JOURNALIST: Before the details emerged in the nature of this attack and the number of victims and so on, I spoke to the Acting Prime Minister Julie Bishop on a range of other matters as well, including the citizenship crisis that has hit the Government again - this time, the Senate President Stephen Parry. Here was my interview with the Foreign Minister and Acting Prime Minister Julie Bishop earlier today.
JULIE BISHOP: Clearly we would rather not be in this position, but we're dealing with it. We retained 75 out of the 149 seats in the Parliament. We have sufficient support from the crossbenchers on supply and confidence to ensure that the Parliament continues to work. Barnaby Joyce is facing a by-election in New England, and we hope that the people of New England will support him and that he'll be able to return to Parliament as soon as possible. So in the Lower House, the parliamentary composition will resume as it was after the last election. In the Senate, those found to be ineligible will be replaced through an established mechanism, and those that are not eligible to sit will leave and new senators will come in through casual vacancies or through a recount from the last election. So the business of Parliament will continue. Of course we'd rather not be in this position, but we'll deal with it.
JOURNALIST: The drip feed, though, of individuals gradually realising their citizenship status is quite extraordinary. It just creates a sense of chaos.
JULIE BISHOP: Well, the High Court have handed down a decision on Section 44 last Friday, that gave Stephen Parry cause to read the judgment very carefully. There have been many changes to our citizenship laws since the Constitution was adopted in 1901, it's a very complex area. Section 44 has now been clarified by the High Court, and Stephen Parry had believed that he was an Australian citizen, that his father was an Australian citizen, but the High Court decision clarified that. He's seeking advice and he's yet to receive that advice, but we just deal with the situation as it presents, and as things stand now, the Parliament can continue to work and will continue to work.
JOURNALIST: Can it be cleared up by legislation? There was something that I think the Attorney alluded to yesterday. Is that something that can happen in your view? Is that the advice the Government's received? Is a legislative option here possible, not necessarily a referendum?
JULIE BISHOP: We have referred the High Court judgment – it’s about 67 pages long, it's a detailed judgment – we have referred the judgment to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. They will consider the judgment and its implications, and make recommendations to the Government. So we will await the outcome of that Joint Standing Committee inquiry.
JOURNALIST: Did Stephen Parry act appropriately, or should he have been a bit more upfront about his status?
JULIE BISHOP: Well my understanding is that he read the judgment, he realised that it could have implications for him, and then he quite properly sought advice and he's come forward with his concerns. He's admitted that he's sought advice and he's still awaiting that advice. So we'll just deal with the situation as it presents itself over the next few days.
JOURNALIST: Let's change our focus now to this flash point on Manus Island. Can the Government guarantee the safety of those refugees and others that are refusing to leave the detention centre? They're worried they won't be safe in this alternative accommodation.
JULIE BISHOP: The PNG Government is in charge of security matters. The alternative accommodation for refugees and also accommodation for those found not to be refugees is providing all the essential services including food and water and electricity and medical supplies, so they have access to essential services. Those who are found not to be refugees, to be owed no protection at all, should return home.
JOURNALIST: But in relation to the safety question, can our Government say to these individuals – hundreds of them genuine refugees – that they'll be safe?
JULIE BISHOP: The PNG Government is in charge of law and order and security, and I understand that they have this matter in hand. We're working closely with the PNG Government. I would urge those who remain on Manus Island to go to the alternative accommodation that has been provided by the PNG Government. The point that we must make is that those who have been found to be refugees can be resettled in PNG, or they can apply to be resettled elsewhere. They will not be resettled in Australia, and we have made it very clear that those who pay people smugglers to try to come to Australia will not be resettled here, so they have other options available to them. As I've pointed out earlier, those who are found to be not refugees, who are not owed any protection by PNG or anyone else, should return to their home.
JOURNALIST: Well, obviously it's part of the Government's policy. It is a tough deterrence, we know that, and it's stopped the boats – that's the fact. But do you reflect, and other senior members of the Government reflect, on the fact that hundreds of these people are genuine refugees and they're still stranded in Manus many years after their asylum was granted?
JULIE BISHOP: When we became the Government we faced a situation where 50,000 people had tried to come to Australia via the people smuggling trade, 1200 people had drowned at sea, and we've put in place very tough measures to smash the people smuggling trade – which we have done, so far. We have stopped the deaths at sea and we're dealing with the caseload of people who came here under the weaker Labor Government laws. Now, this is not an easy policy to implement but we are determined to ensure that the people smuggling trade does not start up again, as it would inevitably start under a Labor Government because of their weaker border protection policies. So we're now dealing with a caseload that we inherited, we have resettlement options – the United States, for example – but others can be resettled in Papua New Guinea. There are about seven or eight million who live in PNG, they can be resettled in PNG, and those found not to be refugees should return home.
JOURNALIST: It's got to come to a point though when if you haven't got a third party settlement option like – we know that there will be a cohort going to the US –but there's got to come a point, doesn't there, where you say, enough's enough and you just bring them to Australia. Surely there's been enough deterrence already with five years on Manus?
JULIE BISHOP: No, they can be resettled in Papua New Guinea and that was always part of the original arrangement that the Labor Party entered into with Papua New Guinea, that those found to be refugees can be resettled in PNG. That remains an option for them. There are other options, but at this stage I would urge them to leave Manus Island because there will not be essential services there. The PNG Government is providing alternative accommodation for those found to be refugees who are waiting resettlement or can be resettled in PNG, and those who are found not to be refugees – and there are hundreds of them as well – should return home.
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