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Transcript - 23036

Doorstop Interview, Darwin

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 11/10/2013

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 23036

Subject(s): Operational launch of Cape St George Customs and Border Protection patrol vessel

Location: Darwin

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s good to be here in Darwin. It’s good to be here at HMAS Coonawarra at the commencement of the first operational deployment of the Cape St George, the first of the new Cape Class of vessels which will be deployed increasingly by the Customs and border protection service under Border Protection Command over the next two years. It's great to be here with the Commander of Border Protection Command and senior representatives of the Customs and border protection service as well as Natasha Griggs, my parliamentary colleague, because this is an important escalation in our ability to maintain border security in the seas around Australia.

Australia has almost 60,000 kilometres of coastline. We are responsible for safety in 11 per cent of the earth's oceans. This is a massive responsibility and we need the right personnel, the right equipment and the right will to do it properly.

The new Cape Class of vessels obviously have a much higher capability than the Bay Class that they're replacing. It's, in some ways, a more capable vessel then even the Armidale Class patrol boats deployed by the Navy. It's about 100 tonnes bigger, it has a 4,000 nautical mile range, it has much more endurance, much more sea-going capability than the vessels that it's replacing. So, we've got the right personnel, we've now got the right equipment and under the new government, we have the right will to properly protect the borders of our country.

So, I'm very pleased to be here, as I said, with the Commander of Border Protection Command and the senior representatives of the Customs and border protection service today to mark this important escalation of Australia's border protection capabilities with the advent of these Cape Class vessels.

We'll take questions on border protection issues and then we might lose the officials and if you’ve got other questions, we'll take them.

QUESTION:

So will this boat be used to turn the asylum seeker boats around?

PRIME MINISTER:

The questions about operational matters, to the extent that they can be dealt with, will be dealt with by the Minister for Border Protection at a briefing in Sydney shortly, but these vessels do have significantly greater capabilities than the Bay Class vessels that they are replacing. One of the interesting features of these vessels is that they have the capacity to keep in relative comfort 50 persons onboard who are not part of the crew and that means that we will have the capacity to keep people, to transfer people, to transport people if necessary, which will be much enhanced with this new vessel.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, where would they be transported to?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there are a whole range of options, as you know, but the point we make is that if you come to Australia illegally by boat, you will go to Manus or Nauru. You can never expect to come to Australia and people who have come illegally by boat, whose status is yet to be determined, even if they are found to be refugees, can never expect to stay permanently in Australia.

QUESTION:

But PM, isn’t it in international convention that seeking asylum is legal? So it’s not actually illegal to come to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is not illegal to claim asylum but it is illegal to come to Australia without proper authority and without proper documentation and that’s what these people are – they are illegally seeking to enter our country, they are seeking to enter our country via the backdoor, without our permission, rather than through the front door with our permission. It’s wrong. It shouldn’t happen and it won’t happen under this government.

QUESTION:

A couple of weeks ago a group of asylum seekers were brought ashore to Darwin on another Customs boat under the cover of darkness and extreme efforts were taken to stop the Nine News cameras capturing any images of that. Are you trying to hide the boats, as the Opposition says?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are trying to stop the boats. We are trying to stop the boats. That’s what we were elected to do. That’s what the public expects and we don’t apologise for any operational decisions which are reasonably made by Border Protection Command and by our other authorities in the course of stopping the boats. That’s our objective.

QUESTION:

Is stopping the people from knowing about the fact that a boatload of asylum seekers is coming in, is that intended to stop the bad publicity?

PRIME MINISTER:

Our job is to stop the boats. It’s not to provide sport. It’s not to provide copy. It’s not to start an argument. We can have all the arguments in the world and that’s great but the job of the Government is to get things done. The job of the Government is not to provide copy fodder. The job of the Government is to get things done and what we want to get done as quickly as we humanly can is this urgent national imperative of stopping the boats.

QUESTION:

Don’t Australians deserve to know when a boat’s arrived and when people have come in, as you say, illegally, shouldn’t Australians have a right to know that information?

PRIME MINISTER:

As Scott Morrison has made clear, our job as a government is not to provide shipping news for people smugglers. Our job as a government is to protect our borders and that means stopping the boats. Now, once a week there will be an operational update from the Minister and from the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders. From time to time, it may be desirable to release other information but people will get regular, thorough, comprehensive updates on what has happened but it will be designed to serve our national interest – which is to stop the boats.

QUESTION:

What do you anticipate is going to come into the large immigration detention facilities that already existing in Darwin? Are they going to be sitting empty and worthless soon?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I hope they do. I really do hope that they don’t need to be used. We don’t have these facilities to fill them up. We have these facilities to use at need and I hope, I expect, that within a relatively short space of time our policies will have worked to stop the boats. Now, we still have a very significant number of people who have previously arrived in Australia whose cases are yet to be heard and if the cases are heard and they are found not to be refugees, they will be returned to detention before leaving this country. So I suspect that for quite some time to come, these detention facilities will be used but eventually the boats will be stopped, the facilities will be empty, but I suspect because of the very large number of people who came illegally by boat under the former government they will be used for some time to come.

QUESTION:

How much did this boat cost and does this signal further investment in the Defence forces?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well this of course is a Customs vessel. It’s part of the official family obviously and these vessels do great work under Border Protection Command which has a range of assets, Customs assets, naval assets, air force assets, under its authority. This is a $300 million project. Each of these vessels costs towards $40 million.* All eight of them will be operational within two years.

QUESTION:

What do you think needs to happen to the Defence and Customs contingent in Darwin? Do we need to stretch that? Do the numbers need to increase?

PRIME MINISTER:

We need the right numbers to stop the boats and once the boats have been stopped we’ll need the right numbers to maintain appropriate maritime surveillance, appropriate maritime supervision, appropriate control over Australia’s economic and environmental interests and that’s what we’ll do.

QUESTION:

Does that mean the Top End will decrease in importance after a couple of years?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it means that the Top End will continue to be a very important part of our country and it will continue to contribute very significantly to our overall Defence effort. As you know, we’ve got 1st Brigade headquarters here in Darwin. We’ve got a significant naval base. That's not going to change. I mean, regardless of what happens to the people smuggling trade, Darwin will continue to be a very important Defence city. It is, if you like, a garrison town, so it's a very important city when it to the defence of Australia; a very important area when it comes to the defence of Australia. As you know, within 12 months Government will be releasing a White Paper on northern development and I think we can be confident that as time goes by Darwin will loom relatively larger, not smaller, in the affairs of our nation.

QUESTION:

Do you have any plans, or have you chosen a location for the week in a remote community that you spoke about?

PRIME MINISTER:

As I said when I was at the Garma festival during the campaign, I do intend to maintain my previous practice of spending about a week a year in a remote community and I did ask Galarrwuy Yunupingu, one of our greatest indigenous leaders, whether he would be happy to have me do my first week as Prime Minister in a community, in his particular community, and he did indicate that he would like that and we're talking to them about when it might be and how it might transpire. Now, I think if we're off border protection issues I might dispense with the officials. Thank you, Admiral. Thank you so much, Ian. Thank you very much. Do we have other issues?

QUESTION:

Yes, Prime Minister. What basis is the Commonwealth challenging the ACT's same sex marriage laws? Will you release the advice?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is a matter that's been handled and handled well by the Attorney-General. It is pretty clear, under our constitution, that it is the Commonwealth which has responsibility for the rules regarding marriage. We think it's important that there be a uniform approach to marriage throughout the Commonwealth and that's what we are going to do our best to ensure.

QUESTION:

Won't this be exploiting the constitutional weaknesses, though, of the ACT similar to the Northern Territory's position on euthanasia?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's simply a question of the constitution. The constitution provides that the Commonwealth Parliament shall have the power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to marriage. Now, that's a provision that's been in our constitution since 1901. There's no proposal to change that and it is important to ensure that the constitution is adhered to.

QUESTION:

If you do take this action in the High Court, what message does that send to the gay and lesbian community?

PRIME MINISTER:

The message that it sends that we want to uphold the constitution. We want to adhere to the constitution. Now, there's nothing to stop the Commonwealth Parliament considering matters. As you know, in the last parliament there was a consideration of the question of marriage and, by a fairly decisive margin, the proposal to change was defeated. Now, future parliaments may want to revisit this but the point is that it is the Commonwealth parliament which is responsible for making laws with respect to marriage, not the state parliaments and not the territory legislatures.

QUESTION:

So will you allow a conscience vote of your party?

PRIME MINISTER:

What I've said is that if this matter were to come up again it would be dealt with by our Party Room in the usual way. If it comes up we'll look at it and we'll decide exactly what's going to happen.

QUESTION:

What is your preferred site for a second Sydney Airport?

PRIME MINISTER:

This is something which has been talked about uphill and down dale, so to speak, for 40-odd years. I can remember before I was even old enough to vote, looking at car stickers that said, "Birds not Boeings at Galston” – that was the first proposal for a second Sydney airport back in 1973. It is time to resolve this issue one way or another. In the short term we need to boost the infrastructure surrounding Sydney Airport so that we can maximise the capacity of Kingsford Smith Airport, but we will – well within the life of the current parliament – make a decision as to the site of the second Sydney airport.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, you said you would be guided by what the experts say. You would be aware that just about every report that has gone to the Government on this issue has nominated Badgerys Creek as the preferred site, so what further expert advice will you be requiring before you make a decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, these are reports that went to government. They’re not reports that went to the Opposition. We were the Opposition until about a month ago. We're now the Government. We will carefully study these reports. We'll talk to the experts, we will consult with the community and we’ll make a decision. We're not going to procrastinate. Well within this term of government we will make a decision, we will get cracking with it, but we do have to properly study the reports, properly consult with the community before we make a decision – but a decision will be made.

QUESTION:

Are you at odds the Deputy PM over this?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. All of us absolutely understand that we do have a responsibility not just for this year and next year and the year after, but we have a responsibility to plan for our country's future a decade, two decades, three decades ahead and when we’re talking about major economic infrastructure like this, we do have to try to anticipate future demand and that's what we'll do and that's what we'll meet.

QUESTION:

The calls from business for you to act to relieve penalty rates are growing louder. Will you listen to those calls?

PRIME MINISTER:

I appreciate that there are issues which need to be dealt with but they can be dealt with within the system. That's not to say that the existing system can't and shouldn't be improved but what we will do is strictly adhere to the policies that we took to the election. We are going to be a government of no surprises and no excuses; a government which keeps its commitments and a government which is straight and candid with the Australian people and that's what we intend to do.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, just back to Darwin now, the biggest rotation of US marine troops coming next year. Will the Federal Government pay for that accommodation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, that’s a good question. The former government welcomed the US rotating marines through Darwin. It's important that we ensure that these rotations are properly catered for and that does mean providing the necessary infrastructure on the ground to enable the rotation to be of benefit to us and of benefit to the marines and of benefit to the region. So, yes, we will do what's necessary to ensure that this rotation is as effective as possible. One of the difficulties, I understand, under the former government, was – having agreed to the rotation – it wasn’t necessarily prepared to put the resources in to make it work. We will make this work for the benefit of our country and for the benefit of the wider world.

Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript - 23036