Press Conference - Parliament House, ACT

04 Dec 2019
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: The Australian public are in no doubt about our Government’s commitment to strong borders. Our Government has always been consistent. The Liberal and National parties have always been consistent. We have always taken the actions necessary to ensure that Australians can have confidence in the way our borders are managed, which enables them to have confidence about how our immigration programme is managed. A year ago, the Labor Party sought to take advantage of the situation of the time to undermine our border protection regime which has been so successful. The medical evacuation process which had been in place under our Government for some years had provided for and was working to provide medical evacuations based on medical advice. That process was never under threat, that process was working to deliver that compassionate care as it was needed. What the Labor Party sought to do a year ago was to provide a weakening of our border regime for people to get around the rules and find to their way to Australia. Now, we've always understood that that type of loophole doesn't strengthen our borders, it only weakens them. And so we stood up to that a year ago and a year ago, we were defeated in the Parliament. But we stood firm. And we stood firm and went to an election and said support the Coalition and we will repeal those laws. And so today, we fulfilled that promise to the Australian people. A promise that the Liberal and Nationals have always kept to the Australian people, that they can count on us when it comes to border protection, just like they can count on us when it comes to economic management, on national security, on supporting a strong budget to ensure we have the resilience to deal with the issues in the future. And so today I am pleased that we are able, working together with the Minister for Home Affairs and our Senate team, to repeal those loopholes that were put in place and supported by the Labor Party. You know, the Labor Party hasn't changed. At the last election, they were told that the Australian people wanted stronger borders, not their loopholes. They didn't listen. They went into that Parliament and they voted to maintain the loopholes which weakened our border protection regime. They haven't changed their position on higher taxes, they haven't changed their position when it comes to how the Budget should be managed. Anthony Albanese is leading the same set of policies, supports the same weakness, whether it is on economic management or border protection, that Bill Shorten did. There is no difference, nothing has changed, the Labor Party has not listened to the Australian people. We have and we've acted on our promise and we are delivering on our promises.

THE HON. PETER DUTTON MP, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Thanks Prime Minister. Firstly, of course, I want to say thank you very much to all of those who have been involved in the negotiations, in particular, the independent Senators and I want to pay tribute to the Prime Minister and to Mathias Cormann and others in the leadership group who have dealt with this issue. Because we know that 12 months ago, Labor took a decision to weaken our border protection policies and we've taken a decision today to strengthen our border protection policies. This was never about bringing people here for medical need because people were already receiving that medical need, either in Nauru, PNG or Taiwan or ultimately if needed in Australia. So this was always a law that was always about getting people here through the backdoor and today we’ve closed that backdoor. We have now 1,000 people plus who have come here under the arrangements, that includes family members, some support people, and we've done that in a way that provides support to that person coming for medical attention and we've been very upfront about the assistance that we've provided. I point out as well that up on Nauru at the moment we have a situation, just to give you some facts, 51 contracted health professionals providing services to 258 transitory persons. One healthcare professional to every five people. We’ve got 22 mental health professionals providing services to 258 transitory persons. That is one mental health professional to every twelve people up there. On PNG, there are 32 contracted health professionals providing services to 208 transitory persons, one mental health professional to every seven transitory persons. 24 mental health professionals are providing support for those people up in PNG. I would finish on this point. I'm very proud of the fact that even though it was Labor that put people on Manus and Nauru, we have now been able to reduce the numbers dramatically. We have got 654 people to the US and one of the things that Labor has to recognise is that the medevac law undermined our capacity to have people accept an offer and to take up a relocation to the United States. It is bad policy for many reasons. It deserved to be voted out today and that’s exactly what we've done.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, was there any undertaking to Jackie Lambie, be it written, verbal, handshake, in order to get her vote to repeal the medevac laws?

PRIME MINISTER: The only undertaking we've given is to implement our policies, that is it.

JOURNALIST: Is it the Government’s current policy that you are prepared to consider the New Zealand deal once the US deal has been… is completed? 

PRIME MINISTER: The Government's policy is to ensure that we seek to resettle people who are on Nauru.

JOURNALIST: Jacqui Lambie says there was a condition that she gave to you in order to get her vote to repeal the medevac laws. What is the condition?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not sure what you are referring to in relation to her statements. I have her statements that are in front of me and I don't read that in her statement at all.

JOURNALIST: Did you give her any assurance whatsoever that they will be a New Zealand deal?

PRIME MINISTER: She has the assurance that the Government will implement its policies.

JOURNALIST: She says she put forward to the Government a proposal and since then, we - you - and her have worked together really hard to advance that proposal. What did she mean by that?

PRIME MINISTER: It means that she is happy with the Government's policies and she is happy with the Bill that was presented to the Senate and she voted for it.

JOURNALIST: Is it the Government’s policy, of which Jackie Lambie has been assured, to consider other options like New Zealand once the US option is exhausted?

PRIME MINISTER: The Government is always looking at ways in which it can resettle those who are on Nauru and I want to particularly pay credit to the Minister for Home Affairs who has not only got every single child off Naura - and I know who put every single child on Naura, it was the Labor Party and their failed border protection policies - and it was under our Government that we got every single child off. And so we will continue to use the arrangements that we have in place to be able to resettle people and that is the assurance that we have provided.

JOURNALIST: Where are we at with the US deal, what are the latest numbers of the transfers with the US?

THE HON. PETER DUTTON MP, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: The numbers to the US, 654 are in the US, 251 are in the provisional approval stage to go to the US. 21 people have been approved to go to the US and have been transferred to Australia under the medevac laws and there are 57 people who haven't been approved to go to the US who have been transferred to Australia under the medevac laws. 

When is that quota being filled?

JOURNALIST: We've been clear that we have worked very closely with the United States over a period of time now so they will go through individual cases but it is undermined when you've got a Labor-Greens law that allows people to come to Australia through a backdoor and that takes away the incentive for them to accept a relocation to the United States. 650 odd people, that was never a deal that was negotiated by Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard. That is the fact. We were able to negotiate the deal. Like Senator Lambie, like everybody, I don't want people, the Prime Minister does not want any of these people on Manus or Naura and we have worked day and night to clean up Labor's mess to make sure that we get people off and at the same time not to restart boats which is what happened under Labor. The boats just kept coming. So we will deal with this sensibly and that is the approach we have taken.

JOURNALIST: Is it not a problem with the potential resettlement with New Zealand given that we have special visa requirements or special visa relationship with New Zealand?

PRIME MINISTER: We’ve outlined the issues and the complexities and the difficulties of that arrangement in the past.

JOURNALIST: So when can we start seeing this arrangement move forward? Will you be speaking with Prime Minister Ardern? 

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t know what you're referring to. 

JOURNALIST: The New Zealand offer.

PRIME MINISTER: What I've said is that we are implementing the government's resettlement properties. I’ve made no reference to that at all.

JOURNALIST: ...Jackie Lambie says she couldn't disclose what she had agreed with you on the grounds of national security if it is just the basis of the policy?

PRIME MINISTER: Because the implementation of our policies and the details of that are national security matters and I note that Senator Lambie has thanked the Government for the way we have been able to fully brief her on the implementation of the Government's policies and naturally those are matters that involve briefings from very senior officials who are deeply involved in these matters and I thank her for the very discreet way in which she has availed herself of those briefings and maintained those confidences. We have outlined the decisions and the policies that the Government have taken and how we are implementing those and she's been pleased about that and she has supported the Bill.

JOURNALIST: Was it a case of medical treatment being given to people who wouldn’t die for want of medical treatment, so she did seem to suggest that it was a question of medical treatment that convinced her in the end rather than any other deal?

PRIME MINISTER: I can't speak for her individual reasons and how she has weighed them all up herself. I can't possibly do that. What I can do is that I have dealt with, together with the Minister for Home Affairs, with Peter, in good faith with Senator Lambie and I thank her very much in the way that she has engaged with us, to work with us to get through the issues and I am pleased that she has enabled us to shut the door that Labor sought to prise open last year. Labor sought to prise open the door on Australia's border protection regime because they've never ever believed deep down in the border protection policies that the Government has put in place. The biggest myth running around this place in Australian politics over the last decade is that the Labor Party supports the Government's border protection policies. They simply don't and they don't because they don't believe it. You know how I know that? A year ago they voted to weaken them and today they voted to keep them weak and thankfully the Australian people had their say on the 18th of May and they said shut that door and we did that today on the basis of their endorsement at the last election.

JOURNALIST: Just on the economy...

PRIME MINISTER:  Yep, because we have to go to Question Time. 

JOURNALIST: You gave a speech a little while ago about, for want of a better word, holding your nerve through the MYEFO period into the Budget. Do today's numbers vindicate that in your view or are you worried about the weaknesses of these figures today?

PRIME MINISTER: What I am pleased about today's numbers is firstly growth through the year has increased from 1.4 per cent to 1.7 per cent. That continues to put us in a very strong position relative to all the major developed countries in the world today. Just on the quarterly figures alone, second only to the United States. When you take it through we are equal to Canada which is second. I am pleased that our through the year growth has increased as a result of these latest numbers. I'm also particularly pleased that the promise I made to Australians at the last election, I said I want them to earn more and I want them to keep more of what they earned. Today’s figures today, which show that the household disposable income grew at 2.5 per cent in the quarter and up 5.1 per cent over the year. Now that is the strongest quarterly rise in a decade that we’ve seen in household disposable income. The average compensation per employee - what they can take home - rose 0.7 per cent in the quarter to be 2.9 per cent higher over the year. That's now back over the decade average. Australians have earned more based on the national accounts numbers, and as a result of the tax relief we provided and legislated, they have kept more of what they earn. I've always said what they do with it is up to them, it is their money. See, I trust Australians to do the right thing with their money. Australians trust our Government to do the right thing with their money. That's why we were elected in May of this year. Thanks very much. Sorry, one more question on this other matter.

JOURNALIST:  A Sydney man has been arrested and is due to be charged with terrorism offences. Can you please… is there anything you can say about that?

THE HON. PETER DUTTON MP, MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: The AFP will provide some public comment in a few minutes time so I won’t pre-empt that. But I think the activity today is really a reminder to all Australians that this threat hasn't gone away. As we’ve seen in London just very recently, people do want to do harm in a country like ours and the United Kingdom. I pay tribute to the Federal Police and ASIO, to the New South Wales police and others involved in the taskforce because there is an enormous amount of activity taking place by the AFP, by ASIO, the other agencies. Obviously we have put in place a record amount of funding to help them with that but the threat of terrorism hasn't gone away. We have had a number of disruptions and obviously, tragically, we have had some that have been successful, on a smaller scale getting through. But I really want to pay tribute to the police today for their activity, the arrests they made, and I want it to be a reminder to all Australians that if they have information about somebody in their family group or community, please contact the police for their sake and for the sake of our community as well.