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Shadow Minister for Science and the Arts

Shadow Minister for Government Services and the Digital Economy

Manager of Opposition Business in the House




30 November 2023


GREG JENNETT: As we always try to do near the end of a sitting period, frontbencher and manager of opposition business, Paul Fletcher joins us in the studio. Welcome back, Paul. Catastrophic handling of NZYQ, I think was an expression used in the Parliament today. What's the evidence for that? Everyone who has been released is now on bridging visa conditions that the Coalition has agreed to. In what sense catastrophic or is this just in line with the hyperbole of the week?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, not at all. Let's look at what happened here, which was a High Court decision in the case of one individual, NZYQ. We then when that came down, we then saw several days of no response from the government. The government then said that it was forced to release what was initially some 80 hardened criminals. We knew that amongst them were murderers, rapists, paedophiles and others. That number has kept rising, by the way. So at the start of today, it was 141. Now it's 142. Now, yes, there are some conditions but that is because the coalition pressed for legislation to be introduced in response to this catastrophic development. Labor wasn't going to do that for three days of the previous sitting week. They said no, no, no. On the Thursday morning they caved. They came forward with legislation. They briefed the opposition 8 a.m. that morning. We said it needs more. We suggested some 6 or 7 additional provisions. Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, a former home affairs minister, deployed his expertise and we facilitated that going through the House in one day. So we did all of that. But if we hadn't done that, things would have been even worse. But they're still things they're trying to fix up.

GREG JENNETT: I don't want to sort of reprocess that all of this week. But you did ask for more laws, tough laws. The tougher, the better. On Monday, you were given the chance to tighten what I think are effectively loopholes in visa conditions and voted no. I don't want all the ins and outs of it. But was that a tactical blunder? Not at all. For which you've paid all week?

PAUL FLETCHER: No, not at all. We have got a very clear track record, first of all, of being strong on border protection. Every time a coalition government is in power, you see that, of course, when Labor comes to power, Last time Labor in power before this government, 50,000 illegal maritime arrivals. Now we were shown a new piece of legislation. 8 a.m. Monday this week. We're asked to vote on it within a matter of hours. And we said we've got some further matters that we think need to be addressed. They weren't addressed to our satisfaction and so we voted against it. But of course, we stand ready to engage constructively. Then on a second piece of legislation, the citizenship, so some new powers of for the minister to strip the citizenship of somebody who's been convicted of very serious crimes, if that person is a dual citizen, to have their Australian citizenship removed. That legislation passed the House yesterday, we voted for it. It's in it was in the Senate today. We facilitated that being brought on quickly. We've proposed some amendments. We're still waiting to hear the government's position on those. So, look, we've been constructive. We've done what we can from our position to help the government deal with its own catastrophic mismanagement.

GREG JENNETT: Let's move on a little. We won't go through all the allegations of protector of paedophile. And is that something that opposition, though, just briefly is still seeking some sort of apology for? I think that was a call made by the leader earlier today.

PAUL FLETCHER: Look, it was pretty disgraceful language, but frankly, it's a ludicrous suggestion to make about Peter Dutton as somebody who has been a policeman. He's had over 20 years in politics. He's got a record which is second to none in standing up for victims of crime, and both in the legislative work he's done and of course in his previous work as a policeman, I think it's a deeply offensive thing, but it's also an absolutely ridiculous thing to say.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Well, you might be familiar with our audience, Paul Fletcher. I know they're very keen on parliamentary procedure and what next week might look like. We do have these outstanding outstanding preventative detention laws to come from the government. Have you been briefed on how next week will work, how the Senate will deal with that? And is the House in fact only coming back for one day next week?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, it remains the position that the government has advised us that the House will be back next Thursday. That's in the sitting timetable. You'd recollect that a couple of months ago the Government cancelled a week of sittings to facilitate the Prime Minister having some more overseas travel. And when we complained about that, it highlighted that raised some significant problems They put in one additional day for the House of Representatives, so they got rid of four, added one, and -

GREG JENNETT: You’re not going to be sitting until Christmas. Are you?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, that'll again be in the hands of the government. But what we anticipate will happen is some of those bills which are in the Senate, particularly, for example, the citizenship one, the Senate will deal with that in over Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, next week as the Senate is sitting for the full week. And then those bills will come back to the House. There'll be be open to the House to pass them. We, of course, will engage constructively as we have continued to do, but we will also, as ever, reserve our right to see the provisions and judge them on their merits. All right.

GREG JENNETT: Many outstanding talking points for the week. One to select it because it kind of is in your laneway. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral matters, the possibility it's only to examine this, not to do it, to potentially expand the House up to 200 representatives and another four in the Senate. What's wrong with that?

PAUL FLETCHER: That's a dreadful idea. That's a dreadful idea. You're talking about 53 additional politicians. You go from 151 to 200 in the House, another four in the Senate. You're probably looking another 200 to 250 staffers to support them.

GREG JENNETT: So it's only a cost.

PAUL FLETCHER: When you say only a cost, we've got a cost-of-living crisis. Australians are doing it tough. This government is splashing money around, wasting money, $450 million on the Prime Minister's vanity voice referendum, 250 million now to monitor criminals who never should have been let out in the first place. And now they're contemplating spending what would be hundreds of millions over a number of years.

GREG JENNETT: Are you prepared to represent an ever-growing number of constituents? I think on average 114,000 people per seat, roughly on average, That will grow. It won't stop.

PAUL FLETCHER: I think on any international comparison, the ratio of politicians to people in Australia is a high one. And look, it's an honour to represent the people I do and I know that every politician, every parliamentarian feels the same way, but I don't think the case has been made and I think the Australian people are rightly very sceptical of the proposition that what we need right now is more politicians. We strongly disagree with that.

GREG JENNETT: All right, well, you and others will just have to work harder on current demographic trends, apparently. Paul Fletcher It is only a proposal though, to be examined, not to be done. I'm not going to say farewell to you either, because it may well be that we talk again next week. Thanks for all your involvement as ever.