Subjects: Labor’s border protection legislation fail
STEVE PRICE: The Shadow Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews joins me now. Does this smell to you?
KAREN ANDREWS: Oh, look, there’s clearly something that is just not right about what has happened here. So clearly the designation of Nauru as a regional processing center lapsed in October. The information is publicly available 18 months out as to what provisions or pieces of legislation sunsetting, it was up to the Minister of the day, and that’s Clare O’Neil to make sure that she was across the issues, particularly in an area that’s so critical as Operation Sovereign Borders of which, a regional processing center is critical to Operation Sovereign Borders. So it’s very clear that the legislation lapsed, it was hurrieidly introduced into the house and to the senate yesterday, in fact, the leader of the house suspended proceedings to make sure that this was dealt with as a matter of urgency. And I would think it should be treated as a matter of urgency because this is a pretty big hole that was left in our border security for a period of four months. Now, when I was briefed on Monday, let me be very clear, I’m not about to start saying at this point what happened in that briefing because I was advised of a number of issues, and I will always respect the information that I am given in a private briefing. But what we saw in question time today is that the Minister, Clare O’Neil stated that her office, she was advised of this on the 15th of December. Now, that date was absolutely news to me because in the briefing on the Monday, so a couple of days ago only, I specifically asked questions about the timing and was not given a date other than ‘late’ December. So for the Minister to then go in post question time and make a statement where she said that I had been advised of the 15th of December and that it was late, or words to that effect, but she specifically said I was advised in the briefing of the 15th of December is untrue. And there were a number of opposition staff that were in that briefing taking extensive notes. And they have exactly the same recollections and understanding as I do. And it is extraordinary to say the least for a Minister to go into the house and make a statement that is untrue because I was not told the date of the 15th of December.
STEVE PRICE: So given your experience in this portfolio, when you were in government, and I understand that some of this confidential briefing might not allow you to answer this question, do we know if any asylum seeker boats were redirected or the people on those boats picked up by the Navy and transported to Nauru during that four month period when it was technically not able to be done? And if they were, do they have now a legal case to be taken to the Australian mainland and processed on the mainland itself?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, they all very good questions, Steve, we do know that there were at least-
STEVE PRICE: And you can’t answer them-
KAREN ANDREWS: -Well, I can give you some answers to that, because what we do know, and it’s publicly available information, is that there were two boats. We don’t know if there’s all fine, reporting’s not through at this stage, but there were two boats that were turned around. My understanding is that no one was taken to Nauru. Those boats were turned around and people were returned to where they had in embarked on their journey. That’s my understanding, but you’ve raised a really important issue about what would’ve happened. Now it’s all to say, well, nothing did happen. So it’s all okay. I mean, that’s actually an argument for those people who wish to try and pursue that, because for a period of four months there was a significant hole in Operation Sovereign Borders and would’ve been a legal mess if there had been a vessel and people needed to be transported to Nauru, so that’s a matter for the Minister to come clean about. But at this stage, she has not been able to issue any sort of a mea culpa and in fact she didn’t do anything for four months to remedy the situation. She can’t blame other people. She’s the Minister responsible. This happened on her watch, she was sworn in in, I believe, June. But in any case, it was around about June, she had a few months to make sure that she was across the issues in work portfolio, across Operation Sovereign Borders, across sunsetting legislation and to act, and she didn’t.
STEVE PRICE: Do you think if the government had their way, they they’d do away with Nauru?
KAREN ANDREWS: What’s put to me by a number of individuals who are sort of really questioning the reasoning behind this, look I at this stage refer to the fact that it was it was a monumental mix-up by the Minister and her office. So I’m happy to go with that at the moment. But I mean, we started this conversation, Steve, with you saying this is a little bit fishy. I mean, quite frankly, who knows what we are going to find out, you know, either today, tomorrow, next week in senate estimates, but there’s something seriously not quite right.
STEVE PRICE: Is there anyone still on Nauru, any asylum seekers still there?
KAREN ANDREWS: Yes they are, but they are in the community. So they’re not in the detention centre that is they’re in the community. And I have been asked the question, what would’ve been the issues individuals there about transitory persons who are in Australia? And I’ve asked similar questions myself, I didn’t get too many answers. But we know that it’s potentially an untested legal area because at no time during the Coalition’s watch anyway was there an issue in relation to Nauru being a designated regional processing centre. So this whole catastrophe happened on Labor’s watch, and they can’t continue to keep blaming the Coalition. I mean, when are they going to stop and understand that they are the ones in government they get to take responsibility? With that comes hard decisions, but also comes with that, the opportunity and the need to make sure that good government processes are in place. And that means that you have to maintain the legislation that is needed.
STEVE PRICE: Karen Andrews always pleasure to catch up.
KAREN ANDREWS: Thank you very much.