12 February 2019




FRAN KELLY: Well with national security emerging as a potent election issue we are joined now by the Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong. She’s also the Leader of the Opposition the Senate. Senator Wong, welcome back to Breakfast.

SENATOR PENNY WONG, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE: Good morning. Good to be with you in 2019 Fran.

KELLY: I’m going to come to the bill in a moment but we wake to the great news that Hakeem Alaraibi will soon be home. I think he’s on his plane. We have seen him go through security in Bangkok. He was behind bars for almost 80 days. Are you satisfied everything was done from this end that could be done? 80 days is a long time to spend for someone who is a refugee.

WONG: Look this is wonderful news. It really was wonderful when we got the news yesterday and I spoke to Marise shortly after when the news was received.

I want to make it very clear that the Opposition expresses its thanks to the Government and the people of Thailand. This was obviously something the Australian community has been asking for, has been working towards, and it is fantastic that the Thai Government and people have responded.

We should thank all the people in Australia who worked so hard to bring Hakeem home – Craig Foster, the football community, the local community, politicians across the spectrum. I also want to pay a particular thanks to our Australian diplomats serving in Thailand.

KELLY: Are you any clearer on how this came about? The story last night was Bahrain asked for these extradition proceedings to be dropped. There is also a sense that the Thai Attorney-General eventually did ask for those proceedings to be dropped. I know you have made representations to Thailand, our government has. What is your understanding?

WONG: The view I took, and the Opposition took, is our job for these last days has been to express our support for the calls to bring him home and certainly I made representations to the Thai Ambassador here and obviously publicly.

But once he is home I think there are questions which do need to be answered about how this occurred and the process by which it occurred. My view has been the focus had to be on getting him home and we can turn to looking at those issues and I think legitimate issues have been raised in the public arena which need to be explored

KELLY: The Federal Police notified Thailand that Hakeem Alaraibi was on his way and subject to an Interpol Red Notice without mentioning he was a refugee with Australian protection because they didn’t know it, they hadn’t picked that up.

WONG: I think one of the key issues is whether the automated Interpol Red Notice system is fit-for-purpose when it comes to people like Hakeem who are refugees. So I think that needs to be explored.

KELLY: The Greens want an inquiry into this. Would Labor support that?

WONG: My plan, to start, will be to use Estimates next week and I’d encourage the Government to be upfront about this. I think the Australian community does want to know how this occurred and we do need to consider whether the system is fit-for-purpose.

KELLY: Let’s go now to the medical transfer bill. Labor passed it with the support of the crossbench in the Senate late last year but now that it has hit the House you have blinked. Why?

WONG: We have always had two objectives. One is to ensure that sick people get the medical care they need. The second is to ensure we maintain a robust system of border arrangements and key to that is ministerial discretion.

But when I listen to your quote, the quote that you played just now from Mr Morrison ..

KELLY: “There is no way shape or form the Government will support any amended bill.”

WONG: You know, fear is all this bloke’s got left. Fear is all this bloke’s got left. He can’t run on his record because his record is cuts and chaos. He can’t run on stability because the Government is bitterly divided, so all he wants to do is to manufacture a fight because fear is all he has left.

It’s clear from his speech yesterday, and on the way he has dealt with this issue, that this is his game plan and I think Australians are alive to it.

KELLY: Well has Labor caved into that? You used this bill originally to score a political win against the Government but then the Prime Minister ramps up the rhetoric and Labor amends it. It came after security briefings yesterday. Does that mean you accepted some of the Government’s arguments?

WONG: Well first, we used this bill to try to put pressure on to make sure sick kids got the care they need, the medical care they need. That’s what we used this bill for.

Secondly Mr Shorten was briefed yesterday, I think this is in the public arena, and we have seen, of course, security advice in the public arena and Labor has acted accordingly as we always do when it comes to advice given by our security agencies.

KELLY: So you agreed with the Prime Minister that the bill, as it was, was a security threat?

WONG: We acted on security advice that we received.

But can I say the most concerning thing about this is that this Government leaked classified information, briefed the media on classified information, using security information for political purposes. I think that is clear from the public reports of these last two weeks and that is a most irresponsible act by a government.

KELLY: Will Labor be pursuing that?

WONG: I think the matter has been referred to the Federal Police and it should be.

KELLY: Let’s go to the amendments because this will be voted on in the Reps today. The crossbench will meet with Labor to discuss the amendments. One of the amendments was to give the minister more time beyond the 24 hours which is in the original Phelps Bill to intervene if a medical transfer is recommended by two doctors. So how much more time?

WONG: The detail of this is still the subject of discussion with the crossbench.

KELLY: Can the people know?

WONG: I don’t believe all this detail has been resolved and it will be resolved by the time Parliament sits.

KELLY: Can you give us some idea? Is it two days, three days, a week?

WONG: I’m not going to start playing that sort of game. We want to improve the bill. We want to act on the advice of security agencies and achieve the objectives that we made clear last year were our objectives. We want to work with the crossbench to do that and we hope that we can come to a position where the majority of the Parliament can support the legislation.

KELLY: Kerryn Phelps, who was one of the prime movers of the original thing, that this has all been amended around, as a medical doctor said the whole point of this is timely medical care.

WONG: That’s true.

KELLY: That’s why there was a 24 hour limit.

WONG: And she is right and this will be the subject, I’m sure, of further discussions today before the matter comes into the House.

KELLY: One of the other amendments that Labor is putting forward is the security grounds upon which the minister could refuse a transfer, that they be expanded to include character and criminal records so not just terrorism and espionage.

WONG: I think this goes to the second principle that I outlined, we want people to get the medical care that they need but we also want to ensure the minister has appropriate discretion because that is integral to a strong border protection system.

KELLY: Penny Wong, the Government is determined to fight the May election on national security. Another front that may open up is the legislation making it easier to cancel the citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terrorism offences. You are a member of the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security examining that bill and yesterday I understand you told Caucus that Labor is likely to issue a dissenting report. That’s very unusual in terrorism legislation. Why?

WONG: Well Fran you don’t make Australians safer by passing laws that don’t work. And you don’t make Australians safer by giving an incompetent minister in Peter Dutton more powers and that’s what the legislation that is proposed does. It gives Peter Dutton more subjective powers to declare someone a citizen of another country.

We saw how well that worked when it came to Neil Prakash. Mr Prakash is a known terrorist. He should be in jail. What did Mr Dutton do? Without any advice from a Fijian law expert, without talking to the Government of Fiji, he unilaterally declared him to be a citizen of Fiji, that did clearly have no proper basis in fact. It caused a diplomatic incident. It was a blunder that had to be fixed up by the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Morrison. That did not make Australians safer.

Now, in terms of what will happen on the intelligence committee, I am not going to talk to you about that, that is privileged. We will work through that and Labor members will, as we always have, take a responsible and sensible approach.

But this is another example of the fear campaign that I described. If you listen to Mr Morrison on this, all this bloke has left is fear.

KELLY: Just finally and briefly on that, yes, the Prime Minister will jump on this, to be sure, and will accuse Labor of being soft on terrorism and soft on border protection.

Just finally back to the debate that will happen, to the vote that will happen in the Parliament today, if Labor doesn’t get support from the crossbench for its amendments will Labor vote against the bill?

WONG: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. Our focus at the moment is to try to get a bill through to make sure people get the medical care they need whilst maintaining a system of border arrangements and that is what we will do.

KELLY: Penny Wong, thank you very much.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.