December 02, 2019









SUBJECT/S: Medevac; Rag-tag bunch of people; Foreign Interference; Religious Discrimination Bill; London Terror Attack


MATTHEW DORAN: Now, joining us for our Monday panel, Liberal Senator for New South Wales Andrew Bragg, welcome.




DORAN: And Labor MP for the WA seat of Cowan, Anne Aly – welcome.


ALY: Thank you Matt.


DORAN: Now Andrew Bragg, I wanna start with you and look at the issue of the Medevac legislation –




DORAN: I understand the Senate has now come to the stage where it is now, maybe looking at this legislation, it is on the agenda now? Matthias Cormann said this morning that there’d be no horse-trading on this bill; you need Jacqui Lambie’s support, she says she doesn’t buy the Coalition’s argument it’s opened the floodgates to asylum seekers coming to Australia wrongly, but if you wanna get this bill over the line, don’t you have to horse trade on that one, secret condition that she’s put out there?


BRAGG: Well I’m at the back of the chamber Matt, so I’m not at the forefront of negotiations –


DORAN: A unique position to sit there and watch everything happening!


BRAGG: Yeah… unique indeed. But I mean, basically, the leadership will determine how this is conducted. I think on the policy substance issue, the question is, you know, have we got the best record, or have, frankly, a bunch of rag-tag people had the better record on border protection. Now, as you know…


ALY: Rag-tag?


BRAGG: I mean, whoever were the people who put this legislation together, I would say was an unusual –


ALY: Members of Parliament?


BRAGG: - an unusual coalition, and uh, certainly I would say our record is unsurpassed, and there is already provisions for medical transfers, so, having this sort of rag-tag solution would be a good thing to repeal.


DORAN: Considering this is a priority for the government, it made it an election commitment to get this through; if… and based on the Ensuring Integrity vote last week, that seemed to take many people by surprise in the Coalition, that One Nation voted against the government, don’t you have to get Jacqui Lambie on board to avoid that embarrassment happening again?


BRAGG: Well the Senate’s a very complicated beast, as you know, and I don’t think there’s any great embarrassment here. I think we will try and earnestly earn the votes of all the crossbenchers to repeal this unnecessary law. But I think every issue should be looked at on its own merit, so I would encourage everyone to do that.


DORAN: Anne Aly, you heard Andrew there describing Labor as a rag-tag bunch, I feel like I need to offer you a right of reply there?


ALY: Thank you! And I do reject that descriptor of rag-tag, this was actually legislation that was very well thought through; considered over a lot of consultations with medical professionals, and let me make this very clear – what the legislation does is that it allows for people who are grievously ill, as determined by a group of medical professionals, to come to Australia for urgent medical attention that they need. That they cannot get elsewhere.


In terms of the national security argument, I saw that grab that you had earlier for Matthias Cormann and I, I note that he was completely unable to offer any specific explanation as to how this bill impacts on national security. Because the fact is, under this bill, Peter Dutton as the Minister responsible, still has every means available to him to repeal any advice to bring someone to Australia for medical assistance, if there is a national security or adverse security determination against that individual.


So I think the Coalition’s attempt to try to repeal this Medevac bill on a range of issues that are unproven just goes to show that this bill actually, is working. And I don’t think… Labor’s not going to change its position on this. We do not support repealing this bill, because it is a bill that we saw as being necessary. That medical professionals – the medical profession – sees as being necessary. And it does not impact on national security.


DORAN: Jacqui Lambie has described… she won’t go in to detail what her condition is, but she has described it as relating to national security, there’s reporting around that she wants the government to accept the offer to resettle refugees in New Zealand as part of her support for this bill. That’s something that Labor has been calling for as well. If the repeal does happen and that is the consequence of it, would Labor be happy with that outcome at all?


ALY: Well I’m not going to make determinations on that, that’s something for the Minsters and Shadow Ministers to do, to look in to. But I will say yes, Labor does support third-party, or third-country, resettlement. And this bill does not stop that. This bill does not stop people from taking up offers of the United States or New Zealand, for example. So, you don’t need to repeal this bill in order to have third-country settlement.


DORAN: We’ve been hearing stories, suggesting that people have been using Medevac – the Medevac legislation – to avoid being resettled in countries such as the United States. Do you believe those reports?


ALY: Well as I said, this bill does not stop them from being resettled. So somebody who comes here for a short-term, or a medium-term to have urgent medical assistance that they need, doesn’t stop them from accepting and offer to go to the United States.


DORAN: We’ll move on to another issue and the announcement this morning of this new taskforce, looking in to foreign interference. What do you think uh… since your time in Parliament, have you, have you seen a shift in the way people are thinking about this issue, other countries trying to influence politicians? Particularly after those reports on the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes program that Chinese intelligence  officials tried to plant someone in Parliament House?


BRAGG: Well the landscape has changed as a result of our government’s changes last year. We put in the Interference Act and also the ban on foreign donations, so those are two big changes. I did spend some time as an acting Party Director, so I did have some experience of some attempt to influence, and I think certainly both major parties are aware of various attempts to try and influence our political system.


As a Member of Parliament I would say I have experienced fewer instances than I thought I may have? Maybe that’s because of these new laws we have in place or the positions I’ve taken on policy, I can’t tell you.


DORAN: So you came in to Parliament thinking there would be people making representations to you on various things?


BRAGG: I thought there would be more attempts to influence? I mean, maybe I’m naïve, but I’m pretty certain I’d be able to tell. Especially if people are complying with the new laws we have in place, it’s pretty clear that – well, foreign donors, they can’t donate anymore. And then, in terms of the influence regime, people have to register now. Whether or not the law is being complied with fully is yea to be determined. But it would appear to be to have changed behaviours.


DORAN: Anne Aly, Labor is broadly supportive of these measures to crack down on foreign interference, but the Party has been critical of the way the government’s been handling the relationship with China, which really is sitting at the centre of this debate.


Do you concede the government is somewhat hamstrung when it comes to dealing… having those diplomatic relations with China, because of the way in which Beijing responds so fiercely to any criticism sent its way?


ALY: I think for any country, the way in which they deal with China as a rising superpower… we really do need to recalibrate how we look at China and our engagement with China, and look at all of the measures that are available in that engagement. As well as our role in the region, as well, and China’s role in the region.


So, I don’t think it’s an easy task by any means, and I don’t pretend that it’s an easy task and I don’t pretend that I have all the answers to that either.


But I will say, regarding this taskforce, I think there’s bipartisan support for this. Hopefully ASIO is well equipped and has the funding to be able to do this really important work.


BRAGG: I mean, on China, this regime is designed not just to deal with China. It’s designed to protect our political and social institutions from influence and I think it would be a shame if people saw it through the prism of trying to contain China in Australia. We have the (inaudible) regime in place for thirty or forty years and I think everything go through in national interest. You know, that test if you like. It’s not just about China.


DORAN: We could debate foreign interference all afternoon, but there are plenty of things on the agenda that I wanna get to, and in particular, the decision over the weekend by the Prime Minister and the Attorney General to hold off on introducing legislation dealing with Religious Discrimination.


This legislation – it seems to be creating more problems than its solutions could be going out to fix, doesn’t it?


BRAGG: I think it’s very good process, to go out a couple of times to try and get feedback from the community. Certainly, the feedback that I’ve had from the LGBTI community, as well as the religious groups that I’ve taken representation from, they’ve felt that it’s been very good process. They’ve been able to have their say already once, they’ll get another opportunity to have their say about all the various issues in this proposed bill. Before it’s actually introduced to Parliament, it makes sense to take it out and have another look at it.


DORAN: The government did want to get this introduced before the end of the year though. Is this decision an indication that it simply underestimated how much feedback it would be getting? And how strong that criticism would…


BRAGG: I think it indicates a lot of support for the process – that you’ve been to get a lot of… I’ve been aware of a lot of feedback. And so I think, by taking stock and trying to get the next exposure draft closer to where we wanna go, makes a lot of sense.


ALY: Mmm.


BRAGG: I wish we did this more often, to be honest.


DORAN: Anne Aly, the Labor umm… well, Anthony Albanese’s said the Opposition is always going to be in favour of people being able to express their religion but he’s not in favour that entrenches discrimination. Reading between the lines there, doesn’t sound like Labor’s going to be supportive of this even when it does get introduced to Parliament?


ALY: Well I take Andrew’s point about this being a process. But the government did say that they would pass this before Christmas, and they haven’t been able to do that. That would suggest to me that they haven’t been listening to the religious groups, because I know that the religious groups from the onset of this were wanting to have their say on exactly what the draft bill would look like. And they didn’t get what they wanted in that draft bill.


Specifically, around those protections around things like religious vilification, for example. And we’ve seen cases of religious vilification, of violence against women wearing the hijab for example, that this bill does not deal with. This is up to the government to get this right. They’ve made a promise to the Australian community that they are going to this through before Christmas. They have now broken that promise.


So, I think that it’s right to pull the bill. I don’t think it’s a well drafted bill and I don’t think it addresses issues for either interest group, whether it’s religious, or non-religious, secular groups.


DORAN: A broken Christmas promise?


BRAGG: The bill hasn’t been withdrawn. There was an exposure draft, there’ll be another exposure draft. It’s going through the process to make sure that it’s closer to where wanna get to before we introduce it to Parliament. So I think it’s great to see all this feedback we’ve received and I know the Attorney will be looking forward to more.


DORAN: Very, very briefly Anne Aly, I wanna ask about your expertise in counterterror, we’ve seen another attack in London over the weekend. There’s been criticism that the attacker there either didn’t get enough rehabilitation while he was behind bars, or simply shouldn’t have been let out from jail at all… let out early. So what do you make of that?


ALY: Well I am… I’m actually quite critical of a lot of the de-radicalisation programs, particularly those that are in prison, that focus solely on changing the worldview and focus only on the psychological aspects of radicalisation and not the behavioural aspects of radicalisation.


I think what it shows is that we need a much more comprehensive regime for assessing, and a much more comprehensive process for assessing whether people should be allowed out of jail if they have radicalised; that looks at all different aspects of radicalisation. I don’t think we’ve had that.


I think, specifically, and most prominently with the violent jihadism, the focus has been on the ideology and not on the behaviour. So somebody who wants to commit an act will do so, regardless of what their ideological leanings are and what their thought processes are, with relation to the ideology. So they may be more motivated by action and less by ideology. But the focus on de-rad, or de-radicalisation, tends to be only on ideology.


DORAN: Well, Anne Aly, Andrew Bragg, we are quickly running out of time and must release you back in to the wild for Question Time. Thank you both.