ABC Radio Interview: 774 Melbourne Drive: Refugee Resettlement, Coal Exports



RAFAEL EPSTEIN, HOST: The winds have changed. They are sweeping through the Labor Party as well. They still have to work out, are they a centre left party? Are they a progressive party? They are not always the same thing. Peter Khalil is the Labor MP for the seat of Wills in Melbourne’s north. He gave a speech at the Alfred Deakin Institute today. He wants Australia to increase its refugee intake. Peter thanks for having a word with us. 

PETER KHALILMP: Hi Raff. How are you?  

EPSTEINI am good. Is this about trying to make sure Labor sticks with the number it took to the last election? It would take us a few years to get 32,000 humanitarian refugee intake. Is it about trying to keep Labor at that number? 

KHALILNo, this is about us, taking a lead on the international level. To lead and negotiate an international agreement, a processing and resettlement agreement that gets countries to do their fair share. There are dozens of developed nations that are not pulling their weight and we need to have a consistent set of metrics that are, has a model for refugee intake globally. Because you know why? There are 26 million refugees around the world. And do you know how many were actually resettled last year? Last calendar year? 

EPSTEIN: Couple of 10’s of thousands or something? 

KHALIL: 92,000. Okay.  

EPSTEIN: So which developed countries are not pulling its weight? 

KHALIL: Oh, I knew you were going to go there. It’s not about blaming countries. But there are dozens of countries. And I don’t want to pick on any particular country, because there are dozens of wealthy developed nations that only take a handful. Japan 22. Portugal 35. You know.  

EPSTEIN: But Portugal they have got hundreds of thousands of people who haven’t filled all of their forms. Like Korea, I think they only took 30 but they have hundreds of thousands of people from places like Thailand.  

KHALIL: When you increase, when you actually add the numbers of people who are actually applying in country. Who have actually gone there by plane or who have got there in other ways, it goes up slightly to a couple of hundred. But the point is at each year there is a drop in the ocean of resettlement out of 26 million and there is 70 million displaced around the globe. And we are talking about this getting worse Raff. So what I have said is not only do we need to remove the toxicity of our domestic debate which is so polarised now, in the way the refugees are being framed particularly by the far right and even our own Prime Minister who talks about paedophiles, rapists and murderers coming in on the medevac law. This is exactly what he said when we debated the bill earlier this year. It is a toxic, corrosive debate, which cuts at the heart of Australia’s multicultural and migrant nation. We have had a nation that has been successful, including with refugees. 

EPSTEIN: Peter can I interrupt? You want to get rid of the toxic nature of the debate in Australia, but the only people who you really want to change are the Coalition and their rhetoric.  

KHALIL: Well no. We all have to do better. And I think..   

EPSTEIN: What should Labor do differently? 

KHALIL: Well Labor has, as you said quite rightly, we committed to doubling our refugee intake at the last election, including an additional 5000 community sponsored refugee program. So up above 30, 34, 35,000. But that is still a drop in the ocean Raff. When you look at the global situation, that’s not dealing with the growing global challenge that we face. And with the impacts of climate change, particularly in our region, our pacific island neighbours, it’s only set to get worse as people fight of depleted resources, they fight over the fact that there is, further population displacement. 

EPSTEIN: Can you persuade the rest of the world to take more refugees if we send all the boats back? Because a lot of the rest of the world, they don’t like the fact, I mean, we built the wall haven’t we? Korea only takes I think 30 people and I keep mentioning them but they have got hundreds of thousands of people who can just get there because they don’t stop every single person coming to their country. Can Australia, persuade the rest of the world to take more, if we stop everybody coming by boat?            

KHALIL: I think the process has already started in convincing the rest of the world. The 193 member states of the UN have agreed in the Global Compact of Refugee last year to actually move forward and have a system of a more equitable and shared approach to the burden. And we are talking too about countries, developing nations who are carrying the heaviest burden. We need to alleviate that instability that is caused by that. You know we have got countries like Bangladesh with almost a million refugees, Pakistan with 1.4 million, you know Iran and Lebanon and Jordan. And countries like Uganda that has 1.4 million. I mean this is unsustainable and it will get worse. What I am saying is we must draw and I am talking about Labor now, on our internationalist DNA, we have done this before. You know, we have actually led the way with Doc Evatt at the UN and human rights charter. Gareth Evans with the Cambodia Peace Plan. Setting up APEC. This is in our DNA. And this is something that we should be ambitious about. And look I am just a backbencher and I am putting out ideas. We need to talk about this at the international level because if we don’t our inwardly focussed domestic policies are not sufficient they are unsustainable in the long term.    

EPSTEIN: 1300222774. Peter Khalil is quote unquote just a backbencher but Labor has got to work out its position on refugees. Which way do you think Labor should go? Should Australia do more or should we take less? 1300222774.  Peter Khalil I want to ask you about climate change. But just as importantly there is something like 30,000 people in this country, who came by boat, who don’t have permanent residency, they are on temporary or bridging visas, should the Government do something about those 30,000 people? They can’t do things like go to university and study. Do you want the government to do something about that?   

KHALIL: Oh, absolutely Raff! I mean we, I got myself after I was elected in 2016 on Labor’s immigration policy working group. And we put to the electorate at the last election in May, a set of policies including getting rid of TPV’s, Temporary Protection Visa’s and CHEV’s. Actually allowing genuine refugees permanent resettlement and family reunion. Getting rid of the fast tracked judicial process which discriminates against people who came by boat. And actually restoring welfare funding, the SRS funding that was cruelly cut by the Government. And that’s on top of doubling our refugee intake. These are good policies. 500 million investment to the UNHCR, to help with those efforts. These are good policies.   

EPSTEIN: So Labor will stick with what, giving residential permanent visas to the 30,000 people or not? 

KHALIL: Well, Labor has made those commitments at the last election. And I will be advocating to take just as good election commitments and even more to the next election. That’s a process for caucus and the shadow cabinet obviously. But I am pretty proud of what we put to the election, last election and I think it would have made a difference to tens of thousands of lives.  

EPSTEIN: Anthony Albanese is also giving speeches and interviews. He is now firmly of the view that coal exports are a significant part of Australia’s economic future. He says if we don’t export coal someone else will sell it. It won’t make a difference if we stop. The Government especially the resources Minister Matt Canavan wants Anthony Albanese to say three simple words, if you are in favour of coal exports. They want Anthony Albanese to say “I support Adani”. Do you think he should? 

KHALIL: Well, Anthony has also said that the goal for us is to actually reduce global emissions. Actually reduce global emissions.  And as the media always does, they take one part of his speech and one part of his quote. Let’s cut to the chase about this, we have coal exports of about half is coking coal and half is thermal coal. Right, of production. And of that production about 75% is exported and about half is coking coal, allergical coal that is exported and half thermal coal. Coking coal that is used to create steel, to produce steel. Anthony is talking about the fact that that is necessary to build wind turbines, to build solar panels all this kind of stuff that is necessary. 


EPSTEIN: But will be pursued between now and the next election in two years and 3 months, whether or not, you support the Adani coal mine. Do you think Anthony Albanese should say “I support Adani”?  

KHALIL: Well it is not a question between him supporting or not supporting. He can’t, you know this business about trying to can all an entire export industry. I am not a constitutional lawyer Raff, you might be, but I doubt very much that the Commonwealth has that power. And setting that aside, even if we did ban all exports tomorrow, notwithstanding the problem of lumping, excuse the pun, coking coal with thermal coal, when you are talking about that, Anthony actually called the cat on that.  You know then India and China and Japan and others who take our black coal, would then import brown coal. Which is higher emissions!  

EPSTEIN:  Isn’t that the drug dealer’s argument? If we don’t sell it someone else will. 

KHALIL: Well no what we want, actually not the drug dealers argument, what we want is those countries to start moving towards renewable energy. Like we have policies that invest 15 billion dollars in renewable energy projects in this country, this Government is not doing that. We propose that that’s because we want to transition away from using our own thermal coal in our coal fired power plants. But our total emissions is 1.3% but when you add our exports of coal it gets to about 5%. India is about 10% of global emissions. The US is about 20% and China is about 30%. So we need to deal with reducing global emissions. This is the reality. If we want to get down to 1.5 degrees or under, well we need to reduce those big countries that are doing the biggest emissions now. China’s argument is ‘oh well we are a pre-industrial country and you can’t get us to have caps and limits’.  

EPSTEINYou can’t tell China or America or India what to do. Unless we ramp up our action.  

KHALIL: We have got to take action. We put to the last election campaign investment in renewable energy, solar panels, we had a very ambitious target, 50% of renewable energy by 2030 and cuts 45% cuts to emissions. We have got to review all of that obviously, because if we do win the next one… 


EPSTEIN: Sounds like you are in favour of them. 

KHALIL: Well, we have to take action. Absolutely. I have got kids. People want the next generation to bequeath the planet that survives for them. And I believe in the science of climate change, I know it as scientific evidence to be the case. That’s why we need to take action.  But some of the outrageous suggestions of banning entire industries just won’t work that way.  

EPSTEIN: Appreciate your time. Thank you.