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Transcript of joint doorstop: Wednesday 4 June 2003: Parliament House Canberra: Philip Ruddock and visas; leadership.



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Julia Gillard MP Laurie Ferguson MP

Shadow M ister for Population and Immigration Shadow Minister for Citizenship

Shadow Mi ter for Reconciliation and Indigenous Affairs and Multicultural Affairs

in nis

TRANSCRIPT OF JOINT DOORSTOP, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA WEDNESDAY 4 JUNE 2003 E&OE

SUBJECTS: Philip Ruddock and visas; Leadership

GILLARD: The Labor Opposition will continue to raise the visa scandal allegations we have been pressing in the Parliament over the last week, this is a Government that campaigned at the last election on the basis of the importance of the integrity of the immigration system.

What we now know is that there are three substantial examples where Minister Ruddock still has questions to answer.

Example number one is the Buddhist monastery that made a $100,000 donation to Mr Ruddock’s electoral campaign and received a huge number of religious worker visas.

Example number two is the asylum seeker Mr Hbeiche whose claim was rejected by the Department, by the Refugee Review Tribunal, by the Federal Court, by Minister Ruddock twice following interventions by the Member for Parramatta and then, after a donation was made by a Mr Karim Kisrwani to the Liberal Party and after Mr Kisrwani made representations on behalf of Mr Hbeiche, a visa was granted.

The third case is the case we focused on today, the case of Mr Dante Tan who is a fugitive from the Philippines, wanted for questioning and potential judicial proceedings in relation to that nation’s biggest corporate fraud. This man came to Australia under the Business Skills Visa program. There is no evidence he ever ran a business, his visa was cancelled by the Department because they could not find him. The visa cancellation was reversed, a donation was made on his behalf or by him directly to Minister Ruddock’s electorate office and he is now an Australian citizen potentially wanted for extradition to the Philippines. This is a major scandal in the functioning of our migration system and Minister Ruddock needs to fully answer every question we have asked and he needs to put before the Parliament every document relevant to these cases.

JOURNALIST: Julia, he has given answers, have you actually got evidence to show that he was bribed into giving these visas?

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GILLARD: I don’t believe Minister Ruddock has given any answers we can rely on at this point. In relation to the Buddhist monastery, we still don’t know what representations or what interventions he made. The version has changed over time in relation to the matter involving Mr Hbeiche. We are still unclear as to why the Minister, on the third occasion the matter was brought before him, changed his mind. He said a bishop intervened and he said he got community representations. What we know is that

the community representations were from Mr Kisrwani and what we also know is that the bishop intervened but we don’t know the date of that intervention. So it might well pre-date the earlier rejections.

In relation to the Dante Tan case raised today there is no evidence before us that there was any checking about this man’s compliance with his business visa, we don’t believe he ever ran a business in Australia and we do know that after Mr Kisrwani intervened and after a donation his visa cancellation issue was fixed.

JOURNALIST: Mr Ruddock has said that, when we have asked in the past about particular donations, he said well if a donation was made I would not necessarily know about it. It would have been properly declared; that is the end of the matter. Do you think he is lying?

GILLARD: Well, number one: a $100,000 donation is a major donation; it’s the size of the donation that is involved in the Buddhist monastery example. I would find it incredible that a Member of Parliament wouldn’t know that a $100,000 donation had been made to their local election campaign. In relation to the Dante Tan matter, the donation was posted to his electorate office. And in relation to the Hbeiche matter, it’s not true to say the matter was properly declared. It was declared at the end of last week after a week of questioning in Parliament.

JOURNALIST: So has Mr Ruddock been lying about it?

GILLARD: Well, we certainly aren’t in a position today to say that we are satisfied by any of the answers that Mr Ruddock has given. If Mr Ruddock can dispel these allegations lock, stock and barrel by producing the files, the departmental files then why doesn’t he? Can I just say Laurie Ferguson has got something to add, too.

FERGUSON: Look, as I say, it seems that Mr Kisrwani was at the helm of Australian immigration, the situation where he convened the original function where $3,000 was donated in regard to Hbeiche. Mr Tan is, in the words of Mr Kisrwani, a person without abode in the country. Who does he use in the whole country as the address for the cheque? Mr Kisrwani’s house.

In a situation where Mr Kisrwani rings up not the Ministerial office for once, but the actual electorate office a few days after the cheque arrives at the electorate office, now supposedly not disclosed. Mr Kisrwani now, today, we have seen, has the effrontery, because of a very close relationship with the Minister over 20 or 30 years to think he can ring up the department and actually put himself forward as a representative of the Minister.

That is what the Minister said today that Mr Kisrwani just basically rang up and said, “Oh, Philip is interested in this case”. The fact that he has got the effrontery, the fact that he thinks he can do this, a person associated very closely, intimately to the Minister for two to three decades really says something about his influence in the use of Ministerial discretion in this country.

JOURNALIST: Do we need to find some more evidence other than some cushy phone calls and (inaudible)?

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FERGUSON: The Minister has clarified today that Mr Kisrwani has initially been acting illegally. He finally got around to the admission that he has got no right legally to be doing what he is doing. It is quite clear that every five minutes he has got a case and is on to the Minister’s office, and I bet you my bottom dollar that if we look at Ministerial discretion in this country, we are going to find approaches by Mr Kisrwani are a significant number of these cases.

GILLARD: Can I say, too, I think the Government’s attempt to reverse the onus of proof here is inappropriate. There is enough material on the public record now to cause concern about the integrity of our visa and immigration system. It is not for us to fossick out every fact. Minister Ruddock is a Minister of the Crown. He is paid by Australian taxpayers to run a system with integrity. If he has got the complete answer, why doesn’t he just walk in to that Parliament and put it down on the Parliamentary table.

He has not done that after days of questioning in Parliament. Iif he has got the answer, then why doesn’t he give it to us. His only response to that is that he wants to protect the privacy of individuals involved. Well, the truth is we all now know who these individuals are. But if he wants to give us these files with the names blacked out, then we will take them. And if they do show there is no problem, then that is the end of the matter. But, in circumstances where the Minister refuses to give direct answers to questions and refuses to produce the document when donations and visas appear to be marching together hand in hand, then that I think is a major issue in our immigration system and a major issue for this Minister and this Government.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Ministerial intervention should be scrapped?

GILLARD: Labor, when it announced its refugee and asylum seeker policy last year, said - and this remains our policy - that we believe that there should be an independent committee that recommends to the Minister whether or not his or her powers of intervention should be used, and that should be a transparent process. It is only if you do it like that you can put it above the sort of circumstances we have seen develop in the last two weeks.

JOURNALIST: As far as the privacy argument is concerned, it is not just people’s names - we may know the names but we don’t know all their circumstances and all their details. There are very stringent privacy laws in place. Surely the Minister cannot just override those?

GILLARD: Minister Ruddock uses the privacy laws to assist him when he thinks it is in his interest to not disclose details of individual claims. When he thinks the privacy laws do not assist him, then he waives them. It was Minister Ruddock that read into the Hansard every detail of Mr Hbeiche’s claim; we didn’t do that. We also know, more generally in the refugee and the asylum seeker area, that Minister Ruddock has not been above going through the details of what he believes to be bogus refugee and asylum seeker claims. If he had always taken the consistent view about privacy, I would believe him but he hasn’t.

JOURNALIST: People who support Kim Beazley coming back as leader say there will be a challenge before the end of June and that there is now open canvassing going on. What is your response to that?

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GILLARD: Well, can I say that, if open canvassing is going on, I read about it in the media but I see no evidence of it in the Labor Party. I think that the job we have got to do is to focus on the big issues and the integrity of the immigration system, particularly given the role that the integrity of the immigration system played in the last election. This is, of course, a Government elected on the slogan, “We will decide who comes to this country”. In those circumstances, that is a big issue, and we will be focusing on that issue.

JOURNALIST: Some would argue in Caucus, though, that the best candidate to take Labor into the next election is Kim Beazley and they say they are now counting numbers and they have at least 35. Do you believe that Mr Crean can withstand a challenge?

GILLARD: I believe that Simon Crean will lead Labor to the next election and he is undoubtedly the best person to do that.

JOURNALIST: Do you think he has a better or a worst chance now (inaudible)

GILLARD: I think Mr Howard is going to rue the day that he decided to stay on as Prime Minister. I actually think we will now move on to a new phase in Australian politics where, instead of speculating about whether or not the Prime Minister is going to retire, people will actually be holding him to account for what he does or what he fails to do as Prime Minister. I think the fact he is a Prime Minister without a domestic agenda will be increasingly before the Australian people. And when they vote at the next election on health and on education and on jobs and on issues like probity in public life, they won’t be exercising that vote for John Howard.

JOURNALIST: But isn’t John Howard tougher to beat than Peter Costello?

GILLARD: I always thought that Peter Costello was a poor campaigner. I think he spectacularly demonstrated that in the last election campaign with the Telstra error. Having said that, I think we can beat John Howard and I think we will.

JOURNALIST: Should Mr Crean bring on a spill?

GILLARD: I don’t think so, I think Mr Crean is the leader of the Labor Party. I think he is doing a fantastic job. I think the polls show us within striking distance for the next election and, in those circumstances, I think what the backbench wants him to do and what the Australian people want him to do is to keep doing what he is doing so successfully - campaigning on the domestic issues.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

GILLARD: I suppose politics is an unusual game. Peter Costello would have been sitting around a Cabinet table with John Howard for the best part of two years thinking that the Prime Minister was going to retire. Politics can throw up some odd bedfellows.

(ends)