SUBJECTS: Asylum seekers, Section 18C.  

GILBERT: This is AM Agenda with me now Labor frontbencher Michelle Rowland, Michelle thanks very much for your time. You heard what the Minister Simon Birmingham said. Basically what the government’s doing in his view, and Malcolm Turnbull had a similar point, is legislating what Labor’s position has been on asylum seekers. That there be no resettlement for those who sought to come here by boat after July 2013.

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well there’s two things here Kieran, firstly what exactly is the problem that the Government thinks needs to be remedied? And secondly if there is such a problem, do we need this legislation in order to resolve it? Now I’ll say, there’s two things that go to this, firstly I note that the Minister has been talking about this being enacted in order to stop sham marriages for example. But as has been pointed very clearly by experts in this area, there are already ways in which this is dealt with thousands of cases each year. And secondly if this is about resettlement, then where are the resettlement opportunities being pursued by this government? If they want to get people off Manus and Nauru and resettled in third countries, where is their plan? All we have so far is their failed Cambodia plan that cost tens of millions of dollars, settled barely anyone, and now they’re here saying there’s a problem. Well this is the same government that’s telling us they’ve had 800 days without boats, so where is the problem?

GILBERT: So would you be more likely as a party, would the caucus be more likely to support this move if the Government had said; OK here are the third nations that are going to be the resettlement destinations for these people on Manus and Nauru?

ROWLAND: I think firstly we need to see the legislation, and we know that Labor only received that very recently. We’ll be discussing that through our normal Caucus processes, but as Bill Shorten has pointed it would seem absolutely ludicrous in certain examples if people had been settled in third countries and then after many many years were barred from coming to Australia on even a tourist visa.

GILBERT: But Labor was given the legislation on Friday, as you say it was recently but you’ve got the legislation now, what’s your understanding of where Labor’s going to go on this? Because it sounds like according to the language from yourself, from Bill Shorten and from others that this is not going to be supported by Labor.

ROWLAND: We want to see the evidence for where there is a problem and examine where the legislation is supposedly going to remedy that problem. But other than that Kieran, this was announced – what, a week ago - as really a big smokebomb that the Government threw in there for purely political reasons. They must’ve known something bad was going to happen last week.

GILBERT: Now the Prime Minister says he’s got some sympathy for the view of elements of his party that want a softening of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. He’s had a go at the Race Discrimination Commissioner as well - the Human Rights Commissioner - for not stopping vexatious claims in their tracks. Do they also have to accept some of the accountability for the questions and the doubts over freedom of speech that we’re seeing from elements of the Liberal Party and others, because they have not rejected vexatious claims like we’ve seen in recent times under 18C.

ROWLAND: Well isn’t it interesting Kieran that when this was a live issue two years ago it was widely thought, and I have no reason to dispute it, that Malcolm Turnbull was one of the sensible voices within the Government telling Tony Abbott, and George Brandis and others that this was a piece of legislation that was important to Australia and our community, had served Australia well for 20 years…

GILBERT: But that was about scrapping it, that was about scrapping it. This is about amending it.

ROWLAND: This was about amending it as well when George Brandis had his inquiry. But what I would point out is that this is a piece of legislation that was brought about 20 years ago in response to some very serious inquiries, including the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. This is a piece of legislation that guards against anti-Semitic speech and some of the worst forms of racism in our community. A minute number of cases actually make it to the courts and are heard. The vast majority of them are actually resolved far in advance. This is a piece of legislation that has worked. The transformation of Malcolm Turnbull appears to me to be absolutely complete. Once we had him fighting on the side of good, evidence-based policy, now we see him letting his own Ministers run amok, letting his backbench run amok and doing horse trading over votes in the Senate. It’s an absolute disgrace.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland we’re out of time. A quick break on AM Agenda back in just a moment.