Transcript of press conference, Canberra
TUE 14 AUGUST 2012
Subject(s): Houston Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers
E & O E – PROOF ONLY
PM: This morning the Minister for Immigration, Minister Bowen, has been in discussions with his counterpart, the Shadow Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison.
Those discussions about potential further amendments to the legislation are proceeding in good faith and I’m not going to run a running commentary on them.
But I do want to say this. The time for politics is over; the time for action is here. It’s time to get this legislation amended, and the Government is prepared to make any arrangements necessary in order to facilitate a vote in the House of Representatives today.
We want this legislation through.
I am obviously concerned that people smugglers might seek to exploit this window, as I and the Minister for Immigration said yesterday, anybody who gets on a boat at this time is at risk of being transferred to Nauru or PNG.
But clearly people smugglers seeking to profit might be trying to exploit this window so the sooner we legislate, the better.
I spoke this morning to the Chief of our Defence Force, and asked him about the logistics for making arrangements for a processing facility on Nauru and in PNG.
He has advised me that if legislation passes the Parliament this week, it would be possible to have reconnaissance teams in Nauru and PNG on Friday looking at the sites for the processing facility, for the regional processing centre.
He has advised me that subject to what those reconnaissance teams find, it would then be possible for Defence to facilitate the construction of temporary facilities in both locations.
That means that within a month, we would hope to see people being processed in Nauru and in PNG. That’s clearly subject to the work of the reconnaissance teams that could go as early as Friday.
This morning I’ve spoken to the President of Nauru and the Prime Minister of PNG.
I have explained to both of them the circumstances of the Houston report, the details of its findings, and also the work that is happening here in Parliament to amend the legislation.
I’ve asked them if we succeed in amending the legislation so that there can be offshore processing, whether or not they would be prepared to enter discussions with the Australian Government to host such centres.
Both of them have been positive about hosting centres and positive about entering those discussions.
Both of them have said that if legislation passes this week, they would welcome the reconnaissance teams from our Defence Force on Friday and they would work with those reconnaissance teams and with Defence to facilitate the establishment of temporary facilities.
That is the work that has been done to date.
Clearly the Australian people want to see us act. They are over listening to the yelling and shouting of politicians about this matter.
They want to see change and we can see change this week in the legislation and then act on that change as early as Friday.
I’m happy to take a few questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when you talk about temporary facilities, are you talking about tents or something more substantial than that. And having you picked up the phone to the President of Nauru, have you either picked up the phone or written to Tony Abbott to seek his support for the legislation?
PM: Well that work is happening through our relevant Ministers, so Scott Morrison is obviously empowered by the Opposition to discuss matters on their behalf and Minister Bowen is meeting with his counterpart.
He’s done that this morning, and discussions are continuing.
As for the temporary facilities, yes they would involve tents and other sorts of temporary structures.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will any special payments be made to Nauru or PNG?
PM: Look I’m not in a position to talk to you about the details of an agreement that hasn’t been struck yet.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister I understand last night the Opposition provided a list of 44 speakers to speak (inaudible). Is that your understanding and isn’t it right there should be significant debate on this legislation?
PM: I can’t give you a specific number but my understanding is the Opposition has quite a large number of people who have put their names on the speaking list.
My view is that the time for the politics, the political point scoring, the yelling, the shouting, that time is over. People want to see action.
We need this legislation to pass the Parliament so that we can get on with that action.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister the former Defence Force chief yesterday said that there should be a limit of five years for asylum seekers sent to Nauru. Would you feel comfortable with genuine refugees being held in Nauru, or Manus Island for that matter, for five years?
PM: I’ve endorsed, in principle, the recommendations of the Houston report as I indicated yesterday.
One of those recommendations is about people who travel by boat being processed on Nauru or in PNG – and then remaining there for what would have been the same period of time as if they had not travelled on the boat.
So it’s fundamental to the propositions in the panel’s report that you don’t get an advantage because you’ve got on a boat.
Now there’s a need to implement that and work through what it means, what processing times are in our region, for example, and we would take UNHCR advice on that and work the implementation arrangements through.
JOURNALIST: It could be up to ten years.
PM: What I’m saying to you, and I’m not going to endorse figures that haven’t been – obviously Angus Houston used a figure yesterday – what the report is saying to us we should do is we should work out what processing times are and make an equivalent that would require careful advice from UNHCR – we’d take that advice.
So I’m not going to nominate a figure before we take that advice, but as a question of principle, do I think we should do that, yes I do. The Houston report recommends it.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Tony Abbott says that since Labor has had an absence of an offshore processing policy, hundreds of people have died at sea. Was it Labor’s fault?
PM: Look on the politics of this, I think the time for the politicking has well and truly gone, including politicking of that nature. I don’t think the Australian community want us exchanging insults – they want us to act – and that is what I am determined to do.
As people would be aware, and this is a very common sense point that everybody in this audience particularly would be aware of, there has not been a compromise on the table until we are working through this today.
So the Houston report has done what I hoped it would do, which is bring a fresh perspective and a new way forward in this debate.
As recently as six weeks ago, Scott Morrison wasn’t able to say on television whether if the Government adopted every element of the Opposition’s plan, the Opposition would back it.
That’s where we were six weeks ago, I’m not interested in canvassing all of those matters of history, I’m not interested in finger-pointing or blame throwing. I’m interested in action and getting something done.
JOURNALIST: On this question of the timing, it obviously worries many critics, would you be willing not just to take the advice of the United Nation refugee group, but hand over the determination of that time to the group?
PM: Look, I’m prepared to do what the Houston report has asked us to do. That does of course require consultation with UNHCR.
You are asking me about the implementation of arrangements. We will implement carefully, we’ll take the best possible advice, we’ll work it through.
But the question for today is will we get there. Will we get to implementing these arrangements? In order to do that, legislation has to pass this Parliament.
JOURNALIST: I know you don’t want to go back on the history but the report yesterday also seems to contradict the advice you’re getting from the Immigration Department about the value of Nauru and Manus Island. Who’s right, and what does it say about the quality of the advice you’re getting from the Immigration Department if it is in fact now valuable to deal with?
PM: Well as I made the point yesterday, the model on Nauru and Manus Island is a different model than has been contemplated in the past, and consequently I don’t think it’s fair to look at advice that was given on a different model and say that that advice can somehow be uplifted to the new model that the Houston report is putting.
JOURNALIST: Did the Department never put to you an alternative model that involved keeping people there longer or removing this advantage?
PM: In my view, this is a new approach from the Houston team as part of an underlying strategy of ensuring that there is no net advantage from moving.
You would be aware, Karen, that the debate about public service advice and about the politics of this to date has been about detention centres on Nauru and PNG as those detention centres were run in the past.
The Houston panel has recommended a different approach to that. Now as I said very frankly yesterday, I’m not interested in the political scoreboard out of the Houston panel.
The truth is every political party in this Parliament can say ‘that bit gives me a tick, and actually I got a cross over here.’
That’s true of the Government; it’s true of the Opposition; it’s true of everyone else.
That is not what we need to debate our way through today. We need to get this legislation done.
JOURNALIST: Just on this point of how long these people would stay there and whether it might be five years or whatever, isn’t the point, isn’t this the point of it all, and that the no advantage-
JOURNALIST: -means that this will provide the deterrent that will stop more people coming, so isn’t that actually the design?
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you said you’d spoken to the leaders of Nauru and PNG. Have you spoken to Malaysia yet, because you said yesterday you were going to give that a red-hot go.
PM: Thank you for that question. I have sought to speak to the Prime Minister of Malaysia today. I haven’t been able to do so as yet.
He is travelling outside Malaysia, and so it hasn’t been possible in his program, but I certainly will be speaking to him as soon as it is possible for us to do so, and my message to him would be that we’ve received this report. I would explain what the report recommends.
I would explain what it recommends in relation to Malaysia, and I would seek his agreement for officials to have further discussions about the matters that are in the report and obviously for Minister Bowen to work with Malaysia in the way that he has in the past.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the expert panel was quite clear that the recommendations worked as a package. Would you be worried if you get support in the Parliament for Nauru and Manus Island, but you are unable either because of the Parliament or because of the international negotiations, to not get support for Malaysia, do you accept that in that circumstance this package won’t work to achieve its aims?
PM: My view is an integrated package has been recommended to us and so my view is that we should do everything we can to keep true to that integrated package.
That’s why I stood before you yesterday and said that the Government has endorsed in principle all of the recommendations of the Houston report.
Now I am not in a position to control the actions of others in this Parliament, and discussions with governments of other nations are discussions with governments of other nations and they will make their own decisions about how they respond to Australia’s advances on these questions.
But I think the Houston report is an integrated package, so it is incumbent upon us to accept and work on the integrated package, and that is what we are intending to do.
We’ll take the last two and then I’ll go. Yes.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Tony Abbott went to Aurukun at the weekend and Wild Rivers has popped up again. The Senator Larissa Waters, Greens Senator for Queensland has written to Tony Burke about whether the Federal Government would look at protecting those areas under federal legislation. Do you support that move, or do you think that Aboriginal groups in the Cape area have a right to mine that area and go ahead with their own plans?
PM: Look, I’m going to have to refer you to Minister Burke on that.
JOURNALIST: Look back on that Malaysia stuff, I don’t totally understand. Is the Government’s strategy to effect somehow a legally-binding agreement with Malaysia which you can do without legislation so that you don’t have to bring legislation or amendments to the Migration Act?
PM: Our strategy is to endeavour to implement what is in the Houston report. The Houston report talks about an MOU or comparable instrument.
It talks about building on Malaysia, the current Malaysia agreement. It describes it as vital, so our intention is to try and pursue the further recommendations in the Houston report about the oversight in the Malaysia agreement and about the protections in the Malaysia agreement.
That’s what we would be endeavouring to do.
The only motivation is being faithful to what is in the Houston report, no other motivation.
JOURNALIST: Just further to that question, the report says that the Malaysian negotiations are to be conducted at the highest levels of government. I know it’s only early days but would you be hoping to maybe have some sort of conversation with your counterpart at APEC, on the sidelines for example?
PM: Well I am the highest level of government, and I’m seeking to speak to the Prime Minister of Malaysia who is the highest level of his government.
Thanks very much.