independent medical advice, and then with respect to this legislation, we said ok fine, if you’re going to insist on it, we’ll negotiate with you based on some amendments: that it only applies to that cohort from New Zealand, and it doesn’t apply to tourist visas, and business visas and work sponsorship visas, but applies only to the 444 special sub-class visa which allows open travel between….
JENNET: Are you personally comfortable with that? Or is that in your own view, too restrictive as to the movement of…
KHALIL: I think the lifetime ban legislation is utterly ridiculous. I mean I gave you an example of things, it could be a surgeon former refugee who’s asked to come back and she’s got to do surgery in Sydney, lifesaving surgery and is barred? There’s no legislation like this anywhere in the world, but we need to get these kids off Nauru, there’s a huge issue with respect to their mental health and their physical health and we’re trying to find ways, and I think it’s good that we’re really working hard to take the politics out of this, and get an outcome even from opposition, and you’ve got all the activist groups, the AMA, the doctors, these voices are very, very important as well and Labor is trying to find a way forward and it really saddens me that they’re playing politics with this.
JENNET: Alright, well let’s just assume a stalemate persists because it looks like it, for the time being, at least on the New Zeland resettlement deal, and let’s imagine there is a Labor government in six to seven months’ time, do we take it as read that you would do what? Resettle in New Zealand at the rate of one hundred and fifty a year and then bar those one hundred and fifty per year accessing Australia via the 444 sub-class?
KHALIL: Well, that’s a negotiating compromise that we put to this government to try and get the kids off Nauru as quickly as possible, even if it happens before government or a change of government…
JENNET: But not something, right, but not something you would… Well that’s my question I guess would you carry that over?
KHALIL: So our policy’s been very, very clear Greg, we have said very clearly that we need to end indefinite detention on Manus and Nauru, they were only ever set up as temporary processing centres, in my first speech in parliament two years ago, I talked about our moral, ethical and our legal obligation, our duty of care to asylum seekers and refugees in these centres, and that we need to do better and the party really has worked on our policy settings on this, we committed last election to four hundred and fifty million to the UNHCR, we committed to ending temporary protection visas, another form of cruel sort of deterrence that you see the government has gone with, and we’ve opposed the removal of SRSS welfare funding for refugees that actually come to Australia. We have a very good policy going forward and it’s something that you know, obviously if we win government, if we’re elected we’ll have to work through and implement those policies.
JENNET: Do you accept that New Zealand is the only known starter in the gate? When you’re there in government in seven months’ time you have a firm offer on the table from New Zealand and using this compromise position that you’ve put forward in opposition, that would be an immediate opportunity for you.
KHALIL: Yeah, well, sure, and our Shadow Minister, our Shadow Immigration Minister and our leadership, have been saying constantly to accept this offer from New Zealand I mean this narrative has been poisoned, the political discourse on refugees has been poisoned for twenty years. I’m over it, I’m sure the Australian public is over it, let’s just get outcomes that are humane, that work, that are practical and we are putting together policy settings that I think will actually do that job if we are elected.
JENNET: So you’d take New Zealand, I think that’s what you’re saying there, and what of the all the others that Bill Shorten has mentioned, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Canada, how much work has been done in advance of the election?
KHALIL: There’s a lot of diplomatic work that needs to be done around that as well, and as I said earlier, the legislation we put forward last week, that we put forward last week around medical transfers for those children and their families to Australia is an important one as well, because that’s immediate, it’s needed to be, the decision to be made in twenty four hours by the Minister on independent medical advice these are all important elements of how you resettle people from Manus and Nauru, but there are third party countries, there’s a lot of other countries that can be negotiated with as well.
JENNET: It could actually be the case, couldn’t it, that there are no children, fifty two is the current number, but there could be no children left on Nauru by the time…
KHALIL: And we hope that’s the case, and if the government wants to credit for that, great. I don’t really care right now. I think we just want an outcome that is good for the kids and their families to be resettled.
JENNET: Alright can we just change topic slightly, or radically. Malcolm Turnbull representing as a former Prime Minister, Australia, at an oceans conference in Bali. Does Labor have a problem with that?
KHALIL: No, not really, I mean I would say, this is my personal view, I think as a matter of principle, it’s actually a good thing to use former Prime Ministers, whatever political stripe, to have them as envoys and do certain roles to advance the national interest. We’ve actually got a huge pool of former Prime Ministers in the last six years that we can draw; it’s like half a soccer team we can draw from. I don’t think there’s any real issue with that. I think it’s odd though, really incredulous that on one hand Scott Morrison is saying, yeah Malcolm’s the best person for this job, and then the front page of the Daily Telegraph says he wants nothing to do with him anymore and he’s going to pull him from any further work.
JENNET: I think that’s been denied by the way, by Scott Morrison this morning.
KHALIL: Oh, has it? Ok well, there you go. But as far as using former Prime Ministers, former Foreign Ministers I think that’s a good thing as a matter of principle.
JENNET: Well as you say, there are a few around these days. One of them Julia Gillard is actually in Canberra today for the unveiling of her portrait. Peter Khalil we’ll end it there. Thanks again for joining us.
KHALIL: Thanks Greg. Cheers.