Tuesday, 08 October 2019

Press conference, Sydney

Topics: Asylum seekers arriving by air

DAVID COLEMAN: Thank you for coming along today. Now, we know that Labor's policy in relation to border security and the management of our humanitarian program was an absolute disaster and a humanitarian catastrophe. Fifty thousand people arrived. Tragically, 1200 people drowned at sea, 8000 children were placed in detention. Nineteen detention centres had to be opened as a consequence of that extraordinary loss of control of Australia's borders, and the cost to Australian taxpayers now exceeds $17 billion. An absolute disgrace and an absolute disaster. If you look at Australia's post-war public policy history, it is very difficult to find an example of more appalling management of Australian government policy than Labor's management of our borders.

The other thing that's important to note is that Labor's mismanagement of our borders meant that people who were waiting for spots under our refugee program overseas were disadvantaged. There's a program called the Special Humanitarian Program, and previously about 5000 spots a year were granted under that program. Because Labor lost control of our borders, the number of spots in that program was slashed to 500 people. So that's about 4500 people who were waiting overseas, following the correct processes under Australian law, who didn't get to come to Australia because of Labor's mismanagement of our borders. We know an extraordinary humanitarian cost, we know a financial cost, and we also know a very significant cost to people waiting overseas to come to Australia. This was an extraordinary public policy failure and it was a humanitarian catastrophe.

Labor today has committed a spectacular own goal. Now, in seeking to raise the issue of protection visas for people who arrive lawfully by air, Labor seems to have neglected to look at the statistics of its own time in office. In the last three years that Labor was in office, 6889 protection visas were granted to people who arrived by air - 6889. That means those people get to stay permanently, having been granted that visa. In the last three years of our government, 4786 visas have been allocated to people who arrived by air, 31 per cent less than under Labor. We've granted 31 per cent less visas to people who arrive by air than Labor did in their last three years in office.

This is a spectacular own goal by the Labor Party, in seeking to draw attention to the issue of people who arrive lawfully by air. They provided far more visas to this group of people than our Government has.

We know that under Labor, many thousands of visas were granted to people who arrived by boat, permanent visas. Under our Government, that's reduced to zero. We also know that in our last three years of office, compared to Labor's last three years of office, we've granted 31 per cent less visas to people who arrive by air than they did. We also know that Labor is proposing to increase the refugee and humanitarian program by 71 per cent.

Don't take my word for it: have a look at Labor's conference back in late 2018, where they adopted a policy of 32,000 spots in the Refugee and Humanitarian program, compared to 18,750 today. So a 71 per cent increase is what Labor is proposing, at a cost to taxpayers of $6 billion. That's what Labor's policy is. It's in black and white - 71 per cent increase after they lost control of our borders.

I should also make a few important points about people who arrive lawfully by air and then apply for protection. Firstly, we know who those people are. They've arrived on valid visas with passports. We know who they are. The people who arrive by boats, in many, many cases, they arrive without documentation, we don't know who they are and it can take years and years and years to establish their identity. That's a very important distinction.

The second distinction, of course, is that people who arrive by boat placed their own lives and the lives of their family members at risk. We saw tragically that 1200 people drowned under Labor. And in addition, Australian personnel - Australian Defence Force officers, Australian Border Force officers - are required to go out onto the high seas to assist those people, and that has a very significant personal cost for those Australians, many of whom are still living with the psychological scars many years later. It's a very big difference.

Then of course, in relation to air arrivals, less than 1 in 400 people who arrive lawfully in Australia apply for protection. About 90 per cent of those people are rejected, and the total number of people who have been granted visas under this government who arrive lawfully by air is significantly less than under Labor.

So it is an extraordinary own goal by the Labor Party today. They have a disgraceful record when it comes to border security and Australia's refugee and humanitarian policies. We will certainly be taking no lectures from them.

Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister Coleman, you've said that the Coalition has granted 31 per cent less visas to air arrivals than Labor and also that Labor wants to increase the refugee intake by 71 per cent. Now, the former was presented as a positive; the latter as a negative. Is granting protection visas to refugees then a bad thing?

DAVID COLEMAN: We have a proportion of our program is for people who have arrived in that way. Last year, it was about 1600 people out of 18,750. So it's a small proportion of the program. Under Labor, it was a much bigger number. Our number is 31 per cent less. Now, we have, as a nation, a generous Refugee and Humanitarian program and there are very few nations in the world that compare to Australia in terms of the generous nature of our program. What Labor is saying is they want to make that program, which is already generous, 71 per cent bigger. Labor says, take the existing refugee program and make it 71 per cent bigger at a cost to taxpayers of $6 billion.

The question for Labor is: why? Why does Labor want to increase the refugee and humanitarian program by 71 per cent? It is a program which is already generous. It is a quality program. But to increase it by 71 per cent is extraordinary. And this is black letter law for the Labor Party. This went to their national conference. So, they need to explain very clearly why do they want to increase the refugee and humanitarian program by 71 per cent. They also need to explain why did they issue so many more visas to people who arrived by air than this Government?

JOURNALIST:  Minister do you, the Government, accept that overall there's been an increase in refugees arriving by plane?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well, people who arrive by plane are arriving lawfully, and whether or not they're refugees is something that's assessed by the Government. What we've assessed is the total number of people who should be given humanitarian protection is actually quite a lot less than Labor did. So, people can apply. The question is: what happens when they apply? Are they given those visas or not? And we have given 31 per cent less visas to people who arrive by air in the comparable period than Labor did. So, it is quite extraordinary for Labor to be seeking to raise this issue.

JOURNALIST: Minister, could I get a couple of stats off you if you've got the latest numbers: how many people are there currently in Australia who came by plane who have overstayed their visas?

DAVID COLEMAN: There's currently about 25,000 people who are following various forms of appeal under the protection system - some in the AAT, some through the courts. Those people stay whilst their claims are being assessed. Now, all the others are required to leave. So all of the others are required to leave and-

JOURNALIST: And how many of them are there?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well, they're all required to leave and if they don't do so, we have Operation Battenrun, Project Cadena and a number of other important programs which target people that have overstayed their visa and they're subject to be put into detention and removed.

We've had more than 500 compliance actions under those various programs. So that's the way it works. You either get a permanent visa or you don't. And if you don't, you're required to leave. And if you overstay, you will be removed.

JOURNALIST: And of those, are there any numbers on how many people there are, if I could put it this way, “at large”, who have had their appeals exhausted, have been told they have to get deported but can't currently be found? Is there a number for that?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well as I said, there's 25,000 approximately who are in various stages of appeal. Anyone else is required to leave; that either has left or is subject to action under those various programs.

JOURNALIST: But do we know how many of those there are?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well again, as I said, there's 25,000 who are appealing and for the remainder, they are required to leave. Labor-

JOURNALIST: Sorry, Minister. Can I just ask: how many of the remainder that's- is it thousands? Is it tens of thousands?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well again, they're required to leave and Labor cut the funding to the Fair Work Ombudsman, which is involved in many of these compliance actions by some 19 percent, which we restored - actually cut its workforce very significantly. The reality is that under Australian law, they are required to leave and there are a number of projects that identify those people and they are required to leave.

JOURNALIST: But do we know how many there are?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well again, I've addressed the question.

JOURNALIST: Official figures show that over the last five years, the number of asylum seekers coming by air has tripled. What's the reason for that blowout?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well, we've seen a significant increase in visa applications for Australia generally. It's growing quite significantly across the board. The question is not so much how many people apply, the question is how many people succeed. Less people succeed in getting a visa through onshore protection and arrived by plane under our Government than did under Labor.

JOURNALIST: But why are there more people seeking asylum in Australia?

DAVID COLEMAN: Well as I said, I mean, people can apply. But the fact that they apply is one thing. The question is: do they get asylum or not? We're granting asylum under the air arrivals at a significantly lower rate than the Labor Party did. So if the Labor Party is concerned about this issue, why did they grant so many more visas to air arrivals than our Government? Why did they lose control of the borders? How did they allow that to happen? And why are they proposing a 71 per cent increase in the entire refugee and humanitarian system?

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]…Malaysia's fault? And what are you doing - what are you talking to them about it?

DAVID COLEMAN: We've seen applications from a number of different countries around the world and we have staff who are deployed to work with different countries on these issues. But again, the question is: how many people are actually getting visas? The vast majority of people are rejected. The total number of people who apply under this program- sorry, who are successful under this program is smaller than it was under Labor, and Labor completely lost control of our immigration system.