Subjects: Bay Class vessels; Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill; patrols in FNQ & Torres Strait; proposed laws to lock-up convicted terrorists.
WARREN ENTSCH: First of all thank you very much for taking the time to be here today. I’m here with Minister Peter Dutton, among other things border security and immigration that he has responsibility for and we’ve just finished having a look at one of our vessels here that has been refurbished here in Cairns.
He has a great announcement to make. I’m pleased to have Peter here today to make this announcement. Again, I think this is something that is critically important for our region and I’m very excited to [inaudible] thank you very much.
PETER DUTTON: Thank you for being here. I want to say firstly, thank you very much to Warren Entsch, he’s a champion of the North and he’s always a great champion for extra investment into Far North Queensland and I’m very pleased to be here with him today, with the Assistant Commissioner to meet the staff – I want to thank John Beaumont very much and his staff on board, his crew on board.
Australian Border Force is a very professional organisation. Our frontline officers are meeting with threats every day and they stare those threats down because of the training that they receive and because of the support that they have in terms of the assets at their disposal.
Obviously, across the Torres Strait there is a significant expanse of water that is seen more and more movements of people, of goods on a regular basis and so the Australian Border Force will increase our assistance to Far North Queensland by making sure that we can have these two vessels: Storm Bay behind me which is being refurbished and a second vessel which is on patrol in the Torres Strait already.
I can inform you today that that vessel, with its 12 crew on board, has already had contact with illegal fishing vessels this morning, people that would come to Australian waters to poach our seafood and they are working right now on that operation.
So we want to make sure that we can stare down the threat at our borders and the Government has been very determined. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that the absolute priority for our country is to keep Australians safe, to keep our borders secure and if we keep our borders secure we can keep our community safe.
That’s an absolute priority for me as Minister and the fact that we’re able to invest in Far North Queensland says to people in Cairns, and right across the north of our country, that we want to continue to fight against people smugglers, we want to continue to fight against illegal fishing vessels and we want to make sure that we can stop guns and precursors for illicit drug manufacturing to take place across that expanse of water.
I’m very pleased that Warren Entsch is here today because he is a champion of jobs and growth in the North and these two vessels, Australian Border Force vessels, have been refurbished here in Cairns. There’s about two million dollars that we’ve spent on each of the vessels and that money has been spent in the local economy. That money will go back into the Cairns local economy and that is a great thing for Far North Queensland.
I also want to announce today that from September of next year there will be two high speed vessels, or fast speed vessels that will join the ABF fleet and they will work alongside Storm and Roebuck to look at intercepts that can be done more quickly and it just shows how serious the Turnbull Government is about protecting the North, about protecting the people of Cairns and building the local economy here. I’m happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Have you stripped the citizenship of any dual nationals involved in terrorism yet?
PETER DUTTON: Well obviously the Government was very keen to get this legislation through and I think Prime Minister Turnbull has demonstrated his very strong belief that we need to provide whatever support we can to our intelligence and policing agencies to stare down this threat of terrorism.
My department, along with the Australian Federal Police and our intelligence agencies, as well as DFAT, will look at individual cases and that information will be provided to me in due course.
If we have a public announcement to make in relation to an individual case, we’ll do that and there’s obviously requirements under the legislation otherwise in terms of notifications and a legal process that needs to properly be gone through and we’ll follow all of that according to the law.
JOURNALIST: This boat behind us, what will it be doing day-to-day in the Torres Strait?
PETER DUTTON: Well the Australian Border Force staff here out of Cairns and in the Torres Strait will be tasked with making sure that we can stop people smugglers.
We don’t want micro-ventures, in particular, of people coming down on banana boats or other like craft to enter into the North of our country – that’s important for biosecurity reasons but also for health reasons as well – and otherwise they’ll be heavily engaged in the fight against illegal fishing.
We have a commercial fishing industry across the North and Warren Entsch is somebody who has fought hard for that industry, for the viability of that industry because they employ local people here, and if our waters are being fished by illegal vessels, it has a direct impact on the local economy.
So they’ll be involved in those sorts of activities but essentially all of that which is involved in keeping our borders secure and safe.
JOURNALIST: Could this potentially disrupt the people who are allowed to travel from Papua New Guinea to the Torres Strait legally?
PETER DUTTON: The Australian Border Force has at its core to facilitate travel and to ease any burden of travel for those people that are doing the right thing.
Our concentration of effort is on those criminals who want to exploit our fishing waters, who want to take money off innocent people to get onto boats to come to our country – we’re not going to tolerate that – and so the ABF has as its main reason for being, in keeping our borders secure, to facilitate legal trade but to clamp down and stamp out the illegal trade.
JOURNALIST: Has the National Security Committee signed off on the plan to lock-up convicted terrorists indefinitely yet?
PETER DUTTON: Obviously I don’t want to make any comment in relation to deliberations of the NSC but the Prime Minister has pointed out, and he’s had a conversation with me over a number of weeks now, about this important proposal.
I think it is something that is worth considering and the State Premiers and the Territory Chief Ministers should consider because they know that the Prime Minister is very serious about keeping our nation safe. There are laws that operate at a state level at the moment in relation to recidivist offenders, in particular those who are sexual or violent offenders, and if those people still pose a threat to society, then in certain circumstances, the courts can order their ongoing detention.
We know that ASIO has over 400 high priority investigations at the moment and this is a threat that is with us but the most important message for the Australian public to hear, is that the Government is doing all that we can to keep our community safe.
We’re putting $1.3 billion of additional money into our security and intelligence agencies. There have now been five tranches of legislation which have helped the intelligence and policing forces deal with the very real threat that these terrorists pose and that’s going to be the continuing work of this Government.
JOURNALIST: Could legislation like that be abused?
PETER DUTTON: I think it’s important to recognise that the Government is determined to get the balance right. We want to make sure that we adhere to the rule of law. We have a constitution that we abide by and Australians at the same time expect us to have tough laws in place which will deal with those people that would seek to cause harm to our society.
As we’ve seen in the United States in recent weeks, as we’ve seen in Paris, as we’ve seen in Lebanon before that, and other parts of the world, terrorists want to attack western democracies because they don’t like the fact that we allow young girls to go to school or we allow women to be equal in our society.
There is a lot that we need to fight for and defend and we have to make sure that the balance is right in making sure that those threats are dealt with, according to law and making sure that our civil liberties aren’t improperly impinged upon and the Government in any of the legislation that we consider, weigh up each of those considerations, and I think we get the balance right and I think the Prime Minister will get the balance right if any proposal is to go ahead here.
JOURNALIST: Would you say that what’s being announced today is a good sign for the Cairns bid to attract Pacific patrol boat contract?
PETER DUTTON: I think it’s a natural want for Cairns and for North Queensland to be involved in any sort of naval activity. We are an island nation and we have a very close proximity to our neighbours in the North here and we do see, as Warren pointed out to me again this morning, significant intercepts of precursors, precursors that would go into making ice or other amphetamines designed to destroy the lives of young Australians.
I think it is, as Warren Entsch has pointed out publicly and privately to me, no doubt to other Ministers as well, this would be a big multiplier for the North.
Ultimately contracts in defence, they’re an issue for the relevant Minister. From my perspective we’re supporting whatever we can in North Queensland and the fact that we’ve spent around about $4 million on the upgrades of these two vessels, the fact that we have about 34 of 38 Border Force staff based here in North Queensland, in Cairns and the surrounding areas on a full time basis, I think that says to everybody here that the Federal Government is very serious about seeing jobs and growth continue to expand in Cairns and in North Queensland and we’ll continue to invest in the local economy because this is a very important part of our border protection strategy.
JOURNALIST: The terrorism legislation being discussed at COAG, could that affect Australia’s immigration laws?
PETER DUTTON: I’ll let the Prime Minister make any further comment in relation to this matter. The only point that I would make is that I have had a number of discussions with the Prime Minister over the last several weeks about this very important piece of legislation or proposed piece of legislation.
Obviously it involves support from the territories and from the states and that discussion will take place with the Prime Minister, as it should, and I’ll leave any further comment to the Prime Minister. Thank you very much.