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Coastwatch National Surveillance Centre, 5 April 2000: transcript of opening address [coastwatch; customs; drug trafficking; illegal immigrants; AFP]



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5 April 2000

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER

THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP

AT THE OPENING OF THE COASTWATCH

NATIONAL SURVEILLANCE CENTRE Subjects: Coastwatch; Customs; drug trafficking; illegal immigrants; AFP.

E&OE …………………………………………………………………………

Well thank you very much Amanda. To you and to Lionel Woodward, Rear Admiral Shalders, Admiral Barrie, other service chiefs, Max Moore-Wilton, ladies and gentlemen.

It is very appropriate that Amanda should be here to introduce me and to say a few words, because in the time that she’s had the Justice portfolio, I don’t think anybody could deny she has bought tremendous energy and dedication and commitment to her responsibilities. And the way in which, at a political level, those responsibilities of the Government have been given a great impetus and leadership. It is very gratifying to me and there are benefits for the broader community.

Today marks the official opening of a centre which arose out of a weekend, a Saturday morning conversation that I had with Max Moore-Wilton in April of last year which followed hard on the heels of some landings by illegal immigrants on the east coast of Australia. And both of us pretty quickly concluded that we needed to commit as a nation more resources to the problem, the challenge of surveillance. And we could perhaps find a more effective way of co-ordinating those resources and the existing resources.

So, we established a taskforce and that taskforce reported in pretty quick time. It made some recommendations to spend, according to my notes, about $124 million over four years. It made eighteen recommendations, we made all the money available and I think we responded to just about - if not, all - of the recommendations. And we decided to establish a Coastwatch Section of Customs and this National Surveillance Centre is in every sense of the word, the nerve centre of that particular operation.

The recommendations involved the acquisition of new aircraft, a new command structure, and I particularly thank Rear Admiral Shalders and the other defence personnel who have come in and are working very closely with the sixty odd customs personnel who together constitute a very effective unit.

And the evidence is there to be seen. There has been an increase in the detection of illegal immigration. In many ways Coastwatch is dealing with a reasonably old, but growing challenge and that is that of illicit drug importation and also with the comparatively new phenomenon and that is this massive problem of illegal immigration.

Now illegal immigration does present a very big challenge to our country. Australia is an attractive place to come to by any measure because we are a liberal open society, we are seen as a place once attained, where the prospects if you can establish your case of staying, are probably better than any other society. And that represents a magnet, on the other hand, it also represents a challenge to the Australian community that does not want illegal immigration that queue jumps the aspirations of others around the world who want to join their families and who want to come and live in Australia. But by the same token we have to deal in a, both an efficient and humane fashion with people once they arrive in this country. The Australian community demands that we detect illegal immigration and deal with it. And these additional resources and the Coastwatch and the centre are a very important part of it.

The other thing that is very impressive about this operation and its characterised the operations of some of our law enforcement agencies in recent times is the high level of cooperation and I say that I’m very grateful as Prime Minister of the evident close cooperation between Customs and the Australian Federal Police and I’m delighted to welcome Mick Palmer the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police here today and the way in which the police and customs and also where appropriate the state police forces of the various Australian states.

It is very reassuring to the public to see the law enforcement agencies of our community operating together and you have a very good example and the pooling of intelligence data from the various intelligence communities of the Commonwealth is also very welcome.

In a very day to day, practical sense this centre and Coastwatch is part of the general defence network of the country; not defence in the common understanding of that term but as far as providing an adequate response mechanism for legal immigration and certainly the menace of drug importation it’s a very important component of the defence of the way of life of the Australian community.

I’m very happy to see Max Moore-Wilton here today as Chairman of the Taskforce. It did report in record time and it made some recommendations that have given us a much greater capacity and I believe that the resources of the Coastwatch has and the centre now has given us a capacity to deal very effectively. I’m told that the implementation of the recommendation has resulted in an improvement in our detection of illegal boats from a 74% protection rate last financial year to 94% this year. There has been a reduction in illegal immigration by air of around 20% following the placement of additional immigration officers in overseas airports and in some of our key diplomatic posts. Illegal immigration by air has fallen from 1,397 illegal entries to the end of February last financial year to 1,148 to the same period this financial year.

Now all of those things indicate and the evident morale and enthusiasm of people who work with Coastwatch indicate that the additional resources were not only needed but they have been well placed and well dedicated.

I do take a close personal interest in anything to do with the defence of our country and in the broader sense this is part of that network and I do want to thank the customs service; Lionel Roodwood is right and it was my first responsibility and I remember with a little bit of nostalgia opening a new customs office in Darwin and visiting the customs office in Broome and all the other little things one does in the early months of one’s very first ministry in a new government back in 1976. I thought they were a very dedicated group of men and women and twenty-four years later I have no reason to doubt that initial judgement and working with their colleagues from the ADF I think they are providing this country with first class surveillance, a first class line of defence in detection using modern intelligence techniques to detect illegal immigration and deal with it in an efficient humanitarian way and also of course to maintain both the rage and the fight against illegal drug importation into this country and the seizures of heroin and

cocaine and the work of the Federal Police in particular in relation to that is well known and increasingly remarked upon in a very positive way.

So I have very great pleasure, Amanda, Senator Vanstone in declaring the surveillance open and I know that you’ll provide a tremendous service to the people of Australia. Thank you.

[ends]

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