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Transcript of press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 3 December 2014: Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, transfer to Darwin
Scott Morrison MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014, transfer to Darwin
Wednesday, 03 December 2014
Press Conference, Canberra
Minister Morrison: Hello everyone. Just bear with me as I take you through my understanding of where things are at present. This Government is stopping the boats as we promised we would, in the way we said we would. Yesterday the November report for Operation Sovereign Borders was released showing once again there had been no arrivals during the month. That is the tenth time this year where that has occurred. It wasn't always thus, as last night's 7.30 programme demonstrated, for our Customs and Border Protection personnel and Navy. Under Minister Burke, there was an average of 26 boats per month. Under Minister O'Connor there was an average of 37 boats per month. Under Minister Bowen there was an average of 14 boats a month, and under his watch 398 boats turned up. The result of all of that was cost chaos and tragedy and almost 1200 deaths. This has stopped, as we said it would.
Our other major commitment at the election was to resolve the legacy caseload of some 30,000 people who arrived illegally by boat under Labor, who they failed to process. Some 22,400 of these people did not even have their processing commence under the previous government, for some going back as far as August 2012. On coming to Government we sought to restore temporary protection visas in line with our election mandate. This was rejected by Labor and the Greens in the Senate on two occasions. Despite their rejection we have kept our commitment not to honour the people's smugglers promise of providing permanent visas to those who came illegally on the smugglers boats. The new Senate provided an opportunity to bring some resolution to this issue - to end the uncertainty for the 30,000 people left behind by Labor - to get these people processed. Labor and the Greens dealt themselves out of this dialogue - they chose denial and their ideological opposition to turn backs and temporary protection visas over cleaning up the mess they themselves created. They made themselves irrelevant to the solution. I have been negotiating with Senators who are interested in outcomes and solutions rather than the rhetoric we have heard from Labor and the handwringing we have seen from the Greens, who never have any viable solutions. Labor and the Greens are the problem and have shown no interest in being part of the solution.
Today the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Legacy Caseload Bill) has begun its second reading debate in the Senate. This is a package of measures which seeks to resolve the legacy caseload of 30,000 people left behind by Labor. The bill makes our borders stronger, it honours our commitment to restore Temporary Protection Visas, to strengthen our powers for turn backs and
support the men and women of our Navy and Customs and Border Protection Service who protect our borders at sea, and to provide an efficient and fair process to resolve the cases of some 30,000 people. As a result of discussions with the crossbenches, the Government has agreed to the following measures - some of which were previously announced following my discussion with Palmer United Party earlier this year. Subject to the passage of legislation, as announced with Clive Palmer, the approximately 1500 people who arrived illegally by boat between July 19 and December 31, 2013 would not be transferred to Nauru for processing, but taken into the legacy caseload for processing in Australia. This will reduce the number of children in detention, which I note is already down by 50 per cent since we were elected, so that is around 700 less children, by a further 460 children at least. The Government will also introduce a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa, or SHEV, which will enable those who are found to be refugees under the process set out under the bill who work or study in a designated regional area to be able to apply for an onshore visa, subject to meeting all the requirements of those visas for which they are applying and subject to satisfactory acquittal of the terms of their SHEV.
The Government will introduce amendments to make clear the opportunity presented by the SHEV as requested. In relation to onshore applications, in particular, for other visas it will ensure that such visas cannot be capped - specifically we will be articulating the matters set out in the letter that codified the agreement between Mr Palmer and I announced earlier this year. What is in that letter will be in the legislation. Everything we agreed the government will put forward in that legislation.
As a result of discussions with Senators Xenophon, as well as Senator Day and Senator Leyonhjelm and I stress also drawing on the feedback I have had from Government members who I want to note: Wyatt Roy, Teresa Gambaro, Luke Howarth, Craig Laundy, David Coleman, Nick Varvaris, Sarah Henderson, Michael Sukkar, Natasha Griggs and Matt Williams, the Government will provide work rights to those on Bridging Visas while they undergo their processing under the provisions of this bill. There are currently 25,000 people on these bridging visas.
Also as a result of the discussions with everyone I have just mentioned, but particularly I want to thank Senators Xenophon, Day and Leyonhjelm after clearing the legacy caseload back log, the Government will increase the refugee and humanitarian intake in the next budget by a total of 7500 places over the budget and forward estimates, with a 2500 increase in year three and a 5000 increase in year four, taking the intake in that year to 18,750. This increase, at a cost of more than $100 million, will be fully funded by offsets that I have committed to within my portfolio. If you are going to increase the intake you have got to pay for it.
As previously stated all TPVs and SHEVs granted will be in addition to our annual intake currently at 13,750, not taken out of the intake of that 13,750 as occurred under Labor with their intake where 5000 of those 20,000 visas went to people who arrived illegally by boat. Under our process the people under that stream would be given TPVs or SHEVs and that would be in addition to the 13,750. This Government broke the nexus where someone waiting for a place offshore is denied a place by someone who is coming on a boat. That doesn't happen anymore under this Government will also hardwire these commitments by placing the projected minimum annual intake within a as occurred up until the last election. The Government will
also hardwire these commitments we have made on the intake by placing the projected minimum annual intake within a disallowable instrument that cannot be varied without change to this instrument. In other words that intake can't be reduced unless the instrument is changed which can be disallowed by the Senate.
In addition, the Government has agreed with Senator Xenophon to amendments that will result in: greater alignment with UNHCR definitions and guidelines within the provisions and there are many of these provisions; greater clarity around assessment processes and ensuring that the processes are not just efficient but quick but also free of bias and conform with the natural justice principles set out in the Act. We will also be restricting the fast track processes established in the bill to the legacy caseload only, again through a disallowable instrument. Some have argued these measures provide the Minister with extra powers. This was a little confusing when put to us at the time - the only power a Minister would have had some discretionary power would be the ability to apply these fast track processes to other caseloads. The Government is very pleased to not have that authority unilaterally and the Government will ensure that if this fast-track process which is set out in this bill is to be applied to any other caseload than the legacy caseload that has been identified then that would be a disallowable instrument that could obviously be disallowed by the Senate.
The amendments I have outlined will be introduced by the Government in the course of the debate and there are still some amendments particularly in relation to the codification of the specifics in the letter to Mr Palmer that will be available later today.
Finally the Government has also agreed to refer a proposal by Senator Leyonhjelm for a new way to attract legitimate economic migrants to Australia who want to come to work and make a new life for them and their family in Australia to the Productivity Commission for analysis. We are pleased to refer that matter to the Productivity Commission and allow that policy to be further reviewed. Senator Leyonhjelm will have more to say about this and I will be happy for him to fill in the details on this and a terms of reference will be circulated once finalised.
The prevailing focus of our discussions has been to resolve and therefore improve the situation for the 30,000 people Labor left behind - they should not languish anymore. That is why it is important that we deal with this matter this week. I don't want to see, if there is the opportunity to take children off Christmas Island before Christmas, then I would like to see it done this week.
Crossbench Senators I know do not ideally support all the measures that are in this bill. These are the Government's measures. What they have done is come forward constructively to be part of the way forward and to enable us to move on from the debilitating debates of the past. The measures and agreements the Government have given would not have been possible 12 months ago, because the boats had not stopped, particularly in relation to the restoration of work rights and the incorporation of the 1500 post July 19 arrivals into the legacy caseload which will enable us to bring those children out of detention. The Government has been true to our commitments but pragmatic to get an outcome on our borders and our borders will be stronger as a result of this bill passing.
For anyone seeking to come to Australia by boat - you will be stopped, you will be turned back and you will never come to Australia. That was most recently demonstrated over last weekend with that Sri Lankan venture. For those who are already here, we are not offering you in this bill what you were promised by the people smugglers. But thanks to the crossbenchers, should the bill pass, people's claims will be processed efficiently and fairly. Families and children will be released from detention. While they wait to have their claims processed they will be able to work and support themselves and be a lesser burden on the taxpayer. There will be a sensible and funded increase in our humanitarian intake that will kick in once the backlog of Labor's legacy caseload has been resolved. Those who have been waiting years for their cases to be heard will now be processed.
I want to thank the crossbenchers for their engagement in what has been a process that has been around six months. The ultimate determination of this bill is in the hands of the Senate. It is not for me to commentate on the position of individual Senators. I will leave that to those Senators but I thank them for the good faith discussions we have been in. We are all very aware of what we have discussed and what we would like to achieve and I am happy for the Senate to now consider the matter. But I note this - we need to move forward and the Government will need to move forward on this. We will need to process these individuals and we cannot allow this matter to continue to go on in the way it has which has been in a holding pattern because of the intransigence of Labor and the Greens previously in the Senate. This is our opportunity to make this situation better and I frankly commend the bill to the Senate.
Question: Minister the Safe Haven Enterprise Visas can you clarify the length of them, the duration of them? Can you reapply for a new one and is it in any way a pathway to permanency?
Minister Morrison: It is and the amendments that we will be introducing make that even clearer. It is a five year visa and as we announced previously for those who go to designated regional areas, those designations are made by those areas themselves as I noted previously in this room, where they go to those places and effectively work for three and a half out of those five years or study for three and a half out of those five years and obviously don't draw down benefits if they have been working for more than one and a half years; then they will be entitled to make an onshore application for another visa. That could be a 457 visa if they have acquired the skills over that period of time, working on a bridging visa currently they could commence the process of seeking to get those skills that would put them in a position to be able to apply for a skilled visa but equally they could apply for a student visa, they would apply for any number of other visas which are set out in the amendments that will be introduced into the Senate. I think that is a good initiative, it was a product of the discussions that Mr Palmer and I had and I look forward - it is a matter for Palmer United Party and what they do in the Senate. I am not going to speculate on that other than to say we will be putting into the Senate exactly what we agreed in our letter.
Question: Minister Morrison to be 100 per cent clear they can apply for those other visas but they can't get permanency in Australia?
Minister Morrison: No that is not what I said.
Question: Well could you explain please?
Minister Morrison: The list of visas that they can potentially apply for such as a skilled visa and an employee nominated sponsored visa for example they could apply for but they would have to have the skills and the requisite qualifications that would enable them to make such an application. What this does is it says to people who are in this situation and it is confined to this legacy caseload - anyone else who was thinking of coming to Australia by boat you know what will happen - Border Protection Command will deal with that. But those who are already here as part of this legacy caseload if they acquit themselves under the SHEV then they will have the same opportunity that someone in Pakistan or the United Kingdom or Singapore or anywhere like that would have to apply for one of those visas. They have to meet the criteria if they don't meet the criteria then obviously they can't get the visa.
Question: Including a refugee visa?
Minister Morrison: They don't have the opportunity to apply for a permanent protection visa, no. The only protection visa that is available to those who arrived illegally by boat is a temporary protection visa or a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa which are both temporary visas. I should have also mentioned that there will be an amendment which deals with temporary protection visas because as you know that denies people family reunion, as does the SHEV, as well as denying people the ability to leave and come to the country - they wouldn't be able to return. In compassionate circumstances such as the death of a relative in a country other than the one that they claim to have been persecuted - then those cases could be considered on a case-by-case basis on compassionate grounds which would enable them to return to participate in a family funeral or something of that nature and then come back to Australia. They'd come back on the same visa they were previously on.
Question: Have you received any notification from the Palmer United Party as to how, whether they will back the legislation with these changes?
Minister Morrison: I have the letter between Clive and myself which I tabled in the Parliament previously and that is the basis upon which these amendments are being put to the Senate.
Question: Would it be acceptable for you for the Senate to pass the TPV and SHEV aspects of the bill but not the other parts? Or is it a total package?
Minister Morrison: My negotiations have been about a complete package.
Question: Secondly if the Bill is not passed by the Senate would you still proceed with processing the legacy caseload and allowing them work rights?
Minister Morrison: I am not going to speculate on the second part of the question, my focus is continuing to work with the crossbenchers on the bill passing. The bill passing will mean that people will be processed, that children and families will come
out of detention, that our maritime powers will be strengthened to support our navy and Customs and Border Protection personnel and that the refugee intake will be ultimately increased and people who are waiting for their claims to be processed will have work rights. That is a very strong package I am sure even you would agree Michael.
Question: Minister Morrison can I clarify the issue on the bridging visas, are the work rights on the contingent on the legislation passing?
Minister Morrison: Yes.
Journalist: The lack of work rights limited to what time they have been waiting - I mean do you acknowledge that has made it harder for these people now to seek employment in Australia?
Minister Morrison: It is difficult but as I said before the ability to now provide work rights we believe given the success we have had with our other border protection measures would not create the pull factor that it would have previously. That is why we are in a position where the previous government was not I think to be able to move on the issue of work rights.
Question: Mr Morrison is there currently an internal review in how many refugees can apply to resettle in Australia…
Minister Morrison: I am dealing with the bill today Sarah. That is what I am dealing with today.
Question: Your government Senators said some of the measures in the bill should be reviewed after three years because they were so extraordinary. Would this fast tracking regime, would there be a sunset on it?
Minister Morrison: Well the intention is we would be able to process this caseload within three years. I would hope that that point would be moot.
Question: There will definitely be a vote tomorrow?
Minister Morrison: We will work this through the Senate. I am a humble member of the House of Representatives who does not pretend to understand the mysteries of the Senate. I will allow Senators to deal with this bill in the way they deal with it and I will be working with them and respecting their processes.
Question: But you are not going to get kids out of Christmas Island by Christmas?
Minister Morrison: Well this is a matter for the Senate.
Question: Just to be explicit finally, this is no pathway to permanent residency is that right?
Minister Morrison: Well I can only refer you to what I said…
Question: … visas but is this a pathway to permanent residency?
Minister Morrison: I will just tell you what I told you before. At the end of a SHEV people can apply for visas which include permanent visas - not a permanent protection visa but they would have to satisfy the requirements of those visas and they would have had to have satisfied the conditions of the SHEV which they are on. Now that is a very specific corridor that they would have to move through and that would be a matter for them but I have got to say if someone is able to do that and if someone is able to work themselves into having that opportunity then good for them, good for them.
Question: Would you expect that to happen very often?
Minister Morrison: I can't really speculate Lenore. The opportunity is there and how people respond is up to them.
Question: Mr Morrison in increasing the humanitarian intake are there any particular areas that you are looking at taking those in queues?
Minister Morrison: Not at this stage. As you know we have 4400 people coming out of the programme this year for Syria and Iraq which frankly was more than what Labor did even in their final year. I noticed some comments that were made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek on this yesterday. That does not bear out in the combined intake for Syria and Iraq. We will continue to do that but the humanitarian intake I think has to be quite responsive to situations as they present. That certainly is how we deal with it and so that is what the intake would be but I am not going to speculate on what the priority needs might be in those two out years. I think it is the responsibility of the Minister in those circumstances to set the programme based on the needs.
Question: Will you continue to work with the UNHCR with that?
Minister Morrison: We continue to work with the UNHCR.
Question: What is your plan B if this doesn't get through the Senate?
Minister Morrison: I am on plan A.
Question: Do you concede these people who came on boats under Labor's watch that you would have said at the time I am sure there is no way they should be able to settle permanently in Australia?
Minister Morrison: That is our policy.
Question: You just said there is a way for them to keep applying…
Minister Morrison: It has never been our policy to provide a permanent protection visa to people who came illegally on boats. This bill does not provide it. This government will never provide it.
Question: Perhaps not a permanent protection visa …
Minister Morrison: That has always been our policy - no permanent protection visa, no permanent passport to welfare for people who come illegally by boat. That is our policy. That is what is in this bill. That will always be where I stand.
Question: Can I ask you about the two pregnant women from Nauru in Darwin what their condition is?
Minister Morrison: They are in care in Darwin.
Question: What sort of care?
Minister Morrison: Under the care of our IHMS and other doctors and service providers and local hospitals who are attending to their condition.
Minister Morrison: My understanding is they are fine.
Question: What sort of visa did they come on? Did they come on a visa?
Minister Morrison: I am here to talk about the bill today and I now have to keep talking to people who are voting on that bill so thanks for your time. Thank you.