PRIME MINISTER: G’day Ben.
BEN FORDHAM: Thank you very much for joining us on the line.
PRIME MINISTER: That’s alright, Tony was making a lot of sense there, I didn’t want to interrupt him.
FORDHAM: I thought you might have been listening in and I know you’ve had a busy afternoon, so thank you for jumping on the line and talking to us. Look, he was suggesting that this was evidence, what we’re watching today, with Bill Shorten’s support of this medevac bill, that he’s not fit to be Prime Minister. Is that a blunt and honest assessment?
PRIME MINISTER: Well it is. He hasn’t got the ticker for it when it comes to this stuff. I mean when it comes to national security, you don’t trade in it, it’s an area of pure conviction, you do things because you believe it. You don’t sort of flip and flop, which he has done here. It’s very similar to what happened with Kim Beazley all those years ago and John Howard. It’s almost like a rerun and this is the great problem I have with Labor; they can never, ever, ever learn the lesson. They think they can fiddle with this stuff, just like they did when they got rid of temporary protection visas in 2008 and now the boats come. They think; “Oh, it won’t make any difference.”
I mean Bill Shorten said; “We’re getting the balance right.” The last Labor Prime Minister who said that was Kevin Rudd and they just never, ever learn.
FORDHAM: You’ve acted as Immigration Minister, you know more about stopping boats than anyone else in Australia; will people smugglers re-start their trade because of this bill?
PRIME MINISTER: That is the great risk we’re now facing. I’m going to do everything to make sure that doesn’t happen and the only thing standing between a boat and Australia is me and Peter Dutton and our Government. They know our resolve. But if we were not there, I can guarantee you they’d be coming thick and fast, that’s what would happen. Now if one comes, it will be the result of this weakening.
I had the National Security Committee meet this morning, which I convened. We took a number of decisions to strengthen what we were doing with Operation Sovereign Borders. We’ve done that. We’ve taken now, the step – sadly – we will have to re-open the Christmas Island detention centre. That will come at a cost and we haven’t finalized those costs yet. But that’s what Labor knew would be the consequences when they did this. They just disregarded the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force, the head of ASIO, the head of the Department of Home Affairs. They just went and did it anyway.
It showed terrible weakness on Bill Shorten’s part. I mean, it’s the only way I can put it Ben it was just sheer weakness.
FORDHAM: Is it right that there’s already been a reaction in parts of the world where people smugglers ply their trade, that there’s already chatter in that part of the world?
PRIME MINISTER: That doesn’t surprise me at all, because what they look for is a change of policy. Now, we haven’t changed our policy, but what the Parliament has done is to force one upon us. That’s just how the people smugglers work. See all these journalists down here in Canberra, in the bubble, they think all these little nuances matter - and the Labor Party think it - to the people smugglers. They just turn up to someone sitting up there in Indonesia and they say: “Guess what, they changed the laws down there in Australia, you can get on a boat now. Let’s go” that’s what they do. They think they’re all sort of glued to listening to journalists down here in Canberra, explaining the intricacies of these things. It’s nonsense.
FORDHAM: I can remember a Four Corners investigation into people smugglers and some of them that were based here in Australia and that was the case.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah.
FORDHAM: I remember the interviews with some of the people and they were just saying; ‘They kept lying to us and lying to us and lying to us about where we were going, what we were doing, what would happen when we were on the boat.” That’s obviously what they do.
PRIME MINISTER: They’re criminals. That’s what criminals do, they lie.
FORDHAM: Have our intelligence agencies actually heard any chatter though, because it’s being reported by David Speers, that he’s been told that Australia’s intelligence agencies believe that “the beast is stirring,” since the passage of the medevac bill? They’re trying to ensure that the beast doesn’t wake up, the beast of course being the people smuggling trade. Have you been told by our intelligence agencies that there is chatter?
PRIME MINISTER: I could never confirm that one way or the other Ben, because that’s intelligence that I receive as Prime Minister. So I can’t comment on that for obvious reasons, but what my job is, is to make sure that beast doesn’t wake up. I can tell you, Bill has given it a big poke, that’s what he has done. He’s done it willfully and he’s done it because he can’t stand up to the far left of his own Party. I mean you’ve got Tanya Plibersek running immigration and border protection for the Labor Party now. Just picture this for me; Bill Shorten chairing the National Security Committee with Tanya Plibersek sitting alongside him and whoever else they’ve got in there - and they are going to decide whether boats get turned back? I mean what they’ve done is, they’ve already said they’re going to give permanent visas to people who arrive illegally by boat, enter Australia illegally. They’ve already said that. They’re going to get rid of what we put back in place. They’ve now basically trashed offshore processing as we know it and they’re telling the Australian people, “Oh trust us, we’ll turn boats back.” Give me a break. Bill Shorten does not have the ticker or the mettle for that and he demonstrated that in the Parliament yesterday and if he ever tells anyone, “Oh the Coalition and us, we have the same border protection policy.” That’s complete guff. We don’t. He doesn’t have the strength for it, he doesn’t have the policies for it, he doesn’t have a clue about it.
FORDHAM: One of the issues here obviously is that when people get a medical transfer to Australia then a lot of them then launch legal actions to stay. I think out of those who have come here, more than half of them have done that, engaged lawyers and said; “Righto, I’m not going back.”
PRIME MINISTER: That’s exactly what happens, that’s exactly what happens. So look, this is why they play with this stuff thinking they can appease people in their own party. I mean, if Bill Shorten had any ticker he would have stood up to them and said; “No, no, we need to have strong borders. We said that the Coalition had got it right and that we’d stuffed it up and that we can never go back there.” That’s what he should have said. But he didn’t do that. He just rolled over. This bloke is seriously, seriously weak.
FORDHAM: I really got the sense watching you at the National Press Club that you are going to stick a stake in the ground on this and just stand to it and not budge a centimetre. And you made a call and I’m paraphrasing here, but you said; “Bill Shorten is looking for the middle ground here, but you can’t find middle ground on 1,200 people dying.” And I don’t know, it strikes me that you’ve got a very strong argument to go to the next election and also to say to people, “We don’t want to see hundreds of people drowning and dying like we saw last time.” I mean, who would risk that?
PRIME MINISTER: I remember the debates. I remember when that boat crashed up on the jagged rocks of Christmas Island. I remember the debates in the Parliament when the Labor members came in and they cried in the Parliament. The tears have run dry because their memories have gone. That’s what’s happened. They have not learned the lessons from those tragic events and they are doomed to repeat them if they’re elected.
FORDHAM: And if anyone is trying to convince you to change your mind, forget about it, it’s game on.
PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely. I mean, I know what works. I know from bitter and difficult experience what works. Because I lived it and I did it with Tony and Peter who has done it since and we’re part of that team. And we’re going to do everything we can to make sure one doesn’t come. If one does come, it’s on Bill’s head and if one doesn’t come, I can assure you it’s because they know that Peter and I and Tony, we’re all still here and we’re going to do everything we can to stop them.
FORDHAM: Prime Minister, thanks for joining us, appreciate your time.