17 December, 2015
Subjects: ABF marine base in Darwin; Darwin Port lease; Mr Duncan Lewis; Mr Ian Macfarlane.
PETER DUTTON: I’m very pleased to be here today with Natasha Griggs, the Local Member for Solomon and also the Australian Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg.
Obviously Australian Border Force has had a very significant year – many wins on our waterfront, at our airports, all in the task of keeping Australians safe.
We are here today to look at another great facility, a very necessary one in Darwin because this berth will provide the opportunity for vessels here to be based and to be restocked for changeover of crews, for necessary maintenance work to be undertaken.
It has been a bit of an ad hoc approach before now, because we've had to wait for berthing facilities to become available.
This is a significant investment of $4 million into the local Darwin community, and Natasha Griggs has been very supportive of making sure that investment is made into the local economy.
We are very keen to make sure that we keep our borders safe because we know threats are still there – not only from people smugglers – but also from people who would seek to bring in illicit products, including amphetamines, ice, weapons, other contraband into our country.
It's absolutely necessary that we keep vigilant in keeping our borders protected – if we do that, we can keep our community safe.
I might ask if there are any questions for the Commissioner, he'd be happy to take those now and then he can step off and I'm happy to take questions on matters otherwise.
So if you have any questions of the Commissioner, you might ask them of him now.
JOURNALIST: Just on this announcement today, would this have been better suited to be at Larrakeyah Barracks, which already has the infrastructure to support the sort of work that it looks to me that you're doing here?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Thank you for that question. As the Minister indicated in his introductory comments, over the last couple of years we have cobbled together our logistical support for our maritime deployments out of Darwin from Stokes Wharf, and that has been manageable up until now.
What we've really needed is a dedicated, secure location where we can quickly turn around and replenish both our vessels and our crewing to deploy our operational assets and this arrangement will see us in perpetuity operating from a dedicated base which is secure.
JOURNALIST: Commissioner, will you have to inform the Darwin Port when these vessels are coming out, in and out of the port?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Yes, the standard reporting protocols as we come in and out, there is no security issues associated with that.
We are in partnership with Darwin Port and that's part of the protocol that we adopt.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] is this the most secure location for this facility [inaudbile]?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: It is, yes.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned about the port's ownership, Landbridge?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: None whatsoever. Our operations are in terms of maritime sovereignty, maritime security.
Yes, we operate using classified information, but I have absolutely no concerns about our operational security.
JOURNALIST: Was Border Force involved in any discussions about access before the Landbridge deal was signed?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: No. We had an engagement with the Northern Territory Government and the Darwin Port Authority.
It was a commercial negotiation and we were quite satisfied with the arrangements that we struck.
JOURNALIST: With this new process in place, how fast will that turnaround be now as compared to how it was before?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Look, if we need to we can turn around a vessel overnight, and that is a phenomenally fast turnaround for replenishing inventory, stock, turning over the crew.
We don't want to do that that quickly, we want to make sure that we're appropriately provisioned, we have got appropriate fuel levels on board.
So, if we need to, in a rush, we can turn a boat around overnight.
JOURNALIST: What's the scope of the type of boats that will be able to use this facility, and have you considered [inaudible] to a different size or type of boat?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: We have two large vessels in our fleet. They are both around the 100 metre mark, they are both capable of actually berthing at this amenity.
Below that, in terms of the lesser….the Cape-class that you see behind me, it's a 48 metre vessel, and then you have got the smaller river craft, which is the white vessel, they can all berth here.
JOURNALIST: What about the bigger vessels, bigger than 100 metres into the future?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: I think it's extremely unlikely that we will need to use vessels larger than that.
Having said that, on occasion we do use Defence assets in our maritime operations and they still have the Stokes Wharf facility to be able to berth from there if necessary. But this amenity is absolutely capable of berthing all of our fleet.
JOURNALIST: A number of security analysts have raised concerns about…or security implications of Landbridge having the lease here. Are you confident that there aren't any security risks to your [inaudible]?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: I'm 100 percent confident. I have no concerns whatsoever.
JOURNALIST: And the first Cape-class patrol boats came into operation a while ago, why has it taken until now to come up with a solution?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: Look, we’ve had eight Cape-classes come into operation, but it's not just the issue of this particular vessel.
Prior to that we had a Bay-class fleet, which is slightly smaller, a 38 metre operation, and we were able to operate from the Stokes Wharf facilities but with the increase of commercial, Defence, and indeed Australian Border Force operations, it's become congested.
So we've had to secure a dedicated amenity, which we have launched here today.
JOURNALIST: How long until it's up and running?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: January.
JOURNALIST: Has the operation of the boats been compromised at all during that period?
ROMAN QUAEDVLIEG: None whatsoever.
PETER DUTTON: Alright. Thanks Commissioner.
JOURNALIST: Minister, I might have missed how much it actually costs, how much this has actually costed?
PETER DUTTON: Well there is $4 million that's been invested through the Australian Border Force investment here – so that's a big win for the Northern Territory economy – and obviously there will be a significant investment ongoing because there will be the purchase of local produce, goods otherwise, to replenish the vessels before they go back out to sea.
Depending on the particular vessel, it can be a 21day voyage and so obviously there is a significant amount of money that's spent in provisioning the particular vessel.
So look, I think this is a good thing for the Darwin economy, and it's a good thing for Australian Border Force because it is a strategic location for us, and it's important that we can stare down the threats, not just from people smugglers but, as we point out, from illegal fishing as well.
This particular part of the country is susceptible to not only illegal fishing but weapons and other contraband, including tobacco, trying to find its way to our shores.
So the ABF will, I think, use this facility very wisely.
JOURNALIST: That initial $4 million investment, is that here for the fit-out and preparation of the port for the new use?
PETER DUTTON: Yes, yes.
JOURNALIST: How do you feel about the fact that Landbridge will know about these vessels' movements?
PETER DUTTON: I just refer you back to the Commissioner's comments before and questions in relation to that issue otherwise, frankly, are probably best put to Defence.
I note the Secretary of Defence made some comments on this matter yesterday and I just refer you back to his comments.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] taken the blame for not informing the US about this decision, the 99 year lease? What is being done to ensure that that doesn't happen in to the future?
PETER DUTTON: Well, again, that's a question for the Defence Department and not one that I can answer.
JOURNALIST: That's not something you know the answer to?
PETER DUTTON: It's a question for Defence. I don't want to answer on their behalf.
JOURNALIST: Defence said that after the deal was signed, and there was criticism it went back and had a look at its decision to make sure that all the due diligence was followed. Is that something you've done at all in relation to Border Force?
PETER DUTTON: Just in terms of Border Force, Australian Border Force is a law enforcement agency; we are not a defence force and we have very good contacts and very good collaborative arrangements with the ADF.
We have an exchange of information, all of that takes place, will continue to do so into the future.
But the specific question you are asking about; Defence's response, I just can't answer that question on their behalf.
JOURNALIST: Peter Jennings from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says it's implausible to know with the 99 year lease, what Australia's strategic needs will be over that time, that is one of the reasons why it's such a risk.
Should it have been a shorter amount of time?
PETER DUTTON: Well, again, if you have a question about Mr Jennings’ comments, I think you should put it to Mr Jennings.
JOURNALIST: I'm asking if you think that that is valid and what your reaction would be to that Minister.
PETER DUTTON: Well, as I say, we are not a defence agency, we are a law enforcement agency and Australian Border Force took into account all of the appropriate considerations before the decision was made to enter into the commercial arrangement here.
I'm satisfied from Australian Border Force's perspective on the advice of the Commissioner and the Secretary of my department that this is an entirely appropriate location for this facility.
It will serve Australian Border Force well for a long period of time because the threat at our borders is not going to diminish – not in the short term, not in the long-term.
Our investment into these facilities, into our staff, is significant. It will continue to grow because we are determined, as a Government, to make sure we can stare down those threats.
JOURNALIST: Minister, did Duncan Lewis call you with advice on how to talk about Islam?
PETER DUTTON: No, he didn't. No.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask about Ian Macfarlane? I understand you were at one of the key LNP meetings that discussed his future. Will Ian Macfarlane be welcomed back into the Liberal Party Room with open arms next year?
PETER DUTTON: Yes, he will. Ian Macfarlane was a good minister in the Howard Government, he was a good minister in the Abbott Government.
He is obviously upset about not being in the Turnbull Government. I can understand that. But leaders have calls to make in relation to Ministers filling a limited number of vacancies.
The point I made to Mr Macfarlane and that I've made publicly is that he would be welcome back into the Liberal Party but ultimately his future is a decision for him and he can answer questions in that regard.
JOURNALIST: Minister, do you think it's appropriate for the head of ASIO to be talking to Coalition MPs about how they speak about religion?
PETER DUTTON: I don't talk publicly about national security matters. I've made my views on these topics well known before.
My task is to make sure we can keep our border secure so we can keep our Australian community safe and that remains the number one priority for me in the run-up to 2016.
I'm very pleased, as I said before in my speech, I'm very proud of the staff that we have within the Australian Border Force and I think all Australians should be proud of the staff.
I think Australians should spend a moment to think not only about our Defence Force, who are serving overseas and in peace keeping missions otherwise, but also the ABF staff who will be at the airports keeping us safe, they’ll be at sea keeping us safe – that's my message to Australians.
We have got a world-class organisation in the Australian Border Force and it's evidenced by the outcomes with the interceptions at borders over the course of the last 12 months.
I just praise again the work that they have done over the calendar year of 2015.
JOURNALIST: If I can just take you back to that LNP meeting, Minister. Were there some members of the Executive worried if they approved the defection it would lead to Liberals pushing for the LNP to split into two parties?
PETER DUTTON: I don't have any comment to make in relation to internal Liberal Party or LNP Party deliberations.
I attended the executive as the Prime Minister's representative and the meeting resolved an outcome. That issue's been dealt with and I don't have any further comment to make in relation to it.
JOURNALIST: Does this issue damage Barnaby Joyce and Warren Truss?
PETER DUTTON: No, it doesn't. No.