16 November 2023
SUBJECTS: NZYQ High Court case; APEC Summit.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Let's send it back to Canberra now. Joining us live is the Assistant Defence Minister, Matt Thistlethwaite. Matt, good to see you, as always. So, a pretty strong response from the Home Affairs Minister, Clare O'Neil, only about 15 minutes ago. Why wasn't this done a week ago.
MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Pete, well, the High Court handed down its decision a week ago…
STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] But why wouldn't something have been ready to go then?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the government has acted as quickly as we possibly can. Complying with a High Court decision isn't optional. We've been forced to comply with this decision and I think it's worth noting that the Government argued against the release of these detainees in that High Court decision. Nonetheless, the High Court has found that indefinite detention under the Australian Constitution is illegal and ordered that they be released. They've been released on visas with quite strict conditions. However, the Minister will introduce legislation today into the Parliament that will increase those conditions and provide stricter conditions to ensure that we're providing the safety of the Australian public as a paramount consideration.
STEFANOVIC: Sure, but I mean, that decision came down a week ago. Why not have this legislation ready to go then? Why wait seven days?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we were prepared for it and the security agencies were working with state police agencies to put in place as strict conditions as we possibly could…
STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] Sure, but why not do this a week ago?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we've acted as quickly as we possibly can because you need to get this legislation into the Parliament, you’re talking about…
STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] Seven days while there's murderers on the streets.
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Pete, you're talking about quite a complex constitutional decision and I think it's worth noting that we don't have the reasons for that decision yet from the High Court. They won't be published till next year. So, you've got a decision of the High Court without any reasons and to make sure that any response that the government undertakes is constitutional and legal means that we have to get the relevant advice from the Attorney-General's Department, from the Home Affairs Department before we put legislation into the Parliament. We've done that. We've acted as quickly as we possibly can and that legislation will come into the Parliament today, it will be fast tracked, will be passed and those conditions will be on those people that have been released as quickly as possible.
STEFANOVIC: Okay. Still doesn't solve the problem, though, of murderers and paedophiles out on the streets, though, does it?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Look, this isn't the decision that the government wanted. There's no doubt about that. We argued against it and it's not an ideal situation, but complying with the Constitution and complying with a decision of the High Court is not optional in a democracy. And regardless of who is in government, governments are obliged to comply with decisions of the High Court. That's what we'll do, but we've acted quickly as we possibly could and we're going to put these additional measures in place that will ensure greater community safety for these individuals.
STEFANOVIC: Is it just a band aid fix, though?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: I think that we're going as far as we possibly legally can and that's the important thing, that these will be the strictest possible conditions that could be placed on these people in as quick amount of time as possible. And that's what a responsible government does. We take the legal advice and we act as quickly as we possibly can.
STEFANOVIC: Should the Prime Minister be here for this? Not just this, but also localised tensions from the war in the Middle East. Is he choosing a bad time to leave again?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the Prime Minister's been here this week and he's been part of the Cabinet deliberations and the decision that's been made by the Cabinet and the government to introduce this legislation. The APEC leaders’ summit is a very important international forum. Australia was fundamental in establishing APEC when the Hawke government was in place. And there's some pretty important international issues that are being dealt with at the moment…
STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] Sure. Some important local ones though too.
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, yeah, and that's why we have Ministers and that's why we have a Cabinet government, so that Ministers are responsible for their portfolios…
STEFANOVIC: [interjecting] And I guess a response to that could be, could Penny Wong have gone instead of him with the Prime Minister as the boss being here?
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, you've got the leaders of all of the other nations of APEC attending, including the President of the United States, dealing with important issues such as how we reduce inflation internationally, how we deal with supply chain shocks that have rocked all of our economies and how we deal with the looming global threat of climate change. They're pretty important issues. The other thing I'd say, Pete, is that the Prime Minister's international engagement is paying dividends for the Australian economy and the Australian people. And we've seen that with the renewed engagement with China and the removal of import restrictions that they've had in place on Australian imports. Now, that's jobs for the Australian people, that's markets for Australian businesses and small businesses. They're not things to be sneezed at. They are fundamental changes and benefits for the Australian economy and the Australian people, negotiated by the Prime Minister being involved in those fora.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, Matt Thistlethwaite. As always, good to have you with us. Thanks for your time. We'll talk to you again soon.
ASSISTANT MINISTER: Thanks, Pete.
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