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ALP member disagrees with Shadow Minister's comments about detainee Peter Qasim.



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PM

 

Wednesday 22 June 2005

ALP member disagrees with Shadow Minister's comments about detainee Peter Qasim

 

MARK COLVIN: The falling-out in the Labor Party on immigration deten tion is still reverberating. 

 

It started with yesterday's public rebuke by Kim Beazley to his own Immigration Spokesman Laurie Ferguson, for his comments about Australia's longest serving detainee, Peter Qasim. 

 

It was backbencher, Julia Irwin, who yesterday questioned Laurie Ferguson's stand, in front of the entire Labor Caucus. 

 

On AM this morning, Mr Feguson dismissed her as "not the most profound person in immigration matters". 

 

Tonight Julia Irwin told Alexandra Kirk that Mr Ferguson's comments on Peter Qasim had been "unfortunate". 

 

JULIA IRWIN: Well look, we are talking about a human being here. We are talking about a man that has been in detention for over seven years. We are now talking about a man that is having psychiatric help, that he should have got a long, long time ago. 

 

Now, I feel that surely the Shadow Minister could have looked at it as a more humane treatment that this man should be getting, and I'm just sick and tired of some people making a legal point. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: A legal point of Peter Qasim's … 

 

JULIA IRWIN: On Peter Qasim, that's correct. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now Laurie Ferguson says in response to you having raised the issue and questioning his statements in the Caucus, he says that he doesn't think that you're the most profound person on immigration matters. 

 

JULIA IRWIN: I have worked with refugee groups in the early 80s. I've been on the Joint Standing Committee on Migration since 1998. I was deputy chair up until about four weeks ago. I have been to every single detention centre in Australia, and I have been to Christmas Island twice. 

 

So I don't know where he's coming from there. I have got a background knowledge and a very vast knowledge on what is happening in our detention centres. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think Laurie Ferguson should be dropped as Labor's Immigration Spokesman? 

 

JULIA IRWIN: Well, Laurie is entitled to hold his position as long as he has the confidence - and he's got to have the confidence of the Caucus and the Party leadership. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And does he, in your view? 

 

JULIA IRWIN: Well that's entirely up to the Caucus, and it's entirely up to the Party leadership there. 

 

But what I want to see the Shadow Minister for Immigration do… I wanted to see him give a greater emphasis to those parts of Labor's immigration policies, and we've got a fantastic policy, which proposed more humane and compassionate treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think he's the right man for the job? 

 

JULIA IRWIN: Well, that's up to the leader and that's up to the Caucus. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Your leader, Kim Beazley, has said he retains confidence in Laurie Ferguson. Will you be putting your case to Kim Beazley? 

 

JULIA IRWIN: No, I will not be putting my case to Kim. I think he knows what my views are. But I have a right, as a member of the Labor Caucus, to stand up there and say when I feel that a shadow minister or even a backbencher has made the wrong decision. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And do you think, now that Kim Beazley has pulled him into line, that he is saying the right things about Peter Qasim and immigration matters in general? 

 

JULIA IRWIN: Well, yes to a certain degree I would agree with that comment, but as I stated earlier, and I'm going to quote, actually, from the AAP wire from a comment that he made today on AM , when he stated, and I quote: he said he did not oppose Mr Qasim's imminent release from immigration detention, which is correct, after seven years behind the razor wire, but he said he was concerned about defining him as a stateless person because he did not cooperate with the Immigration Department. 

 

Well, as I stated, that is a very, very unfortunate comment for the Shadow Minister for Immigration, Laurie Ferguson, to make. I think that… 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you're not pleased with him still? 

 

JULIA IRWIN: Well no I'm not pleased with him on that particular comment because we're talking about a human being here that has been locked up in detention for seven years. A man that is finally, finally getting psychiatric help and I'm saying for heaven's sakes, let's show some compassion.  

 

And I feel that that compassion in that statement has not been shown, and I'm sick and tired of people making a legal point with someone's life. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Did Labor miss an opportunity to broaden its support on immigration issues with Petro Georgiou's intervention? 

 

JULIA IRWIN: Well that's most probably again for the leadership team to say. I myself, and I most probably am at fault here, I regret not putting a private member's bill forward myself but knowing this Government, and knowing this Government as I do know them, that that would never, ever have been debated in the Federal Parliament. 

 

MARK COLVIN: Labor backbencher Julia Irwin, speaking to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.