PRIME MINISTER: Well, good morning. It’s great to be here with David Coleman, not only the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs but of course the Member for Banks and my neighbour as the Member for Cook. It’s wonderful to be here with David and to be part of the Lunar New Year celebrations which are going on all around the country. So xin nian kuai le to all of those and gong xi fa cai to everyone to continuing to engage in those celebrations from the Vietnamese, the Chinese and Korean communities. It’s a wonderful time of family and celebration and recognising the great contribution of particularly the Chinese community to Australia, and all of these communities, to Australia and the incredible, strong relationships that we have with China, with Korea and Vietnam. There is a major Vietnamese celebration on this evening where David will be representing me. So it’s wonderful to be here for that purpose, that’s why we’re in Penshurst.
But given we’re both together today I thought it was an important opportunity to make this very simple point to Bill Shorten; there is no form of this bill that is acceptable. This bill is not only a bill that will undermine – in any form – the Government’s successful border protection regime. It is also a completely unnecessary bill. Children, the last four with their bags packed to go to the United States, will be off Nauru. We have announced at the beginning of this week, a measure that does not require legislation, that provides the transparency and assurance to Australians about the medical services that are provided. There is no form of this bill that makes our border protection stronger or fairer. All it does is weaken that border protection. There is no middle ground to be sought here, there is only the right ground that we stand on, that we have stood on for decades. We’ve had to solve Labor’s problem of opening our borders, not once, but twice. And Labor are still enticed into this folly of seeking to undermine it. Already, they have said that they will abolish temporary protection visas, just like they did last time when the boats came.
They have already now put us in this position where Bill Shorten is still toying with the idea of passing legislation that would lead to the undermining of our successful border protection regime. He has finally accepted a briefing after five days. That briefing and the advice that the Government has received has been declassified and has been made available. What it says is pretty clear; if you go ahead with this, detention centres like the one at Christmas Island will have to be reopened. That will not only open our borders again but it will lead to a cost to tax payers of at least $1.4 billion, because those estimates don’t include the restarting of the boats, that’s just dealing with the 1,000 people that we would expect to make their way from the regional processing locations to Australia.
This bill is folly. This bill, however positively it might be motivated by some, it’s detail, it’s construction, can only unpick and undermine the strong border protection framework that we have worked hard to put in place and that has been successful.
If Bill breaks this, he owns it. If Bill breaks this, he has taken Australia into this position and it will be on his head in terms of what follows from this. We have always remained resolute in our position on border protection and we will remain exactly in that position.
I want to ask the Minister to make a few comments on that and then there’s one other matter I’d like to address before we take questions.
THE HON DAVE COLEMAN, MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION, CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS: Thanks PM. Our Government has been extremely successful in securing our borders, stopping the boats and getting people out of detention. There were 2,000 kids in detention when we came to office, we got them all out. As the Prime Minister said, all of the children on Nauru but for four that will shortly travel to the United States, have been removed from Nauru. You can only do that when you have secure borders and when those borders are managed by the Government. Now Bill Shorten’s law – and let’s be clear on this, this is Bill Shorten’s law, it’s not Kerryn Phelp’s law. There’s one Kerryn Phelps but 19 Labor senators who already voted for this law. This isn’t theoretical, Labor voted for this law already in December and if they’d had their way, it would have become the law of Australia in December. That just shows the political opportunism of the Leader of the Opposition and his wiliness to play politics with this most crucial of issues.
Now if Bill Shorten’s law comes into being, we anticipate within weeks, substantially all of the 1,000 people who are on Manus and Nauru will come to Australia. We expect that will overwhelm our existing systems in the management of arrivals from offshore processing centres and we expect that will mean the Christmas Island detention centre will need to be reopened. Now we’ve closed 19 detention centres that Labor opened. The reason we’ve been able to close them is because we’ve secured our borders and stopped the boats. The law that Labor voted for in December is extraordinary, it is incredibly badly thought-through. It will lead to the effective end of offshore processing as we know it. What that means is that people smugglers say; “There’s an opportunity,” and the boats start again. Incredibly, Bill Shorten’s law applies not only to the people that are on Manus and Nauru now, but also any future arrivals. So any future arrival who comes to Manus or Nauru simply needs to get two doctors in Australia to say that they should come to Australia for assessment and they will come. That is an extraordinarily low bar and it means that the integrity of offshore processing will be fatally undermined. As the PM said; there is no middle ground on this. We have a very strong record and this law would bring to an end offshore processing and would lead to a restarting of boat arrivals.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you David. Now, we’re talking about border protection and on Monday I’ll be talking a lot more about our plan for a safer and more secure Australia and those issues go beyond defence and border protection and terrorism and things of that nature. They also go to keeping Australians safe in their homes and they go to keeping Australian kids safe online. That’s why I’m pleased that today we are announcing $10 million to support a grants programme, to support not-for-profit organisations that are working in our communities to keep kids safe online. Also, working with the Alannah and Madeline Foundation to work up a concept, a proposal that can lead to the establishment of digital licenses. This is I think an important initiative. There’s a lot of work still to be done, but today – David and I are parents, in fact our kids go to the same schools – and there’s nothing that more terrifies parents, it certainly does me as a dad of two girls, about the safety of kids online. We all have these conversations with our kids and we all need to, but we also need to work as a community to keep our kids safe online. It is a dangerous place. It’s a place where they can learn many things, where they can connect with their friends and that’s all fine, it has many positive purposes and uses. But we also need to know that our kids are as safe being online as they are at the local playground or in their school. That’s why I’m pleased to announce that this is part of what I mean when I say I want to keep Australians safe. It’s not just from terrorism, it’s not just from the external threats and the bolstering of our Defence Force and our security agencies. It’s about keeping our kids safe, it’s about keeping women safe, it’s about ensuring the broader safety of all Australians in our community and in their homes.
But Minister Fifield will have more to say about that later today and I want to thank the Alannah and Madeline Foundation for their cooperation in working through this. But also, again pay tribute to our Australian Heroes of the Year who started Dolly’s Dream, it’s a great legacy they’ve established and we’re pleased to work with them in any way we can.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Why is the Government assuming the cost over the next five years? Whether these people would have gone on to the US or other countries by then?
PRIME MINISTER: No, what we’ve done here is we have asked our agencies to tell us what we would have to do in the event this bill was passed. Their advice to us is that these detention centres would have to be reopened, because it would overwhelm our existing network. The cost of that over the Budget and forward estimates would be $1.4 billion and that’s a pretty conservative estimate. Because as I said, that doesn’t even take into account any restarting of arrivals which they also note is a likely outcome from this. So $1.4 billion is the opening gambit, it only gets worse from there. Remember when Labor lost control of the borders, it cost an additional $11.6 billion. That’s when Chris Bowen, the now shadow treasurer who wants to become the Treasurer, he couldn’t control the borders and it cost the Budget an additional $11.6 billion.
JOURNALIST: There are medical doctors saying this bill or some variation of this bill is necessary. Do you say -
PRIME MINISTER: No, I absolutely reject that. I absolutely reject it, we have the medical processes in place and what the Minister and I announced on Monday, I think provides an appropriate assurance and transparency around that process. We cannot have Australia’s borders determined by panels of medical professionals. They have a role to play in the system and they play that role, but ultimately that decision must rest with the sovereign, elected Government. You cannot contract these decisions out, you can’t compromise on this.
I’ve seen this before. When Labor were floundering in Government last time, I was the shadow minister, I saw it, I lived it every day. All they tried to do was solve the politics in the media cycle every day and they refused to confront, head-on, the serious problem. We’re not doing that. I’m not looking for a compromise with Bill Shorten, he’s the one who has created this diabolical situation. He’s the one who can end it by simply saying; “We’re voting against the bill, that’s it, we made a mistake.” Let’s move on.
JOURNALIST: So you can categorically [inaudible] rule out any coming to the table –
PRIME MINISTER: There’s no table to come to. There’s no table to come to, this isn’t about a compromise. There’s no need for this bill, it is completely unnecessary and the ground we’re on is the right ground. We’d simply say, if you’re for border protection, you’ll stand with us on this ground, to the Leader of the Opposition. Why he’s decided to go where he has gone, only he can explain. He’s already demonstrated to date a very serious weakness and failing. He has been tempted by the opportunity of some sort of political humiliation of the Government in the Parliament. Well, I’ll cop that if it means protecting our borders. If that’s what Bill Shorten prizes, he can have it. He can have it, I’ll have the Government’s position on stronger borders any day of the week.
JOURNALIST: Were the costings done by a Government department?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes.
JOURNALIST: By your office or a Minister’s office?
PRIME MINISTER: They were done by the Department of Finance. It was done as part of the process of Home Affairs advising the Government about what our response would have to be and those costings were done in the normal way by the Finance Department. It wasn’t about costing Opposition policies, this was about costing what the Government’s response would have to be in the event, as a contingency of this bill being passed. So they are official Finance costings.
JOURNALIST: How much would the Government save by winding back operations on Manus and Nauru?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, as you know Manus is closed. That centre has already closed and we maintain and will always maintain regional processing on Nauru because it is a key part of the border protection framework. I can tell you what it costs if we close it; at least $11.6 billion because that’s what it cost last time Labor lost control of the borders. You close regional processing and you shut it down at your peril. I remember having to argue until I was hoarse in Opposition; you must reopen offshore processing and Labor fought it and they fought and they fought it and they eventually relented in the dying days of their government. Yet here they are again. I mean how many elections do we have to have on this issue for the Labor Party to get it? We just want strong borders and to keep the policies that are working. Why is Bill Shorten playing around with this? It defies any sense and betrays a great weakness on his part.
JOURNALIST: Will you remove Tim Wilson as chair of the franking credits inquiry?
PRIME MINISTER: No of course not. I think Tim is giving a voice to retirees around the country and the Labor Party can’t stand it. They have treated these retirees with contempt and disrespect. They have said; “They don’t pay tax.” These are people who have paid tax all their lives, all their lives and it’s insulting and offensive what the Labor Party has been saying. I’m not surprised they’re furious and they’re turning up the hearing to voice that. Tim and his entire committee have given these Australians a voice and I think they should commended for that.
JOURNALIST: You’ve said this bill would mean murders and rapists will come to Australia.
PRIME MINISTER: I said it can allow it.
JOURNALIST: Are there murders and rapists in those detention centres?
PRIME MINISTER: This bill doesn’t just apply to those who are here now, it applies prospectively. What it fails to do is provide those protections, that’s just a simple legal fact. A simple legal fact and it makes the point that David has made and I think he’s put it rightly; this is Shorten’s bill. This is Shorten’s ‘ending offshore processing’ bill. That’s what this bill is, because if he votes against it, then it’s gone. If he votes for it, it’s likely to pass and what that bill does is it changes the border protection arrangement for the worse, not for the better. You can’t fix this bill, you can’t fix it. You can’t make it better, it’s an unnecessary bill. It’s time to bin it and for him to admit that this was not something they should have even entertained. That fact that they even entertained it I think has already given Australians sufficient cause for concern about the real weakness that lies at the heart of Bill Shorten and the Labor Party.