Subjects: FMSC announcement, offshore processing, Newspoll, NSW Nationals, State of the States report.
I'm really pleased to be up here in Townsville today, to be here with George Christensen and with Phil Thompson. I have a special spot for Townsville; I worked up here, lived up here many years ago as a policeman, but I've watched the city grow over a long period of time and I'm really pleased to be able to support these two gentlemen because they're champions of the local community.
In George's case, he has significant runs on the board; investment into local infrastructure, to roads, he's a champion not just for Mackay, but for the region of Townsville that he covers.
It's hard to find a better candidate than Phil Thompson, somebody who represents the values of a garrison city like Townsville, knows and understands the life that confronts people when they need to be deployed overseas, understands what that means for families that were left behind, understands the effects of war, understands the necessity to provide support to people when they return back from a conflict zone. He has a special affinity with the local Defence Force and community here.
Both of them are significant assets to the north of our state and I look forward very much to continuing work with George and I look forward very much to welcoming Phil as a colleague into the Federal Parliament.
So why don't I ask them to say a couple of words and then we're happy to take any questions.
Thank you everyone for coming today. I'd like to welcome back the Minister for Home Affairs, Minister Dutton. I'd also like to welcome back the Member for Dawson, George Christensen.
Since my first day after being preselected on my campaign, people have been telling me that border security is a big issue, so I'm happy to see the announcement today and stopping the boats.
What stopping the boats means is stopping people smugglers killing people out at sea. Under a Labor government we saw 1,200 people die, mums and bubs. I have a six month old baby girl and that's something that I couldn't even fathom putting her through, is putting her on a leaky boat. Under the Minister's leadership, we've seen zero fatalities.
So today I'm extremely happy to be joined here by the Minister and the Member for Dawson because this is something that is needed. This is something that I'll definitely be supporting and advocating; strong borders and strong community. Thank you.
I'll just briefly add that today's announcement around the nation, getting new surveillance capabilities, particularly for border security for all the potential incursions, whether it be people smuggling, fishing, illicit drug trade – anything untoward that's happening – particularly around our maritime borders, this is really good to see. It’s vitally important, particularly for North Queensland – given that we saw that recent incursion into the Daintree – that we keep up to date on the latest tech.
Obviously, that poses a big boon for business that's in that space that actually is involved in, whether it's software regarding surveillance, whether it's UAVs or drones, there's obviously a big boon for them in this new investment that we're going to have.
But the real thing is about keeping our borders secure. It is vitally important. It's one of the number one national issues when you talk to anyone in North Queensland because we are at the north and we are where the incursions could potentially be and so we want to see our borders secured.
This will lead to our borders being more secure – they have been considerably since Peter Dutton as Minister for Home Affairs has taken the portfolio – and all the bleeding hearts criticise Peter on the tough approach that he's taken to border security, but we can either have open borders or we can have tough borders and I would much prefer that we have tough borders where we're not seeing people die at sea and we're not seeing our immigration program be undermined with people coming here that we really don't know their backgrounds.
So I do take my hat off to all that Peter has achieved in his time as Minister for Home Affairs.
Minister, we saw over the weekend a poll where 79 per cent of respondents supported the Government taking the New Zealand deal; do you think it's become untenable for the Government to continue to resist that offer?
Well a couple of things are clear and this has been proven not just through polling, but through election days, that Australians want a well-managed border protection system. They want their borders secure. Australians don't want to see kids in detention and that's why when we came to government after Labor had brought in 50,000 people on 800 boats and opened 17 detention centres and put 8,000 children through detention, I've got every one of those children out of detention. I've closed 17 detention centres and we are working to clean up Labor's mess on Nauru and Manus.
Now, Labor had women and children on Manus; we've removed all of them from there. Labor had women and children on Nauru, as well as the men they put there and we are working through getting people off as quickly as possible, but we need to do it in a way that's not going to start the boats again. We need to do it in a way that children won't drown at sea. We need to do it in a way that won't end up with our borders being overwhelmed again and children ending up in detention here in the mainland.
I want people off Nauru tomorrow, but I need to do it in a way that doesn't restart boats, doesn't see kids drowning at sea again and doesn't see Labor's debacle which resulted in 2,000 children in detention at the time that we took office. We need to make sure that we have a sustainable model. We've done that through the agreement with the United States. There are now 439 people who have left Manus and Nauru to go to the United States and I'm hoping that in the very near future, all people will. We already have over 200 children from Nauru here in Australia that we've brought down. We're down to 50; our intention is to reduce it to zero, but to do it in a way that doesn't restart boats.
Not many Australians have seen the images of children that were attacked by sharks among the 1,200 people who drowned at sea when Labor was in power. I'm not going to allow that to happen because I think many more than 79 per cent would not want to see that again. In fact I'm sure it's 100 per cent of Australians who don't want to see kids drown at sea.
We have very good intelligence and we have very good advice as to how sophisticated these criminal networks are operating in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and Vietnam and elsewhere and they will take any opportunity to take money off innocent men, women and children, putting them onto boats. They couldn't care less whether they made landfall or went to the bottom of the ocean. So we need to manage our borders effectively, which is what we are going to do.
The Labor Party is completely at odds with itself over how to manage border protection, but the Government is absolutely determined to get kids out of detention, to make sure that we don't have new boat arrivals and to make sure that we never lose control of our borders again.
So, are you any closer to finalising another third country deal?
Well again, we've got an arrangement for 1,250 people to go to the United States; 439 have gone so far. So there's significant capacity for people to go to the United States and don't forget that people need to volunteer to leave Nauru – so in some cases, we've seen people offered a place in the United States and tragically they've refused that offer or they've withdrawn from consideration – but there are a number of people on Nauru at the moment and on Manus, but I've asked the United States from day one to prioritise women and children on Nauru because for a long time I've wanted to get kids out of detention in Australia and off Nauru and Manus and we're well on our way to doing that.
So if boat arrives tomorrow and Mr Shorten is prime minister, all of those people – including children if they're on that boat – go to Nauru. Restarting boats is not a solution here. It was a feature of the Rudd and Gillard years. If Mr Shorten is elected prime minister there is no doubt in my mind that boats will restart and kids will again fill detention centres and that's not going to happen under this Government.
How much are you willing to compromise with Labor on this?
We've got a Bill before the Parliament; it was introduced in 2016. What people need to understand – I’m not even sure yet if Bill Shorten gets this, although we've explained this to him on numerous occasions – New Zealand is the only country in the world that has a visa on arrival arrangement with Australia.
So if you're coming from the United States or the United Kingdom or Canada to Australia, you must have a visa before you board the plane out of the US or the UK or any other country except New Zealand. If you come from Auckland to Sydney or to Townsville, you need to have just citizenship in New Zealand and you get an automatic electronic visa on arrival. That makes New Zealand a particular pull factor, which is why we've got this legislation in the Parliament.
I've never ruled out an arrangement with New Zealand, but we need to do it at the right time, when we've resolved the issue of the so-called back doorway into Australia, when we know that the intelligence is such that it is safe for us to not create a pull factor because that's the real concern and Labor hasn't given any thought to that.
So we're working through the arrangement that we've got. We've got down to 50 children; our intention is to get it down to zero, but to do it in a way that doesn't restart boats.
Minister, the Newspoll today showed that the PM has slipped into negative approval for the first time; given you're standing in the most marginal electorate in the country with your candidate here today, do you think the role that yourself and others played in the leadership spill has made the job for Phil a lot harder than it might have been?
I'm confident that Phil Thompson can be elected for Herbert at the next election. I'm confident that George Christensen will be re-elected in Dawson and I'm confident that people want to see the economy well managed.
Labor's talking about abolishing negative gearing; they've got a tax on electricity, a tax on small businesses: $200 billion worth of tax. They are a disaster for the economy.
Unemployment is very low at the moment. Interest rates are very low at the moment, but we risk seeing unemployment spike under Labor. We risk seeing interest rates go back up under Labor, just like they did when Labor was in government last time and the time before.
So over the course of the period between now and mid next year, whenever the election might be, the Government will be talking about those things and I think we can turn the polls around because people don't want our economy destroyed by Labor. They want their kids and their grandkids finding jobs which they won't find under Labor. First home buyers don't want to see the value of their homes going backwards, which they will under Labor because Labor's negative gearing abolition means that your house price will fall and your rents will go up.
So there is a lot at stake in the run up to the next election and we've obviously just come off the back of the Wentworth by-election, but we've got a period to rebuild. We'll do that and I'm confident that we can win the next election. I'm confident that Scott Morrison is the much better candidate over Bill Shorten to be the prime minister after the next election.
Are you comfortable with Malcolm Turnbull attending the oceans conference?
Yes, I dealt with that last week.
Minister, Tony Abbott says Nauru is not a hellhole, that it's a nice place to live with great health services. Is he right?
Well the fact is that we've spent hundreds of millions of dollars providing medical services to people on Nauru, as the Nauruan Government I see tweeted over the course of the last couple of days. We have about 3,000 children, I think the number is, who are Nauruan children, who are on Nauru. We're providing services, medical services, through about 60 odd medical professionals who are up there at the moment.
Despite all of that, we want to get kids off Nauru. That's the stated intention. I don't want anyone in detention, which is why I got all of the children that Labor put into detention in Australia out of detention. I've reduced the number of children that Labor put on Nauru and Manus, and we're going to get it down to zero. We've closed the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. We've got 439 people off Manus and Nauru to the United States and we've done it in a way that hasn't restarted boats.
Now, if you want to see kids drown at sea, you want to see children back in detention, vote Labor. If you want to see our borders lost to the people smugglers again, vote Labor, because that's what happened when John Howard left office in 2007; there were four people in detention, including no children and 50,000 people arrived on 800 boats under Labor and 1,200 drowned at sea.
We are not going to go back to those days, but if the Labor Party is elected at the next election we will and our country I think down to the last man and woman do not want to see people drowning at sea again and do not want to see children back in detention or the 17 detention centres reopened which they would under Labor because the boats will restart.
Minister, as you said your Government has created a pathway to get children off Nauru. Why not get the last 52 off now? How long do they have to wait?
Because again there are 16 agencies involved in Operation Sovereign Borders. I have the intelligence from ASIS, from ASIO, from the Australian Federal Police, our partners that we work with internationally. I understand the threat of people smugglers very well. Mr Shorten has not even asked for a briefing from those offices. So I take the advice from our intelligence agencies. There are 14,000 people in Indonesia waiting to hop on boats today. We know that there are 65 million people displaced around the world and Australia is a destination country. People will come here because we have a good welfare system, we're a safe country, we have a good and cheap education system, health system etc. So we need to do it in a way that is not going to restart boats. I've got over 200 children off Nauru. We're down to 50 and we've done it in a way that hasn't restarted boats.
Labor wrote to me last week saying just bring everybody to New Zealand. Well, what about the people who have a negative security assessment? So what about a male, the father who's on Nauru who's been found by the United States Government to be a security risk: should that person come to Australia? I mean it's a very good question and Labor has no answer for it.
So we need to work through each of the cases which we're doing. Necessarily, we get to answer the toughest cases when we get closer to zero, but we are trending down. We will get it to zero. We will find ways because we did it here in Australia as well, but we have to do it so that boats don't restart, because as I said, if Mr Shorten's elected prime minister, the first boat that arrives – at least he's saying now before the election – the first boat that arrives, all of those people will go to Nauru including children and women on that boat.
So don't believe the hype that is being told to you. I mean people like Cathy O'Toole would be the most ill-informed of Australians in relation to border protection matters. She has this naive view that you can just allow boats to restart, but kids won't drown again. The fact is that people like Cathy O'Toole were responsible for boats starting when Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard were in power and now that Cathy O'Toole is in Parliament, if she's re-elected at the next election, then pity help us because she'll be one of the voices in Bill Shorten's ear that will result in boats restarting. People here in Herbert and elsewhere around the country need to remember that at the next election.
Phil Thompson is somebody who is absolutely rock solid, as is George Christensen, when it comes to getting kids off Nauru, but to keeping our border security at the same time and that's exactly what I want to continue to do as Minister.
What do you make of media reports that 35 New South Wales National members are under investigation for links to white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups?
Well, I haven't any comment to make in relation to that. I've been very clear in my comments in the past that I support people who abide by the laws, who act within the law. People, regardless of their standing in our community, that act outside of the law have a price to pay, but I don't know any of the detail, other than the media reports and I'll leave it to people who are better informed to make comment.
George, I might ask you a question actually. So Commsec's State of the States report came very recently and Queensland has slipped from fifth to sixth in the major economic indicators that they run those reports by. In your opinion, why do you think that might be the case?
Well, we do have a patchwork economy here in Queensland. Obviously we've got places like Townsville that are doing it tough, where unemployment is large, and places like Mackay where they're struggling to find people to fill the jobs. We might be slipping a bit lower if it wasn't for the fact that coal prices have actually surged again and we've got a fair bit of activity there.
I think from the Federal Government's point of view, we are certainly playing our part in trying to get things moving. We've got a range of different infrastructure projects. In my electorate alone, I can tell you over a billion dollars' worth of Bruce Highway projects that are either underway or commencing and you can replicate that right up and down the coast, but more needs to be done to stimulate the private sector. Now, we're doing all we can with tax cuts - I'm going to say tax cuts that have been opposed by the Labor Party.
It would be good to see the State Government actually doing something as well that sparks private investment. We've seen a lack of will on that front I think. But private investment is where it's at. That is what creates long term jobs and that's why we are very big on returning more of the money to small and medium business so that they can – not put it back in their pocket, because they don't do that – I know exactly what they do: they employ new people or they reinvest in their business, spending it regionally and locally, that goes around and around and it ends up employing more people. That's what we want to see. So, you know, that's the way forward. We just need to do more of that from the federal level than we are.
Can I add on, too - and I'm happy to take another question - add on to what Peter said about Cathy O'Toole? I mean, she is cheerleader number one here in Townsville for the people smugglers. I mean, she's the person who stood outside the former Member for Herbert's office with a sign saying let the refugees come in. So we know what Cathy's approach to it is. And we can do what the Labor Party want and suddenly bring all of these children and their families from Nauru to Australia. That'll happen if we immediately let them go to New Zealand, because as Peter said, there's easy access to Australia from New Zealand if you have a residency in New Zealand. It's a visa on arrival.
So we need to close that loophole and we have legislation before the Parliament that would actually close that loophole, but the Labor Party at the moment is opposed to it. I mean, so we could get as many people as possible without the security issues off Nauru and into New Zealand if the Labor Party would agree to shut off access to Australia, but they're not. And why they're not, well, because they want them here in Australia because they want the boats to start again. That's ultimately what you've got to guess. This is people with families there where a member of the family - particularly the males - have security issues that need to be worked through, but there's a pathway to get them off Nauru.
Now, having said that, can I just say there are thousands of children who are Nauruan citizens on Nauru. And what is the Left and the Labor Party and the Greens actually saying here? That we should evacuate all the Nauruan children because life is so bad on Nauru that the children that are citizens of that country shouldn't put up with it? I've got to tell you there's Australian children, indigenous and non-indigenous alike, that are perhaps in worse situations than some of the children on Nauru. And we've got a lack of support from state governments through child support, child welfare services, to help them. There should be a bigger outcry, actually, about that, than fact that there's simply children on Nauru who come from another country, when there's children on Nauru that are doing very well. In fact, the Republic of Nauru Tweeted only a few days ago photos of their children playing games and looking happy as Larry. So let's just get real on this.