PETER DUTTON: I'm pleased here to be here with Assistant Minister Michaelia Cash and also the acting CEO of the Customs and Border Protection Service Mike Outram.
There has been some compliance activity across the country in relation to a number of areas and I just wanted to provide an update to you in that regard.
We have about 33 million movements across our borders each year. That number grows to 50 million people by 2020. We issue 5 million visas a year and we obviously have an ongoing compliance programme which is very important to ensure the integrity within our visa program and to make sure that we can keep our borders secure.
There have been activities in relation to Operation Cloudburst which Minister Cash will speak about in a moment and also the Acting CEO. This was targeting illegal workers in a number of operations around the country that Minister Cash will go into in some detail.
We’ve also had significant change in relation to the composition within the detention network around the country. You will recall that we've been able to close 13 of 17 detention centres because we've been able to stop the boats. And we've been able to see a different composition within the centres as a result. So, only a few years ago in July of 2013 there were 4% of Non IMAs within the detention network. That number is now 41%. So as boats have stopped, obviously the number of people who have come off boats who are in detention that are on the mainland have dropped considerably as well.
But as we've ramped up in terms of tackling grounds of character, we have some people with significant histories who are in the detention centre network. Overnight, a number of people have exited some of those detention centres and have been taken to Christmas Island where there is a more hardened environment in terms of those people.
I'm happy to answer questions in relation to that, but minister Cash will first provide details in relation to Operation Cloudburst and CEO Outram will answer questions as well.
MICHAELIA CASH: If I could just confirm that during the operation a total of 38 illegal workers were located. The breakdown is as follows: 31 were male, seven female, 37 were Malaysian nationals and there was one Chinese national. Seven were located in New South Wales, five in Victoria, four in Western Australia and 22 were located in Queensland. Out of these 38, 32 were unlawful non-citizens, and six were working in breach of their visa conditions.
In addition, two labour hire contractors were also detained during the operation. One individual was an unlawful non-citizen and one of those individuals was a student visa holder, and I can confirm that that visa was cancelled last night. These two individuals are included within the total figure of 38 illegal workers.
Of course though, the success of these compliance activities is not measured by numbers alone, and Acting CEO Outram will shortly take you through the benefits of the intelligence gathering that we have also been able to obtain in relation to these operations.
I also want to stress though, that the majority of employers do the right thing. It is important to remember that.
But the Government also has a very, very clear message to those employers and labour hire contractors who seek to exploit foreign workers, and in particular seek to underpay them. Our message is a very clear one. We will be as tough on you as we have been with those people seeking to arrive here illegally, and we are targeting you.
Visa fraud is a very serious issue. It is taken seriously by the Government, and it is enforced by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection working in conjunction with, of course, the Fair Work Ombudsman.
There is no place in the Australian community for employers or for labour hire contractors who seek to exploit workers, and on that note, I will now hand over to Acting CEO Outram relation to the operation itself.
MICHAEL OUTRAM: Thank you, Minister.
Operation Cloudburst started yesterday morning at 4:30 am in Leeton NSW. The operation has now moved into Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, and was subject of target operations.
Those operations targeted nine different businesses at residences and at farms and poultry and meat processing factories.
They were led by 131 staff from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, including a number of officers from Customs, and we were working in partnership, of course, with Fair Work Ombudsman, and 11 of their staff were with my people in the field. We were also supported by 25 Australian Federal Police and State and Territory Police.
Whilst 38 people were detained because they were illegal non-citizens or in breach of visa conditions, the main purpose of yesterday's activities was to collect evidence and intelligence in relation to illicit activities in this particular sector and the exploitation of foreign workers.
We collected a rich vain of intelligence and evidence, and that collection is ongoing today with further interviews of people who were involved yesterday.
There will be a significant amount of follow-up work, particularly with ourselves and the Fair Work Ombudsman. We are working very closely with the Fair Work Ombudsman to formulate a future taskforce to deal with this issue and what that taskforce will use is use the intelligence and evidence yesterday to develop an operational plan and what you will see is far more boots on the ground as you did yesterday.
As well of course is work with the Fair Work Ombudsman to try to and harden and reduce vulnerabilities through these particular facilities. In addition, where we see fit, we will bring in ASIC, ATO and other State and Territory partners to assist us in this activity.
PETER DUTTON: Thanks Mike. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Can I start first with the Christmas Island transfers. Exactly how many people are being transferred to Christmas Island and are they all being transferred under 501 assessments or other people as well?
PETER DUTTON: For the majority, they will be 501s or other visa cancellations, but people otherwise on a pathway to exit our country.
So there will be as I say an increasing number of cancellations and as we've seen with some disruption activity in Villawood over in the last few days, but also about a month or so ago. Some of those people have quite extensive criminal histories. So in the case where somebody has committed murder, where they've submitted a sexual assault or an armed robbery, a serious crime; at the end of that custodial sentence they in some cases will move into a detention centre awaiting their return to their country of birth.
Their visa having been cancelled, so that's the situation, as I say, which has changed quite dramatically over the last couple of years.
Now, in terms of the numbers, the initial advice that I had was that a group of 35 people were involved, or were the subject of movement. As I understand it, people have gone to other parts of the network, including Christmas Island, but also to other parts where we have more hardened facilities in Australia otherwise, and the latest advice that I have is that there were 23 people who had gone to Christmas Island.
JOURNALIST: Sorry, of those people who were non-501s, are there any asylum seeker candidates amongst them?
PETER DUTTON: There would be in the situation where there had been behavioural issues, if there had been assault of another detainee, if there had been assault of one of the guards, destruction of property. So it’s a decision for obviously the senior leadership team to make in terms of who goes where, the safest environment to try to accommodate those people. So in some cases there would be a situation, but the vast majority of those people will be visa cancellations under 501.
JOURNALIST: So do you know how many asylum seekers would be...
PETER DUTTON: I haven't got that breakdown, no.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what's the implications of having people who have a criminal history or have just been released from jail alongside potentially young people or asylum seekers inside these detention networks?
PETER DUTTON: Obviously there is a management process that’s attached to this and in the department we have a long period of expertise and experience in trying to manage these caseloads and they do change over time, as I point out.
There is also a change in relation to the way in which these centres are managed which in particular comes into effect from the start of Australian Border Force on 1st July.
My desire where possible is to make sure that we have a separate environment operating for those people who have come by boat, then those people who are coming out of jail having committed serious offences.
Having said that, there is some significant security risks around some of the people who have arrived by boat as well. So the managers are, within the facilities need to make professional judgments about where people are best housed, where it's best in their interests, best in the interests of the detainees and ultimately we want law and order to prevail within these centres and that's the management task that people have.
JOURNALIST: Some of these people are being moved to Christmas Island are members of bikie gangs and can you say what gangs?
PETER DUTTON: Well, some of them will have been or are associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs or other criminal gangs.
The Government has been very deliberate in working with law enforcement agencies to find where we have people of poor character that may have been involved in extortion, armed robberies or criminal offences of a serious nature otherwise. If those people are on an exit pathway, if they've exhausted their legal opportunities, then they may well be part of that population.
JOURNALIST: Do you know what gangs are associated with them, what countries are they being sent back to?
PETER DUTTON: I don't have that detail with me, I'm sorry.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask one more follow up question though. The Government indicated in the Budget that Christmas Island was being scaled down and savings associated with that. Is this an indication that the Christmas Island operations may be scaled up again?
PETER DUTTON: No so the Budget announcement reflected that we had factored in already the fact that we were going to use Christmas Island for this purpose in part, and so we're still consistent with the figures that you will see in the Budget.
JOURNALIST: Are any held in the white compound in Christmas Island and can you say what nationalities these people are?
PETER DUTTON: I haven't said what nationalities they are, and frankly I think it's irrelevant. It relates to their behaviours and if they are conducting themselves in an unlawful way, if they are in a detention centre and they are involving themselves in activities that wouldn't be acceptable out in the Australian community, then he will be going to a more hardened environment. So, that's the most important point. I mean it is that this reflects not nature nationality, not their background, but their behaviour and the threat that they pose to others, including guards and detainees. So, that's the approach that we take.
JOURNALIST: And are they going to be held in the white compound?
PETER DUTTON: Look, in relation to any of the operational matters, I don't have any comment.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] got caught with ice, the drug ice in Villawood?
PETER DUTTON: Well, there was some media reporting in relation to that issue. There has been no ice found on the advice available to me at Villawood or other detention centres otherwise, but we have made it very clear we want integrity within the detention centre network.
We want to provide a safe environment for people to spend time in detention if that's the situation that they are in. We want a safe environment for the people who work within these facilities, and we won't tolerate destruction of Commonwealth property, and that's why we've seen this activity taken place within the centres, but activities otherwise across the network, because having integrity in our border protection system is incredibly important.
JOURNALIST: In relation to the raids – I know Minister Cash I think you mentioned a figure with the number of employers who were caught up with this. Could I just check that figure with you and also ask what is your expectation of further action against employers how many more might be caught up in subsequent raids?
MICHAELIA CASH: In relation to the number of labour hire contractors that were caught up, there were two labour hire contractors who were detained during Operation Cloudburst.
In relation to ongoing matters with them, these will now be referred off to the Fair Work Ombudsman if there are allegations of exploitation of workers.
In terms of operations going forward, there will certainly be further operation going forward, but I also want to stress this is business as usual for this Government. We have consistently, since we came into office, been undertaking work in relation to finding those who are exploiting foreign workers, so it is business as usual.
But certainly going forward with this standing up of the Australian Border Force on 1st July, our capabilities are now enhanced and yesterday's operation is an example of how operations will be enhanced.
JOURNALIST: Can you outline in a bit more detail what kinds of businesses these are? I think there was reference that one was a poultry company, one was a farm.
MICHAELIA CASH: I don't have that information at hand but…
MICHAEL OUTRAM: …I could possibly assist with that. There were nine businesses that we targeted and without getting into too many specifics; of those nine they were in the agriculture sector and meat and poultry sector that we were targeting. There were 11 field operations targeting nine different business entities.
JOURNALIST: Were any of those businesses or operations the subject of the recent 'Four Corners' program?
MICHAEL OUTRAM: Three were and the other six were not. So we were already aware of the issue and of course the 'Four Corners' program was cast a light on an issue that we were already aware of and working on, and so six of those companies were not involved in the 'Four Corners' programme.
JOURNALIST: And will you be looking at the agriculture sector more for future operations – is this the focus for you?
MICHAEL OUTRAM: It's one of the focuses. The intelligence collected from yesterday's activities will be analysed and assessed and that will inform our planning now how we go forward operationally.
JOURNALIST: Give us a sense of your understanding if you would, sir, of the scale of the problem, and how much yesterday's raids were a dent in that problem or a tip of the iceberg?
MICHAEL OUTRAM: Assessing the scales is a complex issue, but let me give you an example of some compliance we found. In South Australia with South Australian police, we stopped 51 motor vehicles and checked immigration status of 81 people in those vehicles and every one was found to be in compliance with their visas. There was no non-compliance found there so is it systemic? I can't say I have evidence of that, but is there a problem, yes we are looking at where the problem is and where the vulnerabilities are. And certainly the Fair Work Ombudsman are looking then to to plug those vulnerabilities and to increase awareness and education.
JOURNALIST: The development of a taskforce implies that you seek the problem far larger than what you managed to address yesterday?
MICHAEL OUTRAM: It suggests that we want a more joined-up approach between ourselves and the Fair Work Ombudsman. As I said before, yes you will see more enforcement activity. So we are sort of risk-based, don't want to spread too thinly. Where we see serious non-compliance, then you can expect to see boots on the ground, as you were, but there will be work in the background by the Ombudsman no doubt in terms of their education campaigns and targeting those at areas that they think tightening up.
JOURNALIST: Someone was spoken to yesterday on a student visa. Was that the person the subject of the 'Four Corners' program?
MICHAEL OUTRAM: I can't answer that question in detail, I'm afraid, but certainly there were people spoken to yet on student visas and other forms of visas.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] …the kind of non-compliance in these areas?
MICHAEL OUTRAM: Well certainly there were illegal non-citizens that were found and people who are breach of visa conditions, and people who were paid less than they should have been.
JOURNALIST: Minister there is a meeting on boats tomorrow in Thailand. We are sending our People Smuggling Ambassador. What position will Australia be taking to that meeting especially in light of what Julie Bishop has told Indonesia that the people on the boats were labourers and not asylum seekers?
PETER DUTTON: Well, we will have not only the Ambassador but also the CEO of Customs and Border Protection will attend that meeting as well, so there is a high-level delegation from Australia because we want to provide support where we can.
We want to help people to get a better understanding of the success that we have had in Australia helping to stop the boats and we want to work with our partners across our region, but also in Europe as well in relation to this important issue.
We have a commitment in terms of the aid not only that we provide in the region, but otherwise through the UNHCR and IOM to provide services to refugees, and that they will participate obviously in the meeting tomorrow with all of that knowledge, understanding, background and support that the Government already provides.
I know that scenes have been horrific in terms of the Rohingya that we've seen on TV, but this is not an issue that has been around for the last couple of weeks and this is an issue that has been around for many years. Obviously Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and others are very important players in this space, and obviously Myanmar and other partners including the US who have significant leverage in this area will no doubt have a lot to contribute to discussions and to the broader response to what is a very serious issue.
JOURNALIST: Just on that support, though, is there specific expertise, specific skills that Australia can contribute to the meeting?
PETER DUTTON: Well, there is, but there are ways in which bilaterally we can provide assistance as well, that we wouldn't necessarily speak about publicly at this point in time.
And no doubt there would be partners that we could work with who would want to discreetly understand what it is that Australia has done, what we've done in terms of not only be able to stop the boats and deaths at sea within our own region, but what we've been able to do on the intelligence side of Operation Sovereign Borders and the success we've been able to achieve there in a fairly short period of time.
JOURNALIST: You spoke of the closing of the detention centres but the royal commission into sexual abuse, is saying it will [inaudible] …can I go get a response to that?
PETER DUTTON: Well the 13 of the 17 detention centres have closed, 17 Labor had opened of course because 52,000 people flooded in on 821 boats, and so there was a significant problem.
We've still got over 30,000 people in that case load to deal with and it’s a very significant issue that will take a long period of time to try to provide outcomes.
Either we owe protection or we don't, and try to make arrangements for people to return back to their country of origin, or make arrangements if they are owed protection.
Now, my understanding in relation to the commission of inquiry is that there has been information requested from my Department in relation to activities sum decades ago in relation to accommodation facilities that were operated by the then department in the '60s, and '70s, even further back than that, as I recall. So, the Department will provide whatever information they have, answer any request that is made and provide support otherwise that they have received that question and they will provide the information as requested.
JOURNALIST: Specifically in detention centres, Mr Pezullo said in Estimates that he was aware that there is an investigation into detention centres and sexual abuse in detention centres?
PETER DUTTON: I think what's important - your question is about what information had been requested or what had been asked for, from the Commission.
Now, my advice, as I say to you, the information that has been formally requested by the Commission relates to matters, allegations, obviously serious allegations, some decades ago and will provide whatever other information as I say if there are other discussions or other information requested, the Department will comply in relation to that.
JOURNALIST: Minister, is the Government aware of the presence of a boat carrying Rohingya asylum seekers off Ashmoore Reef?
PETER DUTTON: Well I wouldn’t confirm that one way or the other, as you would appreciate. We have a lot of activity on the waters. We have good cooperation with our partners in the region. We have been able to turn back boats where it's safe to do so and continue with that. But we certainly don't comment one way or another in relation to intelligence that we’ve received or advice that we have in relation to operational matters.
JOURNALIST: Minister, a Victorian Supreme Court has slammed the Immigration Department. He says that officers on Christmas Island are ignoring his court orders. Why are your officers ignoring court orders and what are you going to do to make sure they do comply?
PETER DUTTON: Well, the Department has a whole team of legal advisers and they would interpret orders, advice, directions given, and the Department complies with that advice.
Now, if there are specific concerns, no doubt the Secretary will be able to consider all of those matters, but if the Department has, on its legal advice, an obligation, they meet that obligation.
JOURNALIST: Minister, just on a different matter, where do you stand on reforming the Marriage Act to allow same-sex unions and should the party room consider a conscience vote?
PETER DUTTON: Well my position has been longstanding in relation to this issue. I don't support a change in the definition of the Marriage Act and whether there is a conscience vote or how that's dealt with in terms of parliamentary proceedings is an issue for the Prime Minister or for the House otherwise.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask Michaelia Cash that same question?
MICHAELIA CASH: My position is the same as Minister Dutton. I've always supported the definition of marriage and any matter in relation to a conscience vote is a matter for the Party Room.
JOURNALIST: Minister, two members of the TV Show RuPaul’s Drag Race Brian McCook who’s stage name is Catcher and Brian Fergus stage name Trixie Maxal were due to perform in Australia last weekend but were refused entry and deported, do you know why they were deported?
PETER DUTTON: I don't have detail about it. Was that some sort of advertisement are you generally interested to why they…
JOURNALIST: …no, no they turned up to Australia with what they thought were the correct visas and were refused entry and deported and I want to know if the Department can tell us why?
PETER DUTTON: Well, generally in relation to these matters there is a judgment made about people's histories. I don't know detail in relation to this particular case, whether there is a criminal history or whether there are any issues in relation to previous conduct either here or overseas. I don’t know if this information was shared with partners. If there is information that we can provide to you, I'm happy to do that.
Alright, thank you very much.