Senator Jacqui Lambie – Estimates questions relating to whether any detainees on Nauru are “Hamas sympathisers”

October 23, 2023

I know what went on over there. I know that there were 50 to 70 who were never getting off that island. I want to know where they are. I have been told that in the last six months, under the cover of darkness, they have been moved to Victoria. I’d also like to know for the high-risk category ones who have come here what nation they are from and whether any of them are Hamas sympathisers.

Senator LAMBIE: Can you tell me how many are on Nauru at the moment?

Mr Thomas : There are currently 13 on Nauru at the moment.

Senator LAMBIE: Are they 13 existing? When did they show up on Nauru?

Mr Thomas : Since last estimates there has been an increase of 11 new arrivals in Nauru.

Senator LAMBIE: Is that because we’ve had a boat show up in the last few weeks; is that correct?

Mr Thomas : Yes. Those new arrivals were taken to Nauru in September this year.

Senator LAMBIE: In September. That was because they were found to be on a boat—correct?

Mr Thomas : They’re unauthorised maritime arrivals. I can talk about the current regional processing arrangements in Nauru.

Senator LAMBIE: No, I don’t need you to do that just now. Where did they come from exactly? Where did that boat come from?

Mr Thomas : Any operational questions will have to be directed to our ABF colleagues.

Senator Watt: They’ll be appearing a little bit later this afternoon—in fact, they may be next. They’re in outcome 3.

Senator LAMBIE: So we’ve had a new boat arrival over the last 14 days, and that was carrying those 13 people?

Mr Thomas : It was 11 people and in September.

Senator LAMBIE: Eleven people in September. Before that you had two left on there?

Mr Thomas : That’s correct.

Senator LAMBIE: Just answer me this. I had meetings behind closed doors with you guys, with Home Affairs, back in the day when we were trying to do the deal of making sure that refugees were sent to other places. By the way, I have to say that if the Liberal government, the government of the day, and Scott Morrison did one thing right over the two years of COVID they did a pretty good job and reduced Nauru and got them off onto other islands. We all know this now. That’s already out in the open. If it isn’t, too bad. Out of that amount of people there would have been 40 to 60 people who were never going to get off Nauru because they were a high security risk. So how are you down to 13? No other country would take them. So where are they?

Mr Thomas : I’m not sure which specific cases you’re referring to.

Senator LAMBIE: We always have high risk. They were extremely high risk. A little birdie told me the other day that in the last six months the government of the day has been slowly moving them during the darkness of the night and sending them to Victoria. They were high risk. That’s what they were classified as. You moved—or the government has—high-risk people off Nauru in the last six months and you put them into Victoria; is that true?

Mr Thomas : No.

Senator LAMBIE: So what happened to the high-risk people over there, mate?

Mr Thomas : The reduction of people in Nauru has been a mix of third-country resettlements and also a number have come to Australia for a temporary purpose. When arriving in Australia they are detained as unlawful noncitizens. To be released into the community requires ministerial intervention to either grant them a visa or place them into residence determination, so a risk assessment process is undertaken at that point to make a determination about the best placement for them.

Senator LAMBIE: Okay. Let me re-ask my question. Before the election last year I had a meeting. In that meeting about two months before the last federal election it was made very clear to me that there were high-risk people on Nauru that were never going to get off because their own countries wouldn’t take them back. Do you know which ones I’m talking about now?

Mr Thomas : No, I’m not familiar with that meeting.

Senator LAMBIE: Okay. Can I have the numbers please? How many were left there before the election? Let’s go to last March. I want to know how many were on Nauru.

Mr Thomas : I’ll have to take that on notice—

Senator LAMBIE: And I want to know how many of them were deemed to be high risk. Take that on notice. And I want to know where those high-risk candidates have now gone since no other country would take them.

Ms Foster: Senator, we have the question. We’ll take it on notice.

Senator Watt: I guess—

Senator LAMBIE: Minister, I’m really sorry, but this is pretty critical stuff I’m talking about. This is really reliable information and you can’t tell me where these high-risk refugees have gone to. All I know is that they’ve been sent to Australia.

Senator Watt: Obviously the officials have taken some of your questions on notice. The meeting you had was prior to the election. I can’t speak to what the former government said about whether those people on Nauru were high risk or not. It is possible that some of the people who have been brought from Nauru since the change of government weren’t in that high-risk category. I guess I’m saying that I wouldn’t necessarily assume that every single person who has been brought to the mainland from Nauru falls into that high-risk category. The officials have taken that on notice.

Senator LAMBIE: I didn’t assume that, no. It’s coming from Home Affairs. Unless you’ve had a big change of staff in 10 months, surely somebody in Home Affairs must know the answer to these questions.

Senator Watt: And they’ve taken them on notice.

Ms Foster: I’m not conscious of whether we had any staff in the briefing that you referred to, but we will find out.

Senator LAMBIE: I know what went on over there. I know that there were 50 to 70 who were never getting off that island. I want to know where they are. I have been told that in the last six months, under the cover of darkness, they have been moved to Victoria. I’d also like to know for the high-risk category ones who have come here what nation they are from and whether any of them are Hamas sympathisers. That’s what I want to know. You’ve been moving them in the last six months and you had no idea about what was going to happen in Israel—about what has happened in the last two or three weeks. I want to know—before you release them into this country—if any of them are sympathisers of Hamas. That’s what I want to know today because of national security. I want to know today because of national security. I think it’s a fair call for Australians.

Senator Watt: Sure. Senator Lambie, would it help if the officials just really briefly explained the test, if you like, before someone—

Senator LAMBIE: No, I don’t need to know the test. These are direct questions. They are at the heart of national security, and I want those questions answered today.

Senator Watt: Yes, and I would be confident—and I’m happy for officials to say more on this—that anyone who is known or suspected to have a link to a terrorist organisation would not be moved to Australia. That’s what I was going to say: the officials could maybe give you some assurance about that, because I don’t think it would be helpful for Australians to be concerned—

Senator LAMBIE: No, that’s not the information that I’m getting right from the horse’s mouth. So that’s what I want to know.

Senator Watt: Well, I don’t think it’d be helpful for Australians to be alarmed—

Senator LAMBIE: Where I feel safe—

CHAIR: Senator Lambie, please. The minister—

Senator Watt: about terrorist sympathisers being moved to Australia if that hasn’t happened.

Senator LAMBIE: Well, why don’t you—

CHAIR: Senator Lambie, when I am speaking, I have the call because I’m the chair. If you would like to hear the answer, you can’t interrupt it, so please don’t do that. Minister, have you finished your answer?

Senator Watt: Yes. I just think it’s important for all Australians to have confidence in the system. I would be very surprised if department officials allowed people who are known or suspected to have links to terrorist groups to enter Australia, and I’d be worried that people might have that impression from Senator Lambie’s questions. So I was just asking if it’d be helpful for the officials to set out the kinds of tests that are undertaken before people are allowed in.

Senator LAMBIE: No, I don’t think so, because I already know what the tests are, and what I’m saying is that I believe your government has failed to do those tests, and I believe those people are now here in Australia, and I want an answer by the end of today, for the sake of our national security.

Senator Watt: Are you accusing the government of letting terrorist sympathisers into the country? That’s a pretty big accusation.

Senator LAMBIE: Well, I’m asking you to relook at what you have let in in the last six months, please, from Nauru. That’s what I’m asking you to do.

CHAIR: Excuse me. I think there is a question there, and I’m going to allow the officials to answer it, given the context of the question.

Ms Foster: Thank you, Chair. I was going to ask Mr Thomas to reiterate his advice to the committee about the process that’s followed when people have been brought from Nauru to Australia for a temporary purpose and the assessment process that happens with those people, which determines whether they are detained or put into community.

Senator LAMBIE: Well, you could, Ms Foster, but you can do that in your time if you like.

CHAIR: Senator, you asked a question, and the officials are answering it.

Senator LAMBIE: But I don’t need to know what the rules are. I already know what they are.

CHAIR: You’re not interested.

Ms Foster: Senator, I think it goes directly to the question about whether dangerous people are being released into the community. That’s what we’re trying to clarify.

Senator LAMBIE: Okay. Well, here’s another question.

Ms Foster: Can we just answer that question first, Senator? Mr Thomas, can you please just quickly articulate how that works?

Mr Thomas : When a person is brought to Australia from Nauru, they are placed in held detention as an unlawful noncitizen. For them to be released from held detention, a submission has to go up to the minister, for ministerial intervention considerations. All information the department is aware of is provided to the minister for the minister to make a decision whether the person could be granted a visa, for example, in the community or be placed in residence determination. But, until the minister personally intervenes and makes that decision, the person remains in held detention.

Senator LAMBIE: Thank you. Okay. So we’ve moved them, so they’re here. That’s okay. So we’ve moved them from Nauru and they’re now on the mainland, in detention.

Mr Thomas : A number of individuals that departed Nauru went to third countries for resettlement. Without knowing the exact number you’re talking about and the individuals, it’s hard to say which ones are which.

Senator LAMBIE: Okay. What I would like to see is a list from the time that this government took over. I want to see what was left in Nauru, because I realise there were not a lot left. I don’t need to know their names, but I want to know where they came from originally and I want to know where they are today. That’s what I would like to see. Do you think I can have that list?

Mr Thomas : We’ll take that on notice. It is a bit of data.

Senator LAMBIE: Well, it wouldn’t be, because I think there were only about 250-odd people left there, if memory serves me right, when this government took over, because the previous government, with my help, had cleared a lot of those people out into other countries.

Ms Foster: We’ve taken that on notice. We’ll do our best to pull that information together, but it’s not a straightforward request.

Senator LAMBIE: Well, Ms Foster, when I’m looking at it and I’m getting it from the horse’s mouth firsthand, I can assure you it is a national security issue for me and it should be for this country. I would like that as soon as possible, please. I have no further questions.

Senator Watt: Well, Senator Lambie, you’ve made a pretty big accusation in here, and what we’ve been attempting to do is to give you and the entire community who are watching this or hearing about it some assurance that ministers take security matters into account when authorising people to come to Australia. I think it’d be helpful if the officials could say what steps they’ve taken.

Senator LAMBIE: With all due respect, Minister: sure, they’re filling me in on what they want to hear, but they are actually not answering my questions. They can’t answer them, because they say that they can’t. So I’d like to see whether or not they actually know that and don’t want to answer them—which bothers me sincerely, okay?

Senator Watt: It’s completely legitimate for you to ask about those numbers. I have no problem with that at all. But you’ve obviously raised some concerns about whether some of these people might have terrorist links, and I think it would be helpful for those who are watching to understand what sorts of checks are undertaken before people are allowed to be moved here, just so that we have the full picture about the situation. Would that be okay, Senator Lambie?

Senator LAMBIE: That’s fine. Actually, I might just finish off my questioning with you, Minister. Was it a commitment to the Australian people that you would remove them all off Nauru? I just cannot remember. Was that a commitment to the Australian people? Was that a political commitment in the last election?

Senator Watt: I’d have to check what the commitment was, Senator Lambie. But, as you say, there’s been a substantial number of people moved from Nauru to Australia since the change of government—by the sound of it, usually because of medical conditions.

Senator LAMBIE: Do you think I would be able to see that on notice too—whether they were medical conditions or whether there were other reasons that they were removed off there? It would be without their names but just letting me know, if you’ve got that information.

Senator Watt: Yes, I’m sure we can do that. Ms Foster has just reminded me also that people can be moved to Australia temporarily before they’re then resettled in a third country. So some would fit into that category, rather than it just being medical conditions.

Senator LAMBIE: I understand that, but I’d like to know why, if there’s high risk, they were moved here when they should have stayed over there until you could have found another country. The whole reason they were even left there—the ones that were supposed to be left there—was that they were high-risk. No countries could be found. We sure as hell could not find a country to take them, not even their own, in the amount of time that we reduced that stock over there, I can tell you. I just want to know where those so-called high-risk people are now, please. I have no further questions. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Lambie. That sounded like a statement, not a question, but we don’t have any answers for you to that. So, Senator Scarr, you have the call.

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