Subjects: Operation Sovereign Borders update; airstrikes in Syria; GST; Political Polling; Police matter in NSW; Foreign Aid.
Well Ladies and Gentlemen thank you very much for being here. I am very pleased to be here with Air Vice Marshal Steve Osborne who has taken over from Major General Andrew Bottrell. This is the first time that we’ve been able to provide an update in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders which I’ll come to in a minute.
But I wanted to say firstly, thank you very much to Austal. We’ve had a great visit here this morning with Senator Chris Back and Senator Lynda Reynolds. It’s an incredible facility and the $16 million dollar a year contract between Australian Border Force and Austal for the maintenance of our Cape Classes is instrumental to getting the service that we need out of these vessels. We aim for 300 days a year for each of the eight Cape Classes that we’ve got and I’m very pleased to have been able to board St George and to speak with the crew there. It’s a professional body of men and women that we have in the ranks of the ABF and that was on display again today.
So it’s a great arrangement, a great relationship that we have with Austal. It employs local people here in Western Australia, but also across the country in terms of suppliers and manufacturers otherwise. It’s an enduring relationship. We should be doing more maintenance here in Australia and we should be doing more by way of construction and investing in jobs and growth, not only in the WA economy, but across the country so I’m very pleased to be here today.
As I say, I wanted to provide an update today in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders.
I want to report for the first time today that in the month of March we had a vessel on water that was returned and we returned 25 people of Sri Lankan nationality back to Sri Lanka and that marks the 30th boat turn-back in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders which means that about 765 people on 30 boats have now been returned.
This demonstrates to all of us that this threat of boat arrivals hasn’t gone away.
People smugglers messages are clearly still being heard and we need to continue to work with all of our partners throughout the region to make sure that we stare down this threat, to make sure that we disrupt ventures before they get onto water and when they do get onto water, we should be in a position to deal with them as quickly as possible.
I want to acknowledge the work of Operation Sovereign Borders staff led by Air Vice Marshall Steve Osborne, but to all of the crew particularly on vessels involved and in the air otherwise. As we’ve said, we remain absolutely resolute that we won’t see new vessels arrive and we have worked with a number of partners and I’m very grateful for the work they’ve done in relation to this vessel.
I’ll ask Steve to make a few remarks and I’m happy to take any questions.
AIR VICE MARSHALL STEPHEN OSBORNE:
Thank you Minister. I would just like to start by just reiterating what the Minister said in terms of the ongoing success of Operation Sovereign Borders.
Certainly we’ve been very successful for some time now in making sure that no boats have arrived in Australia illegally, but not only that, we’ve also had an impact in reducing the number of attempts which is really good news.
Now while most people would be aware of the people – the men and women in the Australian agencies, all sixteen of them, that contribute to Operation Sovereign Borders – people might not be aware of the work that is also done regionally by our partners who have a shared interest in undermining the threat posed by the people smugglers.
So it’s only in the last month or so, for example, that Indonesia has had some great success in disrupting people smugglers themselves. They have made a number of arrests and a number of convictions which is great news for all countries of the region and I would just like to express my personal thanks and congratulations for the really great work that they’ve done.
But the problem is that they remain those, as the Minister indicated, that will try to test our resolve and our capability, but we are ready.
The Australian Government is able to call upon an unprecedented capability in terms of its maritime response and surveillance capabilities both at sea and in the air. And we will intend, or we do intend to keep using them, to ensure that our borders remain safe, that the people smugglers are put out of business and importantly we lose no more lives at sea. We remain fixed on this requirement and we will continue to see it through to the end.
So on that point though, I would just finish off by saying of course we would not be able to put all of those great capabilities into effect without the work of the men and women across all of those agencies that I mentioned before from the uniform members of the Australian Border Force and the Australian Defence Force right through to the civilians in our public servants who do really critical work behind the scenes to continue to make sure that our borders remain safe and the scourge of people smuggling is removed from our region. Thank you.
Ok. Are there any questions?
The US has conducted a missile attack in Syria. Can Australia increase its military response as part of the US…..[inaudible]……
Well look, my understanding is that the Prime Minister’s receiving briefings obviously in relation to this matter and no doubt the Defence Minister as well and I’ll leave comment for the Prime Minister and or the Defence Minister to make.
But we have been partners, allies with the United States, with the United Kingdom and others for a long period of time and we’ve supported operations. We’ve provided support both on the frontline and within headquarters behind the scenes intelligence gathering – all the rest of it for a long period of time.
But what all of us would want is to make sure that people, particularly in Syria, who have gone through a civil conflict, to have that civil conflict to come to an end and for people to be able to return to their homeland to rebuild and to return to the lives that they once had.
So I’ll leave any comment in relation to the operational matters to the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister.
Just on that, has the National Security Committee of Cabinet met or will it meet to discuss any enhanced Australian…..[inaudible]…….
Well, as I say, I’ll leave any of that to the Prime Minister.
Do you expect this to cause a new wave of refugees?
We know that in Syria already there were six and a half million people who have been displaced by the civil conflict and we know that the situation deteriorates when people are experiencing the sort of outcomes from chemical weapons or attacks on human beings which is completely unacceptable.
And in terms of the detail of the operation, as I say, that’s for the Prime Minister and others to comment on once they have had appropriate briefings, but I don’t have anything to add to that.
Again, I just don’t have anything to add to it.
Just on the GST, WA’s economy is the worst it’s been since the Great Depression according to the Premier. Does the Federal Government have a responsibility to help the state?
Well in terms of GST arrangements and financial arrangements between any of the States and the Commonwealth, that’s an issue for the Treasurer, so any of those questions are best directed to the Treasurer.
Do you think it’s fair though that WA receives 34 cents in the dollar when other states get in excess…….[inaudible]…..
…well as I say, I mean they are issues – economic matters are issues for the Treasurer.
If there are any questions about Immigration or border protection then I’m happy to take those.
Just on polling. A member…..[inaudible]……
Well again, in terms of economic matters I think the Treasurer and others are best placed to comment on those.
One of the things I know is very important to Western Australians is that fact that we keep our border secure. Not too far from the west coast we are dealing with the scourge of people smugglers, with illegal fishers and the fact that we are making a record investment into border protection has resulted in increased detections of illegal fishers.
It has increased the number of detentions of people smuggling ventures. It’s meant, as a result, that we haven’t had any drownings at sea since Operation Sovereign Borders commenced, but as I have pointed out – the threat still remains.
We still have people smugglers trying to take money off innocent men, women and children putting them onto vessels to send them to our country and that’s not acceptable and the Government’s resolve is absolutely resolute.
In terms of my responsibilities around border protection, around immigration, around national security – I think the residents, the people of Western Australia, can be assured of the fact that this Government is doing the very best and will continue to do that
Do you think the Medicare scare cost the Liberals up to six seats at the last Federal election?
Well, in terms of the review by Andrew Robb, I'll leave others to discuss that.
Obviously it's an issue that's being contemplated by the Federal Executive, and that's an issue for them. I haven't seen the report.
I can tell you from my own seat, I had women in their eighties coming up to me in pre-polling in tears because they had been harangued by union thugs on the telephone overnight, telling them that Medicare was going to be privatised, it was going to be sold off, that the services wouldn't be provided to them.
Well, the election was last July; we are investing more in Medicare every day. Bulk billing rates are up, we are putting more into public hospitals, more into the Medicare system, the health system in general. So it demonstrates the lies that were perpetrated at the time by Labor, by GetUp, by the unions, because they were scaring people. But I think we've demonstrated since that time, since the July election, that of course none of that has come to fruition and that's why I think people should apply a huge level of scrutiny to anything Bill Shorten says, because clearly he's not a person that can be trusted.
There was a murder in Queanbeyan in New South Wales overnight. Is there any suggestion that that was terrorism….[inaudible]…..
I don't have any information in relation to a murder in Queanbeyan. That's an issue for the ACT Police and I just suggest you should contact them.
Do you think that Tony Abbott played a negative role for the Liberal Party at the last election?
Well, as I say, I haven't read the report. The report is being provided to the Federal Executive today; it's been undertaken by Andrew Robb.
All of us share our responsibility in relation to election wins, election losses, seat wins, seat losses. In the end, though, what we're absolutely united in doing is defeating Bill Shorten at the next election, because if the CFMEU get in control of the Treasury benches that will be a disaster for families and small businesses across the country.
We have delivered a tax cut which is going to be a benefit to small business, so that they can employ more apprentices and more local staff in plants across the country that would rely on work being subcontracted out from a company like Austal here.
That's what our Government is doing. We are getting on with supporting families, supporting business, growing jobs.
We are doing a lot of work in the energy space, to the credit of the Prime Minister and Josh Frydenberg and others sitting around the Cabinet table.
And I think people should look at the claims being made by Bill Shorten and others, because at the moment Bill Shorten is the master of the scare campaign but, as they demonstrated when they were in government, Labor has no ability to deliver for families.
They ramped up debt; we are dealing with the consequences and the hangover of Labor's debt even today, and we will be for many years to come.
Nationals MP Kevin Hogan has called for foreign aid to be redirected to flood-affected communities…. [inaudible]…...
Well again, I mean, foreign aid is an issue for the Foreign Minister to comment on.
We are providing record amounts of money to local communities, and we will do that across the country. I know the Justice Minister, Michael Keenan, has been involved in briefings every day in relation to floods and natural disasters, and obviously the Commonwealth plays its roll along with the local and state authorities to try and restore what has been damaged, to try and mitigate flood damage in particular from reoccurring.
As we've seen in Rockhampton, our investments in the road network up there has meant that a section of the Bruce Highway that was flooded previously won't be flooded this time. So there's a lot of work that's already underway and no doubt that'll continue.
Just on the vessel that was returned this month, when can you say any more details as to when and where that happened?
No, I don't have any more details to provide in relation to the vessel. Twenty-five Sri Lankan nationals were returned to Sri Lanka. The vessel has returned – or the people were returned in March, and that's the only detail that I can provide you at this time.
Alright, thanks very much.