Topics: Cancellation by the Australian Border Force of Novak Djokovic’s visa; Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre.
LARRY GRAHAM: We’re joined by Federal Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews. Good morning, Karen. Welcome to 6PR.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Larry. How are you?
LARRY GRAHAM: I’m fine. Now, I’ve just read up a bit on you – you’re a Townsvillian.
KAREN ANDREWS: I am indeed.
LARRY GRAHAM: I’ll tell you what – I was in the army up there in the – well, you were still a chicken – in the 1970s, and I was at Lavarack with 1 Battalion, and I absolutely loved Townsville. Played footy up there. Was there for Cyclone Althea. Helped rebuild the joint after that. Loved the place. Fantastic town.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yep. Absolutely. Well, my family was up there as well during Cyclone Althea, and as you know it did a tremendous amount of damage. We did rely very heavily on the army being able to come through and assist with the rebuild and they did a fantastic job, so thank you.
LARRY GRAHAM: Pleasure. Pleasure. Nobody ever offered us a beer after that, either, I’ve got to say, with my tongue firmly in my cheek. But let’s move on from reminiscences. John Howard said ‘we’ll decide who comes to our country and the circumstances in which they come’ and you’ve done that by refusing this visa. Why did you do that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, we’ve made it very clear that to enter Australia you need to have, firstly, a valid visa and then you have to meet quite specific entry requirements. Now that means – particularly in the COVID environment – what we have in place, is a requirement to have a negative PCR test, to fill in and upload information in relation to an Australia Travel Declaration and that you have to have proof of vaccination. If you don’t have proof of vaccination, you have to provide acceptable proof that you cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. So that’s clearly what our position is. That applies to every single person who is coming into Australia – we’re very clear on that. We will determine who comes into Australia; we will set out clearly what the requirements are, which is a visa plus entry requirements. The point that I’d really like to make – because I think there’s a fair bit of confusion about this out there – and that is, an exemption to play tennis in Victoria is not an exemption to enter Australia. They are two entirely different issues, and the Victorian government does not have the authority to determine who enters Australia. That is a Commonwealth responsibility. Yes, we’ve granted visas, but the secondary part of that is the requirement for any individual who is seeking to enter Australia to meet the entry requirements.
LARRY GRAHAM: Okay, let’s unwrap that a little bit. Let’s deal with the Victorian issue. I don’t think anyone – or no one that I’ve heard – is saying Victoria had the right to offer a visa. What Victoria had in place, as I understand it, is a process that would allow people to enter Victoria. The decision about the visa always sat with the Federal Government. Is that correct?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes but let’s be clear on that. It’s the Australian Government’s responsibility – a Federal responsibility – for the visas and for the entry requirements. What the Victorian Government chooses to do in terms of an exemption to play tennis or to conduct any activity in Victoria is entirely a matter for them. What can’t be claimed is that any exemption to participate in an activity in Victoria means that you are then able to enter through our international borders, and that’s where I think the confusion is.
LARRY GRAHAM: Okay. No, I’m clear on that. But given those circumstances, why was a visa issued to this bloke?
KAREN ANDREWS: Okay, so visas are issued really quite separately. So there are many people overseas that currently have an approved visa. If they choose to come into Australia they don’t have automatic right of entry. They have a visa but then they have to meet the entry requirements. So that visa was issued, and it then means that in the case of Mr Djokovic, or any other individual, that they then need to meet the entry requirements to come in. So it’s not a case of ‘you get a visa and you’re straight in’. You get a visa as a step in the process to entering Australia.
LARRY GRAHAM: But part of the process under the COVID rules for issuing visas is that you have to be vaccinated, or prove that you’re not, or prove medical evidence that you can’t do it.
KAREN ANDREWS: No, it’s a separate process; the visa process is quite separate. It’s the entry requirements. So visa applications are assessed very separately on their merits. But the other part of entering Australia is the requirement to have the PCR test; to fill out your Australia Travel Declaration; and to have proof of vaccination or an approved process that sets out that you cannot be vaccinated for COVID because of medical reasons; and that has to be properly certified by a medical practitioner.
LARRY GRAHAM: Okay, and that’s not part of the visa process, is that the case?
KAREN ANDREWS: No, it’s not.
LARRY GRAHAM: Why? That’s absurd.
KAREN ANDREWS: No – well, it’s because it’s a very separate process. Visas have a validity for a certain amount of time. The requirements for entry into a country can change from time to time. So it is always: a visa is issued, and then the individual traveller has to make sure that they are aware of the requirements that they have to meet in order to enter the country.
LARRY GRAHAM: Okay, and they’re not matters of opinion, are they? They’re matters of fact.
KAREN ANDREWS: They’re matters of fact.
LARRY GRAHAM: And the person seeking to come in carries the responsibility to ensure that they comply with that?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes, it’s the individual traveller’s responsibility to make sure that they are meeting the entry requirements.
LARRY GRAHAM: Has this become a bit of a political game; a political football? Has the world’s greatest tennis player been chucked into an internal Australian political game?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, not from my perspective at all. I am purely viewing this on the basis of ‘does an individual meet the requirements to gain entry to Australia?’ – and that is, one, a visa and, secondly, having met the entry requirements, which includes PCR, Australia Travel Declaration and proof of vaccination, or proof that they cannot be vaccinated because of a medical reason.
LARRY GRAHAM: Okay. Do you as the minister for Border Force have any power to grant a visa outside of those rules?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, there’s various powers that are available. There’s Ministerial intervention. But our Government’s policy is very, very strong, and I think that the Coalition Government has always been recognised as having very strong border policies, policies that we are prepared to put in place and to make sure are upheld. Our policy is very clear – that you have to fulfil a number of requirements to gain entry to Australia and you have to be vaccinated or you have to have acceptable proof that you cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. So, you know, that’s pretty clear.
LARRY GRAHAM: Okay. But the question was: does the power exist? I think the answer was yes.
KAREN ANDREWS: There is Ministerial discretion that can be used in certain circumstances.
LARRY GRAHAM: So you would have – I doubt that you would – but you would have the power to say, “Well, this doesn’t apply to this chap or this person,” or whoever it may be can come in. You’ve got that power?
KAREN ANDREWS: Let me be very clear on what actions I will take, and that is always to upheld Government policy. It is very clear what the entry requirements are here.
LARRY GRAHAM: Okay. So what are the appeal processes now in this particular issue with Djokovic?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, my understanding is that there’s been some commentary about the fact that the decision may well be appealed. That may be the case. We will respond to that if and when it happens. Once an individual has had their visa cancelled they will be removed at the earliest opportunity. So that process is underway now to make sure that the removal is effected as soon as it possibly can; that’s the process from here.
LARRY GRAHAM: Well, look, thanks for that, Minister. But just before we go – and I genuinely appreciate you putting the time aside to talk to us about it because it’s the biggest issue in Australia, if not the world, at the moment in terms of politics and outcomes in sport, apart from the Ashes – but before you go, Christmas Island’s detention centre has been rocked by rioting again overnight. There’s been fires and the authorities have been negotiating with detainees. Can you bring us up to date on that, please? Is it all under control? What was the cause of it?
KAREN ANDREWS: I can confirm there was a disturbance overnight on Christmas Island. The situation has largely been brought under control at the moment. As you’ve indicated, there were fires; they have been extinguished. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The Australian Border Force is managing the situation on Christmas Island, and they will go through the process of investigating thoroughly what happened, what the issue actually was up there and to take appropriate action. I think the one thing that we need to be aware of is that at present on Christmas Island, it’s filled with large numbers of individuals who are awaiting removal. To put that into perspective, basically since 2014 there have been around about 10,000 visas cancelled or refused on character grounds. So there currently is quite a number of people on Christmas Island that are on a pathway to removal. We are working to remove these people and we will continue to work on that; it is a situation the Australian Border Force manages. If appropriate, the Australian Federal Police becomes involved in situations on Christmas Island as well, too. But, thankfully, at this point in time the situation is largely back under control.
LARRY GRAHAM: Gee, fire is becoming a bit of a protest weapon at the moment, isn’t it?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, I think many Australians were absolutely horrified at what went on at Old Parliament House. It really is an icon of democracy here in Australia. It’s a heritage building that has now had its doors and other parts of it, if not destroyed, very close to it. So many people were outraged across Australia and, quite frankly, in my view, rightfully so. It was appalling behaviour.
LARRY GRAHAM: I agree. That was Karen Andrews. The Home Affairs Minister. Thanks very much for your time, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure. Take care.