PRIME MINISTER: It’s terrific to be here at Border Protection Command with Minister Dutton and with General Bottrell, the new Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders. As you know, Operation Sovereign Borders has been remarkably successful, but we never take success for granted and the only way the boats will stay stopped is through constant vigilance and that’s what we will have, particularly when Immigration and Border Protection morphs into Australian Border Force in the middle of the year.
The great thing about Operation Sovereign Borders is that in stopping the boats, we have stopped the deaths and if you want to keep life safe, you've got to keep the boats stopped. But not only has there been a human dividend – a very important human benefit from stopping the boats – there has been a budget dividend as well. In the Budget to be brought down next week, there will be a half a billion dollar saving as a result of the success of Operation Sovereign Borders. We have closed down something like 13 detention centres, we don't have all of these charter flights taking illegal boat arrivals all around the country and the region, so that's a half a billion dollars in savings in the coming financial year on top of the savings that were announced in last year's Budget from the success of Operation Sovereign Borders and stopping the boats.
But, again, the only way to ensure that these savings stay, the only way to ensure that the boats stay stopped is to stick with the Coalition Government because it’s clearer and clearer that if Bill Shorten were ever to come into government, the carbon tax would be back, the mining tax would be back and the people smugglers would be back and that's bad in every way.
So, finally, I would just like to say a public thank you to the men and women of Customs and Border Protection. I'd like to say a very public thank you to the men and women of the coming Australian Border Force. They do a vital job for our nation. They do a vital job for our nation. They maintain our sovereignty and they keep people safe and they're both very, very important.
IMMIGRATION MINISTER: Well, PM, thank you very much for being here today and can I say thank you to all of the staff here at the Command. They do amazing work each day staring down the constant threat from people smugglers.
People remember that when Labor came to government in 2007, there were only four people in held detention including no children. The 50,000 people who arrived on 820 boats during Labor's watch meant that at its peak we had almost 2,000 children in detention under Labor. So, the success of Operation Sovereign Borders has meant that we have reduced that number of children in held detention down closer to 100. It means that, as the Prime Minister points out, we have stopped the deaths at sea. Twelve hundred people drowned during Labor's period in government; none have drowned at sea under this Government.
Of course, on top of the human dividend of being able to take the kids out of detention and stopping people drowning at sea, we have been able to return money back to the Budget so that we can spend it in other areas which are important to Australians such as childcare or helping small business.
I'm very proud of the work being done here but people should also remember that the people smugglers are lurking in the shadows waiting to get back into business. Across Asia, across the Middle East right now, they are trying to fill boats, deceiving people into paying money to come to Australia. We have stopped the boats but if there is a change of policy or if there is a lack of the resolve by a future government, the boats, without any doubt at all, will recommence. The lives will be lost at sea, children will be back in detention and there will be further budget blowouts if Labor was to be elected at the next election.
PRIME MINISTER: Ok, do we have any questions?
QUESTION: Prime Minister, have the Europeans sought any advisers from Australia in order to crack down on people smuggling and asylum seeker boat drownings?
PRIME MINISTER: My understanding is that there has been some contact at official level between Australian people and Europeans, but look, obviously Operation Sovereign Borders is an object lesson in how to do the right thing by everyone – do the right thing by our people and ultimately do the right thing by poor misguided people who for all sorts of reasons want a better life but who very often end up dead if they succumb to the lure of the people smugglers. So, there is a lesson in what's happened here in Australia for other countries. Quite obviously there is a lesson here.
QUESTION: Mr Abbott, what would you say to concerns from Deloitte Access Economics that the budget deficit is on track to resemble a Stephen King novel next financial year?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I appreciate what Chris Richardson has been saying. He is a very distinguished private sector economist, a former government official and he certainly is someone who knows what he's talking about and, obviously, he is concerned that because of the intransigence of the Labor Party, the fact that the Labor Party is now blocking in the Senate savings which it actually proposed in government, he accepts that there is a problem.
I want to assure the Australian people, I want to assure you that this Government has a strong and credible plan to repair the Budget. What will be obvious on Budget night is that this is a Budget that is measured, responsible and fair. It is a Budget which will be about jobs, growth and opportunity. It will be a Budget for small business and families but, as well as that, very importantly there will be a credible path back to surplus.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, when will you return the Budget to surplus?
PRIME MINISTER: We have never put a date on it because I think the Australian people got pretty sick of having the Labor Party announce with great fanfares a date for a return to surplus which was never actually fulfilled. We all remember Wayne Swan standing up in the Parliament on Budget night 2012 and saying ‘the four years of surpluses that I announce tonight’ and, of course, under Labor the deficit just got deeper and deeper and the surplus just got further and further and further away.
This is a Government which is serious about living within its means. This is a Government which is serious about getting our Budget under control. We made very important progress in last year's Budget and we'll build on that progress in this year's Budget, but I don't want anyone to underestimate the debt and deficit disaster that this Government inherited. We are serious, as you all know, we took some political risks – some very big political risks – last year and, as the Intergenerational Report showed, while we didn't achieve everything we hoped to achieve in last year's Budget, we have at least halved Labor's debt and deficit in the years to come.
QUESTION: PM, on the Bali Nine, Sky News understands there was a tense conversation between Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Retno Marsudi. Foreign Minister Bishop was told, “That's none of your business” when she asked about what Indonesia does to get its own citizens off death row. Is that appropriate language from one of our important neighbours?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, I'm not going to comment on private conversations between Australian government ministers and Indonesian government ministers except to say that we made our position crystal clear. We made our position absolutely crystal clear. Obviously, we respect Indonesia's sovereignty. We do respect Indonesia's sovereignty, we always have and we always will, but we expect the same respect from them and that means that we will speak bluntly to them when the occasion demands it.
QUESTION: Just back on the Budget, Prime Minister, will the deficit in the forthcoming year be worse than was forecast in MYEFO?
PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to go into the specifics of budget numbers which will be revealed on Tuesday of next week. Obviously, there are some headwinds overseas. We have got slower growth than was expected in some of our trading partners. We've got a much lower iron ore price than was expected even at MYEFO. What hasn't changed, though, is the determination of this Government to get the Budget back under control, to build on the success of last year's Budget and to make it absolutely crystal clear that there is a credible path back to surplus.
Now, this is a fundamentally strong economy. People have every reason to be confident in our future prospects and I believe in the marrow of my bones that people will have more reason to be confident after this year's Budget than now, because what this year's Budget will demonstrate is a credible path back to surplus, a credible path back to a situation where this country is living within its means, because that's what all countries and all governments ultimately have to do.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, the Productivity Commission is considering a price-based immigration system where people will be able to buy rights to migrate to Australia. Is this something the government is considering and would it be a good way of returning the budget back to surplus more quickly?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, the Productivity Commission has obviously been asked to have a look at a whole range of issues and it's released a discussion paper – that's all it is, it's a discussion paper, it's not the policy of the Government. I think it is unlikely to become the policy of the Government. Everyone knows that the immigration policy of this Government is fairly and squarely based on what is in the best interests and what is in accordance with the best values of our country. That's the way it is and that's the way it will stay as far as I'm concerned.
QUESTION: [inaudible] any more ground on the Renewable Energy Target?
PRIME MINISTER: This is a matter which has been, I think, very properly handled by the Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and the Environment Minister Greg Hunt. They have been in discussions with the Opposition and the crossbench. My understanding is that the Opposition walked away from those discussions a few weeks ago. We are happy to talk to them, very happy to talk to them, but our focus will always be how do we keep power prices down and how do we protect jobs. That's got to be the focus – keeping power prices down and protecting jobs. Frankly, the only deal worth having is a deal which keeps power prices down and which protects jobs.
QUESTION: Bill Shorten said this morning he'd be happy to do a deal at 33,000 gigawatt hours, it’s only 500 gigawatt hours greater than your target. Will you go to 33,000?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, these are discussions which quite properly will be had by Ian Macfarlane and Greg Hunt, but if the Labor Party wants to come back to the table, that's great. Good on them. But it's for Ministers Macfarlane and Hunt to finalise any arrangements that might, as I said, keep power prices down and protect jobs because that's what this has got to be all about – keeping power prices down and protecting jobs.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, we are expecting to hear from the AFP shortly about the Bali Nine case. A few days after the executions with a bit of time for reflection, what can be learned about how the AFP handled this case?
PRIME MINISTER: I have great confidence in the Australian Federal Police. I really do. I want to again say how honoured I am to be the Prime Minister of a country that has such strong police, security and military forces. I am proud of the professionalism, the commitment, the values of the Australian Federal Police. Now, we all know that the procedures were looked at in the wake of the arrests and prosecutions of the Bali Nine and some changes were made to procedures, procedures were strengthened in the wake of those arrests and prosecutions and those strengthened procedures remain in place. On the basis of those strengthened procedures, I have every confidence in the Australian Federal Police.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, Freedom of Information documents have been released showing that Defence wanted the new submarines built in Adelaide. Why did you contradict that advice and talk up the prospect of Japanese-built subs?
PRIME MINISTER: What we want is the best possible submarines at the lowest possible cost while maximising Australian industry involvement. That's what we want. We want the best possible submarines at the lowest possible cost while maximising Australian industry involvement and, as we have said all along, Australian work on the new submarines will centre on the South Australian shipyards. So, that's our position. Now, the advice in question, as I understand it, was advice that was based on the policy of the former government and, as we know, in six years, the former government did not place one single naval order with an Australian shipyard.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, [inaudible] the following year according to your own budget estimates. You always said the former Labor government had a spending problem, not a revenue problem. So, are you going to bring the budget back to surplus and why can't you give us a date?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there will be figures released as you'd expect, Chris, on Budget night and I think you can expect them to show steady progress. They will show steady progress in the right direction because this is a Government which is serious about budget repair. We wouldn't have taken the political pain that we have if we weren't serious about budget repair. This Government has taken big political risks for budget repair. We will continue to take significant political risks for budget repair. But, in the end, what I believe people will conclude about this Budget is that it is measured, responsible and fair. That it is genuinely a Budget for jobs, growth and opportunity; a Budget that will boost Australians' confidence in the future of our country. I'm confident that that will be the outcome of the figures that are released on Tuesday night.