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Transcript of National Press Club Immigration Debate: Canberra: 3 September 2013: immigration policy; asylum seeker policy; Coalition's boat buybacks

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E & O E - PROOF ONLY _____________________________________________________________

Subjects: Immigration policy; Aslyum seeker policy; Coalition’s boat buybacks. _____________________________________________________________

HOST: Good afternoon and welcome to the National Press Club. I am Lyndal Curtis, the Political Editor for ABC News 24 and one of the directors of the club. Today we present the immigration debate and joining us today are the Minister for Immigration Tony Burke and the Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison. They are both from Sydney, they both like NRL. I fear that is probably where the agreement ends, but we will see in the debate. There are rules for the debate; there has been a coin toss. Tony Burke has elected to speak first and he will be followed by Scott Morrison.

TONY BURKE: Thanks very much Lyndal. The immigration portfolio perhaps more than any other defines how Australians see themselves and how the rest of the world sees us. Immigration policy itself is much broader than what we have focused on in the political debate. There are in the order of about 12 million visas dealt with each year by the Immigration Department. But given that there has been a particular focus during the political campaign and given that we are now in the final week leading up to the election, I think it is quite reasonable, in my opening statement at least, I will focus on one significant, but very small part of that entire immigration program. And that is how do we deal with the issue of people smuggling across the Indian Ocean.

The challenge has been one where the Government’s policy changed the moment that Papua New Guinea came forward with an offer which had never previously been made to Australia. And the offer was this. That they would agree not merely to process people who arrived by boat in Australia, but that Papua New Guinea would also agree to resettle them. That was a massive shift and an offer that had never been made before. We followed that through and have been implementing that and we have had a similar, but much smaller arrangement with the Government of Nauru. The reason for wanting to do this is simple. You want to take away the product that people smugglers are selling for one main reason and that is that people have been drowning. The loss of life at sea in the Indian Ocean has been a massive reason and massive challenge and is something that needed to be addressed in this way. The significance of resettling people in another country means that people

smugglers who have had as their trade taking money from people with a promise they will get to live and work in Australia, that product is taken completely off the table.

There have been people who have been encouraging me, including my opposite number, to do things more quickly. To have some sort of frenzied pace of implementation of this. We have been doing it in a methodical way, in an orderly way and in a cooperative way with both the Government of Papua New Guinea and the Government of Nauru and I make no apology for doing it in that way. The opposition, for a brief moment in time, offered us bipartisan support. That offer lasted in the order of I think 24 hours, but it might have been less. At that moment when the opposition decided they wouldn’t offer bipartisan support for this, they decided to go off on some policy development of their own.

That has landed the opposition in producing what is without a doubt the most ridiculous and most absurd policy of this entire election campaign. The concept that Australia will go around Indonesian fishing villages with a cheque book and buy boats from people makes no sense at all and I think perhaps the most frightening thing about this policy is that it wasn’t a thought bubble. Scott Morrison has actually boasted that they spent four years developing this policy. If it had been a thought bubble, you would probably be more forgiving of it. But just think of the logic of this policy. The newspapers today have reported discounted rates that people smugglers are charging in the order of $2500 per person as a discounted rate. Forget the boats of 100 people, imagine that it is a boat of only 30 people. How much money would Australia have to offer for a boat to be able to have a people smuggler say no to money of that quantity and having made that transaction how many more boats has the people smuggler been able to purchase.

At every level, the logic of this policy from the Opposition falls over and falls over disastrously. We have a policy that takes the product away from people smugglers they have a policy which allows people smugglers to expand their capacity. Boat buyback is without a doubt crazy policy. They spent four years working it up. The reason our policy works is it takes the product away and we have seen that impact in the changed numbers and the changed situation that’s been happening on the ground in Indonesia. But finally, there is also I believe also a difference in motivation. We will get during the course of the debate today to some policies which are irrelevant to whether or not people now get on boats in Indonesia. The temporary protection visa policy of the opposition only applies as I understand it, regardless of what Scott Morrison said yesterday, only applies to people who are already in Australia. If that’s the case, if it’s actually irrelevant to whether or not somebody is going to get on a boat now in Indonesia, why would you do it.

Over the last few months, I have been getting community places for children who have been in detention, for unaccompanied minors. We are down to the final 78 and by the end of this week, there will be a very small number, we will be down to single digits for the number of children who are still unaccompanied minors in a detention environment. Why would you say to them, we know it’s irrelevant to whether or not anyone else gets on a boat, but we are never going to let you be reunited with your family if you are found to have a valid case. Why would you do it? It’s a different motivation it’s a different way of operating. When you compare the policies, one is

sensible. One has become increasingly, increasing eccentric. When you look at motivation ours has been straight forward the whole way through this in wanting to deal with the drownings. The opposition have mirrored the view right back when Scott Morrison in 2011 complained about an 8 year old boy being sent to attend a funeral. Just being mean for the hell of it.

HOST: That is your time Mr Burke. Mr Morrison.

SCOTT MORRISON: Thankyou Lyndal. I believe in immigration. The Coalition has always agreed in immigration as one of the great national building planks of policy that has built our great country. If we are elected on Saturday and I have the honour of service as immigration minister, my key objective will be to install confidence in that program. To do that we have to restore confidence in our borders. The craziest policy ever to be put forward by a government is the one that was put forward by this Government in 2007, advocated by the now minister Tony Burke when he was shadow Minister and that was to abolish the measures that worked under the Howard Government. The cost of that decision has been catastrophic. Last week I was in Townsville and I met with a family for the second time, her name was (unclear) she came out here in 2005 under our refugee and special humanitarian program. She had been waiting for 27 years in Iran as an Afghan refugee. She came out here, several years later she was joined by her husband and her four children joined her on her original journey. That family now boasts four fantastic young children, now adults, who one is about to finish her media degree in Townsville, another her pharmacy degree and the other two boys are doing engineering and pharmacy. Two years ago they bought their own house in Townsville. That’s what our refugee humanitarian program is for. The sad truth is though because of the decision of this Government, there are 15,000 other people like (unclear) who haven’t got a visa in Australia under this program because this government has denied them that because they have given those visas to people who have arrived illegally in Australia by boat. The cost of that decision also includes 1100 people who are dead. That cost also includes $9.1 billion to the tax payer for the cost of the border protection failures of this Government over the last five years. And the blowout in cost is $11.6 billion.

Cost, chaos and tragedy is the price of the decision of Kevin Rudd to abolish the measures that worked under the Howard Government, that were advocated by Tony Burke before the 2007 election when he was then the shadow minister. The Pacific Solution he said should go because he morally condemned it as inhumane. Make no mistake. Labor is the guilty party when it comes to border protection failure in this country. For this reason alone this government should be voted out on Saturday, for this reason alone because no government should ever be allowed to fail this badly with such tragic consequences and seek re-election from Australian electorate in the way that this Government has. No matter what they claim or what they promise before this election but there are many other reasons why this Government shouldn’t be returned when it comes to border protection. And the real choice here is who is best able to clean up Labor’s mess on border protection on the other side of the election. Is it Kevin Rudd and Tony Burke who started the boats, who condemned the Howard Government for stopping boats and at every point in this debate has had every point on the compass when it comes to positions on this issue. Or there is Tony Abbott’s team which I am proud to be part of that will restore the policies that

Labor abolished and apply the resolve and the conviction and the belief that we have always had consistently when it comes to border protection policy in this country.

In the past four years, I have shadowed four Immigration Ministers, three in this year alone. This Minister initially denied there was a problem. They then had to be dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledge that problem and what followed was a conga line of failure. The asylum freeze, the East Timor election fix, the regional processing frame work, the Malaysian people sway, the community release scheme, the expert panel just to name a few. And Labor had predicted 10 out of the last zero successes when it comes to their failed border protection solutions. And on each occasion the Coalition had diagnosed a reason for why they would fail in advance, suggested treatment that was required and ignored and we have proven to be right on every single occasion.

Every time Labor fails in this area the problem gets worse. And now Labor is out again with their PNG election fix. Only Labor would consider about 1700 people turning up on 26 boats a success. More than five times the rate of arrivals for that same month in the month before the last election. This problem is five times worse, even on these most recent arrivals figures, than it was three years ago. Now it is bad enough that unemployment is heading up under this Government. But if this government was trying to defend a 25 per cent rate of unemployment at this election which is five times worse than it would have been three years ago, then not even Labor would have claimed that as a success, but that is what they are trying to do here with the Australian people today in the success that he claims that he has had in this area.

This is a desperate claim from a desperate and hopefully dying Government. The election fix that has been put in for PNG will require salvaging on the other side of the election and the Coalition has committed to undertaking that task. But what we know about this is that on its own will not be enough and that is why we have outlined a comprehensive set of measures that is based on our consistency and position in this area, our strong resolve and our commitments and proven experience when it comes to border protection. Unlike Labor, under the Coalition, you always know what you are going to get from a Coalition Government and so do the smugglers. That’s why we will provide the deterrence at sea and turn backs where It is safe to do so. We will have genuine offshore processing where people will sent if they arrive and they will wait there if they are found to be a refugee where they can seek to be settled in a country other than Australia. We will restore temporary protection visas because we are consistent when it comes to our policy and the Government will 30,000 permanent visas to people who have already arrived illegally by boat the Coalition will not do that. I will finish on this note. And we will put in place a strong regional deterrence framework backed up by Operation Sovereign Borders to make sure that it can be done.

HOST: Thankyou both. As moderator the first is mine, contrary to my opening statement on what we have heard from both of you. It strikes me that both major parties actually agree a lot in this space. You both want to stop the people smuggling trade, you both believe in the regional framework you both believe in offshore processing. You both want to take more refugees, asylum seekers from camps, you don’t want to allow refugees to settle in Australia. It strikes me that what you area

actually arguing over is implementation possibly at the margins. Can I get from both of you, if it’s possible from you first Mr Burke and then from you Mr Morrison, if you lose on election day, given this has been the subject of heated political debate for more than a decade, a commitment that if you lose, you will let the other side implement their policy, not make a political debate out of three years, see if it works, if it doesn’t, then go hell for leather?

BURKE: I always think that it’s a brave call when you say let’s take the politics out of parliament, a very brave call.

Let me say that no matter what happens in the election, you will never find me in the midst of public debate trying to send a message out to people smugglers that it’s still okay to come. I’ve been deeply critical of the comments that have been made by Scott Morrison in terms of sending a message that somehow the Government could not implement the resettlement arrangements, when he knows full well we will, and the Papua New Guinea Government have made no secret of that, so the guarantee I’d certainly give on the question being put there Lyndal, is that a political debate about implementation, fine.

But for anyone to undermine the capacity of Australia to implement something that goes directly against people smuggling, against the national interest, grave, grave consequences for individuals, deeply irresponsible, not something I’d ever do.

MORRISON: The Coalition has always been consistent Lyndal when it comes to this issue, and we have always have held governments to account. If the Coalition hadn’t held this Government to account on their border protection failures, issues that they denied when I first became Shadow Minister, they said our reactions were hysterical and racist four years ago, when we said people were dying on boats and today they (unclear) these same as an election approaches.

We will always hold the Government to account as the Coalition, we will always be consistent with policies that we believe are necessary to solve the problem. That has been our record, that has been our conviction that has been our belief. We haven’t delineated from the compass on this this issue, we haven’t engaged in the moral condemnation that Tony Burke frankly has and that Kevin Rudd did and others, and the least I think the Government could do, having been dragged kicking and screaming to a realisation on this is they could apologise to John Howard, they could apologise to Phillip Ruddock for the moral condemnation and position they took on these issues which now are apparent to them, it would seem.

But on the other side of the election you can expect us to be consistent to the values and principles, we will seek to salvage this arrangement, and if we are unsuccessful I hope the Government can salvage this arrangement. But as we speak, I continue to highlight as I have on ten other occasions when all of their ten other policies have failed. And the problem with Labor’s failures is the problem always gets worse when it inevitably unravels on the other side. So that’s why at this election it’s the judgement that needs to be made is who do you think is going to get it right on the other side, the Coalition that believes in these policies, doesn’t have to be dragged kicking and screaming to them, has always been there when it comes to border protection, or a Government that turns up when the electoral winds are blowing.

HOST: Now we’ll move on to questions from our media members, first up is Michael Keating.

JOURNALIST: Michael Keating from Keating Media. My first question is to you, Mr Morrison, (inaudible). The Opposition Leader has said you will quickly move to visit Indonesia and discuss asylum seekers, what is it you will put to the Indonesian Government and what do you expect their response to be?

MORRISON: Well first of all, whether, who serves and if an election is won, on the front bench and in what portfolios, that’s a matter for the Leader to decide. As I’m sure Tony would agree, there aren’t too many people who are trying to get either of our jobs on either side of the political fence.

This is a task that if we were elected I am committed to. I’ve been in this space now for four years, and I remember Phillip Ruddock, having been served as a Shadow Minister, going into the 1996 election, that equipped him well for the task he had ahead.

Our commitment is to a regional deterrence framework for regional cooperation, not just Indonesia but right up through the region in Malaysia, and Sri Lanka and in other countries that particularly form the Bali process which we started.

In that commitment we’ve (inaudible) for $67 million for joint operations between Indonesian National Police and the Australian Federal Police, that funds will also go to Malaysia as well as to Sri Lanka. We’ve committed to a $20 million program to work through our customs agency and the IOM for a village outreach program.

We have committed also to funds to boost the capability of Indonesia’s search and rescue response on the southern Javan coast, and we have also committed to funds of over $30 million to boost the regional border strength of countries in the region through things like advanced passenger processing and other measures.

Our regional deterrence framework is based on putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to regional cooperation, not getting on planes and just going to conferences.

HOST: Mr Burke.

BURKE: It’s no surprise that Tony Abbott’s started to say that that meeting might not happen in the first week if there’s a change of government, because think of what the conversation they’d have to have. Tony Abbott would have to talk about a turn back policy that Indonesia doesn’t support, a buyback policy that Indonesia doesn’t support, putting in additional Australian Federal Police on the ground in Indonesia which was announced without consultation with Indonesia.

What will happen if there is a change of government, if that were to happen, is you’ll get about a week of Scott Morrison complaining that nothings being organised. A second week of him claiming that he’s now fixing it all, and by week three, he would be back to implementing exactly what I’m doing now because it works.

And he will have to ditch the most ridiculous policies that he’s talking to the Australian people about now.

HOST: Lauren Wilson.

JOURNALIST: Lauren Wilson from The Australian. My question is also to Mr Morrison. If you are fortunate enough to have Mr Burke’s job on Sunday, can you walk me through the logistics of what will happen when the first boat arrives, will you take the asylum seekers straight to Manus Island or Nauru, or will you do what you have been critical of Labor for doing, taking them to Christmas Island, waiting a few weeks while they get health checks, malaria vaccinations and so forth?

MORRISON: Our intention once the policy is fully operational would be that we could transfer through a transit port directly to Manus Island or to Nauru where we would be seeking to boost the capacity. I note that the Government is working on boosting the capacity on Manus Island, I’ll get briefed if we are elected on the status of that, I understand they can get to around about 3,000 odd places on Manus Island, we’re well short of that now and it will be some time before that can be achieved, but the intention is to have those transfers take place directly to those places.

In the first period of time if we are elected, we have to put in place Operation Sovereign Borders, one of the things I’ve noticed over the last few years and observed with four immigration ministers is they often rush to failure, they often make big announcements which don’t have the substance behind them to ensure they are effective and ready for implementation, we won’t be making those mistakes.

I have studied this Government very carefully, and I’ve seen very clearly why they’ve failed on so many occasions and I don’t intend to repeat their mistakes, and I wish they had learned from their mistakes otherwise I think things may have been different in recent times.

So that is our intention. In terms of the tactics at sea, that’s a matter for border protection and command, and we would work through the operational detail of the new orders that would need to be conveyed to border protection and command, and for them to be translated into the rules and procedures that they would follow at sea.

Now, for people smugglers, who will encounter our tactics at sea, and they will encounter them on land. And I’m not about to give them a heads up about what they can expect, but what they can expect is this: no one will be in any doubt on where Tony Abbott and I stand on this issue.

HOST: Do you have an implementation timeframe in mind?

MORRISON: Well Operation Sovereign Borders is the key thing to get in place immediately, and we would be taking advice obviously on the timeframes that sit around that from the CDF and others, will be critical for that implementation.

HOST: Mr Burke.

BURKE: The implementation if they are in that position will be interesting. At no point then did Scott Morrison say we would turn back the boat. At no point, when asked what would you do with the first boat, at no point did he say they would turn it back.

Will they do what Tony Abbott said I had to do, which was to send people to Manus Island within 24 to 48 hours knowing that that would pose a significant health risk to them. I hope they are not irresponsible enough to do what Tony Abbott wanted me to do, I hope that’s the case.

I believe that a lot of these different comments that they come out with work in the political cycle of the day, but are not things that they would actually stay with over time. Simply, I obviously hope that the change doesn’t happen. If it does, I hope they are not nearly as irresponsible as they have promised to be.

MORRISON: Happy for Tony to have a response to this, if it’s alright with you Lyndal, but what I said was that they would encounter our tactics at sea. I don’t think anyone in the country has had doubts on the Coalition’s position on turn backs Tony, they doubt yours because you promised before the 2007 election and (inaudible).

BURKE: The quickest response to that, the truth of what Scott Morrison said there is that you may never know when the first boat arrives, because Scott’s not guaranteeing to let the media know the way Labor has, the way John Howard has, he’s already taken that promise off the table. It may well be that Australians are no longer told, because he’s refused to recommit to the information and the disclosure even occurring.

HOST: Just one final point Mr Morrison. Will you let the media know, as happens now, when the boats arrive?

MORRISON: Well what I said was that will be an operational decision as part of Operation Sovereign Borders, for the three star military officer, I don’t think those decisions should be put in the hands of politicians to use as this Government has on occasions. I think those decisions should be made by implementation officers, and I’m quite happy to trust one of the three star military officers of our defence forces, I’m surprised Tony Burke’s not.

BURKE: It means you won’t commit.

HOST: We might move on because I don’t think we’re going to resolve that one here. Roger (inaudible)

JOURNALIST: This is a question for both of you gentlemen. In terms of your stance towards access to detention centres and detainees by NGOs such as the Red Cross, (inaudible) Amnesty International, what is your position?

HOST: Mr Burke.

BURKE: The number of Non-Government Organisations, Save the Children, for example, Salvation Army, there are a number of non-government organisations that

are directly engaged. In terms of additional involvement, my view on all of this has been that I think the entire network, whether it’s onshore of offshore, benefits from scrutiny. That’s been my view. You need to make sure that if any additional assistance is going into centres, that it’s done in a way that provides genuine protection for the people who are being processed and having their claims assessed.

The alternative to that is you can put at risk their identity, which can actually mean that their claim becomes more serious than it otherwise would have been, it can create dangers for their relatives, there are good reasons for a lot of the confidentiality (inaudible) and there are also I believe good reasons why you don’t want to turn that sort of environment into a circus where you’ve got different people wandering through having a look every day, you want to make sure it’s done in an orderly way. But, as a starting principle, my view is that scrutiny is actually a benefit.

I remember, and we hear a lot about the glory days of what immigration was like under John Howard. I remember when Cornelia Rau was detained, I remember when Vivien Solon was deported as an Australian citizen, it was discovered that an Australian citizen was being deported, and the instinct was to cover it up.

I have strong views in favour of scrutiny, that’s why I believe the boats need to be reported when they are intercepted. I think that needs to happen, and I think whatever improved access happens within those detention and transfer environments is a good thing.

I don’t want to see the culture of the past ever revisited.

HOST: Mr Morrison.

MORRISON: What I remember about the Howard Government is that over the last six years (inaudible) only 18 boats turned up and 270 odd people on board, and I try and work out in my head just how many thousands of people whose lives were saved a result of the success of that policy, it’s something that the Government still refuses to admit is something that has occurred.

But on the issue of transparency, look I don’t have a very different view to the Minister on this point, I think you’ve got to be practical about it, I’m not proposing any real changes in the way that the department has been handling these matters, I think the department has endeavoured to be very sensitive to the issue of people’s identity.

Sometimes I think those in centres effectively forfeit their right to that when the pose before cameras and do other things like that, and I’ve always found that a very puzzling issue that on the one hand apparently their identity has to be protected but they’re happy to disclose that identity to suit their case. I think there are also issues we’ve raised about ending the tax payer funded assistance for those to prepare their claims as well as to appeal their claims, they will still be able to prepare and appeal in accordance with a reform process, but we’re not going to put the Australian taxpayer on the foot for $100 million to do that as the Government is proposing to do over the next four years.

But I would concur with the Minister, I mean Save the Children I think has done an outstanding job, I think I would commend the decision to have them involved particularly in looking after the welfare of children, I have found them to be a very practical organisation that understands the environment in which they are working and they working practically to improve the day to day conditions of the children and families that are in those centres.

I’m sure that both Tony and I would agree that our centres and those who run them do everything they can to ensure the welfare of those who are in their care.

HOST: Next question is from John (unclear).

JOURNALIST: This is also a question for both of you. I just wanted to ask you both, both parties have bandied around some very different numbers in terms of the offshore program, I think 5,000 on Nauru for the Coalition, 10,000 on Manus Island for the Government was one of the last things I saw.

Will both of you commit to having the full costings out there before the election on those commitments, and Mr Burke, I wanted to ask you about whether your, given the fall in numbers, whether PEFO was a bit pessimistic about what was possible?

HOST: Mr Burke first.

BURKE: Okay. In terms of the issue of capacity, the comments that have been made by myself in respect to Manus are not the capacity that needs to be built, but the capacity that is available if it is required.

So you’ve got the Lombrum site, the Lorengau site, you have a site that is talked about by some at the eastern end of Manus Island near the old airport, and then there is a very, very large site at the western end which is where they potential 10,000 figure comes from.

With the information we have now, I would be surprised if any of those significant expansions are ever required. They weren’t factored in, in terms of the pre-election forecasts, because we didn’t expect that we would need them. The situation was one where by making it clear, because I was, let’s not forget, there was a political debate running at the time wanting to claim that it would be possible for people smugglers to overwhelm this capacity. I thought it was an irresponsible argument, but you’ve got to deal with the argument you’re in. And so it was important for me to identify the sites to be able to make clear that if we needed the extra capacity it would be there.

Now some people then questioned, Scott included, questioned whether or not what I was saying was true on the capacity for expansion, and you can choose who you believe about what could be done in Papua New Guinea, now you can either believe Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison, or you can believe the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, the Foreign Minister of Papua New Guinea and the Chief Migration Officer of Papua New Guinea. I think they know a bit more about what’s possible in Papua New Guinea.

The forecasts can be updated over time it’s not for me to tell departments how they update those forecasts, but certainly from what we’ve seen at the moment, the impact has been particularly strong.

HOST: Just one quick follow up. So you’ve only costed what you think you will need, not the potential capacity?

BURKE: Correct.

HOST: Mr Morrison.

MORRISON: The Government’s own figures show that they have already funded the places that are being put at Lombrum and Lorengau, and my understanding is that the capacity at Lombrum is around about 3,000 or thereabouts and they haven’t funded any additional places beyond that at that site, and the other sites he’s referred to and the Minister’s just confirmed that, and then there’s of course the Lorengau permanent facility.

On Manus Island, we’re proposing an additional 2,000 places to those that have already been in place and have been funded by the Government, and we have reorientated the $58 million that the Government had set aside for a Singleton detention centre to meet the cost of those additional places, that‘s the capital costs of developing those and that’s how they will be funded.

But the other question though for the Government is the workability I think of giving a lot of these places, particularly on Manus, and the Minister recently has been quite dismissive of the instabilities occurring on Manus Island. I’ve visited there, and I’ve spent time there and I’ve got many contacts up there, and the dismissive attitude I

think to the locals on this is creating an unstable situation which if we are elected on Saturday, I think we’re going to have to move very quickly to try and stablise so we can realise the places that are there.

There are also the very real issues, I think $236 million (inaudible) has been costed by the Government for resettlement of people in Papua New Guinea. Now that is on my best estimate claiming around 6,000 people will be resettled in Papua New Guinea, 6,000.

Now I don’t know yet where those people are going to be resettled, are they going to be in Popondetta, are they going to be in Milne Bay, are they going to be in Medang, are they going to be in Port Moresby, how are they going to be there, on what (inaudible), these questions remain completely unanswered.

HOST: Next question is from Bianca Hall.

JOURNALIST: Bianca Hall from Fairfax. Can I ask you both, do you agree with the candidate for Lindsay, the Liberal candidate for Lindsay, that asylum seekers are contributing to road congestion and (inaudible) hospitals in Sydney (inaudible)?

MORRISON: We’ve had 50,000 people turn up over the last five years, in addition to that we’ve had 20,000 people now who have been released into the community

under the Government’s policies, 20,000 being released into the community, and they are principally being released into south western Sydney and in the Dandenong area of Melbourne and in other places.

The area that concerns me is the stress that that is actually putting on local settlement services for those who have been resettled as actual refugees, particularly those who have come from offshore. But I think what Fiona was referring to I think was a broader population impact, I mean Tony and I had that debate at the last election about population, we’re not having that one today.

But the population pressures on western Sydney and places in Melbourne I think put real constraints on the cost of living, they put real constraints on the infrastructure that people can access and the services that they can provide, and I think Fiona has always been a passionate advocate for those things, and while the actual intake of refugees and asylum seekers into Australia is not as great as our general skilled migration program, that way that people have frankly just been dumped into the community by this Government because the detention centres are formed in a very unplanned way, they don’t even consult the local police or the state governments about where they put and them and what the impact might be on the local community, they just do it and say well you deal with it, I don’t think that’s the way to run a program where 20,000 people or thereabouts have been (inaudible) into the community, it’s just completely haphazard and it’s the product of policy failure.

HOST: Mr Burke.

BURKE: The answer to your question is no. The comments I think would rate as some of the silliest in the election campaign were it not what Scott had said about boat buyback, the competition has been fierce. And it’s no surprise given what Scott’s said himself that he at least feels compelled to defend someone who says something a little bit less extreme.

There are genuine issues in western Sydney that go to infrastructure, that go to planning, as to whether or not you have enough of a roads budget, a public transport budget. And more specifically, with Sydney, of all of our cities, one where we keep putting the jobs at one end of the city and the houses at the other end of the city.

But let’s be serious. In the context of an immigration program, where we are dealing with 12 million people coming in and out a year, that this is the cause of traffic, I think Scott deserves full marks as a loyal son of the Liberal Party for the answer he just gave.

HOST: Next question is from Shalailah Medhora.

JOURNALIST: Hi there, Shalailah Medhora from SBS TV News. My question is actually quite a good follow on from Bianca’s. In the pre-election economic statement, the Government announced it would axe the humanitarian settlement services for all onshore refugees who are processed here, saving about $28 million, a fact that kind of flew under the radar a little bit. Minister Burke, would you explain the reasoning behind that decision, and Mr Morrison, would the Coalition reinstate these services?

BURKE: Settlement services that Australia runs are some of the best in the world. They are important and they are incredibly valuable. Once we adopted the no advantage policy, we’re in a situation where people who come by boat, if they were to get a permanent visa, would be waiting some years before they got it.

It doesn’t make policy sense, is my way of thinking, that you have somebody who has been in Australia for you know, say five, same number of years, and is now told, okay, you now have a permanent visa, maybe a longer period of time, you now have a permanent visa and now we’re going to start settling you. By that stage, settlement and support, you know, what would have been provided at first arrival for people if we’d done so on the (inaudible), that moment has passed. And it makes sense to have the focus on people who need the assistance for when they arrive from offshore.

HOST: Mr Morrison.

MORRISON: Well the Minister’s right. That’s why the program changes have been made is because people who have been let out into the community under the bridging visa program and have said 20,000 have been done that way, they’re part of the 30,000 that are waiting for the other side of the election for Tony Burke to give them a permanent visa, which won’t be done under a Coalition Government.

I mentioned before the woman I met up in Townsville, these are the victims of Labor’s border protection failures. What the Coalition is doing on the refugee humanitarian intake, is we were going to have 13,750 in that intake. Not one of those visas will go to someone who has arrived illegally by boat.

Under the Government’s program, 20,000 is the number but all of the permanent visas, including for the 30,000 people who are waiting for one of those on the other side of the election, will be taken out of that pool. And so you can just imagine, you can just imagine what the impact of that is going to be on that 20,000 pool over the next few years. We completely separated, for the first time, the Coalition has delinked those two programs, which I know has been a key issue put forward by (inaudible) for years.

Our temporary protection visas don’t come out of that pool, they are in addition to that 13,750. So I can say to those who might have family in Syria, or Lebanon, or in Egypt currently as I have recently, that I can have certainty about the places that exist in our program because we’re undertaking an important reform to how that program works.

BURKE: Sorry, Scott did it once so I might have a go.

HOST: A quick 30 second response.

BURKE: You can’t say that we’re delinking them, you’re abolishing half of them that’s what you’re doing, you’re abolishing the permanent places who are already here. Including, we have got unaccompanied children who I’ve been getting out of detention as young as five.

They’re within the 30,000, what on earth is the policy rationale to say even though it makes no difference to people getting on boats, these children will be told if they had valid claims that they live the rest of their life in Australia, they will not be allowed to have their family join them and they will never be told that they can permanently stay.

Why on earth would you do that?

MORRISON: Well let me answer that question. I met a woman in Cairns the other day, her brother, (inaudible) from Rwanda, she can’t get her brother here under this program because the places have been taken up by people coming on boats.

Under our system, that’s not going to happen Tony because I can tell her that our program will be quarantined, I’m not going to say how many program places will be available to take people like her brother. Now you want to give her brother’s visa to someone who has come on a boat in the last five years. I’m not going to do that.

HOST: We might move on now, the next question is from Karen Barlow.

JOURNALIST: Hi, Karen Barlow from the ABC. Scott Morrison, you and your leader, Tony Abbott, have increasingly been referring to people who arrive by boat as arriving illegally, you just did in your last response. This is despite the UN refugee convention pretty much stating, acknowledging the right of refugees to arrive any way they can. Does the Coalition have a problem with the UN convention? Will the Coalition seek the government the change or withdraw, similar to Tony Burke, there did seem to be wording around the signing of the PNG agreement that there was a problem. In government again, would you seek to change or withdraw?

HOST: Mr Morrison.

MORRISON: I always refer to illegal entry, it’s the same term that’s used in Article 31 of the Refugee Convention, on the convention on people smuggling which defines illegal entry. People have illegally entered Australia when they’ve come without a valid visa. Whether they subsequently make a claim for asylum that’s a different legal issue, but it doesn’t change the method of arrival and it’s not just a semantic difference, because as I’ve said we have different policies that apply to people who have come by that particular method that we’re trying to stop people doing and that this government opened up when they abolished the policies that worked under John Howard’s government.

On the issue of the Refugee Convention, I have been more critical of its interpretation that the actual documents itself. The actual legislation under the Migration Act hardwires the refugee convention with the Migration Act, which effectively makes our law subject to international interpretations rather than the sovereignty of the Australian Parliament. I think that’s an issue for further debate, and on the issue of the refugee convention, it was the Menzies government that signed it, John Howard stopped the boats without having to walk away from it, and we’ve certainly not stated any intention to change that arrangement, but in emergency measures, we’ll always leave options on the table as I’ve always said.

HOST: Would you like to look at changing the migration legislation?

MORRISON: Well I think that’s a debate that we would have to consider down the track, but I don’t think those things are easily or quickly done, and I think the measures that we’ve outlined over the last four years go to how we deal with this problem in the same way we did last time, they’re comprehensive set of measures, they don’t rely on any one measure as the Governments does with PNG, because we know if you rely on one measure particularly with this Government it always unravels and goes pear shaped.

HOST: Mr Burke.

BURKE: Labor supports the convention. Our objection to the people smuggling is that it exploits people and people die. That’s our objection.

I think the truth of the use of the term illegality or illegals is a willingness from the Liberal Party to politicise and dare I saw demonise.

MORRISON: You’ve used it yourself Tony.

BURKE: The motivation from those opposite is fundamentally different to my own. You will never find a member of my party standing up and complaining about an eight year old child attending a parent’s funeral and saying what an outrageous thing to do.

You will not find members of my party standing up and saying that an unaccompanied minor, even though it will make no difference whatsoever to whether or not the next person gets on a boat, is going to be given a life of limbo forever more.

The policy itself in terms of wanting to stop people smuggling is one thing, but the motivation behind the language I believe matters too, and I believe between the two of us it is fundamentally different.

HOST: Next question, and apologies for my mispronunciation of your name, (inaudible) from the AAP.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) my questions is for both of you, it’s been a pretty difficult three years in Australian politics, and I think perhaps quite disappointing in the asylum seeker area, there’s been a lot of missed opportunities to reach a consensus you could argue. If you could both reflect on those three years and give some examples of regrets you might have for the way your parties have acted, and if I could ask that you keep answers to your own parties rather than regrets about the other side. Thank you.

HOST: Mr Burke.

BURKE: 2009 - big regrets about 2009. I don’t regret when we were in Opposition offering bipartisan support to the softening policies that happened under John

Howard, I don’t regret the continued softening that we did where we got bipartisan support for it. But in 2009 we had changes in Sri Lanka, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And at that point, there was a new pipeline of people smuggling and we needed to change our policies immediately. We didn’t and I believe we should have, and I deeply regret the consequences that we didn’t, but I think it’s 2009 when it happened.

2011, when we started coming back with some very serious policy responses, including with respect to Malaysia. I look back on that, had we been able to anticipate, and no one anticipated what the High Court would do, because the High Court decision actually overruled what John Howard had done in Nauru and Manus Island as well, but given that we ended up in a parliamentary process in hindsight I wish we had found a way at our end, because it takes a government to start bipartisanship as well, it works both ways. Had we known then that it was going to end up in a parliamentary process, I wish we had done some of what might have been needed to be done to make sure that that legislation could have gone through smoothly.

It’s deep regrets, deep consequences from them, and as I say, the responses, I was shadow, I’ve been a Cabinet Minister the whole way through, I take responsibility very personally. And that’s also why I’ve been so determined to maintain my resolve on absolutely methodically implementing the policy that I knew would work and is now working.

HOST: I’m going to ask a very quick follow up because you left something hanging. What didn’t you do to get the legislative process right?

BURKE: Look, I look back at the issues where we, order of events I think was this. Neither the Opposition nor us thought we were going to need parliamentary process for Malaysia, no one thought we would. And so the Opposition felt free to criticise it and attack it, not realising that we were going to end up having debate. And I just think that there are conversations that happen privately, that happen constructively on a whole range of issues, but you rarely do them if you don’t think you are going to end up in a parliamentary situation. We didn’t know we were heading there.

HOST: Mr Morrison.

MORRISON: My biggest regret is that I don’t think I’ve been convincing enough to get the Government to move earlier on all these matters, they’ve resisted our arguments for a very long time. The Coalition has always been incredibly consistent in this area, and we remain consistent and it’s one of the comments that are often relayed back to us as I move around the country that people who believe in having stronger borders, and a fair process, people (inaudible) to make their contributions, they wanted to see a party have a consistent position on this and stand up for the things they believe in. And that’s what the Coalition has always done on border protection.

One of the things I’ve always tried to avoid and which sadly Mr Burke hasn’t been able to do is to get into moral judgements about other people’s character. I assume everybody including Mr Burke and Sarah Hanson-Young and everyone else who is

engaged in this debate has a genuine humanitarian concern at the centre, we have a difference of view about how this can be achieved.

I think getting into the business of making moral judgements about others as Mr Burke did against John Howard and others, frankly they just look silly down the track. I mean what he condemned morally six years ago he has now adopted, now I think that puts him in a very difficult position to explain himself because the morality, apparently I would have thought is consistent over time. Policy positions can change, but the morality of this is where the Government was so critical so many years ago, I think has exposed a very significant hypocrisy.

This portfolio is difficult, the Minister I’m sure would understand that. Engaging in debate in this area is like walking on a razor blade most days, and you need to be very careful and occasionally I’ve misspoken and I’ve made apologies for that where I have, but it is a very difficult area. And if I were to become the Minister (inaudible) that I would seek to make a top priority in terms of how I address the issue, people’s lives are at stake.

HOST: With a little bit of the hindsight, if those private conversations (inaudible), would you have been open to changing what has been a consistent position for some time?

MORRISON: The Minister may not be aware because he wasn’t that Minister, that was two ministers ago. But we did have those detailed discussions with both Kevin Rudd, who was then Foreign Minister, and with Chris Bowen, and we set out very clearly what our issues were with the Malaysian people swap and the issues with the legislation and we were completely ignored on all points and they made no effort to change them and some of our criticisms were actually upheld by the Houston Panel. So we’re always consistent here in Opposition, we always say what we’ve always said, and I think people know where we stand.

HOST: The next question is from the Buddhist Press.

JOURNALIST: (unclear) Minister and Mr Morrison, this is (unclear). On the Radio SBS last night I heard an interview to asylum seeker (unclear) who told that one of them had been facing very abusive interrogation from security officials from Vietnam. I really want the Minister to explain why (unclear) interview asylum seekers on our shore and whether Mr Morrison would allow that to happen. As an Australian I am very worried and the refugees themselves in the camps have feared themselves (unclear), they have been in fear for too long (unclear)

HOST: Mr Burke.

BURKE: There are few questions that I’m more glad to receive today than this one because I know there has been great concern across the Vietnamese community on this issue.

Can I explain the exact order. While we are assessing whether or not somebody is a refugee, no foreign government gets any access to them at all. Once it is determined that someone is a refugee, they are settled in Australia and the foreign government

continues to get no access or no information about them. If it is found that somebody is not a refugee, then they have to return home, and in returning home we have to get the cooperation of the government they are returning to. That’s all those interviews were. Now one of the people who received one of those interviews has complained as though he was a refugee. The interview only took place because it had been determined that he did not have a well-found fear of prosecution.

If it was someone being persecuted allegedly by let’s say the Government of Vietnam, the Government of Vietnam would never have its officials interview someone. But when we have a situation where someone’s claim has been tested and it’s found that they are not a refugee, they have to return home, they have to. And to return someone home if they no longer have identity documents, you need to make sure you get the cooperation of the country they have come from. And in doing so, you’re simply sending them back to the country that they’re a citizen of. You’re not sending them back somewhere they would be persecuted, because if they were going to be persecuted they would have been found to have a valid claim.

MORRISON: I completely agree with what the Minister has said, that is also my understanding of the arrangement. he’s obviously more familiar with the specific case on this occasion. I think it’s important that we have a clear distinction between those who are seeking asylum, and those who are refugees. The convention provides protection to people who are refugees, and that’s where the obligations kick in, but for those who are unsuccessful in their claims, particularly if they have illegally entered Australia, they have no valid reason for being here and they need to be returned from whence they came, and that is what any policy in this area should uphold in terms of having a border protection policy and a border security policy and a fair dinkum refugee humanitarian program that has integrity.

Because that’s what’s at stake with this whole debate. I think Australians have lost faith over the last five or six years in this program because of the way it’s been abused by smugglers and the way it’s been opened up to misuse by the Government. They want to have confidence in it again.

I mean they believe strongly in the stories that I have outlined to you today, they know there are people in their own community and they feel for them, and particularly whether it’s out of the Vietnamese community as you’re talking about, or whether it’s out of Myanmar or where we have people in camps on the Thai-Burma border or Malaysia or other places, and I’ve visited them there and I’ve visited hundreds upon hundreds of refugees in those situations, actual refugees who will never see a boat in their lives.

They’re the voiceless in this debate, in my view, they’re the voiceless. And they’re the voice that we’ve tried to speak up for in terms of having stronger border protection policies that can ensure that they get access to the proper program in the proper way.

HOST: Our next question is from Amanda (unclear), one of the school group who’ve joined us from Albany in Western Australia.

STUDENT: My name is Amanda (unclear) from (unclear) in Western Australia. This is a question for both ministers. As a nation with a Christian heritage, we know that we should love our neighbour as ourselves, and the Bible teaches us that we ought to do this. Therefore, is it right to send genuine refugees who arrive by boat back to third world countries such as PNG?

BURKE: If someone’s a refugee, thank you so much for the question. If someone’s a refugee they can’t be sent back to their home country, but they can be sent for processing to a country where they get processed in accordance with the convention and ultimately where they get a durable outcome and a settlement outcome.

The principle that I think behind this question hopefully answers it, is the principle where you refer to the values of our nation. In this debate you can’t limit your compassion to the person who is in front of you. You have to be equally compassionate to the person who you never see who may have drowned, or may otherwise drown. You have to be equally compassionate to the people who are waiting in camps who may have been waiting for more than a decade, and that means sometimes the person who’s directly in front of you, you’re not giving them what they want. I’ve sat directly in front of people on Manus Island and said to them you won’t be settled in Australia, and I’ve seen the frustration and the pain and anger from them, and it’s some of the hardest conversations that I’ve ever had. But in talking to them I need to know that there is an outcome for people who otherwise would have drowned. And I also need to know that while I’m talking to them that I can still give them the guarantee that all the obligations of the convention will still be met for them.

That’s why it’s taken me so long to send unaccompanied minors off and why it took so long for the family groups to be sent to Nauru, because I needed to make sure that the appropriate standards were in place so that the convention obligations were still being met. So I don’t think you can fall below that threshold even if it helped with other outcomes, you need to deliver on the convention. But you also need to make sure that your compassionate is genuine for all the impacts of your policy.

HOST: Mr Morrison.

MORRISON: Well thanks for your question, and to all your friends in Albany, don’t forget Rick Wilson, he’s the Liberal candidate for O’Connor this weekend, to your mums and dads who may be watching.

This portfolio is difficult, it’s very difficult. Every decision that you make as an immigration minister has personal human consequences for everyone. There is no decision that you make which is free of moral burden in this area, to someone you say yes to, you are saying no to someone else, and that has very real consequences. The policies you put in place sometimes appear tough, but they also can save lives and they also can preserve the opportunities for others who are seeking the opportunity here.

I think one of the misleading aspects of this debate is somehow Australia can be the lifeboat for the whole world, and that resettlement places in Australia, in Canada, in the United States and the United Kingdom can satiate the demand for these places

around the world, and the sad truth is they can’t. There’s 10.5 million refugees today as assessed by the UNHCR, there was 12 million ten years ago when John Howard was dealing with this problem, and one per cent of those, in fact less, will get resettlement in a country like Australia or somewhere like that.

So these places we hand out under this program are the most precious you can give of a life to someone, and how we make that decision has to be made by Australia in accordance with our generosity. We are a generous country, we should run a generous refugee humanitarian program that enables us to settle and support people and help them be a success in this country, like (inaudible). They’re decisions that you have to make as politicians.

The one thing Tony and I don’t have the luxury of is an opinion in this debate because we have to make decisions ultimately if we’re in government.

HOST: Our final question today is from Peter Phillips.

JOURNALIST: Peter Phillips, one of the Directors of the National Press Club. The question in the first instance is to Shadow Minister Scott Morrison, but also to Minister Burke. In a campaign which has been marked by candidates in particularly seats in the outer suburbs in major urban centres, (inaudible) stating that their greatest fears, greatest mobilising fact for them is the fear which is felt by electors in their respective constituencies relating to boat people, illegals, boat people entering Australia illegally. I ask on the 74th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two which arguably began the greatest and most beneficial ever wave of migration into Australia, I ask whether Mr Morrison as minister and Mr Burke, after the election whether as Minister or in some other capacity, you’ll do something to think about an adjustment of the language of the illegal, of the boat people, so that the attitudes of the people in the seats like Lindsay might moderate somewhat as successor ministers and successor governments from today grapple with the problem of people seeking asylum in Australia.

HOST: Mr Morrison.

MORRISON: Well thanks for the question. The problem isn’t the debate, the problem is the policy failure, and as I move across the country and I talk to people in all of those places I have for many, many years, they’re frustrated at the failure of the policy, they’re frustrated at the undermining of the integrity of our refugee humanitarian program, they’re frustrated that they are on the hook for $9.1 billion so far and they know what that could have been invested in.

Their concerns I think are genuine, I think are real, I don’t think they are motivated by the sorts of things they are accused of in the media and by some, I think they would just like to see our border secure, our system to be fair and that people who are offshore get the opportunity to make their opportunity and that their place isn’t taken by someone who has sought to come here illegally by boat.

This issue goes away when the problem is fixed. In 2004 we had an election and the issue wasn’t discussed in that election campaign, the reason was the boats weren’t

coming. The way we end this is we stop the boats, that’s how we end this, and that’s when people will again feel confident in our refugee and humanitarian program, they will feel confident in our immigration program.

The group of people that I find are most aggravated by this government’s failure on border protection, the worst ever, is migrant communities around the country who came the right way, came the right way and made a contribution from day one, and they just want to see everyone else do the same thing, and I agree with them, I agree with them, I think people should come the right way.

I’ve been disappointed this year that the Government engaged in attacks on skilled migration, I thought that was very disappointing, more intent on attacking those who come the right way than dealing with those who come the wrong way.

They just wanted to see fairness restored to our immigration program and be confident of it again, and that’s what they’ll get under the Coalition.

HOST: Mr Burke.

BURKE: Both the policy and the debate matter, and I think it’s naïve to pretend that the way this debate is conducted doesn’t have an impact on the nation, of course it does, of course it does, and the responsible way in which the debate is conducted I think matters a lot. The first comments I made as Immigration Minister were to call for a mature conversation, and for us that’s been shown. And I have to say in fairness to Scott while there are things that he’s said that certainly you’d never hear come out of my mouth, we are not in the sort of public debate that we were in where people were claiming that children were being thrown overboard into the water.

I do think the quality of the debate within Australia has improved significantly from where it once was, that said, you made a reference in your question to people who, the impact in the electorate. There’s been no electoral impact in my local area that has had a bigger effect on me than when I sat in my electorate office surrounded, about 20 people sitting around the edge of the room, all of whom had received mobile phone calls from relatives about to get on a boat, and those calls had been about six weeks earlier and they’d never heard from people again.

So the strength of concern in people wanting this issue resolved is strong, and is often for very compassionate reasons. The thing that I think needs to be noted when you get the policy itself, the policy that we’re talking about takes the product away from people smugglers, it works and we are seeing the impact of how it works. A whole lot of what Scott talks about has nothing to do with whether the next person gets on a boat, and on that, I don’t understand the motivation.

HOST: And now it’s time for the closing statements. Mr Burke went first with the opening statements; he will be first with the closing.

BURKE: Thanks very much. The conversation we were just having then I think matters a lot, because what needs to be remembered and one of the big mistakes that has happened over time is a view that you can freeze policy settings in time, and people smugglers won’t change the way they act. They change the way they acted,

which was why temporary protection visas won’t work again, which is why you can’t turn boats around anymore because they start to sink them. They changed their method of behaviour which meant that the policy had to change too.

The one policy that has taken the product away from them completely is the policy that says people smugglers no longer have a product to sell. If you come through that method, you won’t be settled in Australia. And we’ve seen, while I’ve been told to rush things in different ways and I’ve then been told, oh, but there’s no implementation, first of all I was told there was no implementation because I’m not sending people there within 24 or 48 hours, then I was told there’s no implementation because I haven’t built every one of the 3,00 spots yet, then I was told there was no implementation because we didn’t have a memorandum of understanding, then we signed and exchanged the memorandum of understanding and we were told, how dare you do that.

The latest argument is that we haven’t implemented this policy yet, because no one has been settled yet, notwithstanding that no one’s had their claims finalised yet, and you wouldn’t settle someone before you’d finalised their claim.

I presume if the election were a few more months off then Scott’s next claim would be to say well you’ve settled people but no one’s stayed there for the rest of their life yet. The goal posts have shifted day after day in terms of the political debate, what hasn’t shifted one iota is the implementation of a policy that will work. Contrast it with a crazy policy about buying back boats. The worst thing about is that they claim they spent four years thinking about it.

There’s political spin, and there’s a policy that’s being implemented.

HOST: Mr Morrison.

MORRISON: Thank you Lyndal, and thank you all for being here today and being part of this debate with us. This has been a very difficult issue over a long period of time, it is our sincere hope that if elected on this Saturday, we will be able to set about the process immediately of cleaning up Labor’s mess on our borders. We’ve heard it all before from Labor and you’ve heard it all again today, you’ve heard them rush once again to claim success where on so many occasions in the past that fatal success has always turned to failure as things have unravelled on the other side.

And that’s why this election is so important, Australians need to decide who is best placed on the other side of this election to fix this mess, the Government that started the boats or the Coalition who has the proven result on stopping the boats. Even just today we had the Indonesian people smuggling taskforce leader disputing what the Minister has said in terms of what success he claims today. We won’t know what the true effect of this is, but what I do know is one measure will never be enough.

What we have seen over the last five, six years has been unmitigated policy failure of the greatest order, it is this Government in my view’s biggest area of policy failure, and the costs have been catastrophic. 50,000 people turning up and more illegally by boat, over 1,100 people dead, and 15,000 people denied visas who would otherwise have got them and had their change like (inaudible) in Australia.

For no other reason than that, this Government should be thrown out of office. You cannot reward a government that is a guilty party for this level of failure and not expect another government to do it again in the future. This government on borders deserves to go.

HOST: And that brings us to the conclusion of today’s immigration debate. Would you please thank Tony Burke and Scott Morrison. Thank you both of you for you participation.