PETER DUTTON: Well ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here.
It’s a pleasure to be here with Minister Keenan, but can I also thank very much the Deputy Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Leanne Close, the CEO of the Australian Crime Commission, Mr Chris Dawson, and the Deputy Commissioner of Australian Border Force, Mr Mike Outram who's the acting commissioner at the moment.
We're here today to give you an update on the drug detections at our borders over the course of the last 12 months. There's obviously a lot of good work that's gone on by the ABF officers, but they work very well in concert with other agencies including, of course, the Australian Federal Police.
I'm announcing today that over the last 12 months more than 32,800 drug detections have taken place at our borders.
It is an increase and we know of those 32,800, we know 14,800 detections were of major illicit drugs and precursors with a total weight of more than 7.3 tonnes.
So that is great work by the ABF officers working very closely with the Australian Federal Police and the other law enforcement and intelligence agencies as well.
I'm also pleased that it is as a result of an additional $88 million that was provided by the Coalition Government last year that helped us to increase the number of inspections not only at air and sea ports, but also in mail.
I'm going to ask Minister Keenan to make some comments and then we're happy to take any questions.
MICHAEL KEENAN: Okay well thank you Peter. I’m pleased to be joined here by Leanne Close, Michael Outram and Chris Dawson.
There's no doubt as these figures reveal today and what we know from law enforcement around the country that we're disrupting more criminals and we are detecting more illegal drugs than ever before, but by the same token the illegal drug market in Australia remains robust.
One of the reasons for that is the lucrative nature of it and the fact in Australia we do pay more for a lot of drug types than other parts of the world.
What that means is that criminal gangs from all over the world continue to target Australia for the import of illegal drugs.
The latest statistics from the ABF show that our law enforcement agencies are doing their job. They are going as hard as they can and we are giving them the tools to do that job, but obviously the lucrative nature of the market as I outlined still remains an enormous challenge for our authorities.
Since coming to Government we have invested heavily in our law enforcement agencies including in the $88 million that Minister Dutton has just mentioned.
We fostered unprecedented cooperation between Commonwealth law enforcement and State and Territory law enforcement including through the national anti-gang squad.
They have strike teams based all around the country that feed intelligence back to the Intelligence Coordination Centre based at the Australian Crime Commission which helps us to disrupt their criminal model and disrupt the flow of illegal drugs.
We're also strengthening international engagement making sure that Australian law enforcement officers are over the world – the transhipment countries.
Recently I funded placements through the Australian Crime Commission in Dubai, Canada, Hong Kong and with the FBI and the DEA in Washington and these overseas placements work in with the Australian Federal Police's already extensive international liaison network.
It's critical that our law enforcement continues to work in this way to be smarter, to be more coordinated and more targeted in our efforts.
But I think these figures as outlined by Minister Dutton show what we are doing is working and we need to continue to do all we can to disrupt the organised criminals that prey on Australians through pushing of illegal drugs and this Government remains committed to doing exactly that.
PETER DUTTON: Just before we take any questions, can I update you on an incident at Melbourne Airport in the last couple of days.
That is in relation to a 73 kilogram haul of illicit drugs detected by Australian Border Force officers and subsequently there have been arrests made, as I’m advised, by the Australian Federal Police.
The 73 kilos of drugs included 55 kilos of methamphetamine and 18 kilos of heroin. That's the biggest haul and detection by ABF officers and those people were inbound from Kuala Lumpur. Those people had the drugs detected in their luggage and these drugs otherwise would have hit the streets.
But 73 kilos is a significant find and great credit to the ABF officers at the Melbourne Airport because these drugs otherwise would have found their way into the hands of young Australians.
The fact we've been able to stop this at our border reinforces the important message we need to keep our borders safe so we can keep our communities secure.
Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: You mentioned detections were an increase.
Do you attribute that increase to extra funding and extra provisions for detections at the borders or are criminal networks exporting more to Australia?
PETER DUTTON: There are a couple of points.
Obviously because we're putting more funding in and more detections are taking place we're finding increased amounts of illicit drugs through those searches, but as Minister Keenan pointed out also the Australian market is lucrative given the prices people are prepared to pay for illicit substances. So there are a combination of factors involved.
I think there is a greater level of cooperation than there ever has been between the Australian Border Force and the Australian Federal Police and other agencies, particularly at our borders because we obviously face significant threats with illicit substances being brought in, but also in terms of outbound potential terrorists and all of the activities that take place at international airports.
The collaboration between the agencies, I think, has resulted in these good outcomes as well and we pay tribute to the organisations involved today.
JOURNALIST: I have a non-drug-related question
PETER DUTTON: Any other questions on this matter?
JOURNALIST: You mentioned this bust in the last couple of days. You said it was the largest haul. Is that the largest haul on record in the last 12 months?
PETER DUTTON: The largest haul on record in terms of that which was found. I might ask Mike to add detail, but as I understand it, it was detected in luggage by the ABF so Deputy Commissioner Outram might have a few words
MIKE OUTRAM: It's a particularly large haul in relation to the route in which it came in terms of passenger luggage. If you can imagine over 70 kilos of illegal drugs in passenger luggage is pretty big.
So it's not the largest haul ever because we look at sea freight and air freight and those type of things.
JOURNALIST: I have a question for Minister Keenan.
MICHAEL KEENAN: Sure.
JOURNALIST: I understand the Police Union chiefs want about $100 million to upgrade counter-terrorism IT systems.
Is that a proposal you're considering?
MICHAEL KEENAN: That's not my understanding of their proposal.
The Police Federation is saying we need to spend some money updating the NCIS, which is the Australian Crime Commission's National Intelligence Interface which feeds in.
We collect intelligence centrally within the Australian Crime Commission. They then feed it back to their state and territory partners and to their federal partners.
Now that system is in need of an upgrade and I've certainly recognised that and made a $10 million investment from the proceeds of crime, which we announced about two months ago in starting that process.
There will need to be more investment in the NCIS. The Government understands that, but obviously we're dealing with a difficult fiscal environment and that investment is going to be made over time, but we have started that process of upgrade because it is required.
JOURNALIST: So do you feel this system is outdated?
MICHAEL KEENAN: There's no question that system requires an upgrade. That’s why I allocated $10 million from the proceeds of crime to begin that process. As I’ve said, we need to do more, we will do more, but we are dealing with a constrained fiscal environment at the moment so that has to happen over a period of time.
JOURNALIST: One source of revenue the Police Union suggested is proceeds of crime or national unexplained wealth. Is that an option?
MICHAEL KEENAN: Absolutely. Since I've come to office, so for over two years I have been talking to my state and territory colleagues about a national unexplained wealth regime.
This will go after the whole point of organised crime which is to make illegal profits. It is a complicated national reform because we need a reference of powers from the states to be able to achieve this.
Those discussions are now in their final stages. I'm very much hoping we can conclude discussions at a meeting we're having with State Police Ministers and State Attorney-Generals in Canberra in November. That will be the conclusion of what has been an exceptionally long process.
Getting a proper national unexplained wealth regime will be a hammer blow to organised criminals around the country.
JOURNALIST: Just to clarify; would you entertain, if you got that up and running, spending that money on these IT systems?
MICHAEL KEENAN: Well I would make every effort to make sure that money was reinvested in law enforcement.
JOURNALIST: Minister Dutton can I ask about the Abyan case and given the conflicting claims that are coming out about that woman.
Will the Government consider what Gillian Triggs has proposed as an independent arbiter of these sorts of situations?
And also there's been reports today that the woman now doesn't want to go to Australia for a termination, but would consider going to another country. Is that something that your Government would facilitate?
PETER DUTTON: I provided an update to the Parliament yesterday and I stated there what the Government's position was. That was to provide support to the individual and that support was provided not only on Nauru, but also subsequently when she came to Australia.
We take the advice of the medical experts and those people who are running the regional processing centres and receive all of the advice and decisions are then made based on that and that's the way in which it'll continue into the future as well.
JOURNALIST: Can you address the independent arbiter issue?
PETER DUTTON: We have a system in place at the moment which provides support to people in terms of their medical needs.
We've provided $11 million by way of upgrade to the Regional Processing Centre medical centre or hospital. We've provided $26 million to an upgrade of the hospital.
We've also provided significant support to the Nauruan Government to engage obstetricians and specialists otherwise through IHMS, Aspen and other providers.
In addition to that we provide support at the international hospital in PNG if people require support there.
Bearing in mind there are 325 babies a year born on Nauru through the existing hospital and midwife and obstetric services.
So there is a lot of support there and I think people frankly sometimes speak from ignorance in terms of the amount of support that's being provided to people who are in need.
That system has operated in the past and that's how it'll operate into the future and we don't propose any changes because we're already providing a significant level of support to people to enhance the services provided on Nauru.
JOURNALIST: Other than support does there need to be independent oversight of what happens in offshore detention centres given the Human Rights Commission is not allowed to go in, given there are restrictions on journalists going in.
Does there need to be an independent body that can go in and report back what's happening?
PETER DUTTON: Well, again, just to deal with the facts. There are not restrictions on journalists going in.
Journalists can make applications - as journalists can to come to our country - for a visa. If the visa is granted then they can visit. So as I understand it there's a journalist on Nauru today from Australia.
Now, that’s to deal with the premise of your question, the opportunity is there for people to travel and people can make their own judgments.
We have a number of visits including from the Red Cross, from the UNHCR and others who visit detention centres and that regime and that level of oversight has operated for some period of time.
It's a different situation, of course, as you'd appreciate in Nauru and in Manus, because these issues are ultimately for the Nauruan Government or for the PNG Government in the case of Manus.
We provide support to enhance those services and we obviously provide significant support to the detention network here in Australia bearing in mind that we’ve been able to close 13 of the 17 detention centres here on the mainland.
The way in which the oversight regime operates at the moment, the way in which we are providing support with the Australian taxpayers money to people who do need medical assistance – that is a system that will continue into the future.
JOURNALIST: Minister I know that you say it’s up to Nauru or the PNG Governments to decide whether reporters can go over and visit those facilities, but in your view would it be more helpful if those countries did allow more reporters in to view those facilities so that we weren’t reporting on a position or we didn’t know as much as we could?
PETER DUTTON: Well, look, I find Nauru to be a very good partner in terms of us being able to work together.
With Minister Keenan we’ve been able to offer additional resources from the Australian Federal Police.
We’ve been able to, as I say, offer significant amounts of money in relation to medical services as well as education.
So I find that we have a good working relationship with the Nauruan Government as Labor did when they were in Government I might note and the object for us is to continue that good working relationship.
I don’t intend to lecture Nauru as I wouldn’t expect them to lecture us in terms of who should come to our country and in terms of the visa processing of those applications so that’s an issue for them ultimately.
JOURNALIST: Do you consider an $8000 non-refundable visa fee for journalists to be fair?
PETER DUTTON: Well, as I say, I just think it’s an issue for the Nauruan Government and you should put the question to them.
JOURNALIST: Minister and perhaps Deputy Commissioner Outram this is a question for you.
Gillian Triggs this morning said that the Government and the Human Rights Commission are working together to perhaps offer Border Force and Department of Immigration staff training in human rights particularly things like use of force and things like that.
Why is that needed and has there been a change of culture as she mentioned within the amalgamation of the Departments to create Border Force?
PETER DUTTON: Well, I’m happy to take the question.
Now the level of professionalism within the ABF is at an all-time high and we should recognise that the ABF in its new form is a law enforcement agency and they have a job to do.
Now some elements of the Australian society don’t like the fact that the ABF is involved in Operation Sovereign Borders.
They don’t like the fact that the Government has a policy which has stopped people drowning at sea and they don’t like the policy which ultimately has stopped people coming on boats in an uncontrolled fashion as it was under the previous Government.
Now people will use that prejudice against the ABF for their own purposes and for their own self-promotion. I’ll leave all of that to one side.
The assurance that I can give to you is that the people, the men and women of the ABF perform professionally. They perform to a very high standard. They have a significant job to do in terms of protecting our borders and as we’ve seen with the announcement today – they have been able to stare down many of these threats that cross our borders.
There’s a lot more work to do and we provide ongoing training all the time, but the level of professionalism within the ABF is world-class. It’ll continue as such and we can make sure that that training program is ongoing and it will be.
JOURNALIST: My understanding with that training program is that it’s a new program and that it incorporates elements of human rights into the program.
Why do you need to have that in this particular instance?
PETER DUTTON: Well as I say, we have a training program which is in place and it is to a world-class standard.
The professionalism within the ABF is beyond question. It is to a very high standard.
We have experts who advise us in terms of the training requirements. We’ll listen to those experts, provide the training that’s required and there’s no proposal to make any changes.
JOURNALIST: I just have one follow up on the Nauru issue
PETER DUTTON: Yep
JOURNALIST: I know you were asked before about the PNG idea.
Is that something that you think could happen? Could this lady have the procedure in PNG?
PETER DUTTON: Well again, look, I was loathe yesterday to talk about the personal details.
I think your conversations with your GP, my conversations with my GP – anything to do with medical matters is an issue between the patient and the doctor.
It is unfortunate that this lady’s circumstances have been trotted out by those people who have thought to misrepresent her individual circumstances.
I’m very angry about that, to be honest.
Now, I think if we can move on without having to discuss personal details, particularly for a woman in this situation, who is alleging rape, to talk about these matters.
It wouldn’t be tolerated in Australia society and we dealt with these issues yesterday.
I gave an assurance about the support that we’re providing and our future discussions with this lady will be a matter of privacy between the department or between the medical officers and that lady.
I don’t intend to traverse these matters again.
I gave you assurances yesterday of the level of support that we’ve given to this individual, to this lady, and we will continue to work with her to act in her best interests and we will make decisions on that basis.
But I’m not going to publicly comment again in relation to discussions between her and her doctor.
If her lawyers or other advocates wish to leak that detail then that’s an issue for them. I think it reflects frankly more upon them than it does anyone else…
JOURNALIST: …She herself did give an interview though.
PETER DUTTON: …but from my perspective I think what is paramount is the importance of that relationship between the patient and doctor and the privacy.
As I say we wouldn’t accept this level of discussion had it been a woman in Australia who had alleged rape, and I’ve dealt with them, with the questions yesterday.
I provided you assurances about the significant level of support that we’ve provided.
We’ll continue to provide support but we’re going to do it in a private way which I think respects the lady’s privacy and that’s I think the proper way forward.
Alright. Thank you very much.