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Transcript 40551

Joint Press Conference with the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Photo of Turnbull, Malcolm

Turnbull, Malcolm

Period of Service: 15/09/2015 to 24/08/2018

More information about Turnbull, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 30/10/2016

Release Type: Transcript

Transcript ID: 40551

Location: Sydney

[Broadcast begins]

PRIME MINISTER:

..The failure of his Government and Julia Gillard's Government on border protection and he announced the regional resettlement arrangement with Papua New Guinea. At that time, Australia's border was in chaos. There had been 50,000 irregular maritime arrivals aboard 800 boats. There were almost 2,000 children in immigration detention in Australia and most tragically of all, there were 1200 deaths at sea - of which we know.

The Labor Government had to reopen, or open, seventeen detention centres onshore. It blew out the immigration and border protection budget by $11 billion. 50,000 unauthorised arrivals; 1200 deaths at sea, of which we know; a humanitarian program that was swamped by these unauthorised arrivals, and where the Labor Government had outsourced the selection of Australia's humanitarian program to people smugglers. They opened, reopened the facility in Nauru and established the facility in Manus.

Now since 2013 the Coalition has been diligently working through the mess we were left by Labor. The mess - the failure that Kevin Rudd acknowledged. First, we acted to stop the boats and stop the deaths at sea - and I'm proud that under the Coalition, there has not been a successful boat arrival in over 800 days, and there have been no deaths at sea.

I'm especially proud that under our Government, we have removed all the children from detention and closed seventeen detention centres in Australia. We have restored security at the border, we have restored confidence in our immigration system. Because that confidence in our immigration system, in our border protection system, is absolutely fundamental to the harmony of our multicultural society and our ability to generously accept humanitarian refugees from around the world. We are able to increase our humanitarian intake from 13,750, to 18,750 over the next several years and we have committed – and are in process of accepting an additional 12,000 refugees from the Syrian and Iraq conflicts. We have also been able to announce an additional $220 million commitment to address the humanitarian needs in Syria and the neighbouring countries where so many of its population have fled.

Now, this would not be possible without our strong border protection system. This would simply be impossible for us to undertake. A generous humanitarian program, a harmonious multicultural society, depends on the Australian Government being in control of its borders. And it depends on us sending a united and concerted answer to the people smugglers, that if they seek to bring people to Australia, those passengers will never settle in this country. That absolutely, unflinching, unequivocal message has to be loud and clear.

That is why today, I'm announcing that the Government will introduce legislation in the next parliamentary sitting week to amend the Migration Act to prevent irregular maritime arrivals taken to a regional processing country, from making a valid application for an Australian visa.

The Bill will apply to all taken to a regional processing country since the 19th July 2013. The reason for that date is that is the date when Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared and I quote, “As of today, asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.” Now this bill will reflect the Government's long standing position and as we understand it, the bipartisan position initially set out by Mr Rudd and since then confirmed by Mr Shorten. And that position is, and I repeat, that irregular maritime arrivals who have been sent to a regional processing country, that is Papua New Guinea and Nauru at the present time, will never be settled permanently in Australia.

This will send the strongest possible signal to the people smugglers. It will send the strongest possible signal to those who are seeking to persuade persons currently on Nauru and in Manus that the Australian Government will change its policy and allow them to settle here. It is critically important that we send the clearest message. We have one of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world. But the only reason we can do it, the only reason it has the public acceptance that it does, is because we are in command of our borders.

Now, the minister and I are asking the Labor Party and its leader Mr Shorten, to support this legislation. It is entirely consistent with his Party's stated public position - we were disappointed to see what appeared to be some equivocation from his Shadow Minister this morning. Mr Shorten has the opportunity now to express clear unequivocal support for this very strong statement of long-standing, Coalition and so far as we understand, Opposition policy.

It is a critically important strong message to send to the people smugglers. They must know that the door to Australia is closed to those who seek to come here by boat with a people smuggler. It is closed. We accept thousands of refugees, and we do so willingly, but we will not tolerate any repeat of the people smuggling ventures which resulted in over 1200 deaths at sea under the Labor Party and 50,000 unauthorised arrivals.

Now, I’ll ask the Minister, Mr Dutton, to expand on the proposed legislation.

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

Prime Minister, thank you very much. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being here.

Obviously, the Government is in a strong position when it comes to border protection policy because we have kept the boats stopped and we have closed seventeen detention centres. We have stopped the drownings at sea. I made it my cause to get children out of detention when I came to this portfolio. We've done that. Our next desire is to get women and children, family units, off Nauru as quickly as possible, to continue to finish the job that we started when we came into government in 2013 and that is to clean up Labor's mess.

It has been a costly exercise by Labor in changing policies that had worked under the Howard Government, because not only was there a financial cost, but most importantly, a human cost with the lives lost at sea and we never ever want to see a repeat of that again.

The announcement that we make today is one of the strongest announcements yet by this Government in relation to border protection policy. It builds on the success and the strong position that we have achieved over the course of the last couple of years. And it has to be a very clear message to people smugglers and to people who are on Nauru and Manus at the moment, that Australia is not an option for you. There are still people, advocates in Australia and elsewhere, who are messaging to people on Nauru and Manus, that at some stage you will come to Australia. And those people are living in false hope and it cannot continue.

So today, through this legislation, we send a very clear message to all the parties concerned, that Australia will never be an option for people who seek to come here illegally by boat. And we need the bipartisan support of the Labor Party.

I was concerned, very concerned, when I saw the comments of Mr O'Connor this morning on Sky Television. I was very concerned because Mr O'Connor, remember, was a member of the Rudd and Gillard Cabinets. He was the Immigration Minister and presided over 182 boats coming with 12,800 people on them and during his period, he put 2,000 children in to detention. Now he of all people should know that this policy is required, it is necessary, and it deserves the support of the Labor Party. And it is concerning that Mr O'Connor is out there this morning, equivocating on whether or not the Labor Party would support this strong measure as we announced today.

That is an issue now for Mr Shorten to demonstrate his leadership on, because in the run-up to the last election, the Labor Party was split down the middle when it came to border protection policies. This is an opportunity for them to legislate their words, our words and so that those words can be heard consistently by people smugglers and those who are on Nauru and Manus at the moment who seek to come to Australia as a permanent outcome. That is not going to happen. We have been very clear and we demonstrate that consistency of purpose again today, and we will not ever give up our border controls to the people smugglers again. We're cleaning up this mess. There's still a way to go but the government is maintaining the security of our borders and that is what the Australian public expect.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you said that this policy reflects a long-standing commitment to not allow asylum seekers or refugees to settle here permanently. But this is about doing something totally different. It is saying to genuine refugees they can never take a holiday here and they can never get a business visa here. Why is that necessary and how is that fair?

PRIME MINISTER:

You need to clearest of clear messages. This is a battle of will between the Australian people, represented by its government and these criminal gangs of people smugglers. You should not underestimate the scale of the threat. These people smugglers are the worst criminals imaginable. They have a multibillion-dollar business. It is a battle of will. We have to be very determined to say no to their criminal plans.

JOURNALIST:

But do you concede that's a totally different issue to the idea of settling here permanently. To say that you can't get a tourist visa, you can't get a business visa. It's a totally different issue.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's a very clear unequivocal message and that is what the situation requires.

PRIME MINISTER:

Prime Minister some of these people are genuine refugees and we saw that report recently on the ABC obviously about some considering self-harm on Nauru and Manus. How do you justify their treatment on a humanitarian level?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is critically important we maintain the security of the border. Kevin Rudd himself - Kevin Rudd was the architect of this disaster. Let's not mince words. I was Opposition Leader at the time. I begged him not to unpick John Howard's border protection policies. We predicted that it would be a disaster and it was. It was an absolute disaster in every sense. So many deaths at sea, so many unauthorised arrivals, a shocking failure of policy. Mr Rudd himself recognised finally that he failed and that is why we have set the date from which this legislation applies, to the date when he made that statement, a statement - an admission of failure on his part when he said, “As of today, asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia”.

Now he left us with a huge problem, a huge mess. The Minister and his predecessor have been doing an outstanding job in cleaning that up. In closing those centres, getting those kids out of detention, finding alternative options for people on Nauru and Manus. But we have to send a very clear message to the people smugglers. This is not a theoretical debating issue. We know exactly what happens when you unpick the Coalition's strong policy. We know. It's not a matter of theory or speculation. Kevin Rudd did it, and we know what happened. We will not let that happen again.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, what will happen to the people left on Nauru and Manus Island? How quickly will they be sent back to their countries or will they be left in indefinite detention?

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

It's a good question. I will go to the question previously asked as well, just to put it in perspective, the situation on Nauru and Manus at the moment. On Nauru there are over 300 people who are working in jobs, there are about 30 people have started small businesses. The Australian Government has just contributed about $8 million to the classrooms that have opened. There are 11 educators who are supported by Catholic Education Queensland in terms of delivery of curriculum. There is money that we have spent on, well over $20 million the medical centre and the hospital on Nauru. And there are many people, obviously, who have decided to go back to their country-of-origin, where they have found not to be refugees. We are working with those people who are on Nauru and on Manus at the moment, if they have been found not to be refugees, to return back to their country-of-origin. As the United Nations points out, there is 65 million people in the world today who are displaced and effectively to seek a migration outcome in a country like ours.

So we have to have an orderly process, as the Prime Minister rightly pointed out. We deal with people humanely, we provide a record number of refugee places each year, which puts us on a per capita basis and in real terms in the top three countries in the world on a yearly basis, of that we should be very proud. But we're not going to be dictated to by people smugglers. If we want to talk about conditions and human rights, talk about the 1200 children and parents those that have no voice in this debate, those that drowned at sea. We have seen over 3,000 people drown on the Mediterranean since the beginning of this year, more, I suspect, and we don't ever want to get back to that situation.

We're working with the individuals to help provide support for them to return back to their country-of-origin, to start a new life, or in the case of those on Nauru, to settle in Cambodia. In terms of Manus, to settle in Papua New Guinea if they have been found to be owed protection. But it is very difficult when people smugglers are messaging to them, where we have advocates here messaging them saying ‘don't accept packages, eventually you will come to Australia’. This today is the clearest possible message that those people will not be settled in our country. We do not offer false hope to them and some would seek to do. There is intelligence that I have seen about people wanting to travel to Manus Island to marry some of people from the regional processing centre to try and create a process where they might come here on a spouse visa, that is not acceptable. We are not going to allow arrangements that would subvert the program and the success that we've had within this process. We will work with people to help them go back to their country-of-origin. And as I have always said, we are continuing to work with third countries to provide other arrangements for people to take that option up.

JOURNALIST:

Minister on that, this plainly opens the door for a deal with New Zealand or the US? Can you rule that out today, and when will a deal be struck with a third country for resettlement; will that be struck by the end of the year?

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

I’ll say what I’ve said all along and that is both - yes, we're in discussions with a number of countries, I never singled countries out, I never ruled countries in or out. We do have discussions ongoing with a number of countries. I have said, the Prime Minister has said that our priority is to get women and children, family units off Nauru first, and then to work through the rest of the population on Nauru and Manus. That is on top of the success that we have already had in taking the 2,000 children out of detention.

The question today though is what Labor is going to do, having presided over the mess, what will Labor do in relation to this legislation? They have it before them. The comments this morning from Mr O'Connor, a Minister who presided over 180 boats arriving on his watch and some 12,000 people, he is saying out there this morning saying one thing to one part country, something else to another part of the country, and this is what got Labor in trouble in the first place. Either Labor believes the words that Kevin Rudd said as the leader of that Party or they don't. And this is for Mr Shorten to come out today and explain his position.

JOURNALIST:

What does this mean for children going forward?

MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:

Two points - under the bill that we propose, if someone is under the age of 18 at the time they were transferred to the regional processing country, then they exempt from the legislation. But there's a power that we have under migration law now for the Minister of the day to exercise a power if he or she believes it's in the public interest, to lift the bar to allow that person to make an application for a visa. That protection if you like, that built in mechanism into the legislation that is consistent with the way in which the law operates at the moment.

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I raise one matter that we are moving on from this?

Yesterday, we saw Bill Shorten apologise for the unions. To defend the unions and condemn the Coalition's efforts to restore the rule of law to the construction sector. He was there at the Labor State Conference in Queensland playing up to the CFMEU, and all of the union heavies upon whom he relies for his leadership. Yet we've seen today on the front page of the Sunday Mail in Brisbane, yet again more evidence, incontrovertible evidence of the lawlessness of the CFMEU in that State, and the way in which it is making every construction site more expensive. The way it is making every school, every bridge, every road, every hospital more expensive. At the time when governments are seeking to do more with less, the lawlessness in the construction sector is putting up the cost of all the infrastructure and services which we are entitled to. The level of lawlessness in Queensland is extraordinary.

Of course, you have a State Labor Government there that turns a blind eye to it. You have a situation where not so long ago, all of the construction sites in the city of Brisbane were shut down. This is another test for Mr Shorten. Why does he keep on pretending there isn't a problem? Is he is so beholden to these unions that is he is not prepared to recognise there is a problem? If you took him at his word, the CFMEU are the finest bunch of law-abiding Australian workers imaginable, and yet we know that their lawlessness, condemned by judge after judge, with over 100 officials before the courts, is not only defying the rule of law, a fundamental tenant of our democracy, but is also in Queensland and around the country, making every construction job more expensive.

JOURNALIST:

Just on paid parental leave sorry if I could, Nick Xenophon says that his party won't back that. That is a $1 billion hole in budget. How do you plan to get it through?

PRIME MINISTER:

All of these matters are being negotiated with the Senate as you know, we don't have a majority in the Senate, so the passage of legislation has to be negotiated and we will continue to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Is it an attack on women?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course not.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, just back on the Migration Act changes. Was the Solicitor-General consulted about these changes, and also have you sought and received any advice on whether this is consistent with international law and Australia’s international obligations?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Solicitor-General was not asked about this, but we have had extensive advice from the Australian Government solicitor in the usual way. The Solicitor-General is generally asked to advise on matters of constitutional contention if you like. And this Bill is absolutely clearly within power. So the constitutional issues are not an issue here.

JOURNALIST:

And you're satisfied this accords with international law?

PRIME MINISTER:

We absolutely do, yes we are satisfied. OK, thank you very much.

-ENDS-

Transcript 40551