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Friday, 21 July 2017
Transcript

Press Conference, Brisbane

Subjects: Labor Party divisions over border protection policy; Labor's legacy caseload; US resettlement of refugees from Nauru and PNG.

E&EO…………………………………………………………………………………………..

PETER DUTTON:

Well everyone thank you very much for being here. I wanted to make a couple of comments in relation to border protection matters. Look, it's clear that the Labor Party's been presiding for a long time now, over a giant lie to the Australian people when it comes to Operation Sovereign Borders and stopping boats. When we came into Government, Kevin Rudd had really set up a big mess for us and we have taken a long time to clean that mess up and it's not yet cleaned up. Instead of trying to correct the record by way of his imagination yesterday, Kevin Rudd should have been apologising to the Australian people because by undoing John Howard's policies in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders, we saw 1,200 people drown at sea and 50,000 people came on 800 boats and there was no end in sight, there was no plateau of the number of boats and people arriving. And as we have seen since, across the Mediterranean, across Europe, this is a problem that continues and would have only compounded under Rudd's failed policies. 

Now yesterday Mr Rudd came out and made some ridiculous statements. Now I didn't call Kevin Rudd a liar yesterday, but it's clear that Members of the frontbench of the Labor Party were sent out by Bill Shorten to do exactly that. Now, that's not good enough for Mr Shorten because Mr Shorten tried to hood-wink the Australian public at the last election to say that he was in lock-step with the Coalition in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders – bearing in mind that there are three successful limbs to Operation Sovereign Borders: one is the implementation of Temporary Protection Visas – which Labor opposes to this day and they did it the last election.

The second limb is turning back boats where it's safe to do so. Labor says that they support that, but does anybody believe that the weakest man in Parliament Shayne Neumann would have the mettle to turn back boats where it's safe to do so? Of course not.

The third limb to the success of Operation Sovereign Borders has been regional processing and that's the focus of Mr Rudd's comments and now the Labor frontbench comments. The reality is that we've got 24 members of the Labor Caucus – at the latest count – who are opposed to Operation Sovereign Borders and would be Members in a Labor Caucus in a Shorten-led government that would pressure a prime minister Shorten to undo Operation Sovereign Borders, which would certainly result in the recommencement of boats.

Now, if people think that this problem has gone away, that somehow we've stopped the boats, they're never to restart again, then they don't understand history. The reality is since Operation Sovereign Borders commenced we have turned back or dealt with 31 boats and had those 31 boats got through, hundreds and hundreds of boats would have followed. So this problem has not gone away. I can tell you that the intelligence, the advice to me is very clear in relation to activities across South East Asia where people are trying to put syndicates together now, trying to take money off men, women and children to get on to those boats, exactly in the same way that they did during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years.

And the test today is for Bill Shorten not to send out his henchmen to call Kevin Rudd a liar, but for Mr Shorten actually to have the guts to stump up to do it himself. And if Kevin Rudd is suggesting – as Bill Shorten did at the last election – that somehow Labor's policy would be the same as the Coalition's, it's a nonsense.

Mr Shorten has to stand up today to say whether he supports the three limbs of Operation Sovereign Borders because we know for a fact that he doesn't support Temporary Protection Visas – he wasn't able to get that through the Caucus – and what is unravelling at the moment is Labor's pretence that they support a tough border protection policy.

Now, Anthony Albanese was the Deputy Prime Minister under Prime Minister Rudd at the time when this deal was done between Mr Rudd and the PNG Prime Minister, Mr O'Neil. So Anthony Albanese has a lot of explaining to do as well. There are many Members of Labor's frontbench who were sitting around that Cabinet table with Kevin Rudd when they presided over this disaster and for Bill Shorten to send out, you know, second-rate and third-rate players within the Labor Caucus to try and do his bidding – where was Bill Shorten yesterday? And he needs to front the media today to answer these fundamental questions because if he is calling Kevin Rudd a liar, then we need to understand whether or not Labor's true policy intent was to bring people after 12 months to Australia. We don't know whether that's the case frankly – I mean there are views on both sides of this argument – if that had been the case, which clearly is in contravention with Kevin Rudd's words at the time, and certainly in contravention of the agreement signed in black and white by the two Prime Ministers at the time, then it shows that the Australian people were deceived – the Australian people were deceived and the people smugglers would have been back in business had Mr Rudd honoured the intention obviously that he'd given privately to the Left of his party to bring people here after 12 months because the boats would have recommenced.

Don't forget people were only put on Manus and Nauru by the Labor Government at the time because they couldn't control a thousand people a week that they were pulling off boats up around Christmas Island.

There is a lot of scrutiny that needs to be applied here. Mr Shorten tried to skate through the last election by pretending that this issue had been dealt with; don't ask me questions answer it, our position is the same at the Liberal Party – well it's not – and I think Kevin Rudd's comments in the last 24 hours demonstrate that the Labor Party remains completely fractured on this fundamental issue and as we have always said; if you can't have secure borders, you cannot have a secure nation.

I think Mr Shorten needs to stand up today to answer these fundamental questions and I hope that he'll do that sooner than later.

Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST:

On Kevin Rudd's comments, you said yesterday that he was lying about Labor's policy while Scott Morrison said he revealed the truth about it; which is it?

PETER DUTTON:

Well the point is that we don't know because Kevin Rudd is the master of deception. He's rewritten history. We've got his words in black and white that say one thing; that is that people would be there for 12 months and that it would be reviewed on a 12 monthly basis. What was to happen to these hundreds of people, these thousands of people after 12 months? So the Iranians who can't be returned back to Iran unless they voluntarily return so what was he proposing to do with these people? I mean how were they magically going to disappear off Manus Island? Were they coming to Australia? Were they not? I mean we don't know. Now all of us can draw conclusions, but in the end the most important question here is for Bill Shorten. He sent his people out – Richard Marles who's one of his closest confidantes yesterday – sent Richard Marles out to call Kevin Rudd a liar. Anthony Albanese has done much the same, perhaps in slightly different words, but nonetheless has questioned Mr Rudd's account.

Now what it shows, what it shines a spotlight on is the fact that Labor remains deeply divided when it comes to border security issues – and this problem has not gone away, I promise you that, we are dealing with it every day – and for Labor to pretend one thing in the run-up to the election, if they try and do that in the run-up to the next election, the Australian public can be assured of one thing; that is that Labor is divided in Opposition on border protection policy and if they get elected they will have a policy of starting the boats again.

Our policy has been to stop the boats. It's clear Bill Shorten's policy is to start the boats. If he can't contain his own backbench and his own Caucus, he's not going to be able to stare down the people smugglers.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Dutton on the legacy caseload, the October 1 deadline, SBS has been in touch with quite a few pro bono legal services and they're telling us that they are inundated with requests for help to fill out the forms and they just can't cope. Do you really belive that you will be able to keep your non-negotiable October 1st deadline?

PETER DUTTON:

That deadline remains and people should know very clearly that it's not going change. So I will give that message very clearly now. I've given a deadline, there are people that have been in the system now for a long period of time that have been given many opportunities to furnish information in relation to their claim.

I'm not going to have people taking positions out of what is a very generous refugee intake, out of that programme for people who are non-genuine refugees. When you look at the case of the Yazidi women that we visited in Wagga, when you look at the cases of other people who have come out of the Middle East who have faced persecution, many of those women have been sold into the sex trade and have been traded by ISIS, thousands have been slaughtered – there's been a genocide that has taken place – and the thought that we are going to displace those people out of the programme to provide support to people who are economic refugees is a nonsense and it's not going to happen under this Government.

I've been very clear that people have had time to furnish information, to legitimise their claims. If they can't do that, then I've been very clear about the timelines that are involved.

JOURNALIST:

The people though, it's causing a lot of distress, especially amongst women with children who are coming here as women with children with no males to support them and they're having a lot of difficulty, not just processing their visa, the applications, but the applications of the children as well as causing a lot problems and distress. How do you feel about that?

PETER DUTTON:

I feel that we have a programme, that second to Canada, is the most generous in the world right, so let's deal with the facts. We have an incredibly generous programme. We bring people in in record numbers. We had the 12,000 Syrian intake, but in total we have taken from Syria and Iraq some 22 or 23,000 people I think the figure now is. So we are doing as much as any country in the world.

But people who come and can't make out their claims, in some cases won't even answer questions about their identity, they are not staying. I have been very clear about it and I have been very firm about it and that is going to remain.

We are a generous big-hearted nation, provide support to refugees – 865,000 people since the Second World War – but we are not going to be taken for a ride. I have been clear that people have had multiple opportunities to furnish information, to provide the information that has been requested by my Department and for a long period of time, people have refused to engage in that process. They have been on welfare in interim. They have been told by advocates not to furnish information, that somehow there will be a change of policy. There will be no change of policy under this Government; I have been very clear. We are not going to allow boats to restart and we're not going to allow economic migrants to take the place of legitimate refugees.

JOURNALIST:

But wasn't there a pause also on processing these applications that has only just recently been [inaudible]?

PETER DUTTON:

I have dealt with that issue. Are there any other questions?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Shorten says he will fight inequality as his main message heading into the election. How does the Government respond to that?

PETER DUTTON:

What does that mean? What does Bill Shorten mean by these mealy-mouthed words? Let's see the actions. I mean let's look at not what Bill Shorten says because that's what happened with Kevin Rudd, let's look at his actions. The test for Bill Shorten is to understand what Labor's policy is on one of the most important national security issues.

Now we had 50,000 people arrive on 800 boats. It has cost us to date $14 billion. It is costing us just shy of $2 billion a year in relation to the legacy caseload, in relation to the management of Labor's problem and this is going to go on for a period of time – because as we point out there are 30,000 people still within the legacy caseload of 50,000 – so this is a problem that is going to endure for a long period of time.

But the Australian public thought they heard Bill Shorten say at the last election that his policy on boats was the same as ours. It is not. Bill Shorten's policy effectively means that the boats start again and if the boats start again people drown at sea again, kids go back into detention and the detention centres reopen – sure as night follows day, that's what happened – Bill Shorten went into the election saying one thing and does the opposite now. Kevin Rudd went into the 2007 election saying he would adopt John Howard's policies, he undid them. This is the reality that the Labor Party faces within their own Caucus. This is why 24 Members, at least that we know of publicly, have spoken out against our policy on Operation Sovereign Borders.

Mr Shorten needs to come out today to say whether or not he believes that Kevin Rudd is a liar because that's what he sent Richard Marles out to say yesterday. So let's hear from Mr Shorten today.

JOURNALIST:

With the legacy caseload, the ones who come from places like Iran, like you mentioned that can't be sent back, but don't complete by the October 1 deadline, what will you do with those people?

PETER DUTTON:

We have already got a process in place. I think the reality is that a large majority of people have engaged actively knowing the deadline and knowing that we aren't just going to allow a continuation of people on welfare benefits. The Australian taxpayers work hard for their money. They're very willing to support people that have legitimate claims to make and as I say we are one of the most generous nations in the world, but in relation to these people who refuse to engage then we have been very clear. We have an October deadline. In terms of benefits that are provided thereafter, that's what comes into question. And if people can't make out their claims to be legitimate refugees, then we will work with them to return back to their countries of origin because if people can't make out a claim, we're not going to allow them to take a place in a very generous programme, but still with a finite number of places that should otherwise be taken by somebody who does have a legitimate claim to make.

JOURNALIST:

This weekend is the LNP conference in New South Wales. Labor says they will see a cage fight between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, what is your response to that?

PETER DUTTON:

Well I think you've seen a pretty good cage fight in the Labor Party in the last 24 hours. The fact that Richard Marles runs out to call Kevin Rudd a liar, being pushed out onto Sky television by Bill Shorten, I mean that's quite a remarkable outcome and Bill Shorten, why does he need somebody else to do his dirty work? He needs to come out himself today. Does he support Richard Marles' comments? Does he believe that Kevin Rudd was lying? Does he believe that Kevin Rudd has manufactured this account? Does he think that Kevin Rudd has rewritten history? Does he believe in the three limbs that have made Operation Sovereign Borders a success? Or is he going to, as Kevin Rudd did, deceive the Australian people in the run-up to an election? Because at the moment the Labor Party is completely and utterly within a civil war on Operation Sovereign Borders and border protection policies – and that is what happened when Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister – the boats restarted and it is a big part of the reason why Labor got kicked out of office.

JOURNALIST:

But is there a problem between Turnbull and…

PETER DUTTON:

…well I don't have any comment to make in relation to the Liberal Party State Conference. We had a very successful LNP Conference here a week ago. So I don't have any comment to make in relation to the Liberal Party matters.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] Manus Island when the PNG Navy fired upon the Foxtrot compound and the rest of the detention centre and the police investigation in PNG is still not completed. The PPC…the Provincial Police Commander on Manus says he will complete that after the election because he is a bit busy right now. What representations has the Australian Government made in terms of the injuries caused by the actions of the PNG military on Manus Island to Australian citizens and what action would you like to see the PNG police take?

PETER DUTTON:

I don't have any comment to make in relation to that matter whilst it is still under investigation. I've made that very clear.

JOURNALIST:

But you've made comments before about this…

PETER DUTTON:

…well I don't have any further comments to make in relation to it. It is under investigation, as it should be. I expressed my concern at the time and I don't have anything further to say because until we know the facts, until we get the outcome of the investigations, I think it is best to leave it to them.

JOURNALIST:

The US refugee deal, are you working on the assumption that the first refugees will get permission to travel to the US in October?

PETER DUTTON:

That's what we are working on. So their programme year runs until the 30th of September. There's a change in the number overall of the programme which is nothing to do with Australia and that under President Obama, I think the number within the programme was 110,000, it reduced to 50,000 by President Trump and they had got to the end of their 50,000 before they had finished the processing of those people that are under consideration out of Manus and Nauru.

So we are disappointed that they haven't been able to move this month, which was my hope, but their new programme year starts on the 1st of October and we are working with both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that we can get people off as quickly as possible.

In the end, I didn't put people on Manus and I didn't put people on Nauru. I want to get people off those two islands. I'm determined to have the regional processing centre in Manus closed by the 31st of October and as I've said there will be an enduring requirement for the Nauru regional processing centre because if a boat arrives successfully tomorrow, those people will not under any circumstance be coming to this country, they'll be going to the regional processing centre in Nauru.

JOURNALIST:

The ABC has also been told many Tamil people on Nauru and Manus will likely be refused settlement in the US, under the Patriot Act, because they have had loose connections with the Tamil Tigers. Does that accord with your advice? And what will happen to Tamils who are knocked back from the US, where will they be resettled?

PETER DUTTON:

Well I don't know about the individual cases, but I'll make a general point and that is that the civil conflict has long ended in Sri Lanka. There is a newly-elected democratic government. I have met with the Prime Minister and with my counterparts as Prime Minister Turnbull of course has and we have a very good cooperative and close working relationship with the Sri Lankan Government.

People who may have once had a claim – this is the issue around permanent and temporary – people who may once have had a claim around the prospect of persecution during the course of a civil war or returning back off the heels of a civil war, their claim may not be as valid of course as you would expect when you have a change of government. Law and order has been restored. Civil arrangements have been corrected. That is the reality. The cases need to be looked at individually, but I can't comment beyond that.

JOURNALIST:

Labor says it will look at the faults in our tax system heading into the next election. Do we need tax reform…

PETER DUTTON:

I will just leave that to the Treasurer. Ok, one last one.

JOURNALIST:

A new report from The Australian Institute has found more than $3.1 trillion has been sitting in trusts. Does this figure surprise you and does the Government need to crackdown on trusts to make sure they are not being used as a tax…

PETER DUTTON:

Well again, I've got enough on my plate without talking about trusts and tax matters. I will leave that to the Treasurer.

Thank you very much.

[ends]