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Transcript of press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 6 September 2015: Syrian refugees; two year anniversary of the Abbott Government; the Government's record of achievement; Jarryd Hayne; Father's Day



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PRIME MINISTER

6 September 2015

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON. TONY ABBOTT MP PRESS CONFERENCE PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

Subjects: Syrian refugees; two year anniversary of the Abbott Government; the Government’s record of achievement; Jarryd Hayne; Father’s Day.

E&OE……………………….……………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, thanks everyone and I know that people are giving up their Father’s Day to be here so thanks for your presence.

Like just about every other Australian I was moved by the horrific imagery of that little boy washed up on a beach in Turkey. Absolutely awful imagery and certainly no parent could fail to be moved by what we saw. Australia is a country which has always taken its international obligations seriously. Australia is a country which has always done what we can to assist when people are in trouble around the world and we certainly are not going to change our character now. So, I have asked the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to go urgently to Geneva to talk to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on what more Australia can do to assist on the migration crisis that is being driven by the problems in the Middle East. We are disposed to take more people from that troubled region under our refugee and humanitarian programme and we are open to providing more financial assistance to the UNHCR in the weeks and months ahead.

I should point out that we are already doing a lot. In the last financial year we took almost 4,500 people from the trouble spots of Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq. Since 2011, we have provided $155 million in humanitarian assistance for the Syrian crisis and just this year alone we have provided $100 million in humanitarian assistance for the Middle East more broadly. We are a country which, on a per capita basis, takes more refugees than any other. We take more refugees than any other through the UNHCR on a per capita basis but obviously this is a very grave situation in the Middle East. People in Syria are caught between the mass execution of the Daesh Death cult on the one hand and the chemical weapons of the Assad regime on the other. It is important that there be a humanitarian response but it is also important that there be a strong security response as well and obviously the Government will have more to say on that matter later in the week.

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So, Peter Dutton is leaving this evening to go to Geneva to talk to the UNHCR, we are disposed to take more people from this troubled region; I stress, people from persecuted minorities in camps, families from persecuted minorities in camps, and we are disposed to provide further financial assistance.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, what number are you thinking? Up to 20,000? 10,000?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I am not going to put a number on it now. We have already taken about 4,500 in the last financial year and we are prepared to take significant numbers this year given the ongoing crisis and its scale.

QUESTION:

Is this within the parameters of the existing humanitarian overall numbers but an increase in the portion that come from that region, or an overall increase?

PRIME MINISTER:

We, last year, took about 30 per cent of our 13,000 from that region - that is what we did last year. As you know, over the next couple of years the numbers that we take will go up to 18,000 and we can only do this because of the success that we have already had in stopping the boats. Previously, it was the people smugglers who were determining the composition of our refugee and humanitarian intake; now it is the Australian Government. But obviously because of our success in stopping the boats we are in a position to take more from a region under great stress from a part of the world where minorities, in particular, are under deadly threat both from the death cult and from a very, very brutal regime.

QUESTION:

Is this commitment, you haven’t given it a number yet but will it be over and above our commitment already of 13,750 rising over three years to nearly 18. Is it over and above that figure?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we are proposing to take more people from this region as part of our very substantial commitment to the UNHCR. Again I want to stress, on a per capita basis, no country on earth takes more refugees through the UNHCR than we do. It is not always acknowledged, it is not always recognised, but it is a fact that no country on earth takes more people through the UNHCR programme on a per capita basis than Australia. Obviously, given the scale of the problem in the Middle East right now and the knock-on consequences that it is now having into Europe as well we are prepared to take more people from camps, particularly focused on families, women and children from persecuted minorities.

QUESTION:

During the Kosovo war, Prime Minister, we flew jumbo jets, I think, to Europe and brought people back from those refugee camps in Macedonia. Would we be looking at something similar?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, again I don’t want to pre-empt the result of the discussions between Minister Dutton and the UNHCR and the consultations that he will no doubt have while he is there with our friends and partners in Europe and elsewhere. What I am saying though is that Australia, as always, will step up to the plate, we always do, we always respond when there is a problem in other parts of the world we have never let the world down and

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we are certainly not going to start now. We can’t save the world single-handedly, we shouldn’t pretend otherwise but nevertheless we will be a significant part of international efforts to help in this very difficult situation.

QUESTION:

Given the scale of the crisis which you are identifying Prime Minister isn’t there a case to boost our overall refugee humanitarian intake to accommodate more people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the point I want to make, Laura, is that we were ahead of this curve. In the middle of last year when the death cult first burst out of Syria and into Iraq, even then we indicated that we would take some 4,500 people equally from Iraq and Syria because of the humanitarian disaster that we could see unfolding even then. Obviously, the humanitarian disaster continues. Obviously, there are now ramifications for Europe and elsewhere and that is why, in the context of our efforts to solve a global problem, we are prepared to do more.

QUESTION:

A question for the military approach in the Middle East, might the humanitarian crisis be now so acute that what we need to do in the Middle East, initially at least, is seek a ceasefire with our enemies to allow for that crisis to be dealt with?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I am not sure that it is possible to have a ceasefire with people like the death cult. There is no evidence whatsoever that this death cult is capable of any mercy, any compassion. The message of the death cult is 'submit or die' and that is why so many people are fleeing from it. On the other hand, in Syria the alternative to the death cult is the Assad regime and the Assad regime is pretty brutal, so, while I think there is an argument for the establishment of safe havens in Syria we are certainly, I think, kidding ourselves if we think that there is the possibility of negotiation with the death cult which is interested in nothing except its own bloody success.

QUESTION:

The pending decision on air strikes in Syria; what is the time frame for that decision and how would they work given the increasing humanitarian disaster?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, what I want to indicate today is that the Government of Australia, I am sure representing the best instincts of the people of Australia, is prepared to do more in the face of this growing humanitarian crisis but obviously there is a very important security dimension to it. Today, we are sending the Minister for Immigration to Geneva to talk to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Later in the week we will have more to say about our military campaign in the Middle East and what we are doing along with our partners to disrupt, degrade and ultimately destroy this death cult because in the end it is the dire situation in Syria and other countries; it is the complete breakdown of order in Syria and other countries; it is the rise of a new barbarism in Syria and other countries which is driving this.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, have you spoken to any of the other world leaders, particularly in Europe, about what is going on in Syria both the humanitarian concerns and what you may do with military? And on another point

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also tomorrow is the second anniversary of your election win - have you performed the way that you would have hoped to perform as Prime Minister and how do you think you have gone?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I am probably going to leave the people of Australia to make a second anniversary judgment. What I will say though is that I think this is a Government which does have very significant achievements to its credit. Obviously stopping the boats was a very significant achievement given the human catastrophe, given the scale of death and suffering which happens when the people smuggling trade gets underway. So, stopping the boats has certainly been a very decent and compassionate thing to do and it took this Government’s policies and determination to make that happen. We have created some 335,000 more jobs in our economy since September 2013 and more jobs mean more prosperity; they mean a better life for everyone. So, that is a very significant achievement and while there are many factors in a growing jobs market, abolishing the carbon tax, abolishing the mining tax, cutting red tape - very important - and of course the achievements of which I am perhaps most proud right now, are the finalisation of these three free trade agreements with our major trading partners. Obviously, there will be much to say in days ahead of the China Free Trade Agreement given the fact that Bill Shorten is still trying to sabotage it but nevertheless these are historic changes that will set Australia up for decades to come.

QUESTION:

If the UN tells Peter Dutton that it wants Australia to double its humanitarian intake, will you listen to that and will you act on that or is this 13,750 the upper limit for Australia for now?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are steadily increasing our intake up to 18,000 and we are able to do that because of our success in stopping the boats and I don’t want anyone to underestimate just how important this is because under the former government the people smugglers were choosing who was coming to Australia as part of our refugee and humanitarian intake - now, the Government choses. So, we are able to say instead of just getting the people who the people smugglers send to us in leaky boats we are able to say there is a disaster taking place in a particular part of the world and so we will take people from camps, families from persecuted minorities in this part of the world.

QUESTION:

But if the UN says 'do more' will you be open to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we’ve done more already than any other country. I am not aware that there is any other country, thus far, which has taken 4,500 people through the UNHCR from this region. What I am saying is that Peter Dutton is going urgently this very night to Geneva to talk about what more we can do. Now, I know you all want me to leap three or four steps ahead and put figures on things. What I am saying is that we are prepared to do more. We are prepared to do more on a humanitarian basis, we are prepared to do more on a security basis because we are a good global citizen - always have been; always will be. I will take one more question.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, can I ask how you go about rebalancing that intake. Does it exclude the possibility for example of reducing the number of Iraqi refugees that we take or will it be reducing the number of refugees from other regions; Burma, Afghanistan, for example?

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PRIME MINISTER:

The whole point is that previously, under the former government it was the people smugglers who were in charge. So, we would get whoever paid the money to turn up on a leaky boat. Now, we are in charge and given that there is this ongoing humanitarian disaster prompted by the conflict in Syria and elsewhere we are in a position to say, yes, we are taking more people from particular regions, more families from persecuted minorities in camps on the edges of Syria. That is what we are ready to do more of, given the scale of this disaster. The point I want to make, we have always been a good global citizen - always have been, always will be. The world will see in the weeks to come the kind of responsibilities that Australia is prepared to shoulder to build a better world. This is doing the right thing by Australia and it is doing the right thing by the wider world.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, just on Jarryd Hayne and fathers on Father’s Day?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, isn’t it fantastic news and it just goes to show that even in unfamiliar fields Australians can do very well indeed when we put our minds to it. And, on Father’s Day, fathers do a great job - every single one of us is perpetually indebted to a Father. I don’t want to neglect Mothers as well on this day because fathers and mothers go together but nevertheless all of us are indebted to our fathers. They deserve recognition, special recognition this day. My dad is getting on, he is 91 but it was terrific to be with Dad, with Mum, with all of my sisters and many of Dad’s grandchildren this morning.

[ends]