SUBJECTS: Biloela Family; UK Free Trade Agreement; Workforce shortages in regional Australia.
JOURNALIST: Would you mind just clarifying what Labor’s position is in relation to this family from Biloela, regarding what you’ve been saying about a rule of common sense?
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, it’s a good thing that the family have been reunited in Perth. It highlights how ridiculous it was that this family was placed on Christmas Island, essentially by themselves, at an enormous cost to the Australian taxpayer. What now needs to happen though, as the legal situation is resolved is that as soon as medical circumstances allow, this family should be returned to the community from which they’ve come, the community that wants them, and that’s Biloela. And, you know, ultimately, we would be the first to acknowledge that this is a difficult system to operate, questions of asylum seekers, those seeking refugee in this country are really difficult to determine. And it’s important that you have a set of rules which applies to that. But there is at its heart ministerial discretion, which means that the rule of common sense can apply here, and that’s what’s ultimately should be applied in relation to his family.
JOURNALIST: So, does Labor believe that this family should be permanently settled here, in Australia?
MARLES: Well, there is a process to play out. There is still a legal process in respect of the young girl, that needs to play out. But we make the point that at the end of the day, the Minister has discretion here, and that is so that there can be a rule of common sense applied within this system. And that’s what should occur.
JOURNALIST: So does anything actually need to change about our immigration policies? Or do you just think the Minister should use that discretion more liberally?
MARLES: Well, I think, in respect of this case, it’s really important, as in every case that there is an ability to have common sense apply. And that’s why the Minister has ministerial discretion. So in that sense, the system completely allows for it.
JOURNALIST: So if Labor was in government, you were in this same position, what would you do?
MARLES: Well, it’s impossible to answer that question, because this is a set of circumstances, which is playing out right now, in relation to this government. And it’s a very particular set of circumstances in relation to this family. I mean, the system is in place, and it works well. But part of the system is to give the Minister an ability to use his or her discretion, so that common sense can apply in particular circumstances. And that’s what we are saying should apply in relation to this family.
JOURNALIST: The UK trade deal, what’s Labor’s view on that?
MARLES: Look, we support the in-principle agreement with the UK. It is an important agreement to put in place. We obviously will want to have a look at the detail of it in due course, when it comes before the parliament, and we’ll take the opportunity to do that. But it’s important that Australia is diversifying its trading relationships. And so to the extent that the agreement helps in that, it is to be welcomed. Because there’s a long way to go from the point of view of this government, in diversifying our trade. And we don’t have an agreement with Europe. This governments a long way off getting an agreement with India. While there are arrangements in place with Indonesia, the economic relationship with that country is still greatly underdone. And in truth, what this government has presided over when it comes to trade, is a greater trade dependence on China. And so that’s why it’s really important that we do have more trade agreements, and that we diversify our trade and to that extent, the UK trade agreement as well.
JOURNALIST: On the backpacker situation, in that UK travellers won’t be required to work here for 80 days, there are reports that we could be instead be filling those positions with people from South East Asian countries. What are your thoughts on that?
MARLES: Well, we share the concern that the agricultural community do about the labour crisis that exists within our farming sector. We’re seeing tens of millions of dollars of crops being lost because they’re unable to be harvested in time because of the labour shortages. So you know, it’s very important that arrangements are put in place which deal with what is in a sense being removed by this agreement. Putting in place a new visa class is all well and good but it’s not just a matter of that, you need to then make sure that you have people taking out that visa class in the fullness of time. So again, the government’s got a bit of work to do, in terms of making sure that this issue is dealt with. We want to have a look at the detail of it, as I’ve said. But there is a crisis when it comes to appropriate supply of labour within our agricultural sector and the government has to have an answer for it.
JOURNALIST: Does Labor support raising the age of criminal responsibility beyond ten?
MARLES: Look, I’m not aware of that issue. So I probably need to take that on notice, I’m sorry.