Dutton and O’Neil trade jibes over freed detainees
MPs have been tossed out of the House and ministers have traded verbal blows about “protecting paedophiles” and being “asleep at the wheel” in a rowdy Question Time dominated by the issue of asylum seeker releases.
Wednesday’s most heated stoush was between Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil and her predecessor in the portfolio, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.
It fired up after Dutton hit out at the Albanese government over the High Court ruling that asylum seekers cannot be detained indefinitely.
“The government has been flat-footed and asleep at the wheel since the High Court decision on 8 November,” he said.
“The seriousness of the matter includes the release of one high-risk offender into the community, potentially a rapist, potentially a child sex offender. The government refuses to provide any detail.”
The former detainee, who refused to wear an electronic tracker, cannot be contacted and has been referred to Australian Federal Police.
He is one of more than 140 people who have been released into the community after the court ruling.
Albanese fights back
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese responded by pointing out that detainees had gone missing while the Coalition was in government.
“The High Court required the release of individuals with similar circumstances to NZYQ, who took the case,” he said.
“If NZYQ had been deported instead of being granted permission to apply [for] a visa by the person who was the minister at the time, the Leader of the Opposition, none of this would have occurred. None of this would have occurred.”
The Albanese government will next week bring legislation to Parliament to allow it to re-detain the criminals released, after the court on Tuesday published the reasons behind its decision.
The laws have been described as a “robust preventative detention and community safety order regime”, modelled on high-risk terrorist laws enacted under the former Coalition government.
As well, a bill to allow a court to strip Australian citizenship from people who have committed serious crimes, including terrorism and espionage, was introduced to Parliament on Wednesday.
Anthony Albanese takes aim at Peter Dutton in Question Time on Wednesday. Photo: AAP
The citizenship-stripping power was also called into question by a High Court decision.
O’Neil said the laws would repeal measures of previous citizenship stripping powers that were deemed invalid by the court.
She fired back at Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley, who said O’Neil had “failed to prepare for an expected High Court loss and then falsely claimed she was advised she would win”.
“She claimed urgent laws weren’t necessary until we wrote them for her. She claimed the Coalition’s preventative detention proposal is utterly impossible, but now says Parliament won’t rise without legislating it … Minister, why is your job safe when the Australian public is not?” Ley said.
‘A political attack’
In response, O’Neil accused the Coalition of planning a political attack, instead of working to pass Labor’s legislation.
“I see the Opposition has had a little bit of a meeting this morning and decided they will spend today making a political attack on me. Well, congratulations, congratulations,” O’Neil said.
“We have seen three weeks of the most shameless politics I have actually ever seen played in this Parliament.”
She also took aim at Dutton, accusing him of “voting to protect paedophiles over children”.
“Labor’s attempt to criminalise paedophiles loitering near schools was voted against by the Leader of the Opposition,” she said.
In the noisy chaos and jeers that followed, opposition immigration spokesman Dan Tehan was asked to leave the chamber for repeated interruptions. Coalition MPs Ted O’Brien and Rick Wilson were also booted for earlier rowdiness.
O’Neil has pledged the legislation will be passed before Parliament rises for its long summer break – meaning this week’s scheduled last sitting day, Thursday, could bring a repeat of Wednesday’s antics.
Earlier, she said the legislation provided “an appropriate mechanism to deal with dual-Australian citizens who have committed crimes that are so serious and so significant that they demonstrate the repudiation of their allegiance to Australia”.
Terrorism offences, espionage and foreign interference are among the offences where citizenship can be stripped should a person be found guilty.
Citizenship can be stripped under the measures only if an order is made by the Home Affairs Minister. That must be done before sentencing.
Australian citizenship would not be able to be stripped if it would make someone stateless.
O’Neil urged the opposition not to stand in the way of the laws.
“Our government is now going to move quickly to establish the toughest possible preventative detention regime,” she told ABC News.
She defended the government’s response to the overturning of a 20-year precedent, saying a police operation and case management had been established within eight days of the court decision.
“I have never seen an Australian government move so quickly to adapt to a major constitutional decision,” she said.
Constitutional law expert Anne Twomey said the court’s judgment would support legislation that allowed an individualised process. Seeking to categorise the entire cohort as suitable for re-detention because they posed a risk to the community would not succeed, she said.
“This judgment wouldn’t support that,” Professor Twomey told ABC radio.
“Trying to detain an entire group of people simply because they’re unlawful non-citizens is not going to work.”