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Transcript of Joint Doorstop interview with the Leader of the Opposition and Laurie Ferguson, MP : Opposition Leader's Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra: 31 May 2005: Petro Georgiou Bill; Sydney Airport Security; Tax legislation; MPs Pay Rises; Industrial Relations.

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Subjects: Petro Georgiou Bill; Sydney Airport Security; Tax legislation; MPs Pay Rises; Industrial Relations

BEAZLEY: Caucus today had an opportunity to consider the utter shambles the Liberal Party’s migration policy has become. Consider it in the light of what is obvious, that incompetence is weakness. And this shambles produces weakness in a critical area of policy, not only just to the character of Australian society but also to our border protection.

Specifically the Caucus had before it a report from the Shadow Minister which, circulated to Caucus Members, what he’s been able to discern from the dissidents Bill put into the Liberal Party room identified with Petro Georgiou. And Caucus having talked it through agreed with the Shadow Ministry submission on this matter which is that the Labor Party is basically supportive of the content of the Bill that’s been put out by Petro Georgiou because it complies with what is now long-standing Labor Party policy in a number of areas.

The idea of kids out of detention, the idea that, after 90 days people should have been successfully processed, and if they’re not, then their situation should be subject to independent review. The idea there should be some certainty there for those on temporary protection visas, the idea that we shouldn’t get ourselves into a situation where we are deporting Australian citizens. So, we are sympathetic and supportive of the direction in which the Georgiou Bill is going. The Caucus further authorised the Shadow Minister to discuss the Bill with Petro Georgiou.

If it comes into the House we will have an opportunity to consider it again of course, but, basically what we want to be doing is facilitating debate on it. If it doesn’t come into the House, if the Bill, which is circulated amongst all of you is not placed before the Parliament, then the Labor Party will continue to pursue its efforts to ensure that the issues that relate to kids and the issues that relate to proper processing of long-term detainees and the other matters I mentioned, that the Parliament has full opportunity to discuss and debate those matters. In the meantime, we want to see this Bill we want to see it emerge in the Chamber. We want to facilitate it and we want an end to the shambles that Liberal Party migration policy has become.

JOURNALIST: What can the Opposition do to force the Government MPs to make a public expression of their opinion of this legislation?

BEAZLEY: The legislation is circulated and the legislation is there for tabling in the Parliament we would have thought. It has appeared in that form and we would seek to see it put into the Chamber where we’d have an opportunity to discuss it. There’d be no better opportunity for the Opposition members to whom you refer to discuss it than if it was in the Chamber.

JOURNALIST: If the Bill isn’t introduced would you bring on you own one?

BEAZLEY: We’ve already put Bills in on these things. You may recollect that Nicola Roxon put forward a Bill on detention of children some time ago. On that occasion, twice, Liberal dissidents voted to keep the kids behind bars. We will keep doing that sort of thing until we get into office when we’ll have an opportunity to put our whole policy into effect which is exactly the policy the country now needs.

JOURNALIST: If they don’t put it into Parliament there’s nothing you can do to have it debated on the floor of the House?

BEAZLEY: There’s plenty we can do and we have been doing it and we’ll continue to do it. We’ll be taking parts of our policy that meets contemporary needs and putting then into the Parliament, sometimes by resolution, sometimes by legislation. We’ll keep going on this because this situation now is a complete shambles and somebody has to do something about it, so we will.

JOURNALIST: Does Labor want some changes to these Bills and if so, what are they?

BEAZLEY: This is something for our spokesman to discuss with Petro. I don’t want to get into nitpicking on particular parts of the Georgiou Bill. The basic thrust of it is in a form that we can be supportive of and where we have differences of emphasis or structure we’ll be able to talk that through as it goes through the Parliament.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) giving temporary visas holders permanent residency, do you agree with that and releasing detainees after 90 days and releasing all children and their parents, do you agree with those?

BEAZLEY: What we’ve said is: we basically want a process in place that resolves the issues for at least 90 per cent of detainees within 90 days. We want then to apply from that point on an inspection regime and an independent review regime that gives them a chance to be investigated, their circumstances to be investigated monthly. Well before that happens we want the kids out.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, (inaudible) are you signalling that if the Bill comes into the Parliament and after Mr Georgiou speaks for five minutes that Labor will move to suspend Standing Orders to bring on the Bill?

BEAZLEY: Permit us our tactics. We will pursue whatever tactics are appropriate to ensure that this matter is moved through to finality.

JOURNALIST: That would make the vote for a referendum would it not?

BEAZLEY: I give you credit for pressing us on this but really what you need to know from me is that we will do everything that we can, if Standing Orders permit, give the Parliament an opportunity to declare itself on this.

JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the Customs report that’s come out today detailing the problems at Sydney airport and what’s not been done?

BEAZLEY: More of the shocking shambles. That is a very serious report that emerged in one of the newspapers today, it emphasises a point that we’ve been making. Anderson, John Anderson, took out of the firing line an absolutely critical part of our transport security structure when in order to protect John

Howard’s back he took Mick Palmer out of the Transport Inspection role and put him into the Rau case. Previously, they’ve been out there saying things like: well it was only drugs, it wasn’t national security matters and in any case he’s just reactive when in fact he was an important part of the responsive process. And if those reports in the paper today are correct, it was not just about drugs, it did concern national security matters, this is a very serious situation. Now, the John Howard Government is a government that is all spin and no substance, great

politics. They’re always out there with terrific political positions but when it comes to really protecting Australian security, really organising an effective migration system, it’s a mess.

JOURNALIST: If the Georgiou Bills are introduced as they stand, if they were, would the Labor Party support them without amendments?

BEAZLEY: We’ll be supportive of those Bills. Of course, there are ways in which we’d think they could be improved. But we will bring those Bills on, we will work through those Bills with Mr Georgiou. Be sensible about this. It’s another fellow’s Bill, we’ve got our own well established positions which are supportive of his directions and we’ve got some intelligent ideas and we’ll pursue them.

JOURNALIST: Mr Ferguson, you’ve been criticised by refugee advocates and some people within your Party for taking too hard a line on this issue. Are you comfortable with the decision today, particularly the four broad elements that

are mentioned there? Do you commit Labor to going forward with those four elements to the next election?

FERGUSON: I am guilty of believing that we should process claims and investigate them and we should not, per se, just accept everyone’s claims. However, I’m very comfortable with it. I’ve brought it forward and it’s been very strongly supported unanimously by the Caucus. It’s my effort and it’s been endorsed.

JOURNALIST: You’ve suggested though in the past these people are queue jumpers. Should these people who could be queue jumpers, in your words, really be fast-tracked through detention?

FERGUSON: I don have a very strong concern that people in off-shore camps who trying to utilise our off-shore provisions. We have a situation here where people can be investigated, they can be processed, decisions are made. As I say, the situation is essentially that Labor says that after 90 days if people are still in detention they should be looked at by an independent committee and if the government of the day doesn’t like the decision that they should be released, then the Minister should come forward and give his reasons why and each month after that there should be a justification by the Department as to their continued detention. That’s Labor Party policy and I’m extremely comfortable with it.

JOURNALIST: What is the certainty for people on temporary protection visas mean?

FERGUSON: You can understand our policy. We support, in round terms, to be honest with you we don’t have particular difficulties with Petro’s provisions on temporary protection visas but I don’t want to go through each and every item. If you want to know, we’re very comfortable with Petro’s provisions.

JOURNALIST: So you’d give them permanent refugee status?

FERGUSON: I said we are comfortable with his provisions. You can see what’s in there and we agree with what he’s saying.

JOURNALIST: Why can’t you just say the words?

FERGUSON: Our current policy is that the overwhelming majority of them would receive permanent residence after two years, which is in strong contrast to the Government’s current provision of rolling over people for years in limbo land.

There is a slight distinction at the moment between what Petro’s saying. He wants to automatically give them permanent residence. Labor’s current policy says that after two years, not after four or five years, six years like the current Government, the Department would have to reverse the onus and say their original decision was wrong and people shouldn’t be protected. We are very

close to Petro and we’re not going to quibble and argue about some minor difference between the two of us.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, you said before that, “permit us our tactics”. There’s a poll published today that suggests that Labor’s going backwards. How much is that a reflection that your tactics haven’t worked so far?

BEAZLEY: I’ve said to you before in these gatherings, I’m not going to comment on polls. You get hundreds of them, some of them good, some of them are not so good, but there’ll be hundreds of polls between now and when the next election occurs. We are in a struggle with the Liberal Party and the soul of middle Australia and for their political allegiance and we’re in a battle with them. This is a political party in office now that’s in fact enormously damaging to the lifestyles, the aspirations of middle Australians. This tax package is part of it. They get nothing out of it. The industrial relations reforms, or changes, that they’re putting place, that’s part of it, they get nothing out of it. What we’re going to do over the course of the next couple of years is to contest that ground with the Liberal Party and polls will come and go through the course of it and I’m satisfied with our positioning now.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) the whole of the nation, the Prime Minister says that the farmers are part of our national character, our heritage, if you like and they need to be preserved on that basis. What do you say to that?

BEAZLEY: He said again yesterday, the Liberals out there, marvellous spin, little substance. They’re still not back to the level of support for the interest rate subsidy that was there under Labor and yet he says this is the worst drought ever. Basically, what they did yesterday in resources was to push it up to a little bit ahead of where it had been if they hadn’t cut it during the Budget. I mean, really.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any concern about claims of double standards between the Government’s treatment of farmers when you compare that to the way they want to treat the Budget provisions to treat parents, sole parents for example, or disability people?

BEAZLEY: We disagree with the Government’s intentions with regard to people with disabilities and people who are sole parents and we’ll pursue that with great consistency. We’re also sympathetic to the situation the farmers find themselves in. We don’t agree with the Government’s efforts to make life harder

and provide no effective support while they do that to some of the most vulnerable people in our society and we also think that the Government needs to do a decent job for the farmers.

JOURNALIST: You were raising questions in Parliament yesterday about the contrast in the tax cuts with the pay rises for MPs. That being the case, why

won’t you move in the Senate to disallow the increase in the Remuneration Tribunal’s increases to MPs?

BEAZLEY: We support the position of tribunals and their recommendations. What we don’t like is what the Government has done to the particular tribunal that considers the minimum wage cases. That’s the point we were making yesterday. Not only have they opposed an increase that would keep the minimum wage up with changes in the cost of living. They’ve said to the Industrial Relations Commission, ‘look, don’t give them anything because they’re getting a $6.00 tax cut’. We think that that is where the inconsistency in all this lies. The Government should have a different position before the Industrial Relations Commission in regard to the minimum wage. The Government should be more generous to people of these income levels when it comes to tax cuts as we are now giving the opportunity to be in the amendments that we are moving in the Senate and that’s where we want to place the pressure on the Government. That’s what affects everybody. So that’s why we ask questions like we did yesterday, contrasting the endless hypocrisy of this Government when it comes to dealing with its closest supporters against the interests of those of the vast majority of the Australian people, some seven million of them missed out on a decent tax cut this time.

JOURNALIST: Could you clear up for us then whether you will move to disallow those tax cuts in the Senate as well as vote against the legislation?

BEAZLEY: No, Jim. What it means is that we will continue to press the point about the Government’s complete lack of generosity when it comes to dealing with people on the minimum wage and point out to the public generally

what the Government intends to do to them with the Industrial Relations Commission changes. Those Industrial Relations Commission changes have at their very heart an effort to gut this limited process and hold back people on minimum wages and we will pursue that matter until Hell freezes over.

JOURNALIST: That means then that it is conceivable that you will allow the, or not oppose, the actual tax cut regulations?

BEAZLEY: We understand exactly what Costello’s doing with that. He had Parliamentary measures open to him to avoid any of that if he so chose but he wanted a distraction. He has put that in as a distraction from the main point because what they do not want to discuss is the fact that the Labor Party is there with a reasonable tax cut for everybody and a really decent tax cut for people who are middle income Australians. Costello doesn’t want to discuss that. He wants to discuss Parliamentary tactics and we say to him, you’re not going to get a discussion from us on that, sport. We’re going to deal with these bills first and then we’ll worry about your regulations.

JOURNALIST: Do you support the independence of the Remuneration Tribunal? Can you see how the man in the street might wonder how these decisions can be arrived at when they’re not getting anything like that?

BEAZLEY: I think the people have got every reason to wonder about this Government. They’ve got reason to wonder about them on tax and reason to wonder about them on the IRC. So we support them in their wondering.

JOURNALIST: Regarding your (inaudible) isn’t there a convention whereby the Labor and the Government agrees not to have divisions on Private Members’ Bills? Are you willing to break that gentleman’s agreement when it comes to Georgiou’s Bill?

BEAZLEY: Once a bill’s in the House anything can happen to it. Yes, there are certain conventions which apply to the discussions on Mondays. There’s nothing that particularly says that’s the only day we’re allowed to talk about some efficiencies in migration.