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Transcript of press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: 25 September 2014: reintroducing TPVs to resolve Labor's asylum legacy caseload; Cambodia

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Scott Morrison MP

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection

Reintroducing TPVs to resolve Labor?s asylum legacy caseload, Cambodia

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Press conference, Canberra

Minister Morrison: At the last election the Coalition made two very important commitments to the Australian people. They were to stop the boats by restoring the measures that worked under John Howard and to resolve the outstanding legacy asylum caseload of illegal maritime arrivals to Australia which numbers some 30,000 people who tuned up under Labor. Today I have introduced legislation into the Parliament that addresses each of these key commitments. It complements legislation that has already entered Parliament, a piece of legislation called the Migration Amendment Protections and Other Measures) Bill.

The Government is stopping the boats just as we said we would. There has been just one venture this calendar year and all of those persons on that venture have been transferred for offshore processing and resettlement offshore. But the challenge of dealing with the legacy caseload of some 30,000 people who turned up under Labor, the overwhelming majority of those I should stress who are in the community not in held detention in this country, that task remains. We have been frustrated in addressing that task now over the last year. It was Labor and the Greens who foolishly abolished Temporary Protection Visas and the other measures of the Howard Government when they were in Government and we all saw the cost, chaos and tragedy that resulted from that foolish decision. It was remarkable that after we were elected when we sought to restore all those measures including Temporary Protection Visas that Labor and the Greens teamed up again to overturn Temporary Protection Visas. They learnt nothing from their failures in government and learnt nothing from their failures in opposition.

Since that time the government has been looking for the opportunity to reintroduce Temporary Protection Visas and we awaited the formation of the new Senate and the measures I introduced today into the House of Representatives add to that border protection regime already in place and honours our election commitments. They are part of this broader system that is regional deterrence working with those around our region to stop people coming into the region and getting towards Australia. I recently noted that some 45 ventures had been disrupted before they have even left those shores. Turn back operations have been the key factor in ensuring that these boats don't come to Australia and the bill I have introduced today addresses measures in relation to turn backs. Offshore processing and offshore resettlement are a key part of that package. As it has already been noted I will be going to Cambodia tomorrow where I will sign that agreement in relation to resettlement in Cambodia. And denying permanent protection visas for those who already arrived in Australia. That is the package. That is what we said we would do and is exactly what we are doing and what this bill seeks to address.

The bill restores TPVs, it strengthens our maritime enforcement powers and creates a more efficient and effective system to resolve the legacy caseload. In relation to TPVs and the new Safe Haven Enterprise Visas I will make a couple of points. These are temporary visas. They do not provide a path to permanent protection visas. That is very clear in our arrangements and the discussion we have had with the crossbench Senators. These also do not apply to anyone who seeks to illegally come to Australia now. Anyone who seeks to come to Australia on a boat and is not turned back will find themselves on Nauru or Manus Island just as those 157 people on that last venture did. It also does not apply to people who have already been transferred to Nauru or Manus Island. Their arrangements remain exactly as they are. Once people have been transferred they are in that system, they are not part of this legacy caseload system. I should also stress that it only applies to those who have been found to be refugees. Those who are not found to be refugees under the system that is set out in legislation today should go home and our policies will ensure they do go home.

Labor and the Greens rendered themselves irrelevant to the discussions around these arrangements through their ideological opposition to TPVs so it fell to the government to discuss these matters with the crossbench. I welcome the support for the bill that has been introduced today as well as the Protection and Other Measures Bill that has been indicated by the leader of the PUP party and I also welcome the support that has been indicated by Senator Day for these arrangements. We will continue to talk to the other crossbenchers about these issues as I have indicated on more than one occasion. We have had very positive discussions around these issues.

I want to go particularly to other parts of the arrangements that were set out in my letter to Mr Palmer that I tabled in the Parliament earlier and that is upon passage of these two bills, which was the one I introduced today and the Protection and Other Measures Bill, the government will cease transferring illegal maritime arrivals from the Australian mainland and Christmas Island to Nauru or Manus Island for offshore processing for those who have not already been transferred. Any persons who seek to turn up now they will still go to Nauru or Manus Island. This only applies to those who are already here in Australia. That will occur on passage of those bills. There are currently roughly 1,550 IMAs both on the mainland and on Christmas Island who would be affected by this arrangement and that includes 32 unaccompanied minors and 436 children. So as a result of this arrangement those 436 children will be brought into the legacy caseload which means they will be treated like the others who arrived prior to July 19 last year and they will be subject to assessment, TPVs as is indicated in the bills and the other measures. So that is 436 children who would be able to go into that other process and wouldn't be transferred.

What we have said is this will happen upon passage of these bills and the government obviously retains the ability and legal authority to make those transfers and I would urge the Senate to consider as well as the House obviously where the bill has been introduced to deal with these matters promptly. Upon passage of both bills those IMAS from this cohort who have not been transferred will become part of the legacy caseload and be processed in Australia. If found to be a refugee they will be granted a TPV or Safe Haven Enterprise Visa. All IMAs already transferred to Nauru or Manus Island will remain subject to offshore processing policy regardless of their date of arrival. They will remain in or return to the offshore processing centres

on Nauru or Manus Island where their asylum claims will be assessed. Under this policy they will not be resettled in Australia. Any and all new illegal arrivals will also continue to be transferred to Manus Island or Nauru for offshore processing and resettlement and this policy will apply in all such cases without exception as it is a necessary part of our border protection regime.

Now, Labor and the Green's have consistently opposed everything we've done since we've come to government on doing the job on stopping the boats and protecting our borders. They have the opportunity to reverse the habit of a lifetime and now support these strong measures, and that's up to them. But they have largely, to date, rendered themselves irrelevant to the discussion, and to the solution, by their own ideological position and pride. It's a matter for them what they do now - we've had very positive discussions with the crossbenchers, this is a key part of us delivering on our election commitments, keeping our borders strong and dealing effectively, practically and efficiently with cleaning up the mess that we were left behind by the previous government. Happy to take questions.

Journalist: Minister, just on the Safe Haven Visas, you say there's no pathway to a permanent protection visa, but with a safe haven visa, if you have gone to these regional areas and you have worked in jobs for three years, there’s a clause there where they can then apply for a different category of visas. Once in that category, isn't there a pathway for permanent skilled visas and perhaps permanent residency?

Minister Morrison: Well, there are a lot of hurdles that have to be cleared along this process. If people decide to go home, they would actually be able to apply offshore for access to Australia. If they had currently arrived illegally by boat, and they decided, well, I'm going to go home, they could apply offshore to become part of our special humanitarian programme; they could apply for a skilled visa offshore; they could do any of these things offshore. What Mr Palmer has proposed and we have worked with him on, is to come up with an alternative Temporary Protection Visa which means that people can go to nominated regional areas, and I want to stress those regional areas would not be nominated by the government, they would be done by the areas themselves. IF they choose to participate in this programme, then we will facilitate that. Similarly, if an employer in a regional area, that's defined as a regional area in the Migration Act, they can also say we would like to participate in this. But at the end of the day, it means that if they do go to those places and they do work for three and half years out of the five, then they may make an onshore application for - it could be student visa, it could be a 457 visa - but they would have to meet the eligibility requirements of those visas. Failure to meet those requirements means the only other visa they could get would get a TPV. They will never get a permanent protection visa.

Journalist: You had said in August last year, when you announced this policy down in Melbourne during your election campaign, "none of these 30,000 people will be permanently settled in Australia" - that's clearly not the case?

Minister Morrison: And I was referring to resettlement under protection visas.

Journalist: Minister, just with the Temporary Safe Haven Visa, will there be a cap on the number of those visas issued each year, and if so, what would that cap be?

Minister Morrison: We haven't considered whether a cap might be necessary, and the flow of people will depend upon the assessment process of how many people are found to be refugees or not. So we will get a better handle on that once we start to see that assessment process kick in.

But we're largely dealing with a caseload of some 30,000 people and we will commence processing those upon passage of this legislation, something that I think has been needlessly delayed by the frustration of the Labor and the Greens in the Senate. There are people who could have been on temporary protection visas nine months ago and they're not because of what Labor and the Greens did in the Senate. And I think that is very disappointing. They could have had work rights and parity of benefits and they have been denied that by Labor and the Greens because of their ideological opposition to TPVs.

Journalist: Minister Morrison, would that include the people who arrived after July 19 and before December last year, under your government, would they be offered the same Safe Haven Enterprise Visa?

Minister Morrison: Well what this does, is anybody who is still in Australia, either on Christmas Island on the mainland, they would become part of the legacy caseload as part of the compromise arrangement we came to with Mr Palmer.

Our original proposal was not that. But in the spirit of goodwill and discussions with crossbench Senators, then governments, it's important that we are able to deliver on our commitments. The core commitments here are these - we said there would never be a permanent protection visa available to people arrived illegal by boat - that has been honoured in this legislation. We said that we would turn back boats where it's safe to do so and that is affirmed in this legislation. So the Government is meeting its commitments.

Journalist: Does this mean that Christmas Island will be closed down?

Minister Morrison: No.

Journalist: I understand that this legislation has been sent off to a Committee and that committee will report back in late November so this legislation has still months away from passing. What happens in that time? It seemed that Clive Palmer thought that this was happening from today, that there wouldn't be any more transfers. Will you continue to transfer those people on Christmas Island offshore?

Minister Morrison: I have no immediate plans to do that. And providing everybody acts in good faith and in good will in accordance with the sorts of things we have discussed there would be no need for us to depart from that practice. People will remain where they are for the present and with the passage of the legislation we will be able to implement these measures. If there is a departure from what has been agreed then obviously the Government will simply refer to the standing position and that means the transfers would commence again. But I should stress anyone who turns up in the meantime; they go straight to Nauru and Manus Island. No exceptions.

Journalist: How do you imagine this will run down the populations in detention centres? And over what period of time and further to Sarah's question, do you imagine there will be further detention centre closures - not just talking about Christmas Island, but any others and then in regards to regional areas, what sort of support will the regions be given? Have you picked regions where these people are going to go?

Minister Morrison: In terms of the detention state, what further decisions need to be taken on that will be taken in time. At present we are closing ten centres and we have no additional plans to close any more at this point but that will obviously be subject to how things progress. We have no plans at all to close the Christmas Island facility that will remain an important part of the network and will continue to be used for a variety of particular caseloads, as part of our management of the broader caseload. Remembering there are still people and I imagine will be large numbers of people, who will be found not to be refugees and it's our intention that they should voluntarily decide to return home. But if they choose not to do that, we will have a range of options available to us to encourage them to do that including forcible returns where that is possible. In terms of the regional areas, as I said before, it is a self-nomination opt-in process for regions. The Government will not be dictating that to any region. And I would urge regions to think about what they're able to bring to the table to support people coming into their communities and to consider that carefully and to talk about it and make it an informed decision and obviously my department would be happy to assist them in providing further information and so on. But it is important that that decision is made carefully and in consultation with our own communities. We will, on passage of this legislation, and frankly prior to that, start working through the process with State Governments, local governments, others, to fashion the regulations and to ensure that the systems that sit around this arrangement can work effectively and promptly.

Journalist: 30,000 people obviously in this caseload and you are talking about how you are processing these claims etcetera. Do you have a timeline for long you would like to see that backlog dealt with?

Minister Morrison: I would like to see it happen as soon as possible but I am not naïve about it. I think it will take years.

Journalist: How do you decide which visa people get, do they apply?

Minister Morrison: They will nominate. They will decide whether they want to apply for a TPV or a SHEV. I should stress both are effectively temporary protection visas, one just provides another pathway. I should stress that those on TPVs can work as well, they can work anywhere. It is just that those on a TPV won't be able to go down the pathway Mr Palmer has set up in this arrangement to enable them to potentially be in a position - and I should stress - these benchmarks of working or studying in these regional areas are very high. Our experience on resettlement for people in this situation would mean that this is a very high bar to clear. Good luck to them if they choose to do that and if they achieve it. But if they do achieve it, then what we are doing here is not providing a pathway to welfare, and generational welfare at that. There is an opportunity here but I think it is a very limited opportunity and we will see how it works out. But at the end of the day, no-one is getting a permanent protection visa.

Journalist: Have you got anything on numbers for SHEVs or graduating from SHEVs?

Minister Morrison: No.

Journalist: It's possible it could be a very small number?

Minister Morrison: It's very possible.

Journalist: Minister, the bill that you introduced today removes a reference from the Migration Act to the refugee convention, can you explain how the insertion that you are going to put talks about - articulates Australia's new interpretation of the convention. How do you suppose that will pass the human rights test that the joint parliamentary committee will apply to that?

Minister Morrison: There is no diminution in the statement of our obligations in this Bill, prior to this Bill. It's exactly the same. What we are saying clearly in this Bill is that the Australian Parliament, the Australian people will define our obligations and particularly the interpretation of those obligations and we are not going to hand that off to advocates and others around the world and through other international courts dictating to Australia what our obligations are. We feel very strongly about that. We are a sovereign country. We get to decide what our rules are and what our obligations are. We were part of the original group of countries that signed the Refugee Convention. We know what we signed up to and those commitments are contained fully in this legislation. No - diminution whatsoever and any suggestion to the contrary is frankly just false.

Journalist: So you're prepared to give Australia - you're prepared to give - the.

Minister Morrison: Is there another question?

Journalist: Minister, what can you tell us about the Cambodian deal?

Minister Morrison: I will be there tomorrow and I am a guest of the Cambodian Government and it's for them to say when their guests are coming to visit them. But I am happy that they were able to do that. I want to stress what I have stressed on a number of occasions in relation to this arrangement. There will be no surprise. The arrangement is strictly voluntary. Anyone who chooses to go to Cambodia will have chosen themselves to go to Cambodia. I know there have been reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax press suggesting that somehow this has been a sticking point. That is complete and utter bunkum. That has never been a sticking point in these discussions. Resettlement is a voluntary process by definition so I am disappointed those reports continued. Secondly, settlement will be permanent for those who take up these arrangements. Support will be tailored to the needs of those as part of a package of measures that will go to their resettlement which is designed to make them self- reliant as quickly as possible. They will be afforded all the same rights under Cambodian law and those that exist under the Refugee Convention. There is no cap on what has been discussed here. This will be an ongoing developing relationship; this is a country in Australia who has the best record on resettlement of any country proudly in the world, working together with another refugee signatory country in our region to help them develop the capability to resettle

refugees. That is what a regional plan and a regional agreement and a regional solution looks like.

Journalist: One of the other measures that you introduced in this Bill is to prevent the rules of natural justice applying to a series of measures under the Maritime Powers Act. Is that because you're anticipating a defeat in the High Court in the upcoming case to be heard in October?

Minister Morrison: No, that is a pretty speculative question. We are simply seeking to further strengthen the existing powers that we have.

Journalist: But those measures include effectively allowing interceptions to occur and then those interceptions for people to be sent directly offshore. Isn't it?

Minister Morrison: That is exactly what we are already doing under existing law and these measures strengthen those provisions.

Journalist: Is it to avoid the stand-off that we did see a couple of months ago with 157 people?

Minister Morrison: I think it's important that we continue to strengthen the measures that we have available to us. Let's not forget turning back the boats is what has been stopping the boats. So the Labor Party have fudged on this for years. They're asked will you support turnbacks, oh we have an open mind and then they will give you 50 reasons why they won't do it. Kevin Rudd said he would turn back boats before the 2007 election and the Australian people knew just how seriously he was committed to that arrangement. In this Bill they have the opportunity to vote for turnbacks. If they don't support this bill, the Australian people will know if they ever occupy the Treasury benches again, they won't do turnbacks and the boats will come back.

Journalist: Minister Morrison, given the processing could take years and you have got a backlog to go through, have you given any thought to prioritising the 400-plus children in detention who arrived after July 19?

Minister Morrison: Children more generally and families and vulnerable persons obviously would be triaged through this process and those decisions will not be made by me. They will be made by the department and others who have detailed experience and knowledge in these areas. The case load will also be triaged to ensure we can move through it quite quickly. We have developed a streamline and fast tracked process for very insubstantial claims and a stronger merits-based review process which is quite specific to dealing with these cases for those cases that are more complex and what the bill also does I think is remove opportunities to game the system and that goes hand in glove with the Protection and Other Measures Bill which is already in the Parliament which does things like ensure the people have to put their claim up-front and not hold back, wait for a decision and then refashion their claim for review. If you've got a claim, put it. If you have an identity, put it. And that is what we are asking people to do. And that means the process works more quickly, it works more honestly. I want to see these decisions made as quickly as possible but I want to see them made in a robust framework and that decisions can be made with integrity so Australians can have confidence. It's going to be a long road, it's going to be a tough road, but that is no surprise when we we're left with the mess that we

were, whether it was on the boats streaming into Australia or the 30,000 people who were just left idle here and hadn't been processed by the previous Government. We have got to clean that up and that's exactly what we are doing.

Thank you.