Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Date: Tuesday, 15 June 2021
David Bevan: Finance Minister, most senior Liberal in South Australia, he joins us now. Good morning, Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David, Spence and listeners.
David Bevan: The news of the day is, of course, the decision to allow this family from Sri Lanka who have been on Christmas Island, have been in detention for the last couple of years. I think it's three years. The local community that they came from Biloela in Queensland, they want them back. The little girl got sick. She ended up in Perth. The family separated. What has the government decided as of this morning to do?
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David. Well, the Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, has decided to exercise his powers in relation to reuniting the family in Perth and allowing the family to live in a community detention arrangement in Perth. That means out in the community in housing, close to health, schools, etc.. And, of course, the little girl currently in a Perth hospital receiving medical treatment, being able to continue to do so. This is a very challenging case, David. These two parents have both sought in Australia to make claims for asylum under our refugee resettlement obligations. Both have been thoroughly assessed and thoroughly rejected in terms of their rights for resettlement. They've appealed and sought to do so all the way through to the high court and have not been able to have those decisions overturned in relation to this situation. And so the government has sought to do is, as we've always said, and that is where people are not found to meet those refugee standards that they're returned to their community. But long and other legal arrangements have dragged this out, sadly, over a period of time. We would all wish that they could have been and would have been resettled successfully back in Sri Lanka some years ago. It's not been the case. And so the decision now has been taken to at least allow them to reside in the Perth community whilst some other legal considerations are undertaken by the Minister.
David Bevan: So they remain in limbo because the statement from the Minister, from your government says that this does not create a pathway to a visa.
Simon Birmingham: It is not at this stage. He's made clear that he is still considering some of the additional health information under other powers that he has been asked to look at this case under and also some statutory obligations to look at opportunities for them to apply by different means for temporary protection. So he's working his way through some of those other legal issues. But recognising the changed circumstances of the last couple of weeks with this little girl being admitted to hospital, the government is changing the arrangements for the family.
Spence Denny: So they're still in detention. So does the Government or the Minister have the authority to just say, look, this has gone on long enough, this is three years. We have prolonged the agony of two girls who were born in Australia with a family who is seeking to live here, who have a community who clearly embraced their presence and love them being in Biloela. Does the Minister or the Government have the authority to say, OK, we are going to grant them your visa and you can go live back in Biloela?
Simon Birmingham: Spence the Minister does have certain powers and now those powers are to be used in extraordinary circumstances and they need to be balanced against the fact that the Government's always been clear that people who are found not to meet the criteria for refugee resettlement in Australia will be resettled back in their home communities. There are, of course, many millions of people around the world, genuine refugees, who seek resettlement. We resettle some of the most generous numbers by head of population in the world permanently in Australia each year. And the more those places are given away to people who are not found to meet that criteria, and then the less opportunity there are for those who genuinely need and do meet that criteria. And that's the difficulty of a situation like this. But clearly, the change circumstance is a little girl who's sick. And that's why the position has changed today in terms of-
David Bevan: Your government's been under a lot of heat because of a lack of compassion towards this family. Do you think that this shows compassion?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think today's step is a compassionate step in terms of the shift to community detention. There are obviously other issues outstanding. And they really are the two overarching principles to be balanced here, David. The principle around border security and ensuring that our migration programme operates in accordance with the laws of the land and these parents were not found to meet refugee status, but equally, the principle of compassion and compassion is a genuine thing that we should take into account, especially when you've got a sick little girl. And I'm pleased that the Minister's made this this decision and obviously is looking at other matters carefully.
David Bevan: A couple of matters before you leave us. Is the Prime Minister going to return with a new trade deal signed up with the United Kingdom?
Simon Birmingham: David, I'm very hopeful that that he will reach, in principle agreement on a free trade agreement between Australia and the UK. Prime Minister Morrison and UK Prime Minister Johnson worked through dinner into the night to discussing aspects of the trade agreement. Whilst it's night time over in the U.K., officials and trade ministers will get on and try dot all the final I's and cross all the final T's to get us to a point where Aussie farmers, South Australian winemakers, for example, and other agricultural producers and small businesses across the country can get back to having a fair or more open access to the big market of the UK.
David Bevan: You're a member of the Liberal Party state executive. Did you support Friday's decision to challenge the membership of people signed up from Pentecostal churches?
Simon Birmingham: David, I don't tend to make a habit of talking about internal party matters, but yes, I did. When confronted with a series of allegations that new members had had told other party members and state MPs that they were going to campaign against endorsed candidates at the next election, that they didn't support those MPs, that in some cases they didn't actually support the Liberal Party. Then it seemed the prudent thing to do for the party to run an audit process, to try to ensure that those who are seeking to join are actually supporters of the Liberal Party and will support our candidates. Now, if all meet those thresholds, then all are welcome regardless of their faith, background or otherwise. The core criteria under our Constitution are that you support the objectives of the Liberal Party and that you will support its endorsed candidates. And there the simple tests that are being applied as part of an audit of new members.
David Bevan: When the Premier was asked about this by Ali last week, he said everybody's welcome and now he knew exactly what he was talking about. It was Antic's membership drive. And he said, I welcome everybody. Three or four days later, the state executive tries to kick these people out. Now, is the state executive at odds with the Premier or did the Premier change his mind? What's going on?
Simon Birmingham: As I said the state executive was confronted with a number of assertions from party members, from state MPs and others about what new members had been saying around not supporting our candidates-
David Bevan: And what the Premier wasn't aware of that earlier in the week?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the Premier, like me, like the rest of us, are actually busy governing the state and the country, David. And that's our priority. The party administration handles these matters. Now, I was called to a state executive meeting on Friday. We worked through those issues. As the Premier said, all are welcome. And I encourage people, regardless of their faith or background, to consider joining the Liberal Party. But the prerequisites to do so are you need to support the objectives of the Liberal Party and you need to support the endorsed candidates of the Liberal Party. And I think most South Australians would think it ridiculous if we were embracing members who didn't support our objectives or didn't support our candidates.
David Bevan: Christopher Pyne, rolled the sitting member. How could you how could you say that rolling a sitting member is an obstruction to being a member of the Liberal Party? Samuel Johnson was a member of another political party and he'd been welcomed back into the Liberal fold, he campaigned against your party.
Simon Birmingham: And there was some debate around that readmission. But I'm not saying that people can't challenge in preselection what the executive was provided with examples of, were people saying they were going to campaign against candidates already endorsed for the next election. And by all means, people are free to run against any of us in preselection. I faced my own preselection earlier this year and it was a hotly contested affair, as they always are. But once we have endorsed a candidate, once they have been through the preselection process, then our Constitution is clear that party members are expected to support our endorsed candidates and not to suggest that they may go and campaign against those endorsed candidates.
Spence Denny: Senator Simon Birmingham, Finance Minister. Thank you,
Simon Birmingham: Spence. David. Thank you.