Subjects: Launch of the Australian Trusted Trader programme; Manus Island Regional Processing Centre.
I’m really pleased to be here with Keith Pitt, the Assistant Minister who has done a lot of work with our Department and this is a great day because this about building the economic benefit out of the Trusted Trader programme.
It’s going to be of benefit to small businesses and to big businesses who are involved in trade across our borders, both importers and exporters, and it’s an opportunity to cut costs from their businesses so that they can employ more Australians. This Government is absolutely determined to provide whatever support we can to help grow the economy, to get our country back into surplus, bearing in mind that our country has over $350 billion worth of debt, and that’s the legacy of the last Labor government.
So there is a lot of work that we need to do in growing the economy and the Trusted Trader programme, which was officially launched on the 1st of July, after a pilot which has been very successful, demonstrates that we can concentrate our effort then on keeping our borders secure and on intelligence-led interdiction of cargo coming across the borders so that we can form a trusted relationship with the vast majority of traders, about whom we have no concern, but are involved in bringing goods backwards and forwards across the borders in a way that doesn’t pose any threat to our economy or to our national security. And it means that the Border Force personnel can then concentrate on where we do believe there is some difficulty across the border.
I want to pay tribute to the Commissioner, to Roman Quaedvlieg and all the staff within the Department who have put an enormous amount of work into this programme. This will bring billions of dollars of economic benefit to the Australian economy. It will strip costs from local small businesses and it will allow companies here in Australia to employ more Australians and that's what the Turnbull Government is all about.
I'm happy to take any questions.
What happens if a trader abuses the privilege?
Then there are consequences to pay for that, including exclusion from the programme. So obviously there is a lot of intelligence that we receive both from our domestic agencies, but also from our Five Eyes partners and other trading partners, and if we have suspicions about a particular entity then obviously that will be investigated and if people have breached the trust that they've entered into, the agreement that they've signed with the Department, then people will be excluded from the programme.
But the vast majority of traders, the vast, vast, majority of traders want to do the right thing. They want to employ Australians, they want to grow their business, they want to increase the amount of commodity being exported. If we can facilitate that in a less costly way, then we can grow the economy, we can help grow those businesses and if we can do that, we can help employ more young Australians.
Just on Manus Island, what timeframe has been given for the closure of the centre?
No timeframe’s been given, but obviously the PNG Government, that owns and operates the regional processing centre on Manus Island, will work through the steps that need to be taken and we will provide assistance to them to work through those steps.
I have been very clear, consistently from day one that people will not settle in Australia and I want people smugglers to hear that message very clearly because if they are out there telling lies, as they do to people who are willing to pay money, then they need to hear the message that people who seek to come by boat will never settle in our country.
The dividend of the success of Operation Sovereign Borders primarily has been that we’ve been able to stop drownings at sea. We’ve been able to save billions of dollars over the forward estimates and years beyond because of decisions we’ve made and because we’ve been able to restore order to our borders, bearing in mind that Labor completely lost control of our borders.
Can you put a dollar figure on how much support will be given to PNG to help manage them through the process?
No, simply because it hasn't been defined as yet.
We need to work through each of the individual cases to provide incentive for people to return back to their country of origin or to provide assistance for people to settle in PNG. They are the two options that are available to people and it’s important to bear in mind, and I think Bill Shorten would be well advised to bear in mind that this was an agreement originally struck by Labor, and so people who are settling in PNG are settling there because, firstly this whole mess was created by Labor and this is a legacy of a Labor government that loses control of its borders – we have drownings at sea, we have budget blowouts and we have people who are in Regional Processing Centres that now need to be placed – this was a mess of Labor's making.
As always, the Coalition Government is in the process of cleaning it up, but it will cost money and it will take some time for us to work through each of the cases.
And how long do you anticipate that financial support will last for?
Well, again that is a question that we can make at another time. The priority at the moment is to make sure that we stop the boats because people smugglers are still seeking to put ventures together right now. We turned back a boat, as you are aware to Sri Lanka in recent days and with the assistance of the Sri Lankan Government we were able to disrupt a venture that was on its way to Australia.
We know that there is still activity out there and people who think that the boats have stopped and that this problem has gone away, please look at what's happening in Europe, look at what's happening on the Mediterranean, look at what is happening across Asia. This problem will be with us for a long period of time to come and it’s worth noting that people smugglers believe that if Labor was elected at the last election that they would be back in business.
Are you willing to take up Western Australia on the offer to house asylum seeker families?
I spoke to Premier Barnett yesterday in relation to this matter and I went through some of the detail about why it's difficult for people to come to Australia and that's the reason that Regional Processing Centres were set up by Labor. Remember Labor set up the arrangement on Nauru, as it currently operates, and they set up
the arrangement in Papua New Guinea because it is one of the legs of Operation Sovereign Borders that has resulted in people not drowning at sea and us being able to take kids out of detention.
We've closed 17 detention centres when Labor opened 17 and now we've been able to work with the PNG Government toward the closure of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. So that's the situation we find ourselves in.
What do you make of Scott Morrison saying he was simply following his leader's instructions in blocking attempts by the Gillard Government to overturn a High Court ban on the Malaysia plan?
The only thing I would say in response to all of this is that Bill Shorten spent every day before the election telling the Australian people that there was no difference between the Liberal and Labor policies, and yet he has spent every day since the election telling the Australian public that the policy of the Labor Party is very different from that of the Government. Now, he can't have it both ways and it is clear to me that when it comes to border protection, you just cannot trust Bill Shorten. They haven't learnt the lessons of the past.
The reason that the Malaysia deal was in play, firstly it was unconstitutional and secondly they didn't want to implement boat turn backs and that's as history records. And the thought that a deal that took 800 people, bearing in mind that 50,000 came on 800 boats, the thought that 800 people going to Malaysia was going to stop the flow of boats is a nonsense. And as history has demonstrated, it wasn't until the implementation of turning back boats where it's safe to do so, on top of Temporary Protection Visas – a policy Labor is still opposed to up to this very day – in addition to the Regional Processing Centres, those three limbs, that is at the core of the success of Operation Sovereign Borders and Labor's fanciful thought that a deal where 800 people could go to Malaysia was somehow going to stare down the people smugglers is a complete nonsense.
This Government had tough decisions to take, we've taken those decisions, we've stopped drownings at sea, we’ve got every child out of detention and closed 17 detention centres. Because we've stopped the boats we are now able to work with PNG toward the closure of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre.
What about asylum seekers in PNG who are gay and identify as gay and homosexuality is illegal in PNG, where do you expect them to go?
Well again, just to point to the convention and to the protocol to which countries including Australia have signed up. If people believe that they are persecuted in their country of origin or where they are living, if they believe that they face persecution or they are at threat otherwise, they have the ability to make a claim for protection and that is a claim that they can make in PNG, as they can in other countries around the world in Australia. So depending on the individual circumstances, people may or may not be owed protection and that's the way in which the Refugee Convention operates. We are a signatory to that convention and it is the way in which we operate in this country as well.
Thank you very much.