Sunday, 03 February 2019

Press conference, Sydney

Topics: Asylum seeker children off Nauru, offshore processing and resettlement


DAVID COLEMAN: [START OF RECORDING] Our Government has got the children off Nauru. It's important to remember that under the previous government some 8,000 children were forcibly placed in detention. 8,000 children placed in onshore detention under the previous government. When we came to office in 2013, there were 2,000 children in onshore detention. We removed them all. We have now removed all the children from Nauru as well. We have one of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world. That's a very good thing. And it must be carefully managed. We must never, ever allow a situation to occur such as we saw under the previous Government. It was a human catastrophe. Under the previous Government 8,000 children were placed in detention. Tragically some 1,200 people drowned at sea including children. 50,000 people arrived unlawfully on our shores, and that of course is not to mention the extraordinary cost to Australian taxpayers. Now we as a Government are determined to ensure that situation never occurs again. We will not allow that to ever occur again on our watch. The law that Labor voted for in December in the Senate would end offshore processing as we know it. By ending offshore processing as we know it, a green light would be given to people smugglers and boats would start again. We're not talking about ancient history in what happened under the previous government; it was only a few short years ago. We must never allow it to happen again. Labor should withdraw its support for the bill that it voted for in December and our Government will continue to ensure that we have a strong humanitarian refugee program and one in which the Government of Australia, and not people smugglers, determines the outcome. Happy to take questions. 

QUESTION: Will the Government rule out sending many of these kids who have been moved back to Australia back to Nauru in the future? I mean, is that off the cards completely?

COLEMAN: Well as you know, under the rules for resettlement, it's a- people come here generally for medical treatment. That's been happening for quite some time. That treatment includes outpatient services and so on, and can continue for some time. The important principle though, is that permanent resettlement in Australia is not available to people who arrived unlawfully by boat, and that people who arrived unlawfully by boat will be resettled in third countries. Now, as I say, the transfer of people to Australia for medical services has been occurring for some time, and obviously in recent times as well. But it is a very important principle - that people who arrive unlawfully by boat will not permanently resettle in Australia. I believe that the Opposition still supports that principle and I note that even the bill moved by Ms Phelps refers to coming to Australia for the purpose of medical treatment.

QUESTION: So is that a yes or a no to kids going back to Nauru?

COLEMAN: Well as I said, the policy is clear - that people who arrived unlawfully by boat will not permanently resettle in Australia. In a practical sense we have a number of people who have come here for medical treatment. It is our policy that they will resettle in third countries, and that has been our policy and continues to be our policy.

QUESTION: It's understood four to five families wanted to stay, has that changed and where are those families now?

COLEMAN: We have all the people, all the children, and their families, who were open to being transferred to Australia. That has occurred. There are four kids and their families who will shortly go to the United States, and that is the situation. So, once those four children have been transferred to the United States there will be no kids on Nauru. And it's so important to highlight the contrast here, because we did see the previous government forcibly place 8,000 children in detention; not 80, not 800 – 8,000 children they put in detention. When we came to office there were 2,000 children in detention, and we got them all out. We have now arranged for all children to be transferred from Nauru. That is an important development and it demonstrates that we are able to run an orderly and successful humanitarian program, whilst also maintaining border security. We know that back in 2007 that Kevin Rudd said there would be no change to the policies of the previous Howard Government - which was so successful in this area - but large changes were made and there were tragic humanitarian consequences. There's nothing compassionate about policies that lead to people risking their lives at sea. Nothing compassionate at all.

QUESTION: Do some of the children who've been brought to Australia still have parents on Nauru because of a negative security assessment?

COLEMAN: There have been a number of issues that have been worked through, but no the family groups are together.

QUESTION: And sorry is the Government- I mean do you have any- are you in negotiations or are you about to enter negotiations with third countries about resettling asylum seekers apart from the US.

COLEMAN: So just in relation to the US. I'd just like to mention – we've had some 456 people transfer to the United States, and a group as recently as 10 days ago that transferred from Manus to the United States. Another important point which needs to be made is that refugees who are based on Manus Island are able to permanently resettle in Papua New Guinea, and a significant number have, and that is an option which continues to be open to refuges who are on Papua New Guinea. It's also possible for people on Nauru to hold a visa there for some 20 years. So there are a number of options in place – permanent resettlement in Papua New Guinea for people who are there now, the United States agreement under which there's a capacity for some 1,250 people and 456 people have already gone. Now what we inherited of course was no resettlement arrangements whatsoever. When we came into office we had a very large number of people in held detention. We had no formal resettlement arrangements, and it's our Government which got the kids out of onshore detention, which has got the kids off Nauru, which has done the US resettlement agreement under which 456 people have now relocated, and of course people from all around the world aspire to live in the United States and 456 people have achieved that under this agreement.

QUESTION: Why not take up the New Zealand's offer. The 150.

COLEMAN: We've had a bill before the Parliament since 2016 in relation to effectively ensuring that the policy, which has always been the policy, that people who arrive unlawfully by boat do not come to Australia is enshrined in that legislation. It's been there since 2016. And that's important because that legislation would provide the certainty and security of the policy, so that it's very, very clear that anyone who arrives unlawfully cannot come to Australia. We continue to support that legislation. We call on the opposition to support that legislation, they have not done so in the past, and that continues to be our position.

QUESTION: Are you hoping this will deter some of the crossbenchers from supporting Labor's bill to give Doctors more say in bringing asylum seekers to the mainland for medical treatment.

COLEMAN: We'll look we respect all of the crossbenchers, and they obviously apply themselves to these matters as they should. I do want to point out some of the very fundamental problems with the bill that Labor voted for in December. I mean it's sometimes referred to as Kerryn Phelps' bill, and it did of course start out as Kerryn Phelps' bill. But this is Labor's bill, because Labor voted for this bill in December. It's not theoretical. They all walked into the Senate and voted for it. And there's a number of reason why this bill should not be supported and I'll go through these. Firstly, under the bill if any two clinicians anywhere in Australia form a view that a person should come to Australia for medical assessment - not that need to be treated, merely they need to be assessed – then the practical reality of the Labor's bill under a Labor government is that those people will in short order come to Australia. So you could have the absurd situation where two doctors in Dapto say that this person should come to Australia for assessment, that the local doctors in Nauru don't agree but because of the way this bill is constructed those people would come to Australia. Now surely it is common sense to say that doctors who are physically located in the same place as patients are best placed to assess them rather than someone who's on the phone or on skype. That's how Labor's bill works. Its only 8 pages long this bill and I'd encourage you all to read it because it has some quite extraordinary provisions. So that is one fundamental problem with the bill. The other fundamental problem with this bill is, it's any two doctors anywhere in Australia.

So a person might go to a hundred people who say no, and then 101 and 102 say yes you should come for assessment. And again that is a huge failing. It's also possible for any two doctors to say- approve 100 transfers of 100 different patients if they have a particular view about the need for people to transfer for assessment. So what happens under this bill is that the existing system of offshore processing which has been so fundamental to the success of our border security in the context of a generous humanitarian program that that offshore processing system would collapse, it would not be viable, and it would be a massive green light to people smugglers. And another really important point, and this has been somewhat overlooked in some of the coverage on this issue. Labor's bill doesn't only apply to people who are currently on Manus or Nauru, it also applies to anyone who arrives the future. So this is the scenario – a boat arrives, people are taken to Manus or Nauru, soon after, could be a week after, two weeks after, any two doctors anywhere in Australia say well look I think that person should come to Australia for assessment, and the practical reality of Labor's bill is that they would come, and what does that say again to people smugglers. It creates a very, very clear path.

QUESTION: Can we just get back to the move of the children firstly just to clarify something. So your government said the remaining children were in families that had been identified as a security risk, so where are they now? You say they're together, are those men living in the- in our communities?

COLEMAN: There were a number of issues in relation to specific families that were worked through. I obviously can't go into all of those details but…

QUESTION: But you were happy to say they were in families that were a security risk so is that still the case? What do you mean worked through?

COLEMAN: The issues have been worked through to our satisfaction.

QUESTION: So are those men living in our communities. They're no longer a security risk?

COLEMAN: Well again I can't go into specific cases but I will say that in each case issues have been worked through to the satisfaction of the Department.

QUESTION: Can I just ask, how good is our refugee processing that a wanted murder from the US was granted refugee status here?

COLEMAN: Yes well that case from 2009 was obviously under the previous Government is a concern and I have asked for a full briefing from the Department in relation to those matters and will be looking at that very closely

QUESTION: Well what's your reaction to it at this point?

COLEMAN: Well look obviously it's a concern. If someone who was wanted for a very serious crime was granted this visa that would be a concern but again I'd like to get all the very detailed information on that before responding more fully.

QUESTION: Well ok you say it was the previous Government but it was the Government Department or officials that vet so what's happened here?

COLEMAN: Well no I think that's a very legitimate question and it's something that, as I say, I've asked for a full briefing on. If anyone has been granted a visa in that situation that is a real concern and it's something as I say that I will be having further to say on but I would like to do that in a deliberative fashion.

QUESTION: And can we just ask, how many people are currently as we speak on Nauru and how many on Manus?

COLEMAN: Sure. So there's just under 600 people on Manus and around 420 people on Nauru, so just over 1,000 in total. About as we noted four kids to leave very soon. The remaining group are about 95% adult males and about 5% females.

QUESTION: Do you want to have a sit- in your next term of Government do you want to have a situation where you have no adults on Nauru, and if so how will you achieve that?

COLEMAN: Well look obviously we've got the resettlement arrangements in place with the United States, we've had 456 people resettled in the United States out of a maximum of 1,250. There is the opportunity for people who are on Manus Island to settle permanently in Papua New Guinea and a significant number have done so, and we continue to maintain a strong policy of offshore processing and offshore resettlement and it's very, very important because we must never ever go back to what happened before. If you look at Australia's post-war policy history it is difficult to see a bigger example of policy failure than what was seen under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments in relation to this issue. The humanitarian consequences were appalling. 1,200 people died, 8,000 kids were forcibly placed in detention. We have got the kids out of detention, we have stopped the flow of unlawful boat arrivals and we've increased our humanitarian program under this government by some 35 percent. Now, that is a very strong record, it is a massive contrast with what was seen under the previous Government. The bill that Labour supported in the Senate is about going back to the bad old days and we are very strongly opposed to it.

QUESTION: Can I ask how many applications, or how many of those people on Manus and on Nauru have applied to resettle in the US?

COLEMAN: We don't typically publish the application numbers, but as I said, we've got 456 people that have gone, the process continues, we had a group leave about ten days ago, we expect a number to leave during February and we continue to work very closely with our partners in the United States. It's been a very successful resettlement arrangement and it will continue. Okay - thanks.