I am very pleased that another six months has now passed without another successful people smuggling adventure to Australia. We have had great success due to the enormous efforts of the men and women involved in Operation Sovereign Borders. I want to say thank you very much in particular to the General and to his staff, they have performed in an exemplary manner and in a manner that I think all Australians should be very proud because we have stopped people drowning at sea, we have stopped the boats and it is the absolute resolve of this Government that that policy will continue and it stands in contrast to Labor's failings obviously there were, in the twelve months before Operation Sovereign Borders, 401 successful people smuggling ventures with twenty-six and a half thousand people. Contrast that to this Government's record over the last twelve months and really there is no comparison. So I want to congratulate Scott Morrison for the work that he did in this portfolio, and in particular the leadership that he has provided in relation to the National Security Committee but also in these matters otherwise.
In relation to the situation on Manus - there have been a number of search warrants that have been executed by the PNG Police. There has been an amount of contraband that has been found and seized and obviously those police investigations are underway. I am very concerned by reports particularly around ringleaders. Those reports indicate to me that those ringleaders have been coercing and intimidating other transferees into committing self-harm and other behaviour which is unacceptable and I won't tolerate that behaviour. I don't want to see self-harming or refusing food and water. I certainly don't want to see ringleaders encouraging or manipulating other transferees into that sort of activity. I want to praise the PNG Government for their leadership, for the leadership that they have provided in relation to Manus and that effort is obviously ongoing.
In relation to the High Court case – I am pleased with the result, obviously there is a 157 page judgement that the Government will consider now in detail, but it has vindicated the Government's position and we welcome the result and we will further analyse over the course of the next day or so the 157 page judgement and we will look at in detail the comments that the Justices have made in relation to that case.
I will ask General Campbell to make his comments now and if you can direct any questions that you have initially to General Campbell and then he will be able to step away from the lectern.
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: Thanks Minister and good afternoon. I will be brief. Today our Operation Sovereign Borders team can recognise another significant milestone - six months without a successful people smuggling venture to Australia. As each month passes people smugglers are becoming increasingly desperate and seeking to market the dangerous voyage to Australia to any vulnerable community they can. Their business is under great stress and continues to be under great stress, but we need to maintain the pressure and the vigilance. In addition to the comprehensive policies that have been established and applied under Operation Sovereign Borders, we continue to enjoy the co-operation of our regional partners so that together we can build further in this area. People smugglers should be under no misapprehension, we are determined to stop people smuggling. And the efforts of the team in undertaking Operation Sovereign Borders continue every day. Only one vessel has arrived in Australian in 2014 and all of those aboard that vessel were transferred to Nauru. There has been a very substantial and sustained reduction in the number of maritime ventures and potential illegal arrivals attempting to reach Australia by sea. There were no known deaths as a result of our activities of Operation Sovereign Borders in 2014 and we intend to continue to be vigilant and to conduct the operations on a daily basis and ensure that people smugglers no longer have a business to sell. Thank you
Peter Dutton: Are there any questions of General Campbell?
Journalist: Can I just ask as a part of that, what was the tally of the boat turnbacks and if there have been any authorised turn backs since Minister Dutton took office.
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: There have been 15 returns of various forms during the course Operation Sovereign Borders.
Journalist: Have any of those been since the new Minister took office?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: Yes there has.
Journalist: Can I ask how many since the new Minister took office?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: I haven't actually got that with me. But I can say that we routinely see months pass without a boat and we intend to keep the pressure on and see that continue.
Journalist: So it's plural, more than one?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: As I said, I will have to check the data.
Journalist: Minister Dutton, do you have any understanding about how many boats have arrived?
Peter Dutton: We will make some updates on a monthly basis shortly, but the point I would make today is that the resolve of the Government continues. There is no difference in the Government's approach under Minister Morrison to my time so far and that will continue into the future. So the very clear message to people smugglers, to people who would see some of their passengers drown at sea, is that we will do whatever is possible to crush that business, to stop people smuggling taking place and we will continue the efforts of Operation Sovereign Borders with the work of the men and women who have done an outstanding job over the period of the last 16months, but over the course of the last six months in particular.
Journalist: Would you be able to come back to us today with the number of turn backs?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: Can I just note as I have indicated that it is 15 returns of various forms. As you would appreciate that I have not been taking, if you like, a tally based on Minister's appointments. I just don't know today, I will come back to you.
Journalist: Can you say if all of those turn backs were to Indonesia?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: I just want to ask you to be careful with that terminology, as I said 15 returns of various forms and not all to Indonesia.
Journalist: Can you explain what the various forms are?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: Yes sure. There are turnbacks, there are also those activities where we work with another country to return those in what you could describe as a takeback and there are some circumstances where we might assist persons in a safety life-at-sea circumstance.
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: In total there have been 15 returns of various forms over the period of Operation Sovereign Borders.
Journalist: Does that include Sri Lanka?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: Yes that includes Sri Lanka.
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: No it doesn't.
Journalist: How many were returned to Sri Lanka?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: Let me take that on notice, but I will get back to you pretty quickly.
Journalist: You seem to indicate that the people smugglers are marketing their services to new communities, is that right?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: People smugglers are seeking any market that they can find and they are pursuing any community that they think might be vulnerable to essentially a sales pitch that is often quite untrue and manipulative.
Journalist: Are there any new regions?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: People smuggling is a very active business all over the world unfortunately. So they look for clientele wherever they can find them.
Journalist: Can you tell us where specifically, where they are marketing Australia as a destination?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: We have seen historically that if we look at the variety of persons who have ultimately found themselves in the processing centres on Manus and Nauru, persons from East Africa, from the Middle East, from Central Asia, from South-East Asia and then a variety of occasional individuals from quite a wide variety of other countries around the world.
Journalist: In regards to Indonesia, …[inaudible]…
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: We work with Indonesia as closely as we can and in some circumstances we see activities which we work with and in other cases we undertake turn back operations without.
Journalist: Given there has been a change in Minister, has there been any consideration to a change in the operational side of things, or do you intend to stay in the role into the future?
Lt Gen Angus Campbell: My own personal circumstance; I continue to serve the Government of the day as directed.
Journalist: And the monthly updates will continue?
Peter Dutton: Yes. - Thank you General.
Peter Dutton: Well look the High Court has delivered a majority verdict and they do that every day. They've provided in their decision reasons for that, and as I say, it's a 157 page judgement and I want to get legal advice about the nuances contained within the 157 pages, but suffice to say we are appreciative of the outcome, it vindicates the Government's position and the detail in the judgement will be contemplated over coming days.
Journalist: But what about Australia's international human rights obligations?
Peter Dutton: We meet our international obligations and at the same time we have a difficult situation to deal with, to stop people drowning at sea, to stop people coming by boats, we do not want to see the start-up again of the disaster that Labor presided over and that is why the policies of the Government will continue and we're working with international agencies, with international partners otherwise, we'll continue to do that because we're determined to stop these boats and stop them we will.
Journalist: Given the High Court's judgement today would you as new Minister be comfortable keeping asylum seekers in intermediate zone without a destination. Do you take this as a blank cheque?
Peter Dutton: It's not the case of, Is it a blank cheque or any of that sort of commentary. We will note the judgement and the Government acts within the law. Now the High Court has confirmed the fact that the Government acted within the law, we met our responsibilities, but further detailed commentary about the specifics of the ruling or some aspects of the law we'll provide a response in due course.
Journalist: The Australian Human Rights commission has repeatedly accused the Government for breaching international obligations; is there a case for a parliament inquiry?
Peter Dutton: I'll leave that up to the Attorney-General.
Journalist: The PNG Prime Minister has said that it is talking to Iran and Iraq to send back most of those on Manus Island – even people who've fled are being forced to return. Is the Australian Government comfortable with sending people back to Iran and trust Iran not to prosecute anyone?
Peter Dutton: Well I don't want to comment in relation to PNG's immigration policy that's an issue for them. Our Government's position is very clear in relation to the situation, we're working with the PNG Government, already six people have been able to transition and there was a story I thought on 7:30 last night which detailed just a small success, but I think one of many to come of the way in which people can integrate into the PNG society and PNG obviously takes their responsibilities under the MOU seriously otherwise, but we continue to talk with partners and other countries whether or not returns are possible. A significant number of people already on Manus have taken the decision to return to their country of origin and we provide support around resettlement otherwise. There's a continuation of the Government's policy nothing has changed in that regard and I'll leave comment from the PNG Government to them.
Journalist: The question is more about Iran rather than PNG, do you trust Iran to accept people who don't want to return …[inaudible]…
Peter Dutton: I haven't seen any reports of PNG forcefully returning people to Iran or Iraq and I don't think that's an accurate representation of the PNG position. If the PNG Government is in discussions with Iran or with Iraq or other countries about resettlement of people who are currently in PNG then that's an issue for the PNG Government to comment on. But from our perspective we're happy to have discussions with countries and obviously we've got an arrangement with PNG at the moment where we're seeing people coming out of Manus, returning to their country of origin. We're seeing those people transition into PNG society, that's the Government's policy and we'll continue with it.
Peter Dutton: Look the first point I would make in relation to the approach of Government, of people in my own department who were involved in the operation at the time, they approached it in a professional way, they dealt with a very difficult circumstance in a very professional way, ultimately like the Government, people within these agencies want to stop people drowning at sea. They want to deal with the scourge of people smugglers. They are doing that within the law, that's been confirmed by the High Court. They're doing it within the procedures we lay out and the guidelines the Government provides otherwise. They have provided and afforded every assistance possible in very difficult circumstances, they should be praised for the work they are doing and the success is demonstrated through our confirmation today of the complete turnaround from Labor's disaster when it came to boats, to the success under the Abbott Government.
Journalist: Should any Government have the power to return someone to a country where they would face harm?
Peter Dutton: No we've got international obligations and we'll meet those obligations and that was touched on in the judgment today, but as I say in relation to the detail of the judgement we'll get legal advice once that's contemplated over coming days.
Journalist: What will you as Minister do about the 30 odd people that have been found to be refugees but have adverse security findings and remain in detention and have been in detention for many years, how will you resolve that?
Peter Dutton: Well for people that are at Manus for argument's sake. Those people will not be coming to Australia. I've made that very clear and I repeat it again today. We will work with those people to make sure that we can return them to their country of origin. People who have been found to have a legitimate claim to refugee status we will provide them with the support to transition into the PNG society successfully, that's already happening. As I say there have been without the exact number in front of me, but over 400 people who have moved from Manus back to their country of origin. Now that has happened successfully, but people who are in Manus at the moment, those transferees, will not be coming to Australia.
Journalist: Will PNG accept those who've had adverse security findings?
Peter Dutton: Well that's for the PNG Government to comment on. ASIO obviously conducts their checks. No Australian would expect us to take into the Australian society people who have an adverse security assessment and they would somehow pose a risk to Australian society, people would not expect the Government to do that, is beyond the pale. Now we will take the advice of the security agencies in relation to people who arrive, who overstay for example, we take those assessments very seriously, but in relation to the population on Manus our position is very clear, it has not changed, those people will not be coming to Australia and we'll work to support the PNG Government in relation to issues which ultimately will be their responsibility.
Journalist: Should Peta Credlin resign for the good of the Government?
Peter Dutton: No she shouldn't. And my very strong belief is that over the course of the last 12 months the Government's had a difficult time in the Senate there's no question about that. We've all been frustrated with what is a difficult Senate. I think there are lessons to be learnt by all of us and I think we listen to our colleagues, we listen to members of the public, we learn from those mistakes and we will improve as a Government I am very confident over the course of the next 12 months. But it's been difficult because of the Senate, there's no question about that and the perception of the public for many people is that the Government is what they perceive to be of the Parliament and it's difficult deal with the Labor Party and the Greens who block everything in the Senate, but our job is to make sure we can clear up Labor's mess. People recognise that we've got a tough job to do and we'll redouble our efforts.
Journalist: If people have lost trust and confidence in the Prime Minister, how can the Government sell its message to the people?
Peter Dutton: Well people haven't lost trust or confidence as you put it. I think in this area, my area of responsibility, the area Mr Morrison's presided over before me, the Prime Minister's hand of success has been all over. Our efforts to stop the boats the Prime Minister has very successfully negotiated an outcome to stop the boats that many people predicted wasn't possible… [interrupted]
Journalist: The Prime Minister is being ridiculed around the country for his decision-making, which must make it infinitely harder for you and your colleagues?
Peter Dutton: The Prime Minister has made comments in relation to that matter this morning. My judgement is we need to listen to the criticisms, we need to listen to our colleagues, we all need to improve and we will improve over the course of the next 12 months because we must. We must for the sake of Australian families and small businesses who cannot afford a return of Labor at the next election. So our job is to clean up Labor's mess which is a difficult job, it requires difficult decisions there's no question about that, but the Government has had a large number of successes, the Prime Minister enjoys the confidence of his colleagues and we will continue to fight to keep Labor out of office because it would be a disaster for families, for small businesses and for the Australian economy and that's why we're determined to make a success of the next 12 and 18 months.
Journalist: Do you agree with the decision to make Prince Phillip a knight?
Peter Dutton: Well I made comments on that yesterday and the Prime Minister has addressed that issue again today and I have no further comment to make.
Journalist: What is your response to Rupert Murdoch's comments on twitter about Peta Credlin resigning or stepping away?
Peter Dutton: I don't have any comment to make in relation to Mr Murdoch's comments and I've made the comments that I'm going to make on this issue otherwise.
Journalist: What is the Government's policy towards unlawful non-citizens in the community?
Peter Dutton: Well we have a very definite policy in relation to making sure that people who are not here lawfully or people who have overstayed will be dealt with according to the law. There are a number of people in held detention at the moment who will be returned because they have overstayed for example, or because they've breached their visas conditions otherwise I have stated very clearly that I will be exercising my powers in relation to those people who have committed serious criminal offences who have breached their visa conditions and who should be returned to their country of origin. I made announcements in relation to two such people last weekend. I will be making further announcements in due course. People who commit serious criminal offences, people who are involved in the trafficing of amphetamines or ice to kids, people who are involved in paedophilia, murder or serious crime otherwise cannot expect to stay in this country. It is a privilege to come to this country and people who breach that privilege who don't meet the rights and obligations that Australians expect them to meet, will wherever possible whilst I am Minister, be returned to their country of origin and deported from this country as soon as I can get them out.
Journalist: On the contraband, can you specific about what was taken, were any recording devices taken like phones or video cameras?
Peter Dutton: Well phones or video cameras those issues would come within the definition of contraband within the centre including weapons, homemade weapons if you like that have been fashioned, those are the sorts of items, contraband, that would have been seized by the police during the execution of the search warrants, but again, those are matters for the PNG police to comment on because that's the subject of PNG police investigation in relation to some of those ringleaders.
Journalist: Minister, phones and recording devise are some of the very few ways that we can understand what is going on in these centres, you've criticised - and many of your Ministers have criticised - how the information is being used by different parties and wrong information is being put out. You can't lie on a recording device, are you comfortable for that being on a list of banned substances?
Peter Dutton: Well I'm confident the PNG Government who has management of the Manus facility is acting in accordance with their law and discussions, comments around PNG law is a matter for the PNG Government.
Journalist: The Prime Minister…he says he has learnt his lesson and will be more consultative from now on. Do you believe he's learned his lesson?
Peter Dutton: I believe the Prime Minister will be more consultative with his colleagues and he's listened very closely particularly over the course of the last 24 hours to the Australian public. Tony Abbott is a Rhodes Scholar, he's a bright man, he's a very strong and decisive leader, I watch him regularly in the National Security Committee where he has to make decisions about keeping Australia safe and making decisions which will be in the long term interests of this country and he performs in a way in which all Australians, I think, would be very proud. We have to as a Government deal with the situation and the reality of a difficult Senate. That's what we've been elected to do, we were elected to clean up the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, and it's not an easy task given the massive amount of debt that they ran up, the tens of thousands of people who came by boats, all of these issues have to be cleaned up, but we will clean them up. And by the time of the next election we'll be able to say to the Australian public we cannot afford to return to Bill Shorten and the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd type years where massive debt is run up, we just can't afford it that's the lesson that we've learnt. We have listened to the public, we have listened to our colleagues and we will manage the Senate over the course of the next 12 months and 18 months, as best you can and the position of Labor and the Greens who oppose everything. We'll deal with the independents to get what legislation we can through and I think people realise that it is a difficult situation in the Senate, but we will need to deal with it.
Journalist: Has your government reneged on a deal with Ricky Muir to release children from Christmas Island into the community?
Peter Dutton: No, we haven't. We've had discussions with Senator Muir and Senator Xenophon and I've communicated some information to Senator Lazarus as well. We've honoured the commitment that Minister Morrison entered into. Obviously there the first point to make is the commitment around bringing the children off Christmas Island that was met and it was met by the 20th of December. That was the core of the arrangement with the Senators. There are obviously some children who are part of families who haven't yet had security clearances who are still held in held detention on the mainland. Now we will work with ASIO and the intelligence agencies to make sure that those issues can be dealt with as quickly as possible, but again, nobody would expect the Government to release into the public those people who don't have security clearances and if adults, parents of children, don't have those security clearances then there will be some cases, a small number of cases, where we can't yet release those children who are part of those families into or out of held detention.
Journalist: You have to deal with those cross benches on other issues are they happy with this?
Peter Dutton: Well look I spoke last night, quite late in the night to Senator Xenophon and I've got a very good relationship with Senator Xenophon I caught up with him in Adelaide not too long ago and I'll let him speak for himself, but I think we've got a very good working relationship and I think he appreciates the situation particularly around security clearances, but Senator Xenophon is very, very exercised about getting kids out of detention as we all are wherever possible, but we're not going to be in a situation where we are releasing adults into public where we are not given clearances by the security agencies.
Journalist: Give us a figure on that, do you know roughly how many?
Peter Dutton: I can, just let me come back to that…a figure for you, is there another question?
Journalist: You mentioned a couple of days ago that you'd like a discussion on revoking the citizenship of foreign fighters, are you comfortable leaving people stateless and are you comfortable making a foreign fighter as someone else's problem?
Peter Dutton: The point that I would make as I made during that interview is some Australians decide on bad advice, they're ill-informed and they make a decision to go and fight in Syria or elsewhere. Now I think it's obviously terrible for them, it's terrible for their families and if they come back as a greater threat to our society then it's terrible for our country. The balance that civilised societies always have to take is whether or not rendering somebody stateless is an option available to the Government and the Government's taken a decision, successive governments have taken a decision, that rendering people stateless is not the policy of this Government and the point that I made is that if people believe there is a different course of action that the Government should take then there should be a public debate about that, but the Government's position as we have made people aware, is clear and there is no proposal at the moment to change that.
Now can I just say that there are 7 children of 15, would be the best advice I've got at the moment who are in held detention and we're waiting for security clearances in relation to those people.
Journalist: So there are 15 still in detention?
Peter Dutton: So there's 7 children within a group of 15, so there will be family members, 7 of 15 if you like, that's the best advice that I've got – now some of those numbers shift around a little bit I just make this as a general comment because people are taken out into the community for medical treatment, they're transferring across to another facility, so the numbers move around a little, but that's the best advice I can give you.
Journalist: On another matter, Is Matthew Gardiner now on an international watch list?
Peter Dutton: I'll take advice in relation to that but we don't comment on individuals. And decisions taken by security agencies around watch lists - that is an issue for the Attorney-General and the Justice Minister to comment on?
Journalist: You were talking about criminals and people who aren't criminals who don't against the law who are just generally living in the community and have managed to survive for years. What is the Government's policy on them?
Peter Dutton: Well the department obviously has a number of difficult situations to deal with and there are difficult circumstances around some of those overstays. Some of it may be legitimate misunderstanding of the fact that their visa has run out. In some cases there is a deliberate flouting of the law and so there is a judgment that the department needs to make around the action that needs to be taken. But the law is very clear, if people don't have a legitimate reason to be here, if they don't have a valid visa then we need to work with those people for an outcome and generally that outcome will be to return to the country of citizenship, but sometimes it is difficult as people have been here for a number of years. But the law is very clear and the department will work with those people to get a sensible outcome.
Journalist: Minister, would Matthew Gardiner's passport be cancelled?
Peter Dutton: I just don't have any comment to make in relation to individual cases. The suspension or the cancelling of passports is a matter for the Foreign Minister and I just don't have any comment to make in relation to it.
Journalist: Are you disappointed that during your time as Sports Minister you weren't' able to oversee a time when the ASADA case into Essendon and others wasn't able to be resolved?
Peter Dutton: Well I will leave comment in relation to sports matters, including the great success of Nick Kyrgios and others at the Australian Open to the Sports Minister. The only point I would make is that Ben McDevitt was a great appointment to ASADA and I think he has managed a difficult situation very well. But in relation to the ongoing matters I obviously just don't receive the briefings in relation to those matters. The question is best directed at Minister Ley.
Journalist: There have been some reports and I think it may have been the Ugandan Women's Netball Team were told not to go disappearing in Australia when they come to play in a sporting event this year. I think there might be a few sporting events coming up that… [inaudible]
Peter Dutton: Visas have been issued obviously to participants in relation to events around football and soccer at the moment. Obviously in relation to cricket and netball this year as well and the Department has issued visas to participants within those teams and to support staff. If there are difficulties around overstays or difficulties indeed in the issuing of some of those visas then they are issues that are dealt with by my department and by the section of Sport within the Department of Health or indeed with the authorities and organisers within those particular events. So if there are difficulties, and I am sure we can iron them out, if there are overstays or intelligence around overstays then no doubt the Department will act accordingly. Thank you very much.