Thursday, 20 June 2019

Press Conference, Sydney

Subjects: Malaysia flight MH17 investigations; Labor's Medivac legislation.



[audio begins]

…and obviously the families can absolutely continue to suffer and our thoughts and prayers are with those people, but today I want to pay real tribute to the investigators, those people that have been involved from the Federal Police, particularly in gathering together the forensic picture. It's a very daunting crime scene, of course, and we've had people operating right around the world in relation to this effort and the 500 officers that have been involved I think really deserve credit.

The Australian Government's contributed about $50 million over the next four years to help with the prosecution and the work of the AFP really I think has been instrumental in the outcome that we've seen announced most recently.

Secondly, I wanted to make some comments in relation to the Medivac Bill. It's now time for Mr Albanese to come out from hiding and to clean up Labor's mess. This law is Labor's law and Mr Albanese needs to clean it up. The Medivac Bill was designed without any advice from the agencies, without any advice or understanding of what the implications would mean or what those implications would do in terms of not only bringing people from Manus and Nauru, but also what signal that would send to people smugglers across the region.

So I am worried by this most recent court decision and I am awaiting advice at the moment in relation to our appeal prospects – either to the full Federal Court or to the High Court – so we'll wait and see what that legal advice has to say. But it's inconceivable that a sovereign government doesn't have the right to say who is going to come to our country and don't have the right for those people who return back once medical assistance has been provided.

Now an important point to make is that people were already coming to Australia for medical assistance where it was required and that's the case today. We have provided medical support to people either in Nauru or on Manus Island and if people need to come to Australia to be provided with that support, we provide it to them. So the Medivac Bill was only ever about trying to subvert the Government's border protection policies and bringing people to our country and I do fear that this opens the floodgates, which is something the Labor Party promised at the last election that they wouldn't do.

The Labor Party has created a massive mess here and this is Labor's law and Labor should support the Government to move in the Senate to revoke this bad law because it sends a bad signal when you have a country like ours being dictated to by doctors who can say that people must come here regardless of their background. The law is deeply flawed – this is not the only flaw in this law – but it's been highlighted by the Federal Court Decision and for that reason Mr Albanese needs to provide support to us in the Senate to see this bad law repealed because otherwise, the next arrival will be on Mr Albanese's shoulders.

I've been very clear about the fact we had a recent trip to Sri Lanka where we spoke to the Sri Lankan authorities, Naval intelligence and got a better understanding of what was happening in that part of the world and the fact is that boats were at sea already, anticipating a Labor government out of the most recent federal election and there are others that are in the planning.

So, Mr Albanese is sending all the wrong messages here and he needs to come out and say whether or not he's going to support the Government in our efforts in the Parliament.

Happy to take any questions.


Minister, you say that opening the floodgates is a possibility. The fact is Medivac only applies to those currently on Manus and Nauru. Why is it not sort of scaremongering to say that this could lead to a whole host of new boat arrivals?


So a few points to make here. I mean the first point is that, as I'm advised, not only does a doctor, or the two doctors; not only do they not have to see the patient themselves, the patient doesn't even need to provide consent. So I'm not even aware that some of these people on Manus and Nauru know that these advocate doctors are putting forward their cases for consideration. So if you've got a situation where people aren't even asking for their case to be considered – that is for them to come to Australia – then it is a deeply flawed process.

Now, two points to make in relation to why it creates a pull factor. One is that when I came to this portfolio in December of 2014, there were 1,035 people on Manus and 895 on Nauru. We're down to 512 on PNG and 320 on Nauru because we've been able to strike the deal with the United States and we've been able to provide medical support to people where it is required. We've done it in a managed way, in a way that hasn't started boats. Now, do you think the people smugglers are going to be up there explaining to innocent men, women and children who were prepared to hop onto boats, that somehow, you know…please read the fine writing within your contract that this doesn't apply to you… you've heard this message that people are coming in significant numbers off Manus and Nauru, but that it won't apply to you as a new arrival – I mean do you think that nuance is going to be explained to people by an organised people smuggling syndicate? Of course it won't. And similarly, if you've got people coming in significant number off Manus and Nauru, then you do have a pull factor. That's the reality. We've seen it in the past.

Now, Labor promised a lot of things before subsequent elections in recent history that they wouldn't change policies, that they wouldn't pull boats here into Australia; the fact is, they did: 50,000 people came on 800 boats and 1,200 tragically drowned at sea.


Medical professionals still have to view their case and view their medical history with an expert panel overseeing the medical professionals. Don't you trust the medical professionals to do the right thing by the Government and also by the patient?


These aren't doctors who have even seen the patient. These aren't Government doctors. They aren't panel doctors. They are any two GPs and if you look at the advocacy record of some of the doctors that are involved in putting some of these cases forward, then I do think that is problematic.

So no, I don't accept the process was broken because we were already bringing people here or providing them with medical attention on Nauru or Manus, as may be the case, and the Medivac Bill was designed not to try and provide for people to be brought here because they already were for medical assistance – in fact over 1,000 people have come to Australia from Manus and Nauru, which includes people who might be in a support role for somebody who is seeking medical attention to come to our country – so the thought that people weren't coming here for medical attention already is a complete absurdity. It was designed to try and keep the left of the party quiet for Mr Shorten whilst they got through an election campaign. People obviously thought that there was going to be a Labor government, which is why we'd seen very few applications. When Mr Shorten lost the election, then things obviously have changed and we're now seeing these advocates back in the space.


Minister, how any people have come over under the Medivac legislation? Is it, I think 30? Is that the figure…


…that's the number that I'm advised of. So there are people that are in the pipeline, there are people that have arrived, there are applications that I understand are underway or some that need to be considered as well and what you've done now through this court decision, which is only interpreting the law as it was provided by the Parliament – deeply flawed as it was at the time – that you have a greenlight scenario that we didn't have before and the fact that we're now opening up to cases where doctors don't even have to have consulted the patient – I don't know how old the records are that these doctors can rely on, I don't know whether the patient's been consulted about whether he or she gives their consent to this application being made on their behalf – Labor has created a dog's breakfast and it's up to Mr Albanese to clean it up.


Is there any indication though – you talked a little while ago about this being a pull factor – so just before when I asked that question, I was going to ask you: of those 30 people how many, if any, have sought injunctions preventing their return?


I don't have that advice, but it's a common occurrence of people that have come that will seek that injunction.


In terms of the activity offshore that you've seen…that has resulted as a consequence of the Medivac law, can you talk in a little bit more detail about that? I mean, are there serious or tangible indications that some of these networks are revitalising on the back of this Medivac legislation as was feared when it was passed? I mean have you seen…I mean there's always chatter, but is there anything beyond that I suppose?


I'm not going into all of the advice of the intelligence obviously that we were briefed on, but suffice to say, the vessel that got in trouble had 41 people on and to the Sri Lankan's credit, coordinated with our AMSA people, they were able to come and rescue those people. Now, they were on their way to Australia.

There was another vessel of 20 people that ultimately we were able to return back to Sri Lanka. They were coming here because they thought there was going to be a change of government and therefore a change of policy. I think what people need to understand is that these are very sophisticated individuals and networks in terms of their use of social media. They look at and read, watch all of the commentary that I make, that the Prime Minister makes, that the Opposition makes because they're not reputable people and the thought that they're going to convey that there are blockages in place, or that there are policies which will prevent new arrivals from going to the US or coming to Australia; that's lost on them and quite deliberately.

So what they do is, essentially by using propaganda, manipulate our words into what they believe people will see as an opportunity to pay money and hop on a boat and they did that with the most recent election. They told people that there was going to be a change of government. They were able to broadcast those messages off websites that were carrying that news or the prospect of that outcome back here, and they were able to lure people on to boats.

Now, I've sent a very clear message across the region because again they were spreading that with the change of government that we weren't going to return people back to Sri Lanka, or that somehow since the attacks up in Sri Lanka that there would be no returns accepted by the Sri Lankan Government – so by the quick return of the 20 I think we spelled that very quickly and clearly that we still had the ability to return people that attempted to come by boat. So that's the way in which they operate their business and to think that they're not trying to put ventures together now, there, or in Vietnam, or parts of the Middle East or in Indonesia, is to deny the reality.


Were they trying to get those ventures together on the back of Medivac disinformation or is it other forms of disinformation?


What they do is – and I had this briefing when I first came to this portfolio – is that they will watch every public debate that takes place in this space and they feed it out, they circulate it to the network of people that they have on social media or by word of mouth otherwise. That includes the prospect around the Medivac laws – it will be easy to come to Australia – and the real threat that we've got is, out of the people that remain, I want those people where they're found to be owed protection and the United States accept them; I want them to go to the US. I want them to return to their country of origin where they have been found not to be refugees. I don't want people with criminal records or people that have serious allegations against them coming under the Medivac Bill because all of that will paint a very different picture than what the Government's been saying up until this point; that if you get a couple of hundred people to come as a result of the Medivac Bill, and they come to Australia, then that is problematic for us to say the least.

So if you think they're only partly active now or that they might be pushing this message and that; if there are hundreds of people who arrive under the Medivac Bill, then that is going to cause us serious concerns in the messaging that then goes out to Indonesia and Sri Lanka and elsewhere because we've been very clear that people will not permanently settle in our country.


You say that the Federal Court ruling will lead to an influx of asylum seekers, but Labor says that you, as the Minister, will have the final say over who can come in. Can you just clarify…?


…I've seen these comments from Labor; they're false. There are two instances where somebody can be stopped. The process is that the application's made. The two doctors make the application. It can be considered. There's a medical review panel that can look at it – I think generally you would expect the medical review panel would overturn a Minister's decision that refuted the original claim made by the two doctors – there are only two circumstances where you can then stop someone: where there's a national security advice – which is impossible to get within 72 hours, as you would expect – and the second scenario where somebody's been convicted of 12 months or more of a particular offence. So the talk from Labor that somebody of bad character could be stopped from coming here is a complete nonsense.

Somebody that we have intelligence on for example, or somebody that's faced a charge domestically in PNG for sexually assaulting a young girl or in a relationship with a minor, that person comes here under Labor's law and Labor shouldn't pretend otherwise. I know that they're going around with all of this misinformation; oh the Minister can stop; they can't stop that person. The Minister of the day cannot stop that person. Labor knew that when they enacted the legislation and they're seeing it unfold now by its interpretation in the Federal Court and it's even worse than what we first imagined.


The ultimate solution of course to the problem is to clear out the caseloads on Manus and PNG, and I appreciate that the Government has made inroads in doing that. Do you envisage emptying Manus and Nauru of those remaining 800-odd people in this present term of government?


I would like to get them out overnight, right. I didn't put a single person on Manus or Nauru. I've got all of the children off Nauru and we've got the children out of detention that Labor put into detention here on the mainland, but it's the policy of both the Government and the Labor Party that if a boat of 100 people turned up tomorrow, including 30 or 40 children, that they would all go to Nauru. Okay. That's the policy.

Those people are not subject to the United States offer where we could have up to 1,250, but it's only for people on Manus and Nauru now.

Now, if you're from Iran and you've been found not to be a refugee and you're on Manus Island at the moment, the Tehran authorities will not issue travel documents to that individual unless they willingly want to return back to Iran. So they don't go to Iran. The United States won't take them because of their character and what they've done up on Manus Island, or for other reasons that the US have a sovereign right to exert and we've said that they're not coming here. So where does that person go? And this is the difficulty. Whilst there is this false hope held out to them that they can come to Australia because of a medical need or they'll end up in New Zealand or they'll end up in Sydney or Melbourne otherwise, it undermines our ability to negotiate with these people to send them back. They're being told constantly by advocates here: don't accept the package. Don't take the financial support to return back to Iran to start your life again and so these people for years have been living in false hope. So my desire is to get the number on both islands down to zero as quickly as possible.

Now, I'm not going put timelines on it because I just think that plays into the hands of others. My desire is to work through each individual case, as we've done already. We've been able to halve the numbers that are up there. I want to bring it down to zero, but there's no sense bringing it down to zero if a boat arrives with 100 people on, kids are back in detention. If they get through successfully, you'll see more boats that follow and you'll see deaths at sea again because it will become unmanageable and I'm not going to allow us to get back to that situation.

I've been able to bring more people to Australia in the last 12 months or so than any year in the last 30 years with the Syrian intake, with the people that we've taken out of Afghanistan, Iraq, etc and we'll continue to take people – we're a very generous nation – but we aren't going to allow people to arrive without documents, people that we don't know even what country they come from, we don't know whether they've got a criminal history or not. We're not going to get back into that position.

Now, if you bring 300 people here or 200 or 100, whatever the number is, as a result of Labor's laws with the Medivac Bill, that will send a green light message to those who are waiting to hop onto boats now and we'll be back to square one and that's not what we're going to allow to happen.


Minister, while around 30 people have taken advantage of Medivac, there's figures around potentially hundreds of thousands of people who are seeking asylum via Tourist visas, coming in via plane on a tourist visa, staying here, getting a Bridging visa while they seek asylum. Are boats an easy way to potentially use as a scare campaign to the public while potentially hundreds of thousands are coming through the front door?


Well again, I wouldn't fall for this Labor line, right. That's my advice. I know that Labor's been out there peddling this line, but have a look at the facts of it.

So we have a growing number of international students, of tourists coming to our country – that's a great thing, we want all of those numbers to increase – as numbers increase, of course you'll get an increase in all sorts of categories of people that arrive, claims that they make, whatever it might be. So you would expect that as the numbers grow in real terms.

If I was the Labor spokesperson in relation to Home Affairs, what I'd want to do is talk about anything but boats, and so I'd throw out red herrings and this is one of them. So let me give you these figures, just so that we can put this to bed because again, you know, they put all of these claims out there, but nobody does the research to question the veracity of these outrageous claims.

So between 14-15 and 17-18, 64,362 people arrived by air and subsequently applied for protection. Over the same period; 7,600 were granted a Protection visa, which is a refusal rate of 90 per cent. Now if you've hopped onto a plane, you've got travel documents. We know who you are. We're able to work with Interpol or the country of origin to determine whether that person is a threat. We can look properly at their backgrounds. But you've got a 90 per cent refusal rate and you've got a situation where we can return those people back, but 7,600 people over that three or four year period – give me a break – and that's a different prospect that if you've got somebody coming without travel documents, without a passport, without a valid visa or worse case you've got somebody who then drowns at sea – we don't have people drowning on planes coming in to Australia – we are able to manage because we have Airport Liaison Officers in Dubai, in major hub ports so that we can offload people where we know there is a threat – and people who come, where they have genuine documentation we can deal with them.

So all I would say is the next time the Labor Party throw up this rubbish, ask them the question of how they can justify making such a statement, but I will tell you what it's about; it's about not wanting to talk on Labor's legacy. Labor's law is going to send a green light to people to hop onto boats to come again. This Government is not going to allow it happen. We can abolish this bad law that Labor created if we can get the Labor Party's support in the Senate. So Mr Albanese needs to come out of hiding, say whether or not he will support the abolition of this law. If he doesn't, every person that arrives after that decision will be on his shoulders.

Thanks very much.