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Transcript of joint press conference: Brisbane: 3 August 2013: regional resettlement arrangement with Nauru; election date; G20
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PRIME MINISTER TRANSCRIPT OF JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE BRISBANE 3 AUGUST 2013

E & O E - PROOF ONLY

Subjects: Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Nauru » ; Election date; G20

PM: Mr President, you're a very welcome guest in Brisbane, a very welcome guest in Australia, and it's good to see you here representing our good friends in the Republic of « Nauru » .

I'd also like in particular to thank you for travelling to Brisbane to finalise this agreement.

And also to our ministerial colleagues, Minister Tony Burke, the Minister for Immigration and of course the Minister for Finance and Sustainable Development and Justice, Mr David Adeang from the Republic of « Nauru » . I extend to you also, Minister, our warmest welcome.

Today the President of « Nauru » and I are proud to announce an important initiative to tackle people smuggling in our wider region.

As the Australian people know our Government's approach to people smuggling is one which maximises regional cooperation.

This is a regional problem, it's a global problem, it requires therefore regional cooperation, it requires therefore global cooperation.

Today we are pleased to announce that we've reached a new Regional Resettlement Arrangement, one that supersedes the Memorandum of Understanding we signed last year.

This is very much parallel to the arrangement we have signed with Papua New Guinea.

Our Governments have agreed that the Republic of « Nauru » will not only maintain and extend its regional processing capacity, but it will also provide a settlement opportunity to persons it determines are in need of international protection.

This means that those seeking safe haven will have the opportunity to settle and reside in « Nauru » , to settle and reside in « Nauru » .

The numbers that could be settled over time will of course be the decision of the Government of « Nauru » and we're very much mindful of the fact that « Nauru » is a small country.

The Government of « Nauru » first raised this prospect of settlement arrangements with our Government on 9 July and as I noted before this arrangement is similar to that agreed to Papua New Guinea a fortnight ago.

Unauthorised maritime arrivals to Australia will now be sent to Papua New Guinea or « Nauru » for assessment of their refugee claims.

If they are found to be genuine refugees under these arrangements they will be settled, they will be able to settle and reside in Papua New Guinea or they may settle or reside in « Nauru » ; both countries being signatories to the UN refugee convention.

If they're not found to be genuine refugees they may be repatriated to their country of origin or be sent to a third country other than Australia.

No matter where people smugglers try to land asylum seekers by boat in Australia, they will not be settled in Australia. This is our core principle.

This is our core unshakeable position: that if people smugglers try and bring asylum seekers to Australia by boat those people will not be settled in Australia.

The agreement with « Nauru » today means that they could be subject to transfer to « Nauru » or Papua New Guinea and resettlement in one of those countries.

The expansion of our regional arrangement sends a clear message that coming to Australia by boat is not the way to gain Australian residency.

If you are seeking to take the dangerous passage by boat my message as Prime Minister of Australia is simply this: don't.

Don't believe the lies that people smugglers are peddling, don't get on the next boat.

You won't be settled in Australia, you will be sent to « Nauru » or Papua New Guinea for reprocessing and resettlement.

Australia will work closely with « Nauru » to rebuild the regional processing centre capacity to accommodate unauthorised maritime arrivals pending the outcome of the refugee claims.

« Nauru » , as I've noted already, is a signatory to the Refugees Convention and will settle those it determines are in need of international protection in accordance with its own convention obligations.

We'll be working together on the details of this arrangement, but Australia will be supporting « Nauru » to provide settlement services including access to health and education to those who are settled in « Nauru » .

The Government of Australia will bear all costs incurred under and incidental to this Memorandum of Understanding.

Australia expects to provide $29.9 million in aid to « Nauru » in 2013 -14.

In addition, $17 million also for the rebuilding of the prison in « Nauru » .

Also funds will be made available and have been made available through the contingency reserve which will be allocated consistent with the take up of the resettlement arrangements within « Nauru » .

These are fully accounted for in the economic statement yesterday.

We will continue to engage our regional partners tackle irregular migration and people smuggling.

This arrangement is another step forward to stop the evil trade that has resulted in a tragic death at sea for so many.

As I stated when I recently announced the regional resettlement arrangement with Papua New Guinea, the approach we're now taking to unauthorised maritime travel is a tough, very tough approach.

It's a hard-line approach. It's a necessary approach. It is also the most humane approach.

But as Prime Minister I am committed to maintaining the integrity of our borders through a robust system of border security and orderly migration.

Our first responsibility as the Government of Australia is to maintain our national security and to maintain the integrity of our borders.

It is important to note that the Government considers these arrangements are consistent with our obligations as signatory to the Refugees Convention and other international conventions to which we are party.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed today ensures the unauthorised maritime arrivals transferred to « Nauru » will receive proper and humane treatment.

Asylum seekers who are determined to be genuine refugees will have a country of settlement, namely « Nauru » or Papua New Guinea.

Australia continues to fulfil its international responsibility to care for those in need of international protection or humanitarian need.

Australia increased its humanitarian program to 20,000 places in 2012-13, up from 12 or 13,000 places and has maintained that program level into this year.

This increase allows Australia to concentrate on refugees who have spent many years in UN camps, around the world, some for many decades.

I'll reiterate what the Minister and I said here only two weeks ago: that contingent on the successful implementation of our regional resettlement approach the Government stands ready to increase our overall humanitarian intake consistent with the recommendations of the Houston Panel of review some time ago.

Australia will continue to assist the resettlement of refugees.

We will continue to work with our regional partners and other traditional and emerging refugee receiving countries to identify further settlement opportunities.

Again I'd like to thank very much his Excellency, the President of « Nauru » , and for the Government and the people of « Nauru » , for their generous offer to settle those determined to be in need of international protection.

The MOU with « Nauru » and the Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea are part of our Government's continuing work to tackle the scourge of people smuggling in a practical and in a new way.

These arrangements compliment actions occurring across the region.

I've previously welcomed reports that Indonesia is amending its visa on arrival regulations concerning those coming from Iran and also welcome reports that Malaysia is considering adopting similar steps.

Australia is working with its neighbours in South East Asia and in the South Pacific as part of a broader approach on regional cooperative arrangements.

The conference hosted by Indonesia later in August will provide an opportunity to develop further regional arrangements.

International conferences will convene relevant transit and destination countries and will build also on previous arrangements that we've agreed across the region, and also most particularly on how to improve global arrangements within the framework of the Refugee Convention.

Ladies and gentlemen, the question of asylum seekers and people smugglers is not an easy one. It's very hard. It's hard for any government. But we believe that these represent practical steps forward in dealing with a problem for Australia now, for the region and for the world.

These are hard and complex measures, these represent practical action, they do not represent a three-word slogan.

They represent the resolve of our Government to work with our neighbours calmly and resolutely to address the challenge which we face together.

If I could now ask my colleague and friend the President of « Nauru » to address you, he will begin by making some remarks in the Nauruan language for his own folks back home.

This is a good thing. If I spoke Nauruan I would join him but I don't so I won't.

Then he will make some remarks in English, and then consistent with international practice which we've adopted here with Prime Minister O'Neill, we normally take two questions a side, four altogether.

On such international occasions we're happy to take those questions and then we'll leave Minister Burke to follow up any further questions of detail concerning the agreement we've signed with « Nauru » today.

Over to you, Mr President.

PRESIDENT WAQA: Thank you, Prime Minister Rudd.

[Addresses audience in Nauruan language]

Thank you, Kevin Rudd. Let me say from the outset that we're so happy to be here and to be part of this historical occasion of signing this MOU together with you, the Australian Government and the Government of « Nauru » .

We see ourselves as - let me maybe make it clear that we will be active participants in this solution to try and assist with Australia's determination of solving this problem of irregular immigration into Australia.

So as President of the Republic of « Nauru » I'm happy to say on behalf of our people that we will stand by Australia, making sure that this works.

And not only that, that all the refugees or asylum seekers that come through our camp will be treated humanely and with their human rights upheld.

Those are a few words for me to say at this time and I will be happy to take some questions after this.

PM: Thank you very much, Mr President.

I think what I'd say in conclusion is that as I said a couple of weeks ago in relation to Papua New Guinea, implementing these sorts of arrangements with people as ugly as people smugglers around the world is always hard. It's never easy.

As I've said before, there will continue to be bumps in the road. There will be implementation difficulties, always the possibility of legal challenges one way or another.

But the bottom line is this: unless you are dealing with the core business model of people smugglers, which is to say to them if you are out there putting people on boats for their money and telling them that if they come by boat to Australia they will be settled here, you are lying to them because they will not be settled here.

That's what this arrangement with « Nauru » is about, that's what our existing arrangement with Papua New Guinea is about, these form the basis of a regional response to a problem which is affecting us all. Over to you folks for questions.

JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, will you be calling a September 7 election?

PM: Well as you may have noted we have been busy in the business of Government.

Minister Burke, myself, and others have been engaged in the negotiations of this important arrangement with « Nauru » , as we have been previously with Papua New Guinea.

The other point I'd make is this: we have also been - including through today and into the period ahead - in negotiations with the Government of Victoria to conclude the Better Schools agreement with them.

We thought we had an agreement in recent days, now they seem to be playing politics with Tony Abbott and not willing to agree.

At least I don't know what the precise outcome of that is going to be.

I'm also in negotiation with the Government of Western Australia, seeking to reach a landing point with them on the possible inclusion of WA for the first time in DisabilityCare Australia.

On top of that we've been in negotiations with the Government of New South Wales on a better approach to environmental assessment procedures.

Now, these three negotiations haven't reached conclusion yet, so we have a few things to attend to yet and so therefore on your question, I've made no determination whatsoever in terms of the date of an election.

JOURNALIST: Mr President, why have you signed up to this agreement? Isn't asylum seekers Australia's problem?

PRESIDENT WAQA: I think the problem of asylum seekers is not just Australia’s.

You know, discussed in so many forums that it is a regional solution for us as well.

And we have happily engaged ourselves right from the start from the original Pacific Solution, and again, nothing has changed.

We’re happy to be part of, and continue our friendship, with Australia.

And whatever we can offer, we’re happy to do it.

PM: And we also emphasise the fact, as I said in my remarks before, that « Nauru » is a small country and therefore the numbers that would be settled to reside in « Nauru » will be entirely at the discretion of the Government of « Nauru » .

But this agreement today is an agreement that for the future, this is legally possible between us and therefore its implementation, case by case, number by number, will be a matter for our friends in « Nauru » and we will work closely together on that.

It's all part of sending a very clear message back to the people smugglers and we're banging that message through loud and clear.

JOURNALIST: What happens when « Nauru » can no longer take any more asylum seekers?

What sort of impact do you think the numbers that they can take will actually have on the trade?

PM: I think the important thing, Jason, is to make sure that we have a clear and resolute message to asylum seekers and to people smugglers.

Already Minister Burke through active negotiations with Papua New Guinea and the engagement with his own officers, we have seen two plane loads of people go from Christmas Island to Manus.

This is the first concrete steps in the direction of the new policy, this has been noted across the people smuggling world.

This agreement is part of adding further regional pillars to this new policy of ours which is a very simple message: if you're a people smuggler sending someone on a boat to come to Australia, those folks are not going to be allowed to settle in Australia.

That's the core message, this is just one extra pillar.

I fully concede and agree, as I've said explicitly up front, that « Nauru » is a small country.

But this agreement enables some to be settled there and it adds to the agreement already with Papua New Guinea.

JOURNALIST: Will you be heading to the G20 in Russia?

PM: The G20 is a critical institution.

In fact, I have just come from a conversation with the Prime Minister of India on the telephone about the agenda for the G20.

It's my intention to be in St Petersburg but I'm very mindful also of the other challenges which lie ahead of us as well.

To reiterate what I said to an earlier question, the dates concerning a particular election, which are outlined full well in our Constitution as to when they could and couldn't be, such a determination has not been reached.

G20 agenda, the G20 agenda is full and important for all of us. It's about jobs and growth.

We in Australia have been strong participants in its agenda since I attended the first G20 summit as Prime Minister back in 2008.

It stabilised the Global Financial Crisis, put in set a whole new set of arrangements for stabilising financial markets for the future.

We are hosting the next G20 in this city of Brisbane next year.

I place enormous priority to the G20 and its agenda.

At the same time I'll always balance that against other considerations before us as well.

As I said, no decisions concerning election dates have been made.

Now folks, I said we'll take four questions, we have.

Minister Burke will remain to answer any more questions and I would invite Mr President to come and share a cup of tea.

BURKE: Thank you very much.

Well that counts as an opening statement so I will just go straight to questions if there are further questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, will the asylum seekers have a choice between « Nauru » and Papua New Guinea or how will that be decided?

MINISTER BURKE: The decision when people have a clean process is whether or not they are found to be a refugee.

The country offering settlement offers settlement.

If somebody decides they don't want settlement then they're welcome as they always have been to go either back home or to another country where they have a right of residence.

JOURNALIST: If they are found to be a refugee though, is it a matter of deciding whether they want to settle in « Nauru » or Papua New Guinea or will the Australian Government or either of those government's make that decision?

MINISTER BURKE: If you were processed in « Nauru » then the presumption would be if « Nauru » offered a settlement opportunity there then that would be the offer.

What « Nauru » have put on the table, the Government of « Nauru » have put on the table in the Memorandum of Understanding signed today meets all the criteria that are required under the convention.

JOURNALIST: Minister, first PNG, now « Nauru » , are there any other governments you're in negotiations with for similar settlement procedures?

MINISTER BURKE: As you'd be aware from the Prime Minister explaining the dates of when this was first raised with me, it was well before July 9, well before the Papua New Guinea arrangement had been signed off in this room.

There are a number of nations throughout the region who have indicated an interest in wanting to deal with this but as you would know by now our way of dealing with the region is vastly different to our political opponents.

They will rush off to the media statement; we will work constructively to see whether or not an agreement is possible.

JOURNALIST: Can we expect more announcements like this in the next few months?

MINISTER BURKE: That will depend on decisions made by other countries.

I'm prepared to say there are other countries that have raised this with us as well.

We have made a decision that we're not going out there selling the idea or trying to talk people into agreeing.

But there are a number of countries within the region who have signed the convention and who have a genuine commitment to wanting to take a regional approach.

If we're able to reach agreement with them then we will but it's very much their call.

JOURNALIST: What is the total cost now for the PNG and « Nauru » solution?

MINISTER BURKE: Look, I prefer not to use the word solution given it has a particular historical context which causes to have a convention in the first place.

The total budget figures on those were all provided in the update that was given by the update that was given by the Treasurer yesterday.

The important thing to remember with all of this though is if this does have an impact that people believe it might, and that is that it actually makes a difference to the number of people smuggling operations coming across the Indian Ocean.

Over time the difference to the Budget is a significant saving.

Now there are better reasons than that for going down this path but the impact on the bottom line over time here is actually positive for the Budget, not negative.

JOURNALIST: Minister, when do you think the boats will stop?

We've had 3 weeks now since the Papua New Guinean solution has been instituted, when will the boats stop?

Do you foresee a date, do you foresee a time frame?

MINISTER BURKE: That's in the decision of some criminal networks.

I'm not in charge of criminal networks who make these decisions to put people's lives at risk on the high seas.

They will continue to test our resolve and for however many people believe the claims that people smugglers make, that will determine how many boats, that will determine how many people are affected by the new arrangements.

But no-one, while people will test our resolve, no-one should doubt our resolve.

Anyone who arrives by boat without a visa should know they will not be settled in Australia.

There is no longer a reason to pay a people smuggler and get on a boat.

The product that they have been selling to people has been the chance to live and work in Australia, that product has been taken from them.

JOURNALIST: Minister, there's been unrest on « Nauru » in detention centres now that the agreement's being expanded, are you going to beef up security or how will you keep behaviour under control?

MINISTER BURKE: Well, the behaviour that you refer to involved action which amounts to criminal offences in every country of the world.

There is no country in the world where those sorts of actions don't have criminal consequences.

The Nauruan Government is currently going through the process of collecting statements and affidavits of being able to go through the process of laying charges.

Australia support the right of the Government of « Nauru » to enforce its own criminal law and we are helping them to make sure that they have sufficient prison capacity.

Now we don't prejudge how will be found guilty, how many will not but it is important to them, and to us, that they are able to have sufficient prison capacity in the wake of those events.

Might I say when I've gone through « Nauru » , yes, there's an anger from the people of « Nauru » about the events of that day.

There is also a very high level of anger from other people who were there for processing.

They have seen a minority of their number torch the buildings that they were about to have as their place to sleep.

They know that there are people who were about to have claims finalised and some of whom would have then been offered settlement probably in Australia because they were before these arrangements had been put in place.

Now there are hold ups in the processing itself and we also have to balance whether or not individuals themselves who might have been found to be refugees are now either going to be facing criminal charges or are going to be required to be witnesses in criminal cases.

So the cost, yes, there's a financial cost, yes, there's a cost in frustration for the people of « Nauru » , but I've got to say the ones who have borne the cost very, very personally include other people who are there for processing.

JOURNALIST: If arrivals continue at the same rate that they are now, how long realistically can we expect « Nauru » to continue resettling people before that’s just not an option?

MINISTER BURKE: « Nauru » has a small population and it is a small country and it will be at the discretion of the Government of « Nauru » how many people they want to take on this.

JOURNALIST: Must have made some estimation as to how long [inaudible]?

MINISTER BURKE: Well, I think I've answered this as comprehensively as anyone can with the response I gave earlier, that the people smuggling operators are criminal networks and no Government is in charge of whether or not people break the law but we are in charge of how we respond to it.

And nobody should be in any doubt about the way we will respond and there are two plane loads of people who have now arrived in Manus Island who, if they had questioned whether or not we were serious a week ago, they're not questioning it now.

JOURNALIST: Mr Burke, when will the first group of new asylum seekers be sent to « Nauru » and do you have an idea of the split between PNG and « Nauru » ?

MINISTER BURKE: The Nauruan numbers will be small and the Nauruan numbers, the priority there will be groups involving children, whether it's unaccompanied minors or family groups.

There are a number of cases that have been put to me over recent weeks where people have tried to isolate a description of the group that might not be able to be sent to Papua New Guinea and because this hadn't yet been concluded I hadn't flagged what would be able to happen in those instances.

But certainly now through any of the examples that people were trying to conjure up to find a hole in the system, it's quite clear that Manus Island is not the only option in case loads.

It's quite reasonable for the Government of « Nauru » , given what they've seen in recent, with the incident more than a week ago, that they are more comfortable taking groups that involve children than they are taking single adult males.

I think that that makes sense and certainly from our perspective it resolves some of the issues that people have been challenging me within recent days that I haven't been able to point directly to until now.

JOURNALIST: Is Papua New Guinea aware at the time of signing the agreement that you were making this deal with « Nauru » , was it discussed?

MINISTER BURKE: I'm not going to go in detail in discussions country by country but if I can answer in general terms.

The Government of Papua New Guinea specifically knew that we were in conversations with other countries of the region and if you read the original arrangement that was signed with the Government of Papua New Guinea you will see that it specifically contemplated that other countries within the region might join.

Before today's announcement though, certainly Papua New Guinea were told that « Nauru » was about to do this and we were made fully aware of today's announcement.

JOURNALIST: When will the first people arrive in « Nauru » under this new arrangement?

MINISTER BURKE: We need to, we've isolated the site and determined the site which will be appropriate for family groups, where as you would imagine we're not going to house family groups beside or on the same location as where we have single adult males.

So a site has been chosen, community consultation with some of the local people has already been initiated by the Government of « Nauru » and it's a matter now of us, as quickly as we can, getting some accommodation available there.

It's also the case though that there is an immediate priority when we talk about construction on « Nauru » that is more urgent.

The prison capacity in « Nauru » , their prison is not built to house the number of people who are currently there and I have an immediate priority to make sure that we're able to do some things to unlock their prison capacity first.

JOURNALIST: In the same way we saw different deals with different states in relation to Gonski and there was some arguing about that.

Do you think there could be some potential conflict between PNG and « Nauru » in them getting slightly different deals?

Do you think anyone will feel worse off?

MINISTER BURKE: They're very different countries with different populations.

Both nations are aware of what's been negotiated with the other and each nation is in support of the entire project.

JOURNALIST: If we can clarify your statements from earlier - single males will not be sent to « Nauru » , is that right?

MINISTER BURKE: Single males will not be settled in « Nauru » .

Now, the logistics of processing are complicated in « Nauru » at the moment in terms of processing because we have an entire population who are either on charges or maybe witnesses.

So we have a population at « Nauru » that even though before the Papua New Guinea announcement, because I knew that this was in train and may well come together, I had planned to start taking a number of people off « Nauru » to make way for family groups.

We're not in a position to do that at the moment.

So therefore the new site will be the location for family groups.

That does mean it will be a little bit longer than it would otherwise be but it's specifically contemplated, it's the reason for today's Memorandum of Understanding and effectively, as far as settlements concerned, a door that had been closed up until now has been opened.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned a new site, what can you tell us about it as far as what will be built there and how big it will be and just the conditions there?

MINISTER BURKE: Look, the hope is that we can maximise for family groups what you would describe as an open centre.

That's how we want to be able to construct it.

That's the best environment for children and you need to make sure that you've got appropriate services located there as well.

But the consultation with the locals on the site has only been undertaken quite recently with the Government of « Nauru » and so in terms of the specifics for that site, as to how we will configure the family accommodation, is something that we've got a bit of time given that my first priority is to deal with their jail capacity.

JOURNALIST: You say Manus Island is not up to scratch, are you saying « Nauru » is over capacity?

Where's the humanity in terms of, are you worried about that aspect of it?

MINISTER BURKE: Well sorry, what you've just characterised with respect to « Nauru » is not true.

I didn't say that it was over capacity. I said at the, that the number of people we have, certainly at the moment we don't have the accommodation we want because a whole lot of the transferees burnt it.

Now, in the context of that we will be doing two things, or three things.

We need to do something on « Nauru » about prison capacity.

We need to work and reconfigure how the processing centre, the main processing centre will look and we need specifically to be establishing the family accommodation.

Now the site that’s been chosen to get family accommodation up for a small number of families relatively quickly I don't think will be hard.

I'm not going to give you deadlines on it.

I will say upfront my first priority is the prison capacity because there we do have a prison population at the moment involving a very significant number, not a majority, but a very significant number of people who had been sent there for processing who are in a circumstance now where by any definition the prison population is overcrowded.

Now in terms of Manus Island not being up to scratch, can I say when I was on Manus last and I will be making a number of visits there in coming weeks and months, I met with the people from Toll who were there on the ground.

I met with the people from the military and the combination of clearing sites, of doing drainage and earthworks, of getting accommodation up, of putting up new marquees, of taking the old marquee sites and shifting them into permanent accommodation.

We've had since then plane load after plane load go through.

The Manus Island operation and the accommodation there is going to keep very well ahead of the plane loads.

I know there have been attempts from some to try to run an argument that somehow capacity won't keep up.

I'm keeping a very close personal eye on this and I will tell you clearly I have no doubt whatsoever that however many people, people smugglers decide to bring across the Indian Ocean, we will have more than ample capacity.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you said earlier that we're not actively trying to sell this particular idea throughout the region, why is that?

If it’s something that we think could work quite well why are we not actively trying to convince other nations to get on board?

MINISTER BURKE: For the first two and for the, there's other references that I've made but I'm not going to name any nation.

But the truth has been Prime Minister O'Neill approached Prime Minister Rudd.

Minister Adeang, the Minister for Justice from « Nauru » approached me.

The reality has been the approaches have been made directly to us.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that maybe the recent riots on « Nauru played on the Government's mind when they were making this decision?

Do you think it had any impact on the negotiations?

MINISTER BURKE: I've seen no evidence that it did.

That realistically will probably have to be a question to them given that they've never raised it with me in those terms.

Thank you very much.