Press Conference with the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Transcript
13 Nov 2016
Maritime Border Command, Canberra
Prime Minister, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Over the time Labor failed to keep our borders secure, 8,000 children went into detention. Most tragically of all, there were 1,200 deaths at sea, of which we know.

Since the Coalition came into Government in 2013, we have been diligently restoring the security of Australia's borders. We've been diligently dealing with the shocking mess, the chaos left us by the Labor Party. It has taken time but we have had considerable success. It is now over 830 days since a successful people smuggling adventure reached Australia.

Having stopped the boats arriving, we set out on the next task - to empty and close the detention centres. I am especially proud that under our Government we have removed all the children from detention in Australia and closed 17 detention centres which the Labor Party had to open because of their mismanagement.

Having secured our borders, we then became in a position to work to achieve greater resettlement options for the people that the Labor Party had left on Manus and on Nauru. From the time I became Prime Minister, I have been putting in place, with my Minister and my colleagues, the measures that enabled us to do that. We have significantly reinforced our ability to keep our border secure. As you have heard earlier today, our defences have never been as strong or as secure as they are today.

This agreement that I'll announce in a moment has been preceded by months and months of very careful planning.

So I can now confirm that the Government has reached a further third country resettlement arrangement for refugees presently in the regional processing centres.

The agreement is with the United States. It is a one-off agreement. It will not be repeated.

It is only available to those currently in the regional processing centres. It will not be available to any persons who seek to reach Australia in the future. Our priority is the resettlement of women, children and families. This will be an orderly process. It will take time. It will not be rushed. It will be administered with the UN High Commission on Refugees and we'll continue to engage with the UNHCR on its implementation.

I want to thank the United States for their cooperation. We have a long history of cooperation in which our two nations pursue our mutual and respective humanitarian objectives.

Now, we anticipate that people smugglers will seek to use this agreement as a marketing opportunity to tempt vulnerable people on to these perilous sea journeys. As a consequence, and in long anticipation and preparation for this, we have put in place the largest and most capable maritime surveillance and response fleet Australia has ever deployed. Any people smuggling boats that attempt to reach Australia will be intercepted and turned back. Australia's border protection policy has not changed. It is resolute. It is unequivocal. Those who seek to come to Australia with people smugglers will not be admitted to Australia under any circumstances.

Now, earlier this week, as you know, Bill Shorten abandoned our national interest when he voted against the legislation to strengthen the integrity of our nation's borders.

There was no justification for him in doing so other than succumbing to the left wing of his own party that as we know has always opposed our strong border protection policy. If the left of the Labor Party had their way, we would be back in the shocking, chaotic period of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years when Australia had lost control of its borders, tens of thousands of people arrived unlawfully and thousands died at sea.

We need to send, now more than ever, the clearest and most unequivocal message to people smugglers and their would-be passengers that, if they seek to come to Australia unlawfully, they will not succeed. We have the means to stop them. We need the legislation that re-enforces that unequivocal message.

Now, I want to thank all of my colleagues. I want to thank the Immigration Minister, Mr Dutton, who will speak to you in a moment and his predecessor Scott Morrison. I want to thank my predecessor. The work that the Coalition Government has done in keeping our borders secure has enabled us to reach this agreement.

We could not possibly have countenanced this if there were thousands of people coming to Australia, or attempting to come to Australia, in people smuggling ventures. This agreement is built on the security of our borders.

As I set out at the United Nations a few months ago, our ability to manage one of the most generous and compassionate humanitarian programs in the world is built on a foundation of secure borders. That is the rock on which our compassion is founded.

I want to particularly thank the Minister for Immigration and the hard-working men and women of Operation Sovereign Borders, combined with all of those agencies supporting the Operation Sovereign Borders team. Their work often goes unnoticed, often very deliberately unnoticed, but what they have done has enabled us to have the ability to reach this agreement.

I want to note too that Peter Dutton and indeed his predecessor Scott Morrison have suffered from constant, often vicious attacks - claims that they lack compassion, that they lack a heart. The reality is that our ability to offer sanctuary to refugees who come to Australia through orderly methods and, indeed, to offer, by agreement with the United States, a resettlement option to those that Labor left on Nauru and Manus, our ability to do that, our ability to ensure that compassion is available is only there because of the strength of character of Peter Dutton, his predecessor Scott Morrison and the remarkable men and women that Peter leads.

I will now ask the Minister to expound further on the arrangement.

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

Prime Minister, thank you very much. Can I firstly say thank you to the staff here at MBC for hosting us today. The Australian Border Force, the Command here is made up of amazing men and women. To those people that are offshore, in particular our staff on Manus and Nauru, thank you very much for the work they do. I want to acknowledge the presence today of the CDF, Mark Binskin, also the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force, Roman Quaedvlieg, Major General Andrew Bottrell, to Rear Admiral Peter Laver, as well as the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Andrew Colvin.

As the Prime Minister pointed out, Operation Sovereign Borders has been an enduring and always will be an enduring operation of this Government because the threat from people smugglers will never disappear. Whilst ever we are without world peace, whilst ever families will seek a better opportunity for their families, there will always be irregular movements of people. We have evidenced that with thousands of people drowning in the Mediterranean already this year. We have experienced it in recent history in our own country and we are only here because for now 840 days we have been able to stare down the threat of people smugglers. We make this announcement today from a position of strength.

I want to pay tribute to the Prime Minister for his leadership, the former Prime Minister, the former Minister in this portfolio, Scott Morrison. This has been a significant team effort. I want to say thank you to the Prime Minister for his approach to President Obama and the discussions that occurred at a ministerial and officials level for a long period of time.

This is the latest step in Operation Sovereign Borders. I want to say to people smugglers today who would seek to exploit this announcement to try and turn it into opportunity: we have more assets at sea and we have been positioning those assets in recent months in anticipation of this announcement. We have more aerial surveillance than we ever had in our country's history in peacetime to deal with this ongoing threat. They can market all they want but the determination of our staff, of our personnel led by me in this portfolio and ultimately by the Prime Minister will never diminish. We will continue to work hard to make sure that we stare down that threat, that we remove people back to their country of origin, or that we send them to third countries, the United States included as we have announced today.

I want to confirm there are other aspects to the announcement we make today. One is that we are in final stages of negotiation with Nauru for a 20-year visa. People who are offered a settlement arrangement in the United States and refuse to take that arrangement - so this deal only applies to people who are on Nauru at the moment, prioritising women and children and family units and with the prospect of providing assistance to others on Nauru and Manus and including those 370 odd people who have come from Nauru or Manus and are receiving medical attention in Australia at the moment with the intent of sending those people back to an RPC. That is the only application of this policy. The announcement today will never ever apply to any prospective arrivals. Let me make that very clear and I will be making that very clear in the days to come.

That is a very important point to make. The next important point to make is we want to send a compelling and unified message to the people smugglers. We will do that if we can get the support of the Senate for the Bill that passed last week. This Bill last week was compelling because we want to send a clear message to those economic migrants who are on Nauru and on Manus at the moment, who have been found not to be owed protection. Firstly - that they will never be settled in this country. Secondly - this arrangement does not apply to them. Thirdly - they will never ever, as the legislation provides, step foot on Australian soil.

It is very important for the people smugglers to hear that consistent message from both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. This is an opportunity for the Labor Party to join with the Government and our success and send a clear message to people smugglers that we are not going to allow our success to be undermined. So this Bill will come back to the Parliament in the next sitting week and before the end of the year it needs to be dealt with because for it not to be would undermine our efforts in stopping boats and we are not going to lose this battle.

Again, I want to say thank you very much to all of the staff, to the Secretary of my Department, Mr Pezzullo, in particular to the Deputy Secretary, Rachel Noble, Lachlan Colquhoun, all of those people including our Ambassador on People Smuggling, Andrew Goledzinowski, many others that have led a huge diplomatic effort but that have provided particularly through leadership with the Commissioner the support to the Nauru and the PNG Government’s to continue regional processing.

No element of our policy will change. We still rely on regional processing which is why Nauru will remain in its current status forever. That is the relationship between Australia and Nauru - it is as strong as it's ever been and it will continue.

The 20-year visa arrangement will also apply to new arrivals and let that be a very clear message to all people that you will not step foot on Australian soil and we repeat that message again today.

I am going to ask the CDF to make some comments and then I think beyond that some of the others will make comments, then we're happy to take questions.

AIR CHIEF MARSHAL MARK BINSKIN – CHIEF OF THE DEFENCE FORCE:

Thank you Minister. Thank you Prime Minister. The Australian Defence Force's posture and support of this operation is as strong as ever. The Royal Australian Navy patrol vessels, major fleet units, Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C surveillance aircraft and army security elements. We are postured for whatever may come and any contingency.

MAJ. GENERAL ANDREW BOTTRELL – OPERATION SOVEREIGN BORDERS:

As most Australians are aware, we have had good success in tackling people smuggling over the last three years which is largely due to some very good cooperation between more than 16 Australian departments and agencies and also cooperation with a number of other countries overseas. As you heard the Prime Minister and Minister say, while today is 840 days since the last successful people smuggling boat arrived in Australia, there is still a significant latent threat that exists out there that we are watching very closely. As you have heard this morning, our border security arrangements have been further re-enforced which we have been working on deliberately over the last few months, specifically in preparation for this announcement. Because we know that people smugglers will seek to take advantage of today's announcement to try to convince other vulnerable people to once again board boats for Australia.

I have two messages today. One for the people smugglers themselves and the other for that vulnerable group of people that smugglers would seek to take advantage of.

To the people smugglers, my message is simple. We have reinforced our offshore law enforcement and intelligence cooperation and we have deployed more ships and more aircraft. We will not let you restart your illicit trade. Your boats will be intercepted and they will be returned safely.

For those people who would be taken advantage of by people smugglers who want to make money from them, I would implore you do not believe the lies of people smugglers and do not risk your life by getting on to unsafe boats. People smugglers are only interested in making money out of you. They do not care what happens once you have paid that money. The boats that they put you on will be detected and they will be intercepted and they will be safely returned to the country of departure. It's important to reiterate today that the announcement we have heard today is not available to anyone that seeks to arrive illegally in Australia after today. It is not available. Thank you and I hand over to the Commissioner of the ABF.

ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG–AUSTRALIAN BORDER FORCE COMMISSIONER:

Thank you General. Let me underscore a couple of points already made by the Prime Minister, the Minister and General Bottrell. Operation Sovereign Borders has been an exceptional operational success since its inception in 2013. Since that time, we have undertaken 29 turnbacks. A lesser-known success of Operation Sovereign Borders though has been the many people smuggling ventures we have been able to prevent departing from source and transit countries. That occurs through collaboration with our domestic and international partners offshore. Overnight, I returned from Indonesia where I have spoken to my counterpart authorities to confirm and consolidate that arrangements are still in place and I can confirm that arrangements are extant and they are robust. Over the next day's, General Bottrell and I will travel to the subcontinent where we will talk to other partners - India, Sri Lanka - to confirm those arrangements are still in place. We know there are pools of asylum seekers, refugees and people smugglers who would want to mount and launch ventures to this country. The points already made by General Bottrell and the Prime Minister in relation to the largest and most capable civilian maritime security presence we have ever had on the water is accurate. Those systems are supported by state-of-the-art intelligence operations and surveillance and detection systems. Any people smuggling ventures that seek to come and breach our maritime borders will be detected, intercepted and returned. The last point I wish to make is that the Operation Sovereign Borders construct and the joint agency taskforce that delivers that will remain in this building is an enduring capability to defeat people smuggling. Thank you.

REAR ADMIRAL PETER LAVER – COMMANDER MARITIME BORDER COMMAND:

Maritime Border Command is absolutely postured to deal with this threat. We have already heard about the forces, the surveillance aircraft and the patrol vessels that have been assigned under my command. I will just talk briefly about the people. Men and women of the Australian Border Force, the Australian Defence Force under my command are trained, our tactics are proven, we know what we're doing and we will deal with this threat as it arises. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

When and how will this take place? Do you have any concerns about sending people who have been found to be genuine refugees to a Trump America?

PRIME MINISTER:

The process will be an orderly one. There will be American officials from Homeland Security coming to Australia to begin the process in the next few days. We're not setting timelines. I know there has been a number of reports in the press. This will be an orderly transition and, of course, the American government will carefully assess each would-be transferee to the United States.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Turnbull – Mr Trump wants to ban Muslim immigrants to the United States, will the arrangement continue under the new administration?

PRIME MINISTER:

We deal with one administration at a time. As I said, we have a very long history of cooperation with the United States in which we have been able to, as we are here, we have been able to support our mutual and respective humanitarian objectives. You would have seen the way in which we addressed that at the summit in New York only a few months ago.

JOURNALIST:

How many refugees are the US obliged to take under this agreement? You talked about prioritising certain categories of people with the prospect of others. Does that mean the deal is not comprehensive and it fails to provide resettlement for everyone in this cohort?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are not providing any more detail about the arrangements than we have today. The arrangements with the United States will offer the opportunity for refugees both on Nauru and Manus to be resettled but I should stress that the priority is very much on the most vulnerable which are family units and, of course, they are located on Nauru.

JOURNALIST:

You say this deal applies only to those who are in the offshore processing centres, what about those people who are on Nauru and have been released into the community?

PRIME MINISTER:

It applies to people that are in both, the refugees in both RPC’s.

JOURNALIST:

What about the Iranians who don’t want to go back and who are not refugees - what about the ones who are not refugees?

PRIME MINISTER:

People to whom protection is not offered should return to their home country.

JOURNALIST:

How will the 20-year visa work? The newspaper today reported they would be left without any support, I gather financial support, from the Australian Government, is this correct?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, perhaps I will ask the Minister to address that.

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

We have been very clear, Paul, and that is people that aren't owed protection need to return back to their country of origin. Now, it is important to point out 650 people have already done that, including many to Iran. Under Operation Sovereign Borders, we have had an element of the operation which has been running since August where we have been able to return a number of people to five or six different countries and those efforts will continue. People need to be very clear of the arrangement here, that is that if they are not owed protection, if they're offered the United States as somebody who is owed protection and they refuse to take that then they will be subject to the 20-year arrangement on Nauru. Just to put into perspective, because you hear a lot about Nauru, there is $8 million that has just been spent on upgraded classrooms, there is $20 or $30 million that has been spent on the hospital and medical centre and significant infrastructure that's been upgraded and provided by the Australian taxpayer. At the moment, there is also an amount of money that's paid on an ongoing basis. The treatment of people will be equal to that provided to Nauruan citizens prospectively. That will not include financial support from the Australian Government but it will include of course ongoing support as is already provided for in terms of accommodation, health and education services.

JOURNALIST:

Could I ask, virtually everyone's had a comment on the scaling up of the protection of our borders right now. Can you give us some tangible sense of how far it has been scaled up against business as usual? Would it be fair to say, for example, there is an effective doubling of the protection of our borders? Can I also ask, can I also suggest doesn't that reflect the extent to which you see the risk inherent in making the United States' agreement public and the promotional risks of that to people smugglers?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's obvious that we recognise that people smugglers will seek to exploit this announcement and that is why we have, going back to decisions taken not long after I became Prime Minister late last year, been scaling up our ability to provide the strongest possible defence and response capability in anticipation of an increased threat. There has been a very long run-up to this announcement and considerable preparation has gone into it, as we've described.

JOURNALIST:

Is the closure of the Manus Island facility an end goal in the next 2 years, 3 years, before the next election?

PRIME MINISTER:

That's a matter for the Government of Papua New Guinea.

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

The only thing I'd add to that is that the PNG Government made an announcement in relation to the closure. We have supported that announcement and I have no news in that. Obviously people under the agreement struck by Mr Rudd at the time, if people are owed protection, then they would settle in PNG. Some people have already settled in PNG and this arrangement will not be open to them but those that have been found to be owed protection, after we have provided for the most vulnerable starting with families on Nauru, then there is the prospect of dealing with people not just in the remaining population of Nauru but also on Manus. But the desire, as we have said before, is to make sure that, following the closure of Manus – and people smugglers should hear this very clearly - Nauru will be an enduring presence as part of the success of Operation Sovereign Borders into perpetuity.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask about the interface of the legislation? Presumably, if these people become United States citizens, there is nothing to stop them coming to Australia as tourists or through family reunification. Can you explain whether that is the case? Also if the legislation is passed, how will that work? Will you have a class of US citizen who is not permitted entry into Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Senate should focus, not on theoretical possibilities 30, 40 years hence as Mr Shorten has spoken about. It should focus on the security of Australia's borders today and tomorrow. There is no question whatsoever that sending the strongest and most unequivocal message to people smugglers and to people who seek to take passage with them is essential not only in securing our borders but enabling us to come to arrangements like the one we have just announced. Complacency is a road Labor has gone down before. It's a road that leads to drownings at sea. It's a road that leads to tens of thousands of unauthorised arrivals. It's a road that led the people currently on Nauru and Manus to their current situation which the Minister and I, and all of the men and women who support us and whom we lead, are attempting in this arrangement to resolve.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister – you deal with one US Administration at a time but did you speak about this arrangement in your phone call with Mr Trump? How can you be confident given that we are in the lame duck period of the Obama Administration and given Mr Trump’s stance on immigration - how can you be confident his administration will still honour this deal?

PRIME MINISTER:

We deal with one administration at the time. There is only one President of the United States at a time. These arrangements have had a long run-up and the agreement was reached some time ago. There is a great deal of preparation and planning that has gone into it and, indeed, in leading up to this announcement. We have a very long history of cooperation with the United States in matters of this kind where we pursue, as we are today, our mutual and respective objectives in the humanitarian field.

JOURNALIST:

If you won’t tell us how many refugees are going to the US, isn't it fair to conclude that many and possibly even most will be forcibly resettled on Nauru rather than ever get a chance to go to the US?

PRIME MINISTER:

All I can say to you is that we have demonstrated by the diligence and integrity of our response, we have demonstrated we can secure Australia's borders. We've demonstrated we can source and provide alternative resettlement options. Those are the results. As to what others choose to write about it, I will leave that to your judgement, if not your imagination.

Thank you very much.

[ENDS]