Television Interview, Sky News

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

Media contact

Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

Release content

27 March 2024

SUBJECTS: Migration; Removals legislation; Alice Springs.

KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: We're just over half an hour away from Question Time. The Migration Amendment Bill will dominate. Let's get some more reaction to where the political debate is at. The Assistant Defence Minister joins me, Matt Thistlethwaite. The Ministers look like they're really under the pump right now. Obviously, a lot of it came from the High Court's decisions and the court rulings, but right now, politically, are they botching it?

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: This is an important reform that the Labor government believes should be progressed. We've slowly discovered in the immigration portfolio that the former government, and Peter Dutton was one of the Ministers, talked a tough game but didn't deliver. And we're now finding all of these problems, one of them being that people who are illegal overstayers, we're not talking about refugees, refuse to go and milk the system. That's costing taxpayers a lot of money. So, we're putting in place a regime that will allow the Minister the power to ensure that those people cooperate, to get the relevant documents so that they can be removed. We're talking about people who are legally overstaying in the system. The former government did nothing about it. We're intent to act on it.

GILBERT: You want to put it in place, but you can't, because right now the Coalition and the Greens are teaming up. An unlikely scenario, but they say you're rushing it and there could be unintended consequences. That's what Dan Tehan’s warning about.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, it's a great shame that the Coalition has chosen to team up with the Greens on this and block this in the Senate. Now, it's been referred to a Senate committee and obviously we'll work through those processes, but we see this as a pretty important reform and something that's been in the offing for many, many years. But the former government did nothing about it. Now's the time to do it and get it done.

GILBERT: Why the rush?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, there's a few reasons. Firstly, because the previous government did nothing about it and they should have. So, there's been an urgent need to fix this issue for some time and the current Minister wants to act. Secondly, the Parliament's going on a six week break now, so we thought that there's the opportunity there to try and finalise that this week. And the third issue is that the longer you wait, the cost builds up for the Australian taxpayer because most of these people are in immigration detention and we know that it's quite expensive to keep someone in immigration detention. So, we want to get this regime in place as quickly as possible so that we can put in place those measures and people are forced to cooperate and get the relevant documents so that they can be deported.

GILBERT: Do you take the Coalition at their word that they're worried about the unintended consequences? You seem to have a dig that they're teaming up with the Greens. Do you think they're just trying to stymie the government? This is politics at play. Is that your read on it?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: The Shadow Minister’s received several briefings about their concerns and their issues from the relevant Ministers this week. We don't believe that there will be unintended consequences because this issue has been around for a long time, and it needs to be resolved. We're talking about a very sensible regime that allows the Minister to designate someone to cooperate on their deportation when they're an illegal overstayer and the Minister the power to designate certain countries that we won't accept visa applications from those countries when they're refusing to take people back who've been illegal overstayers. It's a pretty simple amendment that we're after that will work.

GILBERT: Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price gave a really passionate speech to the Senate a few moments ago. She was sitting where you are about an hour ago on this program, saying that the ADF should be called in to Alice Springs to try and restore some law and order, that traditional or cultural payback is at play in this crime spree that we're seeing in the Alice. Is the government open to sending the army to try and calm things down?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, it's not the army's role. That's the jurisdiction of the state and territory police forces. So, they should be the principal responders… 

GILBERT: But even the Police Association… 

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I understand that. We know that. It's a serious issue and that's why the government's putting in place measures to try and reduce that crime over a period of time. And the measures concentrate on three areas, on housing, on training and education, and on employment. And you saw in our response to the Closing the Gap strategy, big investments in those areas, particularly in improving housing and training and education…

GILBERT: They all have merit. Absolutely. But this is an immediate crisis…

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, it's a serious crisis. And Marion Scrymgour is certainly working with the relevant Ministers on the issue, but it's the principal responsibility of the state and territory police forces.

GILBERT: Let's hope something happens to try and calm that down. The situation is devastating. Matt Thistlethwaite, thanks, appreciate it.



Other related releases