By Brittany Chain, Political Correspondent For Daily Mail Australia
Published: | Updated:
Embattled Labor ministers Andrew Giles and Clare O’Neil have held a press conference in an attempt to quell community concerns about the High Court decision which saw 148 asylum seekers walk free from indefinite detention.
Follow along with Daily Mail Australia’s live blog here.
Fiery moment Mark Dreyfus slams reporter’s ‘absurd question’
Mark Dreyfus has snapped at a journalist who asked all three ministers if they ‘owe the public an apology’.
The animated Attorney General said: ‘I want to suggest you that question is absurd. You are asking a Cabinet Minister of the Crown to apologise for upholding the law of Australia, for acting in accordance with the law of Australia, for following the instructions of the High Court of Australia.
‘I will not be apologising for upholding the law. I will not be apologising for pursuing the rule of law and will not be apologising for acting – do not interrupt – I will not be apologising for acting in accordance with a High Court decision.
‘Your question is an absurd one.’
Indefinite detention for asylum seekers who have their visas cancelled for various reasons but cannot be deported has been a longstanding practice in Australia.
However, the High Court decision that doing so is actually unconstutitional sparked mass chaos last month when it meant 148 detainees were released onto the streets.
Andrew Giles has built his career on his compassion for refugees and opposition to indefinite detention.
Before entering politics, he was a lawyer involved in the MV Tampa case of 2001, when a freighter carrying 433 rescued refugees arrived in Australian waters.
He said working on the case was the moment he decided to enter politics.
Since then, he has repeatedly made reference to the case’s impact on him and his politics, noting in 2016 he has been ‘working with and for refugees since Tampa’.
On Wednesday, a reporter asked: How do you justify the laws? That these are for future crimes – preventative detention. How does that sit with you that you’re locking people up potentially for something that they might do?’
In response, he targeted the Greens’ ‘contribution’ to the conversation, describing it as ‘disappointing’.
‘This is not a novel concept. We already have a preventative detention regime that deals with high-risk terrorist offenders.
‘And I would say here, the risk is clearer because we’re dealing with people who have already committed offences and serious offences and in respect of whom, and of course, I’m not commenting on any individual applications, there may well be evidence that goes to the propensity of re-offending.
‘We know that it is absolutely imperative that we do everything possible and lawful to keep the community safe.’
Earlier on Wednesday, Ms O’Neil fronted Sunrise to hit back at Coalition calls for her resignation as a result of the crisis.
Ms O’Neil has maintained since the High Court decision that if she had it her way, each of the asylum seekers would still be in detention.
Clare O’Neil points to Coalition failures when they were in government
Continuing on from her last answer, Ms O’Neil said: ‘I sat through 10 years of a coalition government that drag its feet when any type of problem came up.
‘I watch them do nothing while people died in aged care during COVID. I watch them give billions of dollars to companies that lost, that were making more money during COVID and doing nothing about it.
‘We saw Scott Morrison doing just going to Hawaii in the middle of bushfires. You can decide whether we’ve got the politics right.
‘My game is doing everything I can every day to protect Australians and that is what we’ve been doing since the High Court decision.’
Ministers given ‘opportunity to acknowledge’ community concern – but ‘dispute interpretation’ of crisis
Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil was given an ‘opportunity’ to acknowledge community concern without directly apologising for the High Court’s decision.
Instead, she ‘disputed’ the journalist’s interpretation of the situation.
‘There is a concern about safety. It’s well-founded because of what we saw in previous days.
‘That is why everything a moment of every single day since its High Court decision and indeed before it, the government has been trying to find solutions to keep the community safe.
‘For 20 years, in fact for longer, ministers have had the power to detain people at will in a way the High Court has just declared unconstitutional. That decision would have been made whoever was in government at the time.
‘In the time the decision has been made within one week and one day of the High Court decision, we have created bespoke visas for each of the people release, we had created a $255 million joint operation between police and ABF which is case managing these people and liaising with state governments.
‘We had passed a new law which enabled us to protect the community in ways the Commonwealth has not done before.
‘Less than a week since the High Court’s reasons for decision we had constructed a preventative detention regime that will be going through the Parliament.’
Ministers deny Coalition’s argument the only asylum seeker who needed to be released was NZYQ
The Coalition has repeatedly argued that NZYQ, the plaintiff in the initial High Court case, was the only person who needed to be released after the decision.
But Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said that is ‘simply not true’.
‘I had a statement that I made tabled in the Senate yesterday, and it makes it very clear – the decision of the High Court sets a new limit on the power to detain anyone, anyone, in the same position as the plaintiff in that case. And it had to be implemented immediately,’ he said.
Several ‘how many’ questions go unanswered
Journalists at the press conference asked several questions of both Mr Giles and Ms O’Neil which went unanswered.
All of them were about ‘how many’ asylum seekers were released and will be dealt with by the government’s new laws. None of them got an answer containing a number.
- How many have committed a murder?
- How many will be subject to applications?
- How many of the people have we tried to resettle?
- How many might have breached their visas?
- How many are in each state or territory?
Andrew Giles and Clare O’Neil being peppered with questions over Labor’s handling of High Court decision
The Immigration Minister has dodged questions about providing a breakdown of the types of offenders among the 148 asylum seekers released into the community after the High Court decision.
Mr Giles said there would be some ‘difficulties’ in revealing those details, arguing Labor must ‘get the balance right between providing information to the community, whilst not particularly prejudicing other legal responsibilities’.