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Interview with ABC Brisbane

November 24, 2020


SUBJECTS: New Zealand resettlement offer; Treatment of people seeking asylum.

REBECCA LEVINGSTON, HOST: I'm joined now by Labor's Andrew Giles, good morning.


LEVINGSTON: Do you think that people in immigration detention should be allowed visitors?

GILES: Well, of course they should be. I guess, I should say that we understand and appreciate that I'm calling from Melbourne, where we've experienced quite a significant lockdown experience. So that means that access obviously has got to be in a COVID-safe manner. But what we've seen time and time again, for this government, particularly this area, is a complete aversion to transparency, and a failure to treat people in our care with the decency that they're entitled to, and indeed, the dignity as well. I heard Dana, I think it was, speaking about the need for human connection that refugees and people seeking asylum need as all of us do, and I hope, the Minister or one of his staff was listening to that because that's just so important.

LEVINGSTON: We've just, Andrew Giles are you still there?

GILES: I can hear you, Rebecca, can you hear me?

LEVINGSTON: Yeah, just some kind of beeps just came in. Who knows, maybe it's Minister Alan Tudge trying to call into the program - we'll see. You talk about that importance of human connection. But there's also the bigger picture here, seven years in detention, are these people being punished?

GILES: Well, I think that there's two things here, Rebecca. Fundamentally, we've got a group of people here who've had their refugee status upheld, and who could and should have been resettled, let's remember that New Zealand has offered to resettle these people seven years ago - that offers on the table.

The Government could, with the stroke of a pen, give people certainty and the capacity to rebuild and begin their lives again. So that I think, is really the fundamental point. More broadly, I think Australians are getting sick of the tired dogma that has surrounded this debate, when in some cases, we have answers, they're really difficult questions that we're going to have to face up to, in terms of restarting a humanitarian program and doing justice to people seeking asylum around the world. But there are some things we can do now and that is obviously to accept the New Zealand resettlement offer. And there's also no reason to treat people in the arbitrary way it appears the government has been treating people in the APOD in Kangaroo Point and elsewhere in the detention centre. This is cruelty for cruelty's sake and it should end.

LEVINGSTON: Why is the federal government not taking up the New Zealand resettlement option?

GILES: That is a very, very good question, Rebecca, to which we haven't received not only a good answer, but really any satisfactory answer from Minister Dutton or Minister Tudge. We just get the same tired old tropes. Again, this has been a position that has been on the table for seven years.

And the government has talked about, at the start, exploring other third country resettlement options, beyond the US deal, which was something that you know, we have supported, and has enabled a large number of people to be resettled and begin lives afresh. There isn't another option that they have identified or can point to, whereas this one, first made by John Key who people have probably forgotten about the former prime minister of New Zealand, seven years ago, recently reiterated by Jacinda Ardern. It beggars belief that the government isn't exploring this option now.

LEVINGSTON: You're listening to Andrew Giles, the Shadow Assistant Minister for Immigration, this is ABC Radio, Brisbane, 28 minutes past 10. My name's Rebecca Livingston. What about making a hard economic argument on this? It has cost tens of millions of dollars and that was the discussion that Alan Tudge and I had last time he was on the program. Is there an economic argument here that puts aside any kind of, you know, bleeding heart left leaning arguments, but to say, this simply doesn't add up economically? Let's take people out of detention and resettle them in New Zealand or America?

GILES: Well, I think both arguments matter. But I think fundamentally, it's about doing the right thing here, isn't it? We've got obligations to these people.

And we've got an opportunity to have them resettled to make a contribution as so many have done. We're hearing those stories in America now. I'm familiar with the stories of people who began lives as refugees from the Tampa nearly 20 years ago. We can make these choices now and in the meantime - we can treat people who are in places like Kangaroo Point with a bit of decency. As I think the Australian community expects them to be treated, and we can also not see people punished for engaging with the media for letting Australians know what's going on for letting Australians know what their circumstances are, for telling their stories.

LEVINGSTON: So on that Andrew Giles because the last time I spoke to Farhad Rahmati, who spoke out eloquently and passionately about his situation and also the situation of Saeef who wanted to see his young son.

After that, early in the morning, he was packed up and shifted to the Villawood Detention Centre without explanation. Initially, there was an indication maybe it had something to do with going to America, but he says that that was false.

There have been four other men who were moved very early, I think it was like four o'clock in the morning. They were taken from Kangaroo Point to BITA.

Are you saying that you believe people who speak out to the media are being punished?

GILES: I'm concerned that that may be the case. There are two issues here for me: firstly, in terms of Farhad's circumstances, they are very concerning, how he was treated and the total failure of the Minister and the government to explain anything about this. I should say that when his removal to Villawood was brought to my attention, Senator Kristina Keneally and I wrote to Minister Tudge back in November, the 10th of November, I think it was, seeking an explanation. We made clear if there were privacy or other reasons, we didn't need to have those dealt with. But we made clear, our belief that he is entitled to fair and not arbitrary treatment. And the Australian public are entitled to know what's being done in our name. Of course, we've received their response to that letter and we will continue to pursue this issue. And hopefully, we might be able to get answers when the Parliament resumes next week.

LEVINGSTON: It's pretty unsatisfying though, isn't it? I'm getting messages through at the moment, Andrew Giles, Kino saying thanks for keeping the asylum seekers polite front of mine, I feel sick in the stomach every time I hear their story, I'd love for Labor and our Premier to speak up stand up for human decency. I mean, this issue keeps coming around and around and there's never an end point to it, Andrew Giles?

GILES: Again, there is an endpoint that's on offer. There's an endpoint of having people who have been found to be refugees resettled so they can live their lives in New Zealand or resume their lives, I should say. I think that's my fundamental goal when the Parliament last sat in Canberra, Craig Foster, and some other figures with Amnesty came together with a petition signed by more than 64,000 Australians more have signed since then, calling for the offer to be resettled to say "Game Over" and that's something that I will be talking about, along with other Labor and crossbench MPs in Parliament next week. This is something that we can do now and again, in the meantime, there's absolutely no reason why we can't treat people while they are in here in the APOD or at Kangaroo Point, or otherwise, with decency and dignity and not allow them either to be punished for the crime, of course is no crime at all, of speaking out or for that to be a perception that develops. Australians are entitled to know what's going on here and the Minister should come on your program and explain himself.

LEVINGSTON: Andrew Giles, I really appreciate you coming on this morning. Thanks so much.

GILES: Thank you, Rebecca, for all your interest in this critical issue.

LEVINGSTON: Andrew Giles, who is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Immigration.