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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




17 November 2023


MATTHEW DORAN: Let's take you to Sydney now, where the Manager of Opposition Business Paul Fletcher joins us live. Welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. For people watching at home, watching our parliament has been behaving over the past few days, they would have seen some rowdy scenes. Rowdy is probably an understatement. Accusations from both sides of politics that people are not taking this issue seriously. Has there been an edifying display, you think?

PAUL FLETCHER: The root cause of the problem was that the Immigration Minister and the government appeared to have no plan to deal with the possibility of the High Court striking down the immigration detention arrangements, and as a result, the government simply releasing 84 hard-core criminals into the Australian community, including convicted murderers, rapists and so on, so what the parliament has been doing this week is the opposition has been using the Parliament and Question Time to press the government on these matters and put forward a plan. At the start of the week the government said there was no possibility of legislation to try to recover at least in part the situation and protect the safety of the Australian community. The government on Wednesday suddenly said yes, it would rush to introduce legislation. It only briefed opposition on that legislation at 7:15am on Thursday morning. The opposition and Peter Dutton taking the lead experienced former Home Affairs Minister, making several proposals to strengthen the legislation, it went through both houses. The House of Representatives came back at 10pm Iast night to pass the legislation. Now, this is still not the preferred situation thanks to the opposition efforts and Peter Dutton's efforts and Dan Tehan, our shadow minister, at least there have been some safeguards introduced here.

MATTHEW DORAN: What is your preferred decision, your preferred outcome when it comes to dealing with this group?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, you heard Peter Dutton speaking earlier and also Dan Tehan. First of all the government should have had a clear plan and anticipated the contingency the High Court might strike down the current arrangements and indeed there were some signals and comments from the Justice Gleeson earlier this year that was at least a possibility. Then, what the government should have done is had legislation ready to go, they should have included at least the measures that we succeeded in having added, but it should also have looked at a preventative detention regime. The government has a large number of lawyers and a lot of legal expertise, a large department here, it should have put that department to work so that there was a plan B to keep Australians safe as that of growing up their hands are saying the High Court has ruled and there was no option but to release these 84 hardened criminals into the Australian community. We now know from the briefing that the government gave the opposition yesterday morning is in fact there is potentially up to another 340 so this is a significant threat to the safety of Australians. It has ramifications across Australia, over 30 people released and unsupervised in a motel in Western Australia. In South Australia, the Police Commissioner was advised that up to five of these people would be coming to South Australia. It is creating community safety challenges all around the country.

MATTHEW DORAN: Is inherent difficulty in trying to bring about a regime as you are suggesting on going detention albeit under a different legislative framework? The High Court still has not released its full reasons in this case. Is there a risk that if the government had gone down the route, brought in legislation along the lines that you are talking about, that in a few months time, that too could get knocked down because we have not seen the full reasons?

PAUL FLETCHER: This is one of the excuses the government has used to this week for why it had not done anything. Earlier in Question Time, that is what they are saying. Finally they agreed that yes, it was possible to bring forward legislation to mitigate some of the worst aspects of the situation, and indeed, as we said when the legislation was shared with the opposition, the Leader of the Opposition was able to suggest several measures to somewhat strengthen it. We still think that this is a position the government should not have allowed itself to get into. Essentially, when the decision was announced, the government was completely flat-footed and do not appear to have a plan and was not until - bear in mind that was halfway through last week. (CROSSTALK).

MATTHEW DORAN: Sorry, but are saying the government has been flat-footed. It has brought in some legislative change now. What your colleagues are advocating for is much further than that. I am asking whether or not that it is difficult to achieve at this stage when we don't have the full reasons of the High Court. Is this not a fair enough middle step to be taking?

PAUL FLETCHER:  We believe that every effort should be made deploying all of the expertise and capability of the Home Affairs Department and the very significant legal expertise there as well is policy and operational expertise to introduce legislation which establishes and prevent detention regimes, but the government appears to have made no effort to do that. Yes, these issues are difficult, government is difficult, there are a lot of challenges, including the fact there are continually activist lawyers challenging legal arrangements which are there to keep Australians safe. What the Coalition did when we were in government under Peter Dutton as Home affairs minister was work hard to keep Australians safe and at the moment, unfortunately, we have a government that appears to have the lack of capacity to do that. It took considerable pressure from the opposition for them to introduce some basic safeguards in the legislation was passed. They had to scramble to do that. We moved quickly to respond and facilitate that because we thought it was better than the previous position. But itt is still a long way short of what a capable government should have been doing.

MATTHEW DORAN: Before we let you go, Peter Dutton has copped a fair bit of criticism from the Prime Minister this week for a motion he moved in parliament which mentioned this situation with immigration detention and what he describes as a rise of anti-Semitic rhetoric in Australia. Is he politicising the latter by linking it to the former in that way?

PAUL FLETCHER: Not at all. What the opposition was doing on the motion that Peter Dutton moved was highlighting that there is an appreciable rise in anti-Semitism in Australia. In recent weeks, we have seen the disgraceful rally by Hamas sympathisers outside a synagogue in Caulfield while a service was going on. we have seen motorcycles drive through the Eastern Suburbs. We saw  the disgraceful scenes on Monday, October 9, at the forefront of...(CROSSTALK).

MATTHEW DORAN: But they are two distinct issues. One dealing with immigration detention... (CROSSTALK).

PAUL FLETCHER: No, I disagree with you there. The common theme is a lack of focus from the Albanese Government and the Prime Minister on measures to deal with these challenges. The Leader of the Opposition suggested in terms of the risks to community safety as a result of demonstrations by Hamas sympathisers that the National Cabinet should be called together and of course we have also suggested policy measures, indeed some are legislated now in response to this High Court decision. But these are both issues they go to community safety. I can tell you, Masada college in my electorate of Bradfield, a school that was subject to the disgraceful refusal by a particular business owner in Western Sydney, to respond to a request for a quote in relation to games for children, and then she posted that on her Social media. There is considerable disquiet in the community, the Jewish community, more broadly, about safety. Masada college is a fine institution and to see dragged into is very disappointing. But it speaks to the importance of maintaining community cohesion and mutual understanding and tolerance. Australia is one of the most successful multicultural nations but we need to continue to work at that social stability and in part. That means people have confidence that if you see thuggish Hamas sympathisers engaging in the burning of flags and chanting gas the Jews and worse, that the full force of the law will be applied and we certainly believe that the Prime Minister should have convened National Cabinet with the premiers to deal with these issues with a view to maintaining community safety.

MATTHEW DORAN: We have to leave it there Paul Fletcher. Thank you for your time.