Topics: COVID-19, National Missing Person’s Week, Australian Citizenship.
NEIL BREEN: Every week I chat to the Home Affairs Minister, Cabinet member as well, MP for McPherson on the Gold Coast, Karen Andrews. The Minister joins me on the line. Good morning, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, how are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m well, thanks. Of course the Government grinds away, working away, but keep getting bogged down on COVID. Now it’s the Sydney drama and it just takes the attention away of the Federal Government.
KAREN ANDREWS: Oh look, COVID is front of mind for everyone at the moment and of course, we’re all concerned about what’s happening in Sydney, and more broadly in New South Wales at the moment. But the Government doesn’t stop just because we’re dealing with one significant issue. So there are a lot of other things that we continue to work on during COVID. It obviously does take away the opportunity to come to people’s attention as much as the COVID issues are at the moment. But rest assured, we are still working.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah. You’re announcing a new initiative today from the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland Police to help locate and identify missing persons. Like, it’s a never ending saga, this missing persons, people who drop off the grid or people who’ve been murdered and the search for them goes on. Why is this different?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well this time, and of course, over the years, technology has advanced significantly. So we’re now doing a couple of things. We’re looking at establishing an annual Family of Missing Persons Day. So that will happen this year. And that is to raise awareness. So that’s an important part of the whole process. But also what we’re going to be able to do is start collecting the DNA of family members, picking up other personal things, such as hairbrushes, toothbrushes, have them analysed so that we can actually increase the database. This gives our experts, particularly within the AFP, but also with State policing partners, the opportunity to look at how we can match some of that information and hopefully identify some of these people, many of whom died many, many years ago. And this will hopefully bring closure to their family members.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah. Sometimes you just need a bit of publicity. Karen Andrews, I remember when I was a young police rounds reporter at the Sunday Sun, the old Sunday Sun that’s now closed down in Brisbane. I did a missing person story about this guy who lived in the bushland near Yeppoon. And we put his photo in the paper and everything and then another guy contacted police after reading the story and said that he’d seen sort of a mound of sand, you know, in the mangroves near where he lived. And the police went and searched. And of course, he’d been murdered and he was in there, which was a terrible outcome. But it was the publicity that got to the bottom of it.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yep, and it is a really important thing to continually keep raising awareness. So, yeah, that was a great story and yes, it did have a sad outcome, but a really good outcome for the family members of that individual.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah. A couple of stories are bubbling around that are in your remit, your Coalition colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, he’s been on record and he’s still saying he’s sympathetic to the Biloela Tamil family. And he was talking about, because he once he lost a job unfairly himself when he was accused of being a New Zealander. Is that putting pressure on the government over this family? He’s the Deputy Prime Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, Barnaby Joyce has been on the record before for his concerns over what happened when he found out that he was a dual-citizen because of associations with, I think it was his father, with New Zealand. So, he’s on the record, well and truly concerned with that. He’s also spoken about many other issues, particularly the family who had moved in Biloela. And of course, all Australians have sympathy for people in very difficult circumstances. But in regard to that family, we are supporting them. They are in the community in Perth. They’re getting the support that they need, they’re pursuing their legal challenge and that will need to play out.
NEIL BREEN: There’s this other weird story I’ve got to ask you about. And Quade Cooper – he’s a controversial sort of a rugby union player, he’s a Wallaby. He’s played 70 tests. He came to Australia from New Zealand as a 13-year-old. He went to Churchie – Anglican Church Grammar school in East Brisbane there. He played rugby union for East, he played 12 years for the Reds, 70 tests as I said for the Wallabies. But he’s been denied citizenship, and he got a letter back from the Home Affairs Department which said he didn’t provide proper evidence of, in quotes, ‘being a person who engaged in activities to the benefit of Australia’. This is a bit weird. If he doesn’t quality, then the Biloela Tamil family will be 78,000 years of age when they qualify.
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, look, it was interesting to read about that story as it was playing out. I think on Twitter was where it first popped up. You’ve got a lot on Twitter, don’t you?
NEIL BREEN: Yes.
KAREN ANDREWS: But look, there’s absolutely no question that he’s been an absolutely fantastic athlete. He’s been an inspiration to so many Australians but – and there always is a but, unfortunately – when we’re speaking about Australian citizenship, it is a very significant and important issue. And many people have to go through a process multiple times to make sure that they are providing the information that the government needs to be able to make a decision. Conferring citizenship on someone is not a decision that the government ever takes lightly. And I’m sure that your listeners would think exactly the same thing. So we need to make sure that we are going through the right processes. There’s certainly opportunities for individuals if they feel that they have a case for review, they can go through that process. But we do ask all people to provide all the information that is asked of them so that we have an opportunity to assess their applications properly.
NEIL BREEN: I find that bizarre. He’s been here 20 years. He went to high school here and he played for the Wallabies 70 times. I can’t understand how he couldn’t qualify.
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, and on the surface, it’s very easy to come to that conclusion. But there are requirements in terms of the amount of time that you spend here in Australia and what those obligations bring over a period of time. And yes, there are opportunities for us to look at special circumstances of that, and all I ask is that people find the information that’s requested of them so a proper assessment can be made.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, okay. Well, that’s why I think Australia gets bogged down sometimes because we get bogged down in bureaucracy, because everything’s just so slow. It’s just- it’s too slow. It’s painful. Try and put a pergola on the back of your house, you know what I mean? Like, the layers of government – Karen Andrews, I honestly can’t understand how some guy who does high school here, plays club rugby, plays 12 years for the Reds, then 70 tests for the Wallabies, how he doesn’t qualify for citizenship and he’s been here 20 years.
KAREN ANDREWS: And I understand that point of view. And we will continue to go through the processes if they want to provide some more information. But it’s actually very clear what people need to do. You actually have to fill in the residency requirements to get Australian citizenship.
NEIL BREEN: So you think he’s been living overseas? You’re hinting that you think he’s been living in New Zealand or something? Well, how does he make it to Suncorp Stadium every Saturday night for 12 years?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I can’t go into the details of any particular case. But I do think that we have obligations in the Government to go through each and every application and make sure that they’re fulfilling their requirements. And your listeners would think exactly the same thing, that Australian citizenship is important. And people do need to go through a process, you know, in order to be able to access it. I agree with what you’re saying about bureaucracy, and we should not be bogged down in that all the time. But citizenship is important and it shouldn’t be conferred lightly, nor should it be taken away lightly.
NEIL BREEN: Okay. Minister for Home Affairs and MP for McPherson, Karen Andrews, thanks for joining us today. Go the Maroons tonight.
KAREN ANDREWS: Absolutely. Absolutely. Take care.