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Transcript of joint press conference: Darwin: 23 August 2013: The Coalition's commitment to combat people smuggling; the Coalition's commitment to support Defence Force families; costings; the Coalition's commitment to paid parental leave



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JOH

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH

23 August 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MHR, JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH MR. SCOTT MORRISON MHR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP AND MR. STUART ROBERT MHR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR

DEFENCE SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND PERSONNEL, DARWIN, NORTHERN TERRITORY

Subjects: The Coalition’s commitment to combat people smuggling; the Coalition’s commitment to support Defence Force families; costings; the Coalition’s commitment to paid parental leave.

E&OE...........................................................................................................................................

TONY ABBOTT:

It’s terrific to be here in Darwin in the electorate of Solomon. It’s great to be on HMAS Coonawarra. It's good to be in the presence of my Shadow Ministerial friends and colleagues Scott Morrison and Stu Robert. It's good to be with my friend and Parliamentary colleague Natasha Griggs. We'd all like to warmly thank Dave Kilby who is the Commander of our Patrol Squadron and also Ben Favelle, the skipper of HMAS Coonawarra for making us so welcome here today and we pay tribute to the sterling work of the men and women of our Defence Forces who are doing such good work in the seas to our north.

About two weeks to go now and it's clearer and clearer that this election campaign pits the positive plans of the Coalition against more of the same from a divided and directionless Government led by a Prime Minister who has no record to defend and nothing to say about Australia's future.

As I have so often said, let me make it clear that if you elect the Coalition, this is what you'll get. We'll build a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead. We'll scrap the carbon tax. We'll get the Budget back under control. We'll stop the boats. We will build the roads of the 21st century because I would like to be known as an infrastructure prime minister.

Obviously, border protection is one of the key issues in this election campaign and the Coalition has been absolutely clear and consistent for several years now. We've essentially had the same policies on border protection for more than a decade and the essence of our policy is first, temporary protection visas to deny the people smugglers a product to sell. Second, rigorous offshore processing at Nauru and Manus Island. Third, the willingness to turn boats around where it's safe to do so. And fourth, working much more closely with source and transit countries so that at every step in their journey, the life of people smugglers becomes more difficult and the policy which Scott Morrison and I are proud to announce today essentially involves working much more closely with source and transit countries to intercept the operations of the people smugglers.

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There's about $440 million of new commitments by the Coalition that we announced today essentially to do four things. First, to increase the AFP presence in Indonesia and elsewhere, which has been reduced by this Government. Second, to work more closely with local authorities and local people in Indonesia to ensure that it makes sense for them to be working with us rather than against us. Third, to work with Indonesia and other countries to increase their surveillance capacity, to increase and improve their search and rescue capacity. And fourth, to ensure that we do have much greater capacity to process and deal with people offshore rather than having to bring them onshore as this Government has done so often.

This is a very important additional element in our policy to stop the boats. It complements Operation Sovereign Borders which Scott Morrison and I announced the other day in Brisbane and I will now ask Scott Morrison to speak to the detail of the policy that we announced today.

SCOTT MORRISON:

Thanks very much Tony. Regional cooperation has always been a critical component of how you stop the boats. It was under John Howard and when Alexander Downer established the Bali process with Indonesia as co-chairs. It is critical to have the cooperation of our regional partners in addressing this issue. We need to do what we need to do on our side of the line and Tony has once again reiterated those key points about temporary protection visas and turning boats back where it's safe to do so and of course having the offshore processing.

What we're announcing today is putting substance to what regional cooperation means, because the substance just hasn't been there over the last five years. Going to meetings is not a substitute for having real action on regional cooperation. You've got to have the substance of the commitment and the substance of the measures and our measures for regional cooperation are all about deterrence. The Government's approach has been about processing people and drawing people through the region. With a regional protection framework, that's what they call their approach. Our approach is a regional deterrence framework. It is focused unashamedly on deterring people coming into the region and through the region trying to get to Australia.

Australia wants stronger borders and a Coalition will deliver stronger borders. We need to have stronger regional borders as well. When the boats leave Indonesia or Sri Lanka, when they come to Australia, it costs the Australian taxpayer based on the 11/12 figures around $12.8 million per boat. The more we can do to prevent those boats leaving in the first place, the more success we will have in stopping the boats but equally, we won't have to go to the other measures which have greater risk and greater cost. Once those boats leave, things get more dangerous and more difficult.

So, those measures we announced today, first of all, getting people on the ground in Indonesia working in close partnership with the Indonesian National Police. That's the offer we're making with a commitment of $67 million to work collaboratively with the Indonesian National Police as well as in Malaysia and Sri Lanka to boost our intelligence networks, to boost our level of cooperation with those other partner agencies, particularly in Indonesia and the joint operations we have there. The second part of it is a community outreach programme into the villages.

Presently, there is the most low level of activity in terms of trying to enlist the support of local Indonesians in disrupting people smuggling networks throughout the region. We want to have a programme that reaches out up to 100 villages across Indonesia and we need to give the people implementing that programme currently through the International Organisation of Migration, but also with the local Police up there, the tools they need to engage those local communities. Having village wardens that can be on stipends. Having the ability to offer bounties for those who provide information that leads to actual disruptions and actual arrests and successful prosecutions, but also the opportunity where the intelligence leads you to have the option to be able to get that boat before the people smuggler does and stop that boat from leaving Indonesia. That saves lives, it saves the taxpayers’ money ultimately and it stops the boats coming to Australia.

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Then there is the issue on the borders themselves where we will provide increased support to the tune of up to $40 million, 37 in fact. And that's all about trying to give our partners in the region the technology and the skills, know-how and training to have better border controls in Indonesia and in other countries in the region. You will note in the policy things like advanced passenger processing and things of that nature which means their borders are stronger which means our borders are stronger. The search and rescue commitment is a commitment of $71 million. That's an offer to boost their capability particularly along the southern Javan coast so we can have a process where Indonesia also has a greater capacity to respond to incidents in their own search and rescue zone and particularly in their own waters. That will save lives and again, it will ensure that those vessels are addressed in the appropriate way in accordance with the laws that govern the search and rescue protocols.

We will also have transfer vessels that will support the fleets that we've seen here. That means that these patrol boats and the people on those patrol boats will be out there intercepting and patrolling, not running a taxi service as this Government has had them doing for several years. That's a commitment that will involve funding of around $198 million to ensure that we can have the vessels in place to ensure these guys can do their job out at sea of intercepting and patrolling. And in addition to that we’ll have increased aerial surveillance to the tune of around $21 million.

The other measures are outlined there in the policy Tony, we can take questions on those, but this is about having a fair dinkum regional deterrence framework, giving meaning. Now, these matters have been briefed obviously to the Indonesian Ambassador over the last 24 hours, as well as taking the courtesy of advising the Malaysian High Commissioner or his officers as well as the Sri Lankan High Commissioner by Julie Bishop.

TONY ABBOTT:

Ok, as I said before this is our country and we will decide who comes here and I can think of no-one better than Scott Morrison to oversee a strong and effective policy to stop the boats. Now it's also important while we are stopping the boats to look after the families of Australia's service personnel and Stu Robert I will ask you to speak to our policy there.

STUART ROBERT:

Thanks Tony, it's great to be here at HMAS Coonawarra where there are 10 Armidale patrol boats and 15 crews and some 600 personnel. Whilst we speak about what our service personnel do on the high seas or indeed overseas or an exercise here at home, we need to remember there's 71,000 dependents, husbands, wives, kids, dependent parents and grandparents that rely on those service personnel.

So, it's great to be here with Tony and Scott and of course our fine outstanding MP for Solomon in Natasha Griggs and to announce that under an Abbott government those 71,000 dependents will be able to receive free GP services at a course up to $400 for any ancillary costs like podiatry or physiotherapy or dentistry. This is the same policy we took to the election in 2010. We have been completely consistent whilst Tony's been leading the Opposition that we will take care of the 71,000 dependents of our men and women who serve us so well in uniform.

The Labor Government of course has been running a trial now for six years. Their policy in ‘07 was to build 12 centres, they've built none. This financial year alone they’ve taken $50 million out of the trial programme. Well we say, enough trials! An Abbott government will implement the policy. From 1 January that all of those 71,000 dependents will have no more gaps, no more payments in GP services and up to $400 for each dependent per annum for each ancillary service. It’s a great policy.

Tony, I'm proud to be here with you to announce.

TONY ABBOTT:

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Thank you Stu. Ok, do we have any questions?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, your boat buyback scheme, what’s that capped at? And how do you decide what boats you’re going to buy and isn't there a danger that you could stimulate the boat-building industry in Indonesia and therefore see more boats coming to Australia?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, there's roughly $20 million as I recall that has been allocated to these sorts of village watch activities. It's much better and much more sensible to spend a few thousand dollars in Indonesia than to spend $12 million processing the people who ultimately arrive here. So, it's a commonsense measure that will give our people working in cooperation with the Indonesian authorities the ability to do more, to cut off this evil trade at source.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, what would be the price that the Australian taxpayer will pay for one of these boats?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well this is an option that will be available to our people and their counterparts in Indonesia as part of a whole range of measures necessary to intercept this evil trade at every level. Now, as I said, it makes a lot more sense to pay a few thousand dollars in Indonesia rather than spend $12 million once these boats bring their cargo to Australia.

QUESTION:

About $2,000 a boat?

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m not going to put a figure on it. This is money that we will be made available to be sensibly deployed by people on the ground who are determined to stop the boats far more effectively than has happened up till now.

QUESTION:

The bounties, can you tell us what size will those be and who would actually handle the money? Who would be turning it over to the person [inaudible]?

TONY ABBOTT:

Again, this is the kind of thing that will be left to the discretion of our people on the ground acting in close cooperation with the Indonesians. The important thing is that we actually stop the boats. In order to stop the boats, we need action at all points in the people smuggling chain. We need action in source countries. We need action at airports in Malaysia and Indonesia. We need action on the ground in Indonesia, on the coast of Indonesia. We need action in the high seas. We need better action here in Australia. So, this is adding to the arsenal of options that we need if we are genuinely going to stop the boats.

QUESTION:

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Can you just clarify for me, looking at your policy document here, it says that subject to agreement with Indonesia, a fleet of fast transfer vessels would be commercially leased to take asylum seekers directly from a suspected illegal entry vehicle to the nearest authorised transit port for charter air transfer directly to Manus or Nauru. What happens if the asylum seekers on that boat resist and secondly what if Indonesia doesn't sign up to that element of your policy? Does that mean that the Navy and Customs vessels are left as it says in your policy providing a taxi service for [inaudible] passengers?

TONY ABBOTT:

The important thing is that we don't just continue doing what we are doing up till now. If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always got and that's the problem. This Government has comprehensively failed to protect our borders. They've had every policy under the sun, except one that's worked and we all know the result - more than 50,000 illegal arrivals, more than 800 boats, tragically more than 1,000 deaths at sea and $11.5 billion in border protection cost blow-outs. So, we've got to do it differently. We've got to do it differently. Now, we think it makes sense to be able to ensure that our Naval forces and Customs vessels in the seas to our north aren't running a constant taxi service to Christmas Island. They are actually protecting our borders and if they have the option of unloading people from operational vessels onto other vessels that obviously frees them for operational duties.

So, we are trying to maximise the range of options available to our forces so that we can maximise the success of our operational activities.

QUESTION:

I understand what you are getting at but I guess what I'm saying is what's your sense, have you spoken to Indonesia, have there been representations made to Indonesia about this element of your policy and what happens if they don't agree to it?

TONY ABBOTT:

It is in Indonesia's interests to stop the boats, because as long as the boats keep coming, there will be people in Indonesia who frankly don't really want to be in Indonesia and inevitably, they will be a nuisance to the Indonesian authorities. So, it is absolutely in Indonesia's interests to stop the boats. I have no reason to think that the Indonesians won't be prepared to work cooperatively and constructively with us. That's what happened in the past. I believe that's what can happen in the future. I'm not going to go into specific details as to who has spoken to whom and when. But I am confident that we can make this work. I am confident that the professionalism of our Naval and Customs personnel is such that we can deal with any contingencies that we might find on the high seas.

QUESTION:

Has there been some contact with Indonesia though?

TONY ABBOTT:

I am going to ask Scott to add to this answer, because Scott has been in Indonesia many times over the last few years, talking to a whole range of people from Ministers in the Government down. There has been a very great deal of contact between members of the Coalition and people in Indonesia and Indonesia wants us to succeed. Indonesia wants us to succeed. The Indonesians are full of goodwill towards Australia. They just want us to be serious about the job and as President Yudhoyono himself has said, the problem is that the Australian Government has put the sugar on the table. So, the Indonesians want to work with us but they want us to be serious and this is a demonstration that we are absolutely serious about stopping the boats.

SCOTT MORRISON:

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I would only add that also the proposal doesn't just only rest on that option there are many other options that are available. That's what you do in the Bali process. That's what you do in a regional cooperation framework. You have a single minded focus on deterrence which is our approach. That means identifying points of transfer and departure. As Philip Ruddock will well remember when the Minoura went directly to Nauru, all those years ago, from the inception of the Tampa. The point is this, that wherever you can avoid people crossing our border, that's what we'll do. Under an Abbott led government the point is you don't get to cross this line. That's what the policy is directed at achieving.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, is there agreement from Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia to have more AFP officers in those countries? How many? And you often criticise Labor for cutting the number of AFP officers going to Indonesia by 40 per cent. They cut it down from five to three. So, how many are you proposing would be overseas stationed in those three countries?

TONY ABBOTT:

We want to put more than Labor has had and we certainly want to put significantly more than Labor currently has and the important thing is that if we are serious about stopping the boats we need to have Australian operatives on the ground. Now obviously they need to work constructively and cooperatively with their Indonesian counterparts. That's happened in the past, it can and must happen again, but we need the resources available. Labor has actually refused to make the relevant resources available, and Scott might like to odd to that answer.

SCOTT MORRISON:

It's important not just to have the AFP officers on the ground but to have the special operations funding to support their work because they work currently with over 100 Indonesian National Police. And these positions that you put into these countries leverage up and so if you have special operations funding and you have more people on the ground from the AFP that multiplies many, many times over, in terms of your ability to deploy right across Indonesia.

Now, Julie Bishop and Michael Keenan and I were in Sri Lanka, in February. There was one AFP officer, just one doing everything and if you are serious about trying to tap into intelligence networks and work with other organisations in those countries you have got to have more people who can do that and in this policy also note there is a special envoy for Operation Sovereign Borders to work through these issues throughout the region.

Now, this isn’t a diplomatic role, this is an operational get it done role, where this envoy would be working with the Indonesian National Police, with the military, with the civil agencies, [inaudible] these organisations to work through the operational challenges and how the sort of commitment which we've made in this policy, over $400 million, the commitments we've made, can be put to best effect on the ground in these countries.

QUESTION:

Is Jim Molan under consideration for that role?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, We'll have more to say at different points in this campaign. But the point I want to make David is that we are serious about this. We're not just going to be all announcement and no execution. We're not going to be all talk and no action here.

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We are sending the clearest possible signal to the people smugglers, your game is up. Your game is up, we run this country and we decide who comes here. And we will exercise the control that is necessary to keep our country secure. We will work very decisively with our friends and neighbours to ensure that this evil trade is finally stopped.

Now, Mr Rudd talks a good game, there's no doubt about that. And the announcement that he made a few weeks ago, with Prime Minister O'Neill of PNG, was an impressive announcement. But you know since that time, 3,000 people have come illegally by boat and just a little over 300 have actually gone to PNG.

You can't take this Government and this Prime Minister seriously when it comes to border protection because what they do never backs up what they say.

QUESTION:

Where will these regional transit ports be? Do they require agreements with these countries and how soon would you look at using them?

TONY ABBOTT:

They are part of the much greater cooperation that we expect to develop with our regional friends and neighbours as part of a serious policy to stop the boats.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible]

SCOTT MORRISON:

We'll work through those issues as part of the Bali process, with Indonesia, who are co-chairs and to ensure that we can identify the suitable places within the framework of that cooperation with these many other nations that form part of this important fora that was actually established under the Howard Government.

One of the most important things here with what we’re announcing today is we're getting the Bali process back on track. Back focused on deterrence. And the Labor Government has been taking it off-track for the last five years and particularly for the last three. It was Kevin Rudd when he was Foreign Minister who went up to Bali and announced his regional protection framework, which frankly ran the great risk of just creating one big asylum magnet in Indonesia.

Now that is not the approach we think is necessary. We think you have to focus on deterrence. That's what the countries around the Bali process table have been doing. They've been getting on with that job while Kevin Rudd has been talking about other things. We'll get on with the job with them on the issues of deterrence.

QUESTION:

So Mr Morrison, with those transit hubs, would they actually be in Indonesia, is that the plan?

SCOTT MORRISON:

We'll work through those details if we’re elected to Government as part of the Bali process and our bilateral relationships with the many countries who work in this space.

QUESTION:

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[Inaudible]

SCOTT MORRISON:

If we're elected to government, there are very strong relationships across many of these countries, and it would be something that particularly Julie Bishop, if she were elected as Minister for Foreign Affairs would have an early opportunity to progress along with myself if Tony sees fit and so those relationships we've been building for many years. That shouldn't be underestimated. Tony and I and Julie Bishop have been in Indonesia. Tony has met directly with the President, the meetings have been held at all levels. At the highest level and the operational level that has taken place in Sri Lanka, that has taken place in many countries, so we are not on a standing start with this. We will hit the ground running with this.

TONY ABBOTT:

Let's be clear: as far as we are concerned, people who come illegally to this country by boat will be processed offshore.

SCOTT MORRISON:

That's right.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] We've now seen an internal briefing note from the PNG chief to the Government in PNG essentially warning that this is going to cause severe capacity constraints for them and it’s not really a good idea. Essentially you've said you will salvage the deal. Isn't it untenable, won't you be essentially trying to rewrite it entirely or just not continuing with it in any fashion whatsoever and doesn't it also show that essentially the people smugglers, whatever you've put in place are simply going to try to overwhelm it and flood your policy?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, the people smugglers know that the last Coalition Government was more than a match for them. And the next coalition government will have at least as much resolution, at least as much determination as its predecessor. I want to give you that absolute assurance. In any contest of will, between the Australian Government and the people smugglers, the Australian Government must and will prevail. We must and will prevail. This is a national emergency on our borders and we will do what is necessary to end the people smuggling trade once and for all. We will do what is necessary to end this once and for all. Now the people smugglers know that, the people smugglers know that. They know that John Howard and Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock did it before, and they know that Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison and Philip Ruddock and others can do it again. That’s our, that is the strong message that we are sending to the people smugglers - your game is up.

SCOTT MORRISON:

Can I just add one issue with PNG? This was done by the Government in four weeks - Tony and I and the team have been working on the policies, the one you see today the one we announced Friday, Operation Sovereign Borders, for four years. When you make policy on the run as the Government has done on PNG, as we always said about it, it runs into problems very, very quickly and that is what you are seeing. That arrangement for offshore processing; we had to drag the Government kicking and screaming into offshore processing. So I am not surprised they had difficulties implementing a policy they don’t believe in. We believe in our policies and Operation Sovereign Borders is the key deployment policy we have to ensure that we can respond to whatever the smugglers throw at us. This Government always just has a one-off

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solution, whether it is the East Timor election fix, the Malaysian people swap, the PNG election fix, the asylum freeze, you will know them and you all know what happened to them. They always go one out and it always falls over. We have a comprehensive approach and that is particularly outlined in the policy.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, can I ask you about the Coalition’s campaign launch on Sunday. Why are you holding it in Brisbane and what do you hope to achieve from that being in Brisbane and secondly, will this be where we get to see the long awaited Coalition policy costings?

TONY ABBOTT:

We have already said that our costings will be released in good time before the election. We expect them to be released in the final week. Our final costings will be released in the final week, but all the time we are releasing interim costings and Joe Hockey is going to have a fair bit more to say about costings at the National Press Club in a few days’ time.

QUESTION:

Why Brisbane? Because Newspoll recently has showed that there are seats there that the Coalition [inaudible]?

TONY ABBOTT:

We aren’t complacent in the seats we hold and we want to be competitive in the seats we don’t hold. Brisbane I think is a good place to have the launch; we have had the launch there in 2010. My recollection is that we had the launch there in 2007 and 2004 as well so Brisbane has become if you like a bit traditional for a Coalition campaign launch and I’m looking forward to a pretty good day on Sunday, Andrew?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, on your paid parental leave scheme, your former Howard Government colleague Nick Minchin says that he doesn’t think you can get it through the Senate after the election. He says as a former Finance Minister, he can’t support it and that many in your Party agree with his views. So what is your response?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, this has been our policy for more than three years, it has been our policy since March in 2010. I accept that for a certain type of conservative this has been a difficult embrace - I accept that. I absolutely accept that, but I want to send the strongest possible message to every single Australian, particularly to the women of our country, that the Coalition does now get it where the modern family, the modern economy and where Australian woman are today and if you want to do the right thing by the families of Australia, by the workers of Australia, by the businesses of Australia, you need a fair dinkum paid parental leave policy and that is exactly what people will get from the Coalition.

QUESTION:

Can you get it through the Senate?

TONY ABBOTT:

It will be… it’s obviously one of the key issues in this election campaign. If we win the election we will have the strongest possible mandate to implement a fair dinkum paid parental leave policy. Let me just make this observation about our paid parental leave policy. Why should someone be paid his or her wage to go on

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holidays and not be paid his or her wage to go on parental leave? Why is it fair for Mr Rudd's departmental secretaries to be paid their very high salary when they're on parental leave and somehow not fair for the shop assistants and the factory workers of Australia to get paid their salary when they're on parental leave?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you’ll have to do a deal with the Greens won’t you Mr Abbott on the PPL to get through the Senate? Don’t you concede that?

TONY ABBOTT:

I know there are many people inside the Labor Party who think our paid parental leave policy is a big improvement on Mr Rudd's. Unions New South Wales for one thinks that our paid parental leave policy is the way to go. I expect that if we are elected, the Parliament of Australia, both Houses, will accept the mandate that we have.

QUESTION:

Is Saul Eslake right? Is there a $30 million gap between your savings and your promises or [inaudible]?

TONY ABBOTT:

Jane, I have a fair bit of time for Saul Eslake. He's a very credible economist, but he's not infallible and there are quite a number of errors in the work that he's put out today. Mathias Cormann went through some of those errors on one of the TV channels earlier today. Let me just get back to the basic proposition. All of our policies will be fully costed and fully funded and the overall Budget bottom line will be better under us than under the Labor Party. It's important to abolish the carbon tax, to abolish the mining tax, to cut red tape, to get the workplace relations pendulum back to the sensible center because we have to build a stronger economy. If you build a stronger economy, you will then have the resources, the revenues to produce the better services that our citizens have a right to expect. A stronger economy is the key to a better society and that's exactly what people will get under the Coalition.

[ends]