SUBJECTS: Biloela family; UK Free Trade Agreement; Climate Change.

HAMISH MACDONALD, HOST: Richard Marles is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Good morning to you.


MACDONALD: Very well, thank you. We understand the family will be reunited in Perth, possibly as early as today. Simon Birmingham says the government has taken a compassionate approach. Do you agree or was this political considerations?

MARLES: Well, we welcome this decision. You have ministerial discretion in the system so that there can be a rule of common sense and that that can be applied. And the reunification of this family in Perth certainly is applying the rule of common sense. I mean, the obvious point to make is; this could have happened a long time earlier. And I listened to the Minister then talking about listening to the views of the community, I mean the community of Biloela were making their views felt years ago. So we’re certainly pleased that this case is now panning out in this way. But not before millions of dollars of taxpayer’s funds have been spent on needlessly keeping this family on Christmas Island.

MACDONALD: On what grounds should they have been allowed to settle in Australia years ago?

MARLES: Well, as I say; the rule of common sense has a place here. That’s why the Minister has a discretion within the system. The legal status of the youngest daughter Tharunicaa is still in question. So there is whole processes to be played out here. And obviously we’ve seen her in a hospital in the last couple of weeks. All of that is a reason why we should be using ministerial discretion in this situation.

MACDONALD: You’ve also said that they should have been allowed to settle here years ago?

MARLES: Well,  the point we’re making is that ministerial discretion should have been applied a long time ago, and they should never have been put in a position of being placed on Christmas Island. I mean, it’s an enormous amount of expenditure for- of taxpayer’s money holding this family- pretty well alone- on Christmas Island. I mean, given the decision that’s now being made, it begs the question as to why this didn’t happen a long time ago.

MACDONALD: Okay, but neither the parents were found to be refugees in Australia. Is it Labor’s position that this family should be allowed to settle here permanently?

MARLES: Ultimately, you know, it’s important that legal processes take their course. But there is a role in the system for ministerial discretion. And that is the point that we’ve been making for a long time now in relation to the particular circumstances of this family.

MACDONALD: Sure, so to what end should that discretion now be used – to resettle them permanently? Or not?

MARLES: To have them go back to Biloela is the answer to that question. And ultimately, it’s a matter for the government as to the precise basis upon which that occurs. But the outcome here really should be clear in terms of what is a common sense approach, given their circumstances. And look, we’d be the first to make it clear that their – you know, this situation, in terms of those seeking asylum in Australia is complex. We understand the need for a very strict policy in relation to our border. But- and that has been put in place by successive governments under Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, and under the Coalition. Dealing with this family would not undermine any of the regime that has been put in place there, in terms of offshore processing, in terms of turning back boats at sea, all of that still stands. And you can still deal with the circumstances of this family, notwithstanding all of that. And that’s why we’ve been saying for some time that that’s what should have occurred.

MACDONALD: Simon Birmingham this morning, pointed to the parents decision to pursue various legal challenges, which he says has led to them being held for so long in detention. Does he have a point?

MARLES: Well, we have a legal system in this country, which people have rights in, and they have rights to pursue their legal avenues. And so I don’t think it’s fair to be saying that people who have pursued the rights that they have within our legal process, doing so have somehow done something wrong. And that the way in which they should be treated, while they are pursuing those rights is to be put on Christmas Island at the expense of millions of dollars of taxpayers money because that’s in effect what’s occurred here. And there is no application of a rule of common sense in relation to the handling of this case in that respect. That’s why you have ministerial discretion in the midst of all of this, because there are sometimes circumstances which are out of the ordinary which need to be dealt with on their own terms. And that is what we are saying should apply here from day one.

MACDONALD: Simon Birmingham, he did also say though, the government does not want to create a scenario where- I think he used the term- so that people could subvert the system by giving birth to children whilst here waiting, awaiting processing. Do you agree with that?

MARLES: I think it is important that we have a proper system in place, obviously, that’s right. But there are particular circumstances, which apply here and in the midst of that, there is room for a rule of common sense. That’s why there is ministerial discretion within the system. I mean, that’s the point to keep- we need to keep having in our mind. There needs to be some flexibility, ultimately, at the final call for a Minister and the decisions that they make, and that’s what should have been applied here. And this family should never have been sent to Christmas Island in the first place.

MACDONALD: Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson are expected to announce an in principle agreement for a free trade agreement, whilst Scott Morrison is in London. Will that have Labor’s support even if it means Australian farms might lose out on thousands of farm workers, as the Nationals seem to be worried about?

MARLES: Well, certainly, we have a concern about making sure that there is an available labour force for our agricultural sector. And so we’ll have a keen eye on that. And the answer to the question around the detail of any agreement that is signed is; we’ll have a good look at that detail before we you know, give our approval. But as a matter of principle, we certainly should be doing an agreement with the UK. And the government’s been talking about it for some time now, they actually need to get on and do this trade agreement. Now, you know, they have got to do it on the right terms, and the content of the deal matters. It’s just, it’s not enough to just do a deal. And as I say, we will have a look at the detail of it. But really, it is now time for the government to actually do this agreement with the UK.

MACDONALD: On climate, the Prime Minister was at odds with the G7 leaders over emissions cuts, to some extent. Still no commitment to decarbonize the economy by 2050 to net zero. Do you accept or acknowledge, though, that the Prime Minister does seem to be inching this government towards that position?

MARLES: Well, if he is it’s an incredibly slow means of movement. I mean, this government went to Paris, signed the Paris Accord. The underpinning proposition of the Paris Accord is net zero emissions by 2050. That should be the easiest thing in the world for this government to say, and yet they cannot say it. And again, the Prime Minister has refused to make that commitment. That’s what they need to be doing. And here we are, you know, eight years down the track of this government- I think they’re up to their 22nd energy policy- renewable energy is a critical component of how we get to reducing carbon within our economy. And the sector is crying out for some stability in policy settings so that it knows how to invest because these are all long term investments. And all the while, the employment, the jobs that would come from that kind of investment is being denied to the Australian economy, being denied to Australian workers. I mean, this government has completely failed when it comes to meaningful action on climate change and producing settled energy policy in this country. So he’s not only at odds with the G7, the Prime Minister is at odds with the way the world is going. And it’s actually critically important for our own economy, for jobs in our own economy, that this government actually starts to do what it should do, and that is have meaningful action on climate change- and make a commitment to zero net emissions by 2050.

MACDONALD: It’s a quarter past eight on breakfast. I’m speaking to the Deputy Opposition Leader, Richard Marles. A little bit of breaking news as we go to air on the East Coast this morning; the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has just tweeted a statement- excuse me- detailing the circumstances of the release of the Biloela family into the community in Western Australia. Just to update you on some of that information. He says that the family now –  will now reside in suburban Perth, through a community detention placement, close to schools and support services, while the younger of the two children receives medical treatment from the nearby Perth Children’s Hospital. The statement does though also indicate that he is not taking a decision at this point on whether to exercise his powers to give the family permanent residency, here in Australia. Richard Marles, is that sufficient in this circumstance?

MARLES: Well, it’s certainly better than the family being on Christmas Island. But, again, it raises the obvious question that if we’re talking about the family being reunited in Australia, while circumstances play out, the obvious place for them to be reunited, and for them to reside is in the community that wants them and that’s Biloela.

MACDONALD: But there are no community detention facilities in Biloela, as I understand it. So, without granting them citizenship rights or residency rights, rather, how would that work?

MARLES: Well, it would work in the way that it works with so many people who are awaiting the determination of their immigration status, they’re in the community. I mean, the family is not hiding in Biloela, people know where they are. I mean, that’s the way in which it would play out. They don’t need to be in a form of detention. And ultimately, you know, this was the government that was crowing very loudly about not having children in detention. There are lots of people who are in the community, awaiting their immigration status to be determined. I would have thought the obvious thing that should apply here, is for that to occur in respect of this family and for them to be in the community that really wants them- and that’s Biloela.

MACDONALD: Richard Marles, thank you very much.

MARLES: Thanks, Hamish.


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