Subjects: Kevin Rudd returns to rewrite history; Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill; Regional Processing; protestors at Electorate Office.
Thank you very much for being here today. I wanted to provide a response to Mr Rudd's article that's appeared in the press today and just make some comments in relation to the Governments proposal otherwise.
Look, all Australians are looking to Bill Shorten for leadership and they're not finding it. Obviously Mr Shorten needs to stand up, but in a door stop today he's refused to endorse the words of Mr Rudd or even to make comment in relation to them. And Mr Shorten needs to say to the Australian public whether or not he stands with the Government on this important issue and indeed with the Australian people or whether he stands with Mr Rudd and the people smugglers that Mr Rudd put into business.
This is a very important issue because we don't want to allow people smugglers to get back into business. We have been very clear about the fact that we have been able to stop boats without a successful boat having arrived for over 800 days. We have been able to close 17 detention centres and get 2,000 children out of detention. And we are working very hard with third countries to try and provide options for people to return either to their country of origin or to a third country so that we can remove people from Nauru and Manus in a way that doesn't allow new arrivals to fill those newly created vacancies.
Now, Bill Shorten stabbed Kevin Rudd in the back and it seems to me today that Mr Rudd is trying to return the favour to Mr Shorten because by highlighting the Rudd period of disaster when he was Prime Minister is to shine a light on the fact that 1,200 people drowned at sea, that 50,000 people on 800 boats arrived and that Labor had completely lost control of our borders.
What we saw in the run-up to the last election was, yes, Mr Shorten saying, just like Mr Rudd did in the run-up to the 2007 election, that Labor would be a carbon copy of the Coalition when it came to border protection, but it was demonstrated during the
course of the election campaign with the division within Labor that they have no capacity to deliver on this policy and to continue the success that the Coalition's achieved over the course of the last few years.
I don't want to be the Minister that Chris Bowen was, or Chris Evans or Brendan O'Connor was, where people were drowning at sea and they were putting literally thousands of children into detention.
We have restored integrity to our border process, we have brought in a record number of refugees and we are not going to surrender those wins. We are not going to hand control of our borders back to people smugglers and we are not going to take advice from Kevin Rudd who from the lofty heights of his apartment in New York somehow wants to give us a lecture on how to control Australia's borders when he was the Prime Minister and Mr Shorten was in his Cabinet, at a time when 1,200 people drowned at sea and 50,000 people came on 800 boats.
That is not something we are going to accept and Mr Shorten should be called out as Mr Rudd was called out when he was Prime Minister. And one thing the Australian people know about Bill Shorten is that yes he will do back room deals with union bosses and he did a back-room deal with the union bosses at the CFMEU to get through their last conference, their stitched together policy on border protection.
But if he was ever to be elected Prime Minister the boats would recommence, the deaths at sea would recommence and the detention centres would re-open to house the new arrivals and that is something that this Government won't tolerate and the Australian public should understand was a very significant difference between the two parties when it comes to the approach to border protection public policy in this country.
I'm happy to take any questions.
Is this Bill essential to getting further agreements with third countries? And if so, why is it essential?
Well David it's important for a number of reasons and the Prime Minister and I talked about some of this the other day. We have been able to return hundreds of people back to their country of origin or in some cases to third countries. Where we have been able to talk through their situation, particularly where they are not owed protection and they've returned to their country of origin in many of those cases.
We are down to the hardest of cases where people are negotiating with us, we're talking through individual cases, their circumstances, the fact that they've paid a people smuggler to come to Australia. We're providing financial support, assistance around helping people re-establish their lives in their country of origin, talking about employment, talking about housing, talking about ways in which we can help people restart their lives.
The show stopper though comes when they say, 'well look I'm interested in all of that and yes hundreds of people before me have taken that option, but I'm reading these Facebook messages and these tweets and I'm reading in certain parts of the Australian media that a deal will be done eventually for you to come to Australia and eventually just hold out because the Australian Government will fold and you'll come to this country. That's what you paid for and that's what should happen. You deserve to come to Australia.' Now, that makes it very difficult for us to negotiate with these people.
So there is an imperative in the legislation that we've put forward to provide in black and white the position of the Australian Government which is not going to change. We are not going to allow people that seek to come to this country by boat to settle permanently in this country. We have been very clear about that.
The second point to make is in relation to third country arrangements and I have been consistent in what I've said and I'll repeat it again today and that is that the Government has ongoing discussions with a number of countries and over a long period of time we've been negotiating with a number of nations.
I do want to get people off Nauru and Manus. I have been very clear about that. I wanted to get children out of detention. I've got children out of detention. I wanted to make sure that the boats remain stopped. They have remained stopped. So we are in a position of strength to act and negotiate with third countries.
I'm not going to have any outcome that we put in place undermined by people coming back to our country through a separate visa process. I'm not going to allow an arrangement where people believe that it's ok to enter into what are essentially sham relationships to come to Australia on a spouse visa or through some other means. We are dealing with a defined group of people here, assuming that boats don't recommence, we are dealing with a confined group of people here where there would be a ministerial power under the provision that we're proposing as is the case now.
So, for example, the 30,000 people that are within the 50,000 that are still onshore, the so called legacy caseload, the legacy of Labor's failure during their time in government. I lift the bar and deal with those cases on a regular basis through the ministerial intervention power within the Act now. The Minister for Immigration, whoever he or she is at the time, has the ability to look at individual cases and if there are standout cases then the bar can be lifted, arrangements can be arrived at, circumstances can be contemplated and considered and we can work with those particular cases. That happens now and that's what we propose under the new legislation.
Minister, just to understand some of your thinking behind your third country arrangements, are you looking into dealing with those 3,000 people, there about by, for example, asking these many countries to take them in exchange for taking some of their genuine refugees a bit like the Malaysian people swap? Is that part of the strategy and would that include Indonesia?
Well, Andrew, again, I haven't ruled in or out any country. Over the last few months people have put all sorts of scenarios and countries to me and I've not ruled countries in, I've not ruled countries out and that's quite deliberate because I don't want to prejudice any of those discussions. I don't want to pre-empt any decision or announcement. I want to confirm to you that we are working to an outcome and I don't want that outcome undermined which is the necessity of the legislation that we've put forward.
I don't want an arrangement where people smugglers can go out there and say, 'well look the Australian Government said for so long that if you came by boat you would never come to Australia, but now we've found a way to circumvent that.' I'm not going to allow that to happen because having got children out, my priority now is to get women and children and those family units off Nauru and then the single males off Nauru and Manus. But I'm not going to do it in a way which allows new arrivals to fill those vacancies created and that is why we have taken a tough and consistent approach.
We bring in a record number of refugees each year, but we do it the right way. And we are not going to allow the people smugglers who are part of sophisticated criminal syndicates in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, India, the Middle East and many other countries – we are not going to allow them to get back in control like they did when Mr Shorten was in government with Mr Rudd.
And that is why frankly, it is quite confounding I think to understand or comprehend... I mean why is Mr Shorten still beholden to the Left of his party? I mean why is he in the same predicament that Julia Gillard was and Kevin Rudd was? I mean Labor has learned nothing during the last few years.
We have put on the table and we've demonstrated now a way to stare these people smugglers down and we do not want to enter into any arrangement which is going to undermine that success.
Now, details around - or speculation around any third country option, I don't have any comment further to make in relation to those issues.
Do you expect to get the first refugee settled in a third country other than Cambodia before Christmas, the first of them?
I want us to get an arrangement in place as quickly as possible…
I'm not defining timelines, but I'll tell you what – if there is an arrangement arrived at it will quickly be scuttled if the people smugglers can say, 'look we've found a way around it and we're back to the Rudd days and we're going to be able to take your money, put you on boats. We don't care whether you and your children go to the bottom of the ocean or not. We've taken your money and we're back in business.'
That's the outcome they want. That's the outcome that because of Mr Shorten's weak leadership he would facilitate. It was demonstrated by Gillard and Rudd when they were leaders of the Labor Party. Mr Shorten has to take control of his party and act in the national interest. Not in the factional interest. Not in the union bosses' interests. He only stitched together the deal before the last election because the CFMEU supported him and now is the time for Mr Shorten to show leadership – the leadership that Mr Rudd failed to show and is all sanctimonious from the far-off rarefied atmosphere of his New York penthouse – but he's not going to lecture to us.
We are going to put in place arrangements that will last the long term and recognise the threat that has not gone away. There are 14,000 people still in Indonesia now, let alone those that are prepared to get on boats out of Sri Lanka, Vietnam and elsewhere and you're seeing the deaths in the thousands on the Mediterranean and we are not going to get back into that position.
Minister, one of the substantive points that Kevin Rudd made in his piece was that the PNG deal was supposed to be for a year, the people were only supposed to be there for a year.
Are you disappointed that people have been there for more than a year? Is that why you are driving towards a solution by the end of the year? And just on the politics, the point about a 'Hansonite insurgency,' he called you specifically a political thug. What is your reflection on that sort of personalised language from Mr Rudd?
Well I think the first point to make is that Mr Rudd's language seems to be more polite than it was in recent times, so perhaps he has sombred a little bit in his old age. I wasn't called a rat fornicator or anything else that he might have called people in the past, so credit to Mr Rudd for improving his vocabulary since then.
The second point I suppose is that Kevin Rudd couldn't lie straight in bed and that was demonstrated when he was Prime Minister, it was believed by his colleagues and that view is reinforced by even Mr Shorten who stabbed Mr Rudd in the back. Mr Rudd at the time announced there would be an annual review of the arrangements. So, look to the facts, and the facts quite often defy Mr Rudd's words and in this case, I think Mr Rudd really should be called upon to answer this question: why was there an annual review in place?
When you look at the numbers that were coming during the course of that announcement, the hundreds of boats that were arriving, the thousands of people that were arriving, does anyone believe that Kevin Rudd had in mind that all of that mess was going to be cleaned up within 12 months? I mean it defies logic and Mr Rudd's rewrite of history I think goes to demonstrate even further that the Australian people got Mr Rudd right, that Bill Shorten, in deposing Mr Rudd, got it right – and I think Mr Rudd's comments speak for themselves.
You said that you must have this done as soon as possible. Does that mean we will see a Bill next week for the Parliament to consider before Christmas?
Well Dennis, I believe very strongly that the Parliament should deal with this as quickly as possible. If the Labor Party think that this is going to be shoved off to some committee so that they don't have to make a decision, well, I think that's irresponsible and it would show an ultimate failure of Mr Shorten's leadership.
The Government has to put in place arrangements which will make sure that we continue to see no boats successfully arrive, to make sure that we don't have a recommencement of deaths at sea and that we don't have a reopening of detention centres that we were able to close, that were open during Labor's time.
I want to see this dealt with by the Parliament as quickly as possible. It should be dealt with within days and Mr Shorten needs to come out and tell us that he will support this Bill. We will provide the briefings and the detail to Mr Shorten in the normal course of events, as we would and as we have done in past practice, as was the practice when Labor was in government.
Mr Shorten needs to stand up to the Left of his party. He needs to stand up to them next week. He can't allow this to continue on because there is an urgency in getting this Bill through – the Prime Minister and I outlined that on the weekend.
We're hearing that families are being split apart because some have arrived before the deadline and others after the 13th of July deadline. Would you consider using your ministerial discretion in these particular cases?
We will be sensible in the application of the Ministerial Intervention, as you would expect, but my strong message to people smugglers is that we are not going to allow you to get back into business.
We will work with families, and we've done that in the past, we've demonstrated that. For example, there are people who were here for medical assistance, having been transferred from Nauru, for example, now – and I've taken a decision in relation to some of those families, particularly where they've got young children, to put those people out into community detention so that we don't have them in detention – but they're here for the short-term purpose of receiving medical attention. At the end of that process, the expectation is – and not the expectation, but the demand will be – that they return back to Nauru or in some cases….well let me finish….not families, but single males that have come from Manus, a similar story there.
So the idea of the Ministerial Intervention is that you can provide sensible outcomes. We do that on a regular basis. And I'm happy to look at individual cases. But we may be able to reunite families, for example, to take up third-country settlement options, if that's an arrangement that's appropriate, but I have been very clear – I repeat it again today – if you come to our country by boat, you will not settle here. That is the consistent message which has allowed us to stare down the people smugglers and I'm sorry to say that the people smugglers will be taking advantage of Bill Shorten's weakness this very day, because the longer Mr Shorten delays in making a decision, the longer he capitulates to the Left of his party; it is very obvious, it is very obvious to me that people smugglers will use that to say that, yet again there's an opportunity for people to come to Australia when, really, there's not.
There's a protest going on at your Electorate Office. What do you know about it? And obviously it must be of concern to you that people are getting on your roof at your Electorate Office?
It's a concern to me and it is a concern to my staff because they're subject to these sorts of protests. I'd ask you to carefully have a look at who the people are that were up on the roof. There's one with links to the Labor Party. In fact, I'm advised heavily involved in the Young Labor movement, despite her denials to the contrary – and again, I think Mr Shorten needs to come out today to condemn these actions.
They're dangerous and as the local police pointed out, there were jobs that were queuing up, more important jobs that they needed to go to, to attend to local families and local businesses that needed the police attendance and yet the police resources and the fire brigade resources are tied up at my office.
So, there would have been well over $10,000 worth of police and fire resources spent trying to get these idiots down from my roof, when they should have been off helping local families and local small businesses that have been subject to all sorts of criminal behaviour and crimes and whatnot.
I think Mr Shorten should call these people out. This Labor person that was up on the roof of my office is just one of about 24 or 25 Members in Parliament that have spoken out against Bill Shorten on this very issue. On the issue of border protection and this is why Labor remains divided.
On the subject of that group of people who were once on Nauru and Manus and who are now in Australia temporarily. There has been confusion in recent days about exactly how the visa ban will affect that group. Can you tell us exactly how many people are in that cohort and what will happen to them if this does come into law? Do they get kicked out of the country? What happens to them?
The legislation that we propose says that if you have been transferred to a regional processing country – so that is Nauru and Manus, but that could change if there was a subsequent arrangement entered into, but that's obviously not the case because we have stopped boats – so if you were transferred to a regional processing country, after the 19th of July 2013, then you are subject to the proposal that we're putting forward.
There are people that have come from Nauru and Manus for medical attention and they are in Australia today. Those people are subject to the provisions that we've put forward.
The 30,000 people, roughly speaking, the so-called legacy caseload, those people that are living in the community at the moment on TPVs or SHEVs, on Bridging Visas, those people are not subject to this arrangement if they hadn't been transferred to a regional processing country after the 19th of July 2013.
So if there's any confusion it's in relation to the 30,000 as opposed to the several hundred that are here for medical attention – many have already received their medical attention – and it is also worth pointing out that many of them are here as part of a family for an individual within that family that has received medical attention, but we have been injuncted by the High Court and have been unable for a long period of time now to send those people back to Nauru.
So again, this prolongs the difficulty and the uncertainty and the false hope that is offered out to these people by advocates here, people from The Guardian, others who have irrational thoughts to put forward to what are vulnerable and susceptible people, suggesting to them that somehow they can stay, when they can't. So this is the difficulty that we face.
We have been very clear in relation to the 30,000 if you like or those that are pre-19 July 2013 and we have been very definite about those to whom this applies and hopefully that clarifies it for you.
Would you provide a briefing to the Labor Party as to what your legislation is and to bring Labor under your wing, to help them make a decision on this, especially now that it seems Rod Culleton tenure in the Senate is also going off to the High Court, it may be even tougher for you to get this through Parliament?
Well David, it is not tough for us to get through Parliament because this deserves the support of the Labor Party. We are not in a discussion with Independents because this should be a bipartisan issue. I mean Mr Shorten went to the last election, people voted for the Labor Party because he said that they were a carbon copy and in lockstep with Malcolm Turnbull on border protection and now he is stepping away from that. Now he may have got through the election without the scrutiny that now deserves to be applied because this test demonstrates that Bill Shorten misrepresented his position at the last election. People were misled; the Australian public were misled by Labor when it came to border protection policy.
It is clear to me now that Mr Shorten had this dodgy deal stitched up with the CFMEU bosses at the Labor Conference just to get through the election. He didn't have a plan for after the election whether he was elected or not. The onus is on Mr Shorten now to support this Bill – it is no more complicated than the way in which I've explained it now.
We will provide the briefing, as we always do. We will provide answers to their questions, but the reality is it applies to those people that have been transferred to a regional processing country after the 19th of July 2013. It doesn't apply to children under the age of 18 if they were at that age at the time of the transfer and there is Ministerial power to intervene in special cases – as is the case with most elements under the Migration Act now. It is no more complicated. It requires no more explanation to Mr Neumann and Mr Shorten than that and Mr Shorten is hiding behind the fact that he has a divided party and he needs to, if he can, succeed where Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard failed, but at the moment Bill Shorten shows that he is just as weak and divided on border protection policy as Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd and it is unacceptable.
There's 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers who are registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia and in 2014 Australia stopped accepting those registered with the UNHCR's Jakarta office for resettlement in Australia.
The Indonesian President is coming next week, do you anticipate that the fate for those people will be discussed during bilateral talks and do you acknowledge that Australia might be contributing to the [inaudible] of people jumping on boats by leaving those people in limbo?
Firstly, I look forward very much to the President's visit next week and all of us will look forward to that engagement. It is a very important relationship. It is a respectful relationship and we'll engage no doubt on a number of bilateral issues. I think it's important for us to remind the Australian public that Australia donates more to Indonesia to provide support to refugees in Indonesia than any other country. We have been complemented by the United Nations and the IOM and other NGOs for the support that we provide to people in Indonesia and indeed elsewhere across South East Asia. We provide significant support to capacity building as well, in relation to processes and I had recent meetings with UN representatives on that very front. So there is a lot that Australia does.
In terms of the number of people hopping onto boats; well I point to the fact that it has been well over 800 days now since we've had a successful people smuggling venture. We have turned back less than, just less than 30 boats but we have a situation which is in stark contrast to that which Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard presided over. So that's the picture as it is presented today.
There is so much to the relationship with Indonesia, particularly in my space where we have Counter Terrorism Unit officers working now at our international airports, we have an exchange of information, we have great links between the Commissioner of Australian Border Force and his counterpart, the Secretary and many others where we are able to exchange information on a daily basis. So it is a very deep and abiding relationship and it will be enhanced by the President's visit next week.
Has the legislation actually been drafted yet and if so are you ready to release it?
Yes it has been drafted and it will be released in the normal timetable which means as I advise that Labor will receive that next Monday and similarly with the briefing. That's the intention. That's the latest advice that I've got.
Will you be open to amendments to your Bill if Labor….
David, I am not considering amendments to the Bill because the principles of the Bill are very clear, very straight forward, they are considered. We have taken advice from the appropriate authorities and we have a definite plan to make sure that we put forward legislation which is not going to allow people smugglers to get back into business – and that is the principle aim of what we seek to achieve. I want to get people off Nauru and Manus having got children out of detention and closed the 17 detention centres but I don't want new arrivals – which is what Mr Shorten would preside over if he was Prime Minister today. This is a major demonstration of the weakness of his leadership. He is under pressure, yes, from Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese and the rest. It is very clear.
We don't need to be talking about amendments because that would be a stalling strategy and Mr Shorten needs in the first instance to support this Bill with passage through the Lower House and then for it to be dealt with, with Labor's support in the Upper House.
Minister there's a leaked internal memo suggesting that your Department maybe delaying or frustrating Freedom of Information requests. Is that something that concerns you and what will you be doing about it?
We provide reams of information to The Guardian. I mean the requests are non-stop. We almost have to dedicate extra people, which you would be critical of of course if we were to put additional staff onto answer responses in a timely fashion. But literally reams of information we provide to The Guardian. Now, if there are concerns about process, there is a process to go through and no doubt you will go through that process if you are so-minded, but I don't have any comment to make in relation to it otherwise.
Just back to my question about the UNHCR and those who are registered with it in Jakarta; would the Government consider lifting that ban at any stage on those who are registered with the UNHCR in Jakarta?
Our policy is not going to change. We have been very clear about it. If you look at the flows now, I think you'll see some positive impact out of the decisions that we have made. We want to work with our partners across the region and as part of the Bali Process as well to try and provide arrangements for as many people as possible, but in the end, as the United Nations points out, there are 65 million displaced people and if anybody who is an observer in this space points out that, and it is obvious to point out, what you are seeing in Paris, what you are seeing in Belgium, what you are seeing coming out of Libya, what you are seeing on the Mediterranean, this problem has not gone away.
Australians, like me, want to believe that people smugglers have gone away. They haven't. This problem is with us for our lifetimes and we need to recognise that we will always have irregular movements of people and that people smugglers will take the opportunity because there is money in it, they will take the opportunity when they see the slightest sign of weakness. They saw a weak leader in Kevin Rudd. They knew a weak leader in Julia Gillard and they are seeing every sign of weakness in Bill Shorten and if he were ever to be elected prime minister in this country, there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the boats would recommence.