Australian Government coat of arms

Prime Minister of Australia

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Joint Press Conference, Sydney

29 March 2014

Sydney

Prime Minister

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Subjects:

100 days since the last successful people smuggling operation; Kirribilli House; MH370; Peter Greste.

E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning. It’s good to be here with Scott Morrison, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to mark the fact that today is one hundred days without a successful people smuggling venture to Australia.

This is the result of the implementation – the steady, purposeful and methodical implementation – of the policies that the Coalition took to the last election.

It’s the result of good work by the Minister. It’s the result of outstanding work by all of our border protection personnel – the Naval and Customs personnel, the immigration personnel, the Australian Federal Police – everyone who is making Operation Sovereign Borders work.

Obviously there is a contrast between what’s happened under this Government and what we saw under the former government. In the same period 12 months earlier we had some 66 illegal boat arrivals, almost 4,000 illegal arrivals by boat and obviously there is a very great contrast between what’s happening under this Government and what happened under its predecessor.

But this is a sign of what can be achieved by a Government that knows its own mind, has clear and definite policies and which steadily, purposefully and methodically implements them.

I’ve always said that I wanted to lead a Government which said what it means and does what it says and that’s exactly what this Government has been.

I do want particularly to congratulate Minister Morrison. He has done an outstanding job. The job is not over, but nevertheless, he has done an outstanding job.

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

Well thank you very much, Prime Minister. It is pleasing to be here today with the Prime Minister to mark this significant milestone for Operation Sovereign Borders.

This milestone would not have been achieved without the leadership and without the strength and support of the Prime Minister. That has been a telling factor in the Government’s resolve and making it a top priority for his Government and for all of those who serve in the Government.

This is a good day for those who have been seeking to stop the loss of life at sea.

It is a good day for those who wanted to see a time when people who came illegally by boat to Australia were not taking the places of people who were seeking to come the right way through our offshore humanitarian programme.

It is a good day for those who want to see the outrageous costs that blew out under the previous government begin to be taken under control because of the success of these types of policies.

It’s a good day for the men and women who serve as part of Operation Sovereign Borders and I particularly want to commend Lieutenant General Campbell and his Deputy Commander, Allan McKinnon, and all those who serve in Operation Sovereign Borders across all of the areas that the Prime Minister has noted. These are hardworking dedicated people who believe in the integrity of our borders and the mission that has been set for them. They are the same people who have always been there and it has been a pleasure to be working with them and to give them the opportunity to show this country what they can do when it comes to protecting our borders.

It’s also a good day, Prime Minister, for all of the Australians who believed that this could be done. There are many who said it couldn’t be done, but the Australian people put their faith in this Government, in this Prime Minister, in this set of policies, to be able to stop the boats and to not surrender to the people smugglers as the previous policies had done.

It’s a good day for those Australians who showed their faith in this Government and it is a pleasure to be able to give this report to them.

We now move into the third phase of Operation Sovereign Borders.

The first phase was all about setting it up and we had an 80 per cent reduction in arrivals in that approximately first hundred days.

In the second hundred days we have now had no successful ventures to Australia and I would say the principal contributor to that result in particular has been our maritime operations.

We now go into the third phase where we move into the post monsoon period and the risks are just as great and our response will be as follows: we will maintain the intensity of all of our operations in all areas of Operation Sovereign Borders, both with our offshore processing, with what we’re doing at sea and through our disruption and partnership operations all the way up through the region, all the way back to source, we’ll maintain the intensity. Anyone who seeks to come here or run a venture in the next hundred days will find the same set of policies that stopped all those coming over the last hundred days.

We will continue to engage with the region – I’ll be back up in Papua New Guinea this week and in the region over the next few weeks continuing to pursue our regional partnerships and arrangements.

Thirdly, it is important that we have to address the legacy. There are 30,000 people who remain onshore as a result of the previous government’s failings. There’s around about 2,500 sitting jointly between the Manus and Nauru centres and we need to work through the processing and settlement arrangements there and the return of those who are found not to be refugees.

Finally, there’s an election in Western Australia next Saturday for the Senate and the Australian people and particularly those in Western Australia should know that the Labor Party continue to oppose the policies that are working. In particular, they oppose our maritime operations and the policy of turn backs where it’s safe to do so. They continue to oppose the reintroduction of temporary protection visas. Despite the success the Labor Party and The Greens still oppose the policies that have delivered this result which we are pleased to report on today.

QUESTION:

Are you prepared to say “mission accomplished”?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, because as Scott said, the monsoon is coming to an end and traditionally, people smuggling operations have picked up at the end of the monsoon. In addition, we don’t simply have to stop the boats but we’ve got to deal with the consequences of the former government’s failure and the consequences of the former government’s failure are not only the 30,000 people who are in Australia who came illegally by boat, but there’s some hundreds in Nauru and about 1,300 in Manus, so that all has to be dealt with.

So, it is too early to declare that the job is done, but nevertheless I think we can safely say that the way is closed. We can safely say that the way is closed. We can say to all of the people who scoffed, we can say to all of the people who said it couldn’t be done, that the boats couldn’t be stopped, that it was just a simple slogan that could never be implemented - that it can be done and it is being done.

QUESTION:

But just because there are no successful ventures to Australia doesn’t necessarily mean the boats are stopping coming all together though, does it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, that’s exactly right. The monsoon is ending and typically there has been an upsurge in people smuggling ventures once the monsoon has ended, but we have gone 100 days without any successful people smuggling ventures arriving in Australia and in the same period last year – in the same period 12 months ago – we had 66 illegal boat arrivals and we had almost 4,000 people illegally arriving by boat. So, this is a dramatic transformation under the policies of this Government.

QUESTION:

In that hundred days how many boats have been turned around?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not going to comment on operations on the water, just say that we have implemented every aspect of the policies that we put to the people at the election and obviously one of the policies that we did take to the election was turning boats around where it’s safe to do so.

QUESTION:

Could you say it was around 66?

PRIME MINISTER:

The whole point of turning boats around where it’s safe to do so is to send an absolutely unmistakable and forthright signal to the people smugglers that the game is up, that you are facing a Government whose resolve is more than equal to yours and that’s the message that we have sent to them unambiguously and clearly on quite a number of occasions now.

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

Can I just add one point to that and that is the region asked Australia to take the sugar off the table when it came to these policies and that’s what these policies – in particular the policies of turning back where it’s safe to do so – have achieved.

QUESTION:

Will Australia extradite two G4S guards who are wanted for questioning over the Manus Island riot and are due for questioning?

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

That matter is still before the Papua New Guinean police. As I said, I’ll be in PNG this week to get a further update on where those investigations are at. Our own inquiry is also continuing under Mr Cornell and when those matters are brought to a conclusion, if there are any requests that are made, obviously we’ll work through those requests as is appropriate.

QUESTION:

Are you speaking to G4S about this [inaudible]?

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

Well these are matters for the Papua New Guinean police and they’re matters for the independent reviewer and they are the people who are engaging with any persons or organisations that may be subject to those inquiries.

QUESTION:

You’ve done well protecting our borders, would you like a new challenge in defence?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a Government which is barely six months old. It is a Government which is about to bring down a very difficult Budget because we have inherited a dire fiscal position – really, a disastrous fiscal position – $123 billion of cumulative deficits under Labor’s policies, deficits and debt stretching out as far as the eye can see, $667 billion of projected debt.

So look, we’ve scarcely in office six months, we’ve got a very difficult Budget ahead of us, every single Minister has a crowded agenda and the last thing anyone should be thinking about is their next job because we have a very big job ahead of us right now.

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

I agree.

QUESTION:

So is there no money in the Budget to renovate Kirribilli House which you’ve just moved into?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is no intention on the part of this Government to be spending large amounts of money on official residences. The former government commissioned some repair work on The Lodge and that’s ongoing and that will be quite a few months before it is finalised, but this Government has no intention of commissioning major work on any official residence.

QUESTION:

Would you like to move to The Lodge ultimately when it is renovated?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, my heart is in the electorate and there’s a sense in which I am a reluctant inhabitant of any official residence because my preference would be always to live in the place that’s been the family home for 20-odd years. But, when you take on a particular job sometimes a particular residence goes with it and you’ve just to go with that particular flow.

QUESTION:

The view’s not bad.

PRIME MINISTER:

I absolutely accept that and I’ll have a good look at Garden Island and I’ll be able to see what ships are coming and going as they depart for the various operations that they’re embarked upon.

QUESTION:

On ships, have you had any update on what’s happening in Perth on the search?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yesterday was a better day for searching; today I understand is another good day for searching. The weather conditions are benign for that rather inhospitable part of the world. Yesterday, as I understand it, there were visuals from five aircraft of debris in the ocean. Unfortunately, despite the presence of some six vessels in and around the new search area, we have not yet been able to recover any debris, so that task continues.

We should not underestimate the difficulty of this work. It is an extraordinarily remote location. These are inhospitable seas. It’s an inaccessible place. We are trying to find small bits of wreckage in a vast ocean and while we are throwing everything we have at it, the task goes on.

QUESTION:

It must be a very expensive operation, who foots the bill for it? How will countries share that cost?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well at the moment, every country is bearing its own costs. The Chinese are flying their aircraft – their planes – Australia’s flying our aircraft and we’re running our planes. We aren’t counting the cost; we’re just doing what needs to be done to try to get to the bottom of this mystery and that will go on. I think we owe it to the people who were on board that plane, I think we owe it to their families, I think we owe it to the countries which have a stake in all of this to do what we can to get to the bottom of it.

This is Australia being a good international citizen and I think that’s what people expect of us – I think that’s what we expect of ourselves.

QUESTION:

So being a good citizen of the world, should we take charge of the ultimate investigation into the crash should wreckage be found?

PRIME MINISTER:

Legal responsibility for the recovery and investigation rests with the Malaysian Government as the owner of the aircraft. Nevertheless a number of other countries have a legal stake in it – the Americans as the manufacturer of the aircraft, the British as the manufacturer of the engines, the French as the supplier of the avionics and then of course the Chinese as the country of most of the citizens who perished in MH370. So, in the end there are a lot of countries that have got a stake in this and of course we had citizens on that plane as well and it went down in Australia’s search and rescue zone.

So, while the prime responsibility rests with Malaysia, Australia is ready to shoulder as much of the responsibility as countries wish us to take.

QUESTION:

There was a report that Malaysia be investigating until the black box is found, have you heard that?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are doing our best in conjunction with the other countries, with aircraft and ships in the area, to recover debris, to identify wreckage and certainly we will be working with our partners and this has been a fine international partnership. We are working with our partners to recover as much as we can. Black box recovery equipment is in Perth, it’s about to be loaded onto an Australian Naval vessel, it will be taken to the most prospective search area and if there is good reason to deploy it, it will be deployed.

QUESTION:

I know you can’t interfere with another country’s justice system, but I believe you’ve been in touch with the people in Egypt over Peter Greste and there will be a process I suspect, but are you confident in your conversation that there may be progress there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was a very cordial conversation with President Mansour of Egypt, it took place on Thursday evening. It was a very cordial conversation. I was grateful that the President gave me so much of his time; it was about a 20 minute conversation.

I absolutely accept that the Egyptian justice system has to be allowed to run its course, but the point I made was that – well there were really two points I made: first of all, as far as the Australian Government is concerned the Muslim Brotherhood is, if not exactly a terrorist organisation, it certainly has at times been a friend of terrorist organisations and for that reason I have a lot of sympathy with the Egyptian Government. I made that point to President Mansour.

Second point I made was that at least from this distance, Peter Greste was doing his job. He wasn’t taking sides, he was simply doing his job and it is the job of a free media to report the facts as they find them and that’s what he was doing. So, I made that point to President Mansour and he assured me that while he couldn’t interfere in the process of the Egyptian justice either, he was confident that the matter would be resolved as swiftly as it could be.

Thank you so much.

[ends]