Well good morning. This is an important day. It is two years since a successful people smuggling venture came to Australia. It is two years that we have kept the border secure, two years when the team from Border Force and Operation Sovereign Borders led by the Minister, have ensured the people smugglers cannot peddle their evil trade.
Our message, unequivocally and clearly, is to those people who seek to come to Australia by boat – don’t. You will not succeed. You will be turned back. We say this to the families in Australia who seek to bring people to Australia by boat – do not. You will not succeed.
You would be inviting people to undertake a perilous voyage, which will fail. We have extensive maritime assets on the water, represented here by Admiral Laver and Acting Commissioner Outram. We have extensive maritime assets on th e water and we turn boats back. In the last two years, not one successful people smuggling operation. 734 passengers have been returned to the countries from whence they came, in 28 boats. We have an absolutely resolute commitment to keeping our borders secure and ensuring the people smugglers are out of business.
I want to invite the Minister Peter Dutton, who has done an outstanding job in restoring and maintaining the rule of law on our borders, to address us about the important policies and the important strategic assets we have in place to keep our borders secure. Peter?
MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION:
Prime Minister, thank you very much. Can I firstly say thank you very much to Admiral Laver for his leadership in Operation Sovereign Borders, as well as the Acting Commissioner of the Australian Border Force Mike Outram. In particular today, I want to say thank you very much to Inspector Ray Graham – the Commander of t he vessel here – and all of the crew we’ve met with this morning. All of the Australian Border Force staff, the members of the Australian Defence Force, people who are here on this vessel but are at sea right now – as the Prime Minister points out – and our officers who are in the air performing that surveillance as well, they do amazing work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
When we came into Government we inherited an incredible mess. We knew that people had arrived in great numbers – 50,000 people on 800 boats, people had drowned at sea, there were 17 detention centres that Labor had to set up to cope with the stress of processing a thousand people a week as they were arriving on Christmas Island – to have this milestone today, is a significant achievement for this Government.
I want to say thank you again to all of the staff, the senior staff, all of the staff of Australian Border Force that man the Cape Classes, the B ay Classes, all of the vessels and the assets we have on the water and in the air – because through their efforts and through the absolute resolute direction of the Prime Minister, of our Department, of everybody within the Turnbull Government, we have been able to stare down the threat of people smugglers.
The biggest mistake that Australians could make is to believe that the people smugglers have gone away. We know that there are ventures right now that people are trying to put together out of Indonesia, out of Sri Lanka, out of Vietnam, out of India and elsewhere and we are working with many of our friends and partners within the region to scuttle those ventures and to make sure that where they get away, we turn them and send them back to their country of origin.
I want to speak very directly today to the people smugglers across our region to say that: you cannot continue to lie to people, to innocent people, to victims that would pay money to get on to boats any longer. You pretended that there would be a change of government and that somehow there would be a change in policies if there was a change of government. There has been no change of government and this Government is absolutely determined to make sure that we continue the policy settings which have stopped the boats; which have meant that we have not had a single drowning at sea since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders and, as importantly, we have got every child out of detention.
We’re not going to give up on those gains and those people smugglers that are out there peddling their lies to people to pay money to get on to boats, they need to hear a very definite message from the Prime Minister and I, and that is that they will never get back into business, that their boats will not be successful in arriving into our country and that we will increase the assets, if required at sea and in the air, in a very sophisticated way – as only a country like Australia can do – to make sure that we scuttle those ventures, turn those boats back and those people will have wasted their money.
So the message is as clear as it ever has been since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders, that we are not going to take a backwards step and that we will not allow people to drown at sea. We will not allow children to go back into detention and we will not allow successful people smuggling ventures to arrive on our Australian soil. I want to ask the Admiral to say some words and then the Deputy Commissioner, the Acting Commissioner of the Australian Border Force Mike Outram.
Thanks very much, Admiral.
REAR ADMIRAL PETER LAVER:
There is no doubt that Operation Sovereign Borders has been critical in preventing the arrival of illegal maritime arrivals to Australia and the prevention of further loss of life at sea. Working unilaterally and with our partner countries in the region, we have been able to significantly disrupt and degrade people smuggling networks throughout our region and ensure that people don’t undertake perilous voyages in dangerous conditions by boat to attempt to come to Australia. In the event that people attempt this voyage, we’re absolutely certain that we have the assets in place to disrupt and interdict those ventures and take them back to the countries from whence they departed.
ACTING COMMISSIONER AUSTRALIAN BORDER FORCE:
I want to talk directly to the people smugglers and I would like the people smugglers to know that our maritime and aviation assets are positioned to deter and turn-back any vessels that you may send our way. I also want to thank and acknowledge the work that’s done by the men and women of the Australian Border Force, our colleagues in the Australian Defence Force and our non-uniform public servants who do really h ard work, courageous work, and at times in very tough conditions to maintain the integrity our borders and to also prevent people making bad decisions and putting their lives at risk at sea.
Thank you and I thank also the team at Operation Sovereign Borders and Australian Border Force for their relentless dedication to keeping our borders secure, to ensuring that the people smugglers cannot and will not succeed, to ensuring that there are no more drownings at sea as there were during the sorry days when our border protection was neglected by the Rudd-Gillard governments.
All that has changed and the people smugglers and any would-be customers of theirs need to know that the border is secure, their ventures will not succeed. The vessel we have just inspected, the Cape Saint George, will leave shortly on patrol. Its crew are committed, professional, patriotic, dedicated to keeping our borders secure, kee ping the people smugglers out of business and ensuring that there is no repetition of those tragic years during the Rudd-Gillard governments.
Prime Minister could you expand on your commitment to the $24 million Cairns maintenance of these boats?
Yes, that is a commitment that, as you know, we announced with Warren Entsch during the campaign and that is going to improve the functionality of the ship maintenance facilities here. It’s in addition to the $420 million investment over a decade, into the dockyards here, into the naval facilities here. It’s going to, of course, enable the continued maintenance of naval and commercial vessels here and Border Force vessels here. As you can see the Cape York is there on the hard stand, as well as the Pacific Patrol Boats. When they’re delivered to our Pacific neighbours they will be maintained in Cairns as well.
Just a question on the Royal Commission, the Chief Minister was adamant he knew nothing about the issue, despite numerous reports over the years. Will the Royal Commission be looking at failings of the Territory Government?
The Royal Commission will be focused on the youth detention system in the Northern Territory. It will be focused on both mistreatment of juveniles in that system, failings in the system and also how it was that these failings were not brought to light earlier, or if they were brought to light, why action was not taken. So it will be a comprehensive review of the circumstances surrounding this mistreatment of juveniles in the Northern Territory system.
What about Nigel Scullion saying the issue hadn’t piqued his interest until he saw the Four Corners report. Do you think that’s an appropriate response?
Well Nigel Scullion is a colleague of mine and Peter’s, we know him very well and Warren’s. We know him very well. He is a Northern Territorian, he is the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. He has a passionate commitment to Indigenous advancement and Indigenous welfare.
Just on that, what will the Royal Commission investigate that wasn’t in the Children’s Commissioners [inaudible]?
Can I just say to you that the terms of reference will be considered by the Cabinet tomorrow. Look, over the years I’ve been involved in royal commissions, as a lawyer in particular, in the past. I can say to you that these inquiries are most effective when the terms of reference are clearly defined and they get in, make a thorough inquiry and make a report. Royal commissions that go on for years and years and years in my experience, are disappointing. So what we’re going to do – this will be clearly focused on the Northern Territory, will be focused on the failings of the youth detention system there and as I said earlier, my aim is to have a directions hearing in August, hearings over the next few months and with a report to Governments early in the new year.
There are calls for Queensland to be included in the Royal Commission though, is that something you plan on doing separately?
As I’ve said, the Royal Commission will be focused on the Northern Territory and I just refer to what I said earlier about royal commissions. They can be very useful inquiries because they do have the ability to compel witnesses in the production of documents, but they need to operate within a clear and precise frame of reference and a timeframe as well.
There are many royal commissions. Some have been more successful than others, but the most successful ones are those that have a c lear focus, get in and do the job, get the answers to the questions that people are posing and then we can act on them.
As far as other jurisdictions are concerned, no, the Royal Commission that we’re establishing with the Northern Territory Government will be focused on the Northern Territory youth detention system.
Prime Minister can I just get you on France. One of the two men who slit the throat of the priest in France was known to security services and had a monitoring bracelet on. Does it matter in the end how tough you get on terrorists? Is there anything you can do to really stop it?
Firstly, can I say that all of us are appalled at the murder of 86-year-old Father Jacques in his church. It is almost an unspeakable crime. Our thoughts and our prayers are with his family and his congregation. It’s a terrible tragedy.
As far as the security of Australians is concerned let me tell you that is the most important obligation I have as Prime Minister. I’m surrounded here and we’ve been on the vessel with men and women whose commitment, 24/7 is to keep Australia safe. Australia’s security is a continuum. Border protection, intelligence services at home and abroad, policing, the ADF, operations in the Middle East. It is a continuous effort to keep our nation secure in what are challenging and dangerous times.
In terms of terrorism in Australia, we constantly review and improve our counterterrorism laws. You saw the Attorney-General and I make announcements about that earlier this week. Control orders for example, will be able to be applied to people as young as 14. Seems a tragic measure that you’d have to say that, but it’s a fact. The killer of Curtis Cheng was 15 years of age. We’ve got to meet the tenor of our times.
We are also determined to ensure that people who have been sent to ja il, imprisoned for serious terrorism offences and who have not rehabilitated and remain a threat to the community, can, if a judge so decides, be kept in detention after the conclusion of their sentence that. That is in fact modelled on legislation that applies to sex offenders and – in some states – extremely violent offenders and has been upheld in the High Court.
So whether it is providing the legal tools to do the job or providing the financial resources to deliver the protection we need, my Government is absolutely committed to ensuring Australians stay safe. We understand the threat of terrorism is rapidly evolving. Our enemies, whether they are terrorists in the Middle East, people that seek to do us harm in Australia, whether they are the people smugglers, are very agile. As the Admiral and I were discussing with the Minister and the Acting Commissioner early today, they move very fast and we have to move fast – and we do – to continue to stop them in their evi l work.
Prime Minister are you concerned your Cabinet might be split on Kevin Rudd’s bid for the UN?
Can I just say to you that the matter of Mr Rudd in this context will be considered by Cabinet tomorrow and while I know it’s a matter of great interest in the media, can I just say with all due respect to Mr Rudd, it isn’t the most important issue confronting the Cabinet of the Commonwealth of Australia at this time.
Your jobs package announced in the election, will we start to see some of that money?
We’ll expect to see – now that the election is over and we’re out of caretaker, we’d expect to see applications coming to the Department and we certainly intend to get on with it.
As you know, this is very much demand-driven and we’re looking for projects, whether they ar e with the public sector or with the private sector or a combination of both, that we can get in and support. This is going to be a very important $20 million program as indeed is the support we’re giving to the innovation centre here as well.
Thanks very much.