Topics: Sri Lankan Tamil Family, Transport Security, Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement
NEIL BREEN: Every Wednesday, I speak to Home Affairs Minister, MP for McPherson. She’s a Cabinet Minister as well, Karen Andrews. It’s been a big week in politics since I last spoke to her. She joins me on the line now. Good morning to you, Minister.
KAREN ANDREWS: Good morning, Neil. How are you?
NEIL BREEN: I’m very well, thanks. We had a robust discussion last week about the Biloela Tamil family and the news was announced by the Federal Government yesterday. They’ll be reunited in Perth and they’ll live there while there’s still court matters coming up. That’s because youngest daughter, Tharunicaa, she’s having medical treatment for pneumonia and sepsis. My suspicion is that this decision will appease no one. The people who want them to stay won’t be happy and the people who want them sent home won’t be happy.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah. Neil, can I just say to start with, there has been a lot of media commentary about why the young girl is in hospital and clearly, I can’t speak or give details about her medical condition, and I would never do that. But what I can say is that a lot of the reporting about the illness that the child is suffering from is inaccurate. So, let’s just proceed on the basis that the…
NEIL BREEN: That she’s not that sick?
KAREN ANDREWS: I can’t answer anything that would give details of this child’s medical condition other than to say a lot of the reporting has been inaccurate. So suffice to say that she is in hospital…
NEIL BREEN: That she doesn’t have pneumonia or sepsis?
KAREN ANDREWS: The illness that the child is suffering and is in hospital for has been well and truly treated, in the advice that I have been given. So, I need to leave it at that. But I do need to correct the record to a point, because some of the reporting has been very inaccurate. Now, she remains in hospital and will continue to get treatment. And that’s a good thing. And I have absolutely no issues with that. But I do want to defend Australian Border Force as well, because they’ve copped some fairly unfair criticism about the support that has been given to the family from a medical point of view for quite some time. So let’s be clear that the Australian Border Force and their contractors did actually act appropriately. And we all wish the child and the family the best of health going forward.
NEIL BREEN: Would you expect she might get out of hospital soon?
KAREN ANDREWS: I don’t know what the pathway forward is for her with her discharge, that will be for the medical professionals at Perth Hospital. We do wish her a speedy recovery. My understanding is that the father and the eldest child of that family arrived in Perth late yesterday afternoon. The family will have been reunited by now. There’s accommodation that has been provided for them in Perth, and they will live there while they deal with health issues with their youngest daughter and they pursue litigation in a number of different forums, including the AAT and the courts.
NEIL BREEN: Okay. Karen Andrews, on a separate matter, like I was shocked yester- oh, look, I’ve seen this bubble around before in the past, but I was shocked to read a loophole existed that allowed people with serious criminal backgrounds to work in secured areas of airports and seaports. But you’re going to shut that loophole.
KAREN ANDREWS: That’s what the plan is. That’s the legislation that’s currently in the Senate now. Labor debated this endlessly, yesterday, until the Senate went into adjournment. So it’s back on today. And quite frankly, it’s beyond belief that anyone would think that it’s okay for people who have criminal records or criminal associates, should be allowed to work air side, or wharf side- seaside on our wharfs. I mean, it’s just outrageous. I mean, it’s just not acceptable. I mean, when you and I go through security at the airports, we have to take off shoes, we have to take off belts, sometimes its Apple watches that we have to take off. And yet we can have people who can work air side at the airport with criminal records. Now, we actually the evidence…
NEIL BREEN: It’s bizarre.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah. I mean, it’s just outrageous. And no one, I’m sure, really thinks that that’s okay. So it begs the question, I mean, why is Labor opposing these changes? I mean, surely, surely they would want our airports and our wharves to be safe. Now, there are many, many people who work there who don’t have criminal matters hanging over them. Great, that’s terrific. And I make no derogatory remarks at all about them. But what I will say is that we know that there are people there who should not be allowed to work in a secure environment. This legislation has been into three parliaments now, and Labor has dragged its heels and we saw them doing it again yesterday. So they say that they’re focussed on national security. Well, they need to demonstrate that they are.
NEIL BREEN: Is it because of unions or something? It’s a heavily- there’s unionised workforce at airports?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, maybe it’s true that Labor is beholden to the unions.
NEIL BREEN: I find that completely odd. Hey, the Prime Minister met the Queen overnight and had a tea and biscuits. But there was this in principle agreement for a UK trade deal. It’s going to involve allowing British citizens to come here under certain ages and they won’t have to do so much farm work. And Australian citizens under the age of 35 can go to the UK for two years and things like that. So it’s a pretty interesting stuff that’s been put forward.
KAREN ANDREWS: Yeah, it certainly is. And then, yes, I did see the pictures of the Prime Minister meeting with the Queen. So that’s a good thing for Australia. And of course, he passed on Australia’s condolences following the death of Prince Philip, so that’s good. But of course, with the free trade agreement, this is actually the first agreement that the UK has signed post-Brexit. So it’s pretty extraordinary in that case to be able to do it arguably as quickly as we have been able to do so. And yes, there are some benefits for Australia, particularly for our ag sector, where tariffs are increasingly going to come off things such as beef, sheep, sugar will come down, dairy tariffs will come down over time. And of course, there will be greater opportunities for younger workers to travel between the UK and Australia under the working visas. So that actually starts to deal with some of the significant skills issues that we’ve been facing in Australia. We know there’s issues with seasonal workers. We want them to be able to work in our rural and regional areas. So I think that as this agreement comes into effect and starts to roll out, we’ll see some real opportunities for Australian workers, Australian businesses, and particularly our farmers.
NEIL BREEN: Yeah, I think so. Good stuff. Hey, Home Affairs Minister and Cabinet Minister Karen Andrews, joins us every Wednesday. Thanks so much for your time this morning.
KAREN ANDREWS: It’s a pleasure talking to you, Neil. Have a good day.