ABC Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennet Monday, 19 February 2024

ABC Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennet Monday, 19 February 2024 Main Image

19 February 2024

Greg Jennet: All right, let's bring our political panel in. One's out west, one's in transit, but happy to say both are with us. Labor front bencher Senator Tim Ayres. He's the one in Perth. Welcome back, Tim. And Coalition frontbencher Michael McCormack is in Wagga Wagga. Michael, I might very quickly get you to explain exactly why we find you sitting in your car. I know you'll do absolutely anything to meet your commitments to afternoon briefing, but something must have befallen you this afternoon to be doing this.



Michael McCormack: Well, there's storms over Sydney and our plane took off from Wagga Wagga at 1.20, but we circled Sydney for about an hour or more and returned to Wagga Wagga. I'm just hoping that I can get back on the next plane to Sydney and then go to Adelaide either tonight or tomorrow. So, plans are all literally up in the air at the moment, but all good.



Greg Jennet Thanks for explaining that. And, yeah, we'll stress to everyone watching that Michael is not driving while he conducts this interview discussion with Tim. Tim, let's go to Papua New Guinea. I'm not sure what you can tell us, what the government has gleamed about the latest situation there, but large numbers killed in renewed tribal violence in the Highlands somewhere in the mid-twenties at the moment. If security assistance was requested, is this the sort of role that you think Australian police or military could play, Tim Ayres, under its bilateral deal with that country?



Senator Ayres: Well, I'm not in a position to add any more information to what is publicly available and just say that you know, it’s obviously very confronting violence and our hearts go out to the people of Papua New Guinea. Who, not just the people who are on the scene, who must be absolutely devastated, but of course, the people of Papua New Guinea, more broadly, who must be very apprehensive about all of this. Secondly, of course, the Australian government, through the security agreement, but also more broadly in our preexisting relationship and arrangements, has been providing training and all sorts of assistance to the police force in Papua New Guinea. And I'm sure that the government stands ready to assist in any way that we can, consistent with that treaty as determined by the government of Papua New Guinea. While this is a very confronting exercise, you will have seen in the joint address that Prime Minister Marape gave to the parliament just a week or so ago how deep and enduring and important that relationship is.


Greg Jennet: Yeah, Michael, this is in your bailey wick from an opposition point of view. Now, it is hypothetical if PNG were to ask, but it'd be a highly dangerous deployment, wouldn't it? Would you be thinking AFP or military best equipped if it came to that?



Michael McCormack: Well, look, I'm sure that would be a discussion between the Prime Minister of Australia and James Marape, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. As Tim has just said, it was a very good speech and a very good visit that Mr. Marape made to Australia just the other day and we would stand ready to do, obviously whatever was needed. But as you say, it is a very dangerous situation. The highlands of Papua New Guinea, the geography there is like no other and this would be a very volatile, dangerous situation. But we stand ready, as always, with our closest neighbour. They are great friends of ours. They were there to help us in World War II and if they need help now, I'm sure that it would be given. I'm sure this would be something that the government would consider very, very seriously.



Greg Jennett: All right, I don't think there'd be much criticism across the aisle politically, so to speak, here in Australia. Let's move on to this most recent boat arrival. Tim, 39 or 40 people, all on Nauru. Now, when will the government provide us with an explanation as to how this happened?



Senator Ayres: Well, listen carefully to what the Prime Minister said yesterday. There is still an operation underway. Information will be provided by Operation Sovereign borders in a responsible and transparent way.



Greg Jennett: Just got to wait a month for a statement and it comes out about three weeks into the next month. We can do better than that, can't we?



Senator Ayres: Well, it's important that politicians not engage in political commentary on what is important operational work that is occurring here. There is nothing different about what is occurring in relation to this group of arrivals than has occurred under previous governments. Operation Sovereign borders is precisely the same in terms of the way that it unfolds. There'll be plenty of opportunities for debate and transparency about what's happened here. But the real question is, why is Peter Dutton being such a blowhard about this issue this week? The only person who is out there broadcasting a message that there's somehow something different about Operation sovereign borders is Peter Dutton and Mr. Tehan. And they are doing it for the basis of political reasons and they're doing it in a week where they have been heavily criticised not only for their failure to engage with the cost-of-living issues and tax, but also the Richardson report that came out last week that showed, at best, Peter Dutton's maladministration of that department.



Greg Jennett: Okay, let's not prosecute that. I don't want to reach too far back to Richardson because we covered that.


Senator Ayres: Well, it was last week. It was just last week.


Greg Jennett: We spoke to Dennis about it. I can assure you. Michael let's let you answer that question that Michael poses. Why now and why so hard? Sorry, Michael. Yeah, that, Tim, sorry. Why now and why so hard? From a coalition which has previously been pretty pledged to secrecy around OSB.



Michael McCormack: Well, what I'd say is turn it up, Tim, seriously. There are 149 hardened criminals which have been released by your government, 27 of whom have recommitted offences. The community is desperately worried. All of a sudden now we've got two boatloads of illegal arrivals on our shores. The government has absolutely abandoned temporary protection visas. The Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, says, trust me, my word is my bond and we're getting illegal boat revivals again. I mean, this is a disaster. It's on your government's watch. What are you going to do about it?



Senator Ayres: Well, it must be getting pretty hot in that car because those are completely disconnected issues. The release of detainees as a result of the High Court decision under legislation which at best now imperfect, unable to keep the community safe, introduced by Mr. Dutton.


Greg Jennett: I’ll give you a word back, Michael, in just a moment.



Senator Ayres: Entirely disconnected from the completely straightforward operation of Operation Sovereign borders in relation to a group of arrivals who've arrived on the west coast of Australia, these are completely being dealt with completely consistently in a completely calm way. The only people out there trying to hyper politicise this for an utterly partisan reason is Mr. Dutton. And once again, he's damaging the national interest when he does it. Absolutely reckless to the security interest of Australia.



Greg Jennett: Time's going to beat us very soon and I know you've got that flight waiting for you out there somewhere, Michael, the conflation point that Tim makes here, why are you putting NzyQ in the same bracket as operations?



Michael McCormack: The community are desperately worried. National security. Our borders have never been laboured. Strong point. Nor is cost of living. There are so many issues that this government has failed on. This is just the latest.



Greg Jennett: All right, look, there's more we could have, probably should have covered. But with some of the logistical movements and Michael's uncertainty around flights, we will regrettably have to cut this one short on the promise or the proviso that we get you both back to make up for lost time very soon.



Senator Ayres: Travel well, Michael.


Michael McCormack: Thanks, Greg.


Greg Jennett: Okay, Michael McCormack, Tim. Thank you so much, both of you.