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Transcript of press conference: Canberra: 13 February 2019: border protection; Labor weakness



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The Hon. Scott Morrison MP Prime Minister

TRANSCRIPT PRESS CONFERENCE CANBERRA, ACT WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2019

E&OE…

SUBJECTS: Border protection; Labor weakness

PRIME MINISTER: Well not surprisingly, I understand that the Senate will be passing the Bill that went through the House yesterday. Earlier today, I convened a meeting of the National Security Committee to take the decisions that were necessary following on from the contingency planning that have been put in place over the last couple of weeks. That contingency planning and the decisions I've taken this morning, together with the other NSC Ministers, is there is a range of strengthening that has been put in place in terms of Operation Sovereign Borders and their operations. I want to stress that all of the actions and decisions that we are taking are implementing the recommendations of these agencies and the officials as presented to us this morning. We are adopting all of the recommendations they have put, based on their advice in response to the decisions that have been taken in the Australian Parliament. We're implementing them all 100 per cent. Everything they are asking for, they are getting and that has involved a strengthening of the capacity of Operation Sovereign Borders across a whole range of fronts. I am not at liberty to go into the detail of what they are for obvious reasons. This Parliament has already tipped its hand enough to the people smugglers. I won't be doing that in compromising our operations and how we now address the consequences of what this Parliament is doing to our borders.

Secondly, we have approved putting in place the reopening of the Christmas Island detention facilities and a series of compounds there, both to deal with the prospect of arrivals as well as dealing with the prospect of transfers. The full cost of those was set out in the declassified briefing which you've already seen and the final costings of those will be staged over the re-ramp up of those facilities, and that is taking place in accordance with the recommendations from the Secretary of Home Affairs.

In relation to the implementation of the laws passing that are through the Senate, I've asked the Department of Home Affairs for an implementation report. I will await for that report and then take further decisions on that once I have that information available to me. My job now is to ensure that the boats don't come. My job now is to do everything within my power and in the power of the Government to ensure that what the Parliament has done to weaken our borders does not result in boats coming to Australia. It is still the case that our Government is running border protection in this country and that, of itself, is a great deterrent, because they know our resolve. The people

smugglers know my resolve. They know Peter Dutton's resolve. They know we will do everything in our power to stop them at every point. And we remain standing here to ensure that they don't come.

So if they don't come, it will be because of the work and the decisions we are now taking and the actions we are putting in place. If they do come, you can thank the Labor Party and Bill Shorten because he is the one who has led this process. He has led this process to weaken and compromise our borders. Now, I want to make a couple of other points because there is a lot of misinformation and, frankly, lies, that are being put around. There are more than 60 medical professionals on Nauru, for 420 people. If that says there is no medical facilities available on Nauru, then that is ridiculous. Tell me another part of this country that has one medical professional for every seven people. There is, in fact, one medical... I should say, mental health professional for every 14 people on Nauru.

On top of that, there is no one in detention on Nauru, not one person. And, as you already know, apart from the four who will be transferred to the United States, there are no children on Nauru. None. So the Labor Party cannot absolve themselves by telling themselves lies as motivation for what they did in the Parliament yesterday and what they are doing now. They have done what they have done. Bill Shorten has done what he has done out of manifest weakness, an inability to stand up to the left wing of his own party, the Greens and others who have applied pressure. He has no strength on this issue and he cannot be trusted to follow through on any of the border protection measures that our Government has put in place.

So we are taking the decisions and the action to clean up the mess that the Labor Party has once again created and we will be undertaking all our efforts to do just that. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when you were Immigration Minister - and we hear it from Peter Dutton as well - you often talk about the messaging that comes from the shores of Australia, whether it encourages or discourages people smuggling ventures. Don’t you as Prime Minister have the responsibility to keep a lid on your language, lest it does encourage people smugglers?

PRIME MINISTER: I’ve just delivered that message. I'm standing between people smugglers and bringing a boat to Australia. Last time I did that, you didn't get here.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you referred to lies, legitimately, before. Now your Government MPs, people like Tony Abbott, are saying that as a consequence of the Bill that passed the House yesterday, it's now: “Get on a boat, get to Nauru, get sick and get to Australia” - when the law that passed the House -

PRIME MINISTER: I’m sorry, but that’s entirely possible. That is entirely possible.

JOURNALIST: If I can finish? That... get to Australia. The law that passed the House yesterday, I don't know what will pass the Senate because it hasn't happened yet, but the law that passed the House yesterday clearly ring-fences to the current cohort. So what Mr Abbott is saying is not true.

PRIME MINISTER: No, I'm sorry Katharine, you fail to understand that people smugglers don't deal with the nuance of the Canberra bubble. They deal with the psychology of messaging, of whether things are stronger or whether things are weaker. It might be all fine and nice to talk about these nuances here in this courtyard. But when you're in a village in Indonesia and someone

is selling you a product, there's no protections or truth in advertising laws for people smugglers. They just sell the message. What Tony Abbott has said is exactly what the people smugglers will be saying. Sorry, I’m going over here.

JOURNALIST: Prime, Minister, it’s not a nuance, it’s a fact. And if I may -

PRIME MINISTER: It is a nuance which the people smugglers will ignore. What is true today Katharine, what is true today is as a result of what happened in the Parliament yesterday and what is happening in the Senate now is our border protection laws are weaker than they were two days ago. That's a fact. Thank you, Phil?

JOURNALIST: If the consequences of this Bill are as dire as you are saying and require the response you have just outlined, why don't you prevent it getting Royal assent? If it's in the national interest to stop these laws going ahead, why don't you use your powers to stop getting it Royal assent?

PRIME MINISTER: I don't believe there’s an argument before us to actually advance on that front.

JOURNALIST: Can you elaborate on that?

PRIME MINISTER: No.

JOURNALIST: Why not just go to an election if you [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: We will go to an election, we'll go to an election in May. I'm not going to be intimidated by the Labor Party from handing down a surplus Budget in April. I'm not going to be intimidated by the Parliament, from distracting my attention from the things that need to be attended to, which I’ve got to tell you right now, in addition to cleaning up the mess on our borders that Labor created yesterday, my focus is also very firmly focussed on what is unfolding in North Queensland and for our cattle industry and those devastated communities. Now, I haven't heard much, I haven't heard much on that front, but I can tell you there's a lot of that being addressed in my office just in here and in our Cabinet room and my meetings with Ministers. I'm very focussed on that issue at the moment as I am on this issue and will continue to be. I'm not going to be distracted by all the frankly - I know you don't like the phrase - but the bubble nonsense of people going on about all sorts of precedents, all the rest of it. Frankly, not interested. I’ve got too many other important things to focus on.

JOURNALIST: On the banks, the request for extra sittings. If you lose a vote on that matter in the Parliament, will you have lost control of the Parliament and go to an election?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm not engaging on those sort of issues, we will continue to work our issues through the Parliament and we will deal with them as they present. We will continue to take strong action when it comes to the Royal Commission. There are matters before the Parliament even now that we're working through. We're putting in place the arrangements - which doesn't require legislation - to activate cases and go back 10 years to be considered by AFCA and many other recommendations which we’re already moving on. We’re doing just that, we're taking objection on the Royal Commission. We will continue to do that and we'll do it in a calm, responsible way.

We won't - see, I'm glad you raised this - because we're getting an insight into Bill Shorten. He has taken a reckless approach to border management. I mean, last year he had his senators vote

for this bill in the form which he told us yesterday, was dangerous and required amendment. Yet he was prepared to have his own members of the House vote for it last December. A reckless act on our borders which he only doubled down on yesterday. And now he says we should recklessly prepare legislation in response to 40 recommendations, without having the opportunity to consider unintended consequences and ensure the consultation is done and this legislation is done correctly, as the Law Council has advised.

Bill Shorten has a very reckless, opportunistic approach to these serious matters. I'm not going to take that approach. That is not how I do things, we will continue to govern in a calm and responsible way and that's exactly what we're doing today. Everybody else can flap their arms about, my arms are firmly by my side and I'm very focussed on the job I have got ahead of me.

JOURNALIST: Your Government has brought I think 879 of the asylum seekers and refugees from Manus Island and Nauru to Australia on medical grounds. Wouldn't that indicate that the medical services there are inadequate, if they're not why did you bring them to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: No, we made those decisions consistent with the transfer processes that we have and were working perfectly fine. This was my point yesterday; what was done yesterday was unnecessary. There was no need to do what was done necessary, because the processes and the medical treatment that was in place, was already there and those processes were already working and had resulted in every single child coming off Nauru.

Now, I remember when I became Immigration Minister and I visited those centres both on Manus Island and on Nauru. They were in an appalling condition. The Labor Party hadn't properly funded them. They hadn't put the right medical staff in place. Let's not forget that the Labor Party put children on Manus Island. The Labor Party put children on Manus Island - so I'm not going to take lectures on humanitarianism from a Labor Party that put children on Manus Island and left those centres in such a state of disrepair when we came to Government, that they should be absolutely ashamed of themselves and to hear, to hear yesterday Tony Burke and others in the Parliament, and Labor members who I recall in those debates came in and wept openly in the Parliament, well, they have forgotten the tears of those days because they have repeated the mistakes that they put in place when they were in Government.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a big part of Operation Sovereign Borders from its outset when you were in charge of it, was that you did not comment on ‘on water matters’. Will that be maintained? If a boat leaves Indonesia, will you not comment on it if it’s turned back at sea?

PRIME MINISTER: You can expect Operation Sovereign Borders to maintain all of its aspects and integrity on my watch.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Bob Katter says that he wants banking reforms separate to the Royal Commission recommendations and if you deliver that, that he won't vote for an extension of Parliament. Are you going to work with Bob Katter to try and do that?

PRIME MINISTER: I’m always working with Bob Katter and what I'm working with Bob Katter right now on, is the reconstruction of the cattle industry in northern Australia. We’ve had some excellent meetings on that and I want to thank Bob. He put a question to me yesterday on this issue and I responded in kind and we are working very closely on those issues that Bob has raised. Why? Because we should. Because the northern Australian cattle industry needs our support. This is

an industry that has a huge future, but has literally been washed away in the last few days. They will need our help to get them back on their feet and that's what Bob and I are working on.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just on medevac bill I know you don’t support it, but are you willing to say to would-be asylum seekers; “This will not apply to you if you come now?”

PRIME MINISTER If we're re-elected it won't apply to anybody, because I will reverse it.

JOURNALIST: But I mean right now as Prime Minister, will you say that to the people smugglers?

PRIME MINISTER: I can only say what the law says, it's not my law. I think it's a foolish law. It's a foolish law and it's not one that I support.

JOURNALIST: For the sake deterring arrivals, would you say that it doesn’t apply to new arrivals?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll be engaging in some very direct messaging as part of Operation Sovereign Borders with people smugglers and with those who might be thinking of getting on boats. Not the first time I have done that, to send very clear messaging that my Government is in control of the borders.

As long as my Government is here, you can expect strong border protection [interrupted]. Under a Labor Government, you can expect to see them fold, like a pack of cards. Like Bill Shorten did yesterday.

JOURNALIST: Aren't you weakening that message?

PRIME MINISTER: No.

JOURNALIST: But by not spelling out in some detail -

PRIME MINISTER: I didn’t say I'm wasn’t going to do that Michelle. I said I’ll be engaged in very clear and direct messaging to anyone who thinks they should get on a boat; I'm here and I will stop you.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Peter Dutton is very upset about this change. You talk about it happening “as a result of the actions of the Parliament”. Isn't it as a result of the actions of your Party, if Peter Dutton didn't want to be Prime Minister, you wouldn't have lost that vote yesterday?

PRIME MINISTER: That's a very long bow.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister how can you have it both ways? If you say a boat arrives, it will be Labor's fault but if it doesn't arrive, it's thanks to the Government?

PRIME MINISTER: Because that's true.

JOURNALIST: Are you in control of the borders, or not?

PRIME MINISTER: Of course I am, but what I'm saying is that the Labor Party has weakened our border protection. That is true. But what remains is the resolve and strength and conviction of my Government, myself as Prime Minister, Peter Dutton as Home Affairs Minister and that still remains a big hurdle for them to get over. But I can tell you; the bar they’ll have to clear if Bill Shorten is Prime Minister, is lower than a snake’s belly.

Thanks very much.

[ENDS]

Contacts: Press Office, (02) 6277 7744 The Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Sydney