Transcript of Doorstop Interview
SAT 08 SEPTEMBER 2012
PM: I’m joined by the Trade and Competitiveness Minister Dr Craig Emerson this morning, here at APEC in Vladivostok. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with my counterpart, Prime Minister O’Neill from PNG.
We, today, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding between our two countries to enable a regional processing centre to be established on Manus Island in PNG. I thank Prime Minister O’Neill for the spirit in which he’s entered into these discussions. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to him about this face-to-face on two occasions now – one at the Pacific Islands Forum and one here today. On both occasions he’s indicated he understands that asylum seeker issues are a regional challenge and that he wants to work with Australia to address this challenge.
With the Memorandum of Understanding now signed, we can commence work on Manus Island as I believe people would be aware work has already commenced on Nauru. Reconnaissance teams have been to Manus Island as well. Our aim here is to establish both regional processing facilities as soon as possible.
As Minister Bowen and I have said consistently, now the legislation has passed the Parliament, any asylum seeker venturing to Australia on a boat is at risk of being transferred to Nauru or to Manus Island. But, even more worryingly, they are at risk of losing their lives because we continue to see so many tragedies at sea.
Our message to asylum seekers is, do not risk your life on a boat. Do not pay a people smuggler. Stay where you are and Australia is making available more resettlement places, 20,000 resettlement places, in our humanitarian stream, so that there are more opportunities for people to be processed and to get an opportunity for resettlement in Australia if they do not get on a boat.
I’ve also had the opportunity this morning to have a bilateral discussion with the Prime Minister of Malaysia. We talked about issues here at APEC, shared perspectives on the lead up to the East-Asia Summit in which we will both participate, and we reaffirmed the contents of the telephone conversation between the two of us following the Houston report, that Australian officials and Malaysian officials will talk about the Malaysia agreement and the findings of the Houston Review. And Minister Bowen will also be in contact with his counterpart, Minister Hishammuddin, on that.
I’ve had the opportunity today to participate in an education forum as well. It was a good discussion about the meaning of education in the modern age and how pivotal it is to the future of countries, including our own. I am now very confident that here at APEC, we will reach agreement to work together on increasing student mobility, the mobility of academic staff and of education providers in our region.
Education is a big export industry for Australia. It’s our third biggest export industry, at $16 billion. Around $10 billion of that arises from trade in education services within APEC, within the economies of APEC. There are around 175,000 students from APEC nations studying in Australia.
People often ask themselves what will the future of our economy be beyond the days of the resources boom. Well, even during the days of the resources boom, which we expect to last for a long period of time, we are making a living in education services in our region and I anticipate that trade in education will be a strong part of Australia’s continuing economic future.
We are seeing the century of growth and development in the Asian region, the economic weight of the globe moving to the region in which we live. The resources boom is a down payment on the prosperity that will flow during this century of change and, certainly, strong demand for Australia’s services, including high quality education services, will be a boom industry for us during this century of change. It is, therefore, good news for Australia that APEC is getting on with the job of making sure that we can look forward to a future of greater mobility and exchange in education.
I want to see more students from our region study in Australia. I want to see more Australian students go into the countries of our region and do some section of their education in the countries of our region. I want to see exchanges between academic staff and I want to see Australian education institutions have further opportunities to develop campuses and places for students to come and study across our region in the future. So, with those words, I’m happy to turn it over to you for questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, now that you’ve got Manus Island and Nauru in place, with you be able to, at any point, upgrade your warning from there being a risk that people will be sent to these places to saying there will be a certainty that they will go to these places and thereby increase the deterrent effect of your stated public language?
PM: Well the message is that people are at risk of being transferred. We will work to develop the temporary facilities at Nauru and Manus Island. The tents are being bolted up on Nauru as we speak and people in the future will be transferred, we will see some people transferred, to Nauru and to PNG. So the message is, you are at risk of being transferred if you get on a boat now but I continue to point out the more profound risk is that you are at risk of losing your life. We have seen too many people die at sea because they have got on unseaworthy vessels because of people smuggling.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Mr O’Neill just told us that he is still keen for people to move through this centre on Manus Island as quickly as possible. There would still seem to be a contradiction between their position and your position on how long people will stay. How do you explain the contradiction?
PM: We have agreed, with both Nauru and with PNG, that the agreement between us acquits the ‘no advantage principle’ of the Houston Review. I would remind that the central finding of Angus Houston and his team was that people should not get an advantage if they’ve got on a boat. That is, they should wait the same amount of time for a resettlement opportunity as if they hadn’t moved.
Now, of course, when people have been processed and have waited that amount of time, then we would want to see them secure a resettlement opportunity as soon as possible. But our agreements with Nauru and PNG are on all fours with Angus Houston and his findings of ‘no advantage’ for moving.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you say there’s no contradiction between what you’re saying and what Prime Minister O’Neill was saying?
PM: I’m saying the memorandums are clear. I didn’t have the opportunity to stand outside just then as you did, but the memorandum is clear. We had this conversation also at the Pacific Islands Forum, the ‘no advantage principle’ is there in the memorandum and that is how we will work these regional processing centres.
JOURNALIST: Can you put a time frame on it? How long?
PM: We will work with UNHCR to specify the appropriate time frames that people would have waited if they hadn’t moved.
JOURNALIST: Can you say yet when the first transfers to Nauru will occur?
PM: We’ve been clear that we want to see us looking to transfer people before the, in coming weeks, we’ve said we wanted the temporary facility in Nauru in a position to receive people by the end of the month.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in the last week, at the Pacific Islands Forum, Mr O’Neill was saying that Australia and PNG already had a series of agreements. He seemed to imply an MOU wasn’t needed. Has the drive for this MOU, this agreement, come from the Australian side and is this about fireproofing against a potential high court challenge to offshore processing?
PM: Look, we did have a Memorandum of Understanding with PNG that was a memorandum we executed before the High Court challenge. As a result of the High Court challenge and, on the basis of legal advice, some amendments have been made and that’s why a new memorandum has been executed today.
JOURNALIST: Are those amendments to protect human rights and ensure welfare of people who do go to Manus Island?
PM: The amendments were on the basis of legal advice and this puts the memorandum with PNG in comparable terms to the memorandum with Nauru. We have entered into arrangements with both that ensure we acquit our obligations under the refugee convention which, of course, we always wanted to do. That was clear prior to the High Court case. We’ve always wanted to acquit those obligations and proper treatment of people.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how would you characterise Malaysia’s patience, or lack of, in the situation you’re in now with the Malaysian deal? Having spoken to the Prime Minister this morning is he still willing to proceed and what are the prospects of actually getting that up?
PM: I think the Prime Minister of Malaysia has been very understanding about Australian domestic conditions and circumstances, first of all the High Court case and then a sharply partisan political debate following the high court case.
He indicated to me this morning that he’s happy to receive a team of Australian officials to continue discussions. Now, in the light of the Houston Report, of course we do have an agreement with Malaysia. The Houston review recommends a set of considerations that should be worked through and that’s the purpose of Australian officials going to Malaysia.
JOURNALIST: His embassy in Canberra has raised concerns about Malaysia’s good name having been blackguarded through the courts of this debate. Did he make that point to you this morning and does he have a point in that regard?
PM: I’ve indicated to the Prime Minister of Malaysia in the past that I can understand that he and many people in Malaysia would have been dismayed to hear some of the statements made during the course of what was a sharply partisan debate and not at all times fuelled by the facts.
Clearly, as we would recall, the opposition thought that this was a convenient battering ram for them in pursuit of their negative politics and, both Australia’s national interests and Malaysia’s reputation, were viewed as secondary to a sharply partisan and negative campaign.
JOURNALIST: Is there any timeline, Prime Minister, to the negotiations with Malaysia? Is it likely we will see a resolution, a Malaysian agreement, before the end of next year?
PM: We’ve agreed officials will go and be received. We haven’t set a timeline.
JOURNALIST: Do you actually believe there’s any chance given the state of the Parliament, that you will ever be able to implement a Malaysian agreement?
PM: You need to put that question to the Leader of the Opposition and ask him whether or not he respects Angus Houston, his team and their work.
JOURNALIST: Is it a setback for your offshore processing plans that the IOM has indicated that it won’t be involved with the early steps?
PM: Minister Bowen will continue discussions with international agencies, including the IOM, on the arrangements that we’ll put into operation on Nauru and in PNG.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, your comments on Pussy Riot last night, are you expecting any reaction from the Russians to that? Are you worried that you may have offended the president before you meet with him?
PM: Well, I met with our media friends last night and I was asked a direct question and I answered it factually.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Opposition has complained about Malaysia’s human rights. What do you say to the criticism that you are more concerned about the human rights of the Pussy Riot members then, say, treatment of asylum seekers in Malaysia?
PM: We, in our agreement with Malaysia, always worked on the basis that we want to see the human rights of asylum seekers transferred, protected in Malaysia. We work through that with Malaysia and we, you know, had the High Court case and the rest, as they say, is history.
Our concern about human rights is that human rights are universal and indivisible. We take that perspective when we deal with asylum seekers. We take that perspective generally on our outlook on the world.
Okay, thank you very much.