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Transcript of joint press conference: 27 May 2010: Restoring Sovereignty and control to our borders.



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

• Joint Press Conference transcript -

Restoring Sovereignty and Control to our Borders 27/05/10

Subjects: The Coalition’s policy for restoring sovereignty and control to Australia’s borders.

E&OE

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m here with Scott and with Michael to formally release the Coalition’s border protection policy and at the outset let me stress that we have a serious problem in this country because of the failures of the Rudd Government. The Howard Government found a problem, created a solution. Mr Rudd found a solution and created a problem and it is up to us to outline what we would do in government to address this issue and I stress, it is a serious issue.

Since the Rudd Government watered down border protection back in August of 2008 we’ve had 128 boats at last count, nearly 6,000 illegal arrivals by boat. It’s a serious problem. It has to be addressed. No credible government or alternative government

can fail to have effective policies to deal with this issue.

Now, what we need to do in essence is to deny the people smugglers a product to sell and because of the Rudd Government’s policy changes they have a product to sell. What we are proposing will deny them the product to sell. I’ve been saying for some time that in order to stop the boats there are four things that need to be done.

First, there’s got to be a temporary protection visa. Second, there’s got to be rigorous offshore processing. Third, there’s got to be a good relationship with source and transit countries. Finally, in the right circumstances, we’ve got to be prepared to turn boats around.

The principal addition which Scott and Michael and I are here to talk about today is this: the next Coalition government will enter into negotiations with other countries

for processing centres to be established offshore if Christmas Island is beyond its capacity.

It’s very important that rigorous offshore processing be maintained. At the moment the Rudd Government is bringing illegal arrivals on shore. That must not happen. This is creating the impression that the people smugglers do have a product to sell. It must stop and the way to stop it is to ensure that offshore processing continues.

So, I want to stress in conclusion that this is about stopping the boats. A Coalition government will do what is necessary to stop the boats. We’ve done it before, we will do it again. Stop the boats we must, stop the boats we will. Scott.

SCOTT MORRISON:

Thanks, Tony. People smuggling is an inhumane business that puts people’s lives at risk and we need to stop the boats for that reason. Every place that we provide under our refugee and humanitarian programme that goes to those who have sought to arrive illegally is denied to another in another place who may well be in much more distraught circumstances, so stopping the boats is absolutely essential. What Tony has outlined here is effectively restoring in many respects what this Government has dismantled and the Government’s record in terms of boat arrivals on their watch speaks for itself.

The measures as outlined today I think are very specific, they’re very clear, they put meat to the bone on the announcements made last year in terms of our approach to this issue. We remain resolute. This is a Government, whether it’s through its failed policy or its flawed decisions or its actions which through the prospect of the Oceanic Viking issue sent a very loud message that this Government has no resolve either to follow through to take the decisions and put the people smuggling business to rest.

The worst news people smugglers could have this year is the election of a Coalition Government and that is what these policies entail.

TONY ABBOTT:

Michael, do you want to add something?

MICHAEL KEENAN:

All around the north of Australia today we have officers from the Customs and Border Protection Service assisted by our defence forces working flat strap and over time dealing with Kevin Rudd and Labor’s failure on our borders. They needn’t be doing that. If Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party had managed to leave well enough alone

when they came to government we wouldn’t be facing this problem today. They’re aware of that and anecdotally, of course, they will hear that on their duties that people understand that Australia has now gone soft on its borders and that is why we’ve had

this tsunami of new arrivals.

Only a Coalition government will show the resolve to stop this problem in the first place and the solution doesn’t lie on our northern borders, of course, it can only be made here in Canberra by taking the appropriate resolve and showing some strength

to actually send the massage to the people smugglers that we will no longer accept them engaging in this evil trade.

TONY ABBOTT:

Ok, any questions?

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, the first two years of TPVs, 1999 to 2001, in fact the number of boat arrivals went up. It wasn’t until the Pacific Solution was introduced that the boats were stopped. Surely you’re being half-hearted here. You need to announce today the reintroduction of the Pacific Solution, the only effective way of stopping the boats?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, Paul, let me be crystal clear about this. The next Coalition government will swiftly begin negotiations with foreign countries to ensure that there is offshore processing available in those countries should Christmas Island be full.

QUESTION:

That’s different, isn’t it?

TONY ABBOTT:

I am making it crystal clear that just as the last Coalition government, through a series of escalating measures, stopped the boats, the next Coalition government, through a series of similar measures, will stop the boats. The other point I make is that if you want to stop the boats you’ve got to change the government because the Rudd Government will never do what’s necessary to stop the boats.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, you told your party room that you didn’t want to be an action replay of the Howard Government. How is this not just an action replay of the Howard Government?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I am different from John Howard. My values are very, very similar to those of John Howard’s but I am not an identikit of John Howard, but where John Howard’s policies worked, and they certainly did in this area, I am very happy to continue them.

QUESTION:

Has this policy been costed of negotiating with other countries to reintroduce a quasi-Pacific Solution?

SCOTT MORRISON:

The policy is outlined here and the costs are contained within existing forward estimates and as Tony has said, we would enter into negotiations with another country or countries and those negotiations at that time would indicate what level of cost would be involved in any agreement but until those negotiations are underway they can’t be fully known. But this Government already, already, through its policies has forecast various costs particularly in offshore asylum seeker management out over the forward estimates and at this stage we believe those costs would enable us to implement these policies.

QUESTION:

What is the ball park figure?

TONY ABBOTT:

I’m not going to go into that because that will be determined at the time depending upon the negotiations but I do point out that every illegal boat arrival costs on average $82,000 to process and there have been cost blowouts in the order of a $1 billion

dollars because of the border protection failures of this government.

QUESTION:

The countries you are going to negotiate with are they going to be source countries, transit countries or in fact third party countries?

TONY ABBOTT:

We will negotiate with other countries to ensure that offshore processing continues; now I’m not going to specify which countries we might negotiate with because you cannot do these sorts of negotiations from Opposition. These sorts of negotiations of their nature are government to government negotiations and I don’t want to put any other country in an invidious position in its discussions with the current government by nominating it by a potential negotiating partner but I am confident that we will be able to have negotiations and I see no reason why in some cases they wouldn’t be successful negotiations.

QUESTION:

Would you be prepared to estimate how long these policies would take to stop what you call the tsunami of boats? Would you put a timeline on how long it may take? (inaudible)

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, what I would point you to is the relative swiftness with which the flow stopped once the Howard government put its full range of policies in place. It was a matter of months rather than years but I really can’t speculate now from Opposition how this might happen in the future.

SCOTT MORRISON:

I might just add something to that. The rate of arrivals we are having this year as is pointed out in the document is higher than at any other time on record. We have had sixty boats arrive this year. They are arriving at a rate of more than three per week, where in the last six years of the Coalition government they were arriving at a rate of three per year. So, the escalation that we have seen here under this government is unprecedented at this level and obviously we’ve said today that we would have the resolve to do this and frankly whatever is necessary to do to ensure that we stop the boats.

QUESTION:

On the issue of cost, Mr Morrison you’ve made quite a big deal about it costing $81-82,000 dollars per arrival and yet the Pacific Solution, I think Nauru cost $300 million alone for maybe a couple, 3,000 people which is considerably more by quantum. Don’t you have to now backtrack from this aspect of the cost when it’s going to cost more to process off shore?

SCOTT MORRISON:

What I’m saying is that in the forward estimates in the government’s own budget, at this stage, based on our understanding, there’d be sufficient resources to cope with going into those negotiations, that’s what we’re saying. I mean, this government at this stage hasn’t announced what its full capital cost will be for Curtin. Apparently they’re looking at mining sites in Western Australia and there’s no money in the

budget for that that we’re aware of and so the capital items of the budget as well as the operational expenditures, particularly for off shore asylum seeker management, are quite significant. They’ve blown out, as Tony has said, by $1 billion, and if we’re in that position then we believe the resources based on the forward estimates would cover the costs.

QUESTION:

Can I also put it to you that the turning back the boats policy is actually practically unworkable because you’ll have resistance from the people that you expect to do this job and secondly you have tactics now where boats are routinely sabotaged.

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, it was done under the former government, it was done quietly without a great deal of fuss. There was no megaphone announcement such as we’ve had from the current Prime Minister. It was done quietly in cooperation with other countries through the extraordinary professionalism of our armed forces. Now, I don’t see why it can’t be done again, if it was done successfully in the past.

QUESTION:

What do you say to the members of your own party, of your backbench, who will be uncomfortable with this?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well look, I understand that there will be some members of the Coalition team who are uncomfortable with this. Some of them were uncomfortable with these types of policies in government. I respect their position. I appreciate their conscientious right to take a position should they choose which is a little different from that which I’ve taken and that which Scott Morrison has taken.

I do want to make it clear, though, that my argument is not with desperate people who want a better life. My argument is with the government. The government has changed policy, the government has created the problem. The government has given people

smugglers a product. The government has caused the boats to flow and the flow of boats has sometimes had tragic consequences. So, my argument is with the government. If I am into being critical, it’s the Prime Minister and his ministers, it’s not individuals who come to this country.

QUESTION:

[inaudible] Joint Party Room and what about the promise you made after paid parental leave?

TONY ABBOTT:

This has been through internal process and this is the policy.

QUESTION:

So, the promise you made that you wouldn’t ever ambush your Party Room like you did with paid parental leave, that really meant nothing in the end?

TONY ABBOTT:

There has been appropriate internal party process.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, [inaudible] illegal arrivals come by plane. What’s your policy to deal with that?

TONY ABBOTT:

Obviously all persons who are in this country without authorisation have to be dealt with appropriately but I would just draw a very sharp distinction between people who come safely by plane and who then for whatever reason become illegal and people who come unsafely and illegally by boat. I just think they are two very different issues and they shouldn’t be conflated.

QUESTION:

[inaudible] of yours, Mr Abbott, that things no longer need to go through the Party Room as long as you’re convinced it’s been through sufficient internal process?

TONY ABBOTT:

Look, I just want to reiterate that there has been an internal process. I’m happy with it and I’m happy with the policy.

SCOTT MORRISON:

Can I just pick up on the question that was there before in terms of arrivals by plane. What this policy says, particularly in relation to temporary protection visas, whether you’ve arrived illegally by boat or air or any other means, whether you’ve overstayed your visa and then are seeking asylum, then you will only have the option of that temporary protection visa. So it doesn’t distinguish between boat or air, it distinguishes between whether you’ve arrived with a valid visa or not and that’s the policy that applies. But people die on boats, as we know, and that’s why the boats need to be stopped.

QUESTION:

Just to be clear on one point, you said that you appreciate members of your backbench, their conscientious right to take a position. Are you suggesting in this that there’ll be conscience votes available?

TONY ABBOTT:

No. I’m just saying that I accept that under the rules and the culture governing the Coalition parties, people have a right to a personal position and should that be exercised in this matter, well, that’s something that I’m comfortable with. But just on this whole question of internal process, look at the government. I mean, this is a government where normal Cabinet process has completely broken down. Decisions of the utmost significance such as imposing a great big new tax on the mining sector, a dagger aimed at the heart of or prosperity, are taken by a kitchen cabinet after minimal discussion and no consultation. I mean, we have an abundance of internal process by comparison to the government.

QUESTION:

Just on another issue. Just like you, the government is road-testing and finalising its lines for the coming election campaign, describing you as flaky, erratic and risky. I would like to know how you respond to that and whether you and your appearance on the 7.30 Report the other night, your backdown on your promises of no new taxes, there is some substance to that charge?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, I think I am a big risk to people smugglers. If I get elected, people smugglers will go out of business so yes, they are right to think that I am a risk. I am a risk to them and I’m happy to be a risk to them. On this question of dependability and trustworthiness, I will match my dependability and trustworthiness against that of the Prime Minister any day. Any day. I mean, look at this Prime Minister’s record. He’s broken promise after promise. He’s made commitment after commitment that he has

failed to deliver upon time after time. He spent the whole of April, it was a month-long fire sale of dud policies. Really and truly, I mean, I think that with this Coalition you know where you stand and you will know what you will get should we win the

election.

QUESTION:

Mr Abbott, today Ken Henry said that he learned in high school economics that profits based taxes can’t push up prices. What did you learn in high school to think that they can?

TONY ABBOTT:

Well, all I know is that if you increase peoples’ costs, they are going to look to ways to maintain their rate of return. That is human nature. But I stress, my argument is not with any public servant. My argument is with Prime Minister Rudd. My argument is not with any public servant and what I would ask the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to do, finally, is to state clearly, based on dependable Australian sources what they think the tax rate paid by the resource sector is, really is, because at the moment they have three or four different answers, almost none of them based on credible sources and if you’re going to make a policy you’ve got to know what you’re talking about