Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Shadow Minister discusses the Government's response to Lorenzo Ervin's visit to Australia

PETER THOMPSON: The Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, has cut short an overseas trip to fly home and deal with the visa entry issues arising from the visit of the US black activist and convicted plane hijacker, Lorenzo Ervin. The Government denies he was called home, insisting he's returned early having judged that the Immigration Minister should be here to deal with the serious problems highlighted by Ervin's entry.

Last week, Lorenzo Ervin was detained by Immigration officials after the Prime Minister made clear his horror at a convicted hijacker entering the country, but government moves to deport Ervin were thwarted when the High Court heard claims that he'd been denied natural justice by the Immigration Department because they'd not followed proper interview procedures. The Minister's office says the procedures and legislation put in place by Labor have been shown to be inadequate, and Philip Ruddock will now address these issues to put in place enduring solutions. But the Opposition says that's code for wanting to give the Government further powers over the rights of citizens.

We're joined now by the Shadow Minister for Immigration, Duncan Kerr. He's talking to Fran Kelly.

FRAN KELLY: Duncan Kerr, the Government says the case of Lorenzo Ervin shows that the legislation put in place by the former Labor Government is inadequate and needs tightening. Do you accept that?

DUNCAN KERR: What I think it shows is this government has shown itself to be inept and bungling at every stage. It's acted like Keystone Cops right through this, and the Keystone Cops behaviour goes on because they've obviously jerked back Philip Ruddock from overseas. He had an important trip which he told Australians about. He was going to Greece and to Turkey to carry on relationship-building and the work of an Immigration Minister overseas, and obviously because Amanda Vanstone simply couldn't cut it and has made a series of astonishing errors, he's had to come back so that a Cabinet Minister has been, in a sense, told, 'Go back and you aren't up to it. We'll bring back Philip Ruddock.'

FRAN KELLY: But isn't there a case here? I mean, if people are able to, one, evade entry controls into this country and, two, keep evading them once they're here, doesn't that show that something is wrong with the procedures?

DUNCAN KERR: Well, I think it's not somebody evading entry controls, what it shows is this government simply can't manage a system which was in good repair and working well. Now, this is an amazing story. Firstly, we had the Prime Minister come on air after Pauline Hanson spoke out. The Prime Minister got it wrong, said that Mr Ervin had given a false name; he then set the hares running. Amanda Vanstone got the process wrong; she didn't do any checking; she chose an option to throw this man into gaol. Then we had the Chief Justice of Australia describe what the Government was trying to say in court as infringing on issues of fundamental constitutional importance, that is the right of people at least to have government consider any case they might put forward. So this has been a Keystone Cops' episode and now we've got Philip Ruddock coming back to play Laurel to Amanda's Hardy. It's a Laurel and Hardy story and I think that anybody who's watching this from overseas would just have to say what an incompetent, sloppy government and what a weak and indecisive leader we have.

FRAN KELLY: But Mr Kerr, many people listening to this story would also think, yes, but we still have a convicted hijacker in our country and many people would think that that's perhaps not a good idea, yet the Government wasn't able, under the current procedures, to move him out when they wanted to. Shouldn't the Government have the necessary powers to make a decision like that?

DUNCAN KERR: What should have happened in any case where there is some possibility that Australia will have concerns about a visitor is to have in place a system that alerts people before they enter this country. Now, that's the way the system should work, and what the Government....

FRAN KELLY: But that is in place, isn't it? It's on the immigration card, the entry card, saying: do you have a conviction?

DUNCAN KERR: What the Government should be concerned about, in this case, is that all the pre-entry systems failed. They actually had a watch list and Mr Ervin was supposed to be on it, but they got the watch list wrong. They had a wrong name on their own watch list; they didn't have the details of his age; it didn't throw up a match, so Mr Ervin arrived. Then he walked through customs because customs didn't check his card. That's....

FRAN KELLY: Isn't that the point, though, Mr Kerr? These systems broke down. Isn't that serious enough for the Immigration Minister to fly home to address them?

DUNCAN KERR: The system broke down and, exactly right. And the Minister before, when I raised this with the case of five serious criminals who came to Australia, not to go on a speaking tour, but to undertake criminal activities in Australia, the Minister dismissed my call that the system needed attention and went away overseas. Why the Minister's addressing it now is because this Keystone Cops and robbers exercise with Lorenzo Ervin has brought national embarrassment to Australia and humiliated Amanda Vanstone who's shown herself, once again, to be massively out of her depth.

FRAN KELLY: Duncan Kerr, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much.

DUNCAN KERR: Thank you.

PETER THOMPSON: And that's Duncan Kerr, the Shadow Minister for Immigration. We approached the Minister, Philip Ruddock, for comment, but he had a prior engagement.