Operation Sovereign Borders update
Friday, 29 November 2013
Press Conference, Sydney
Scott Morrison: Welcome to the 11th briefing of Operation Sovereign Borders.
Since Operation Sovereign Borders began just over 10 weeks ago, 751 people have illegally arrived on 15 boats, not including crew.
During the same time, 124 people have returned home from our offshore processing centres and an additional 103 have been returned from Australia including 100 per cent of all those seeking to come from Sri Lanka. The net increase therefore, in arrivals over this period has been 524.
The number of arrivals also in November, which Lieutenant General Campbell will comment on shortly, is the lowest for this traditionally high tempo month in five years. Under the previous government, after the announcement of the Regional Resettlement Agreement, 161 people, not including crew, were turning up on just over six boats every week.
Since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders, this has fallen to 78 people illegally arriving per week on two boats, not including crew. The average number of people on boats from 72 per boat in that period I referred to just then to now just 50, demonstrating that people smugglers are finding it harder and harder to get their ventures together and get them away.
These numbers, though, still do not constitute success in terms of the government’s benchmarks, but it does represent a very good start, fulfilling our commitment to make a difference from day one.
This week the special envoy continued his regional engagements, this time in Thailand, which, like Malaysia, is another key transit and entry point into the region for IMAs. Following the visit of the envoy, we will be seeking to further boost our cooperative operations in Thailand which has been starved of resources for undertaking these activities now for some years.
The purpose of our regional deterrence framework, which the envoy has been steadily seeking to implement with our regional partners, is to make our region's borders stronger. By strengthening our region's borders, we strengthen our own borders. Such strengthening is not restricted to people smuggling alone and has significant synergies with border protection efforts against transnational crime, which is a concern shared with our regional partners throughout the area.
Earlier this week I highlighted the risk to our own borders of transnational crime on issues such as drug importation, especially cocaine, illegal tobacco, and human trafficking. Our efforts under Operation Sovereign Borders, focused on deterrence, will pay forward dividends in many other areas of risk and activity that will continue long after the boats have stopped.
Yesterday I met with Prime Minister O'Neill in Port Moresby, together with Lieutenant General Campbell and the secretary of my Department, Mr Bowles.
The meeting provided the opportunity to update the Prime Minister on the success of our role and highlight the critical role Papua New Guinea has played in this operation and express our ongoing appreciation for the efforts and cooperation of Papua New Guinea.
Prime Minister O'Neill re-affirmed Papua New Guinea's commitment to the task ahead and was pleased to hear of the success to date, in particular, what this meant for preventing the loss of life at sea which has always been a key reason for PNG's assistance.
At the meeting, three key issues were discussed. Firstly, the steps being undertaken to improve internal security at the Manus Island offshore processing centre located at the Lombrum Base, with progress being made on the provision of search powers for internal security officers that enable serious incidents to be avoided through proactive security missions. This was identified as a key contributor to the riots on Nauru.
We are also taking steps to improve the security infrastructure at the OPC on Manus, consistent with the recommendations of the force protection review that was conducted by the JATF under the instruction of Lieutenant General Campbell.
Secondly, there was agreement to further expand capacity at Lombrum on Manus Island to incorporate a removal centre for those with negative decisions on their refugee status. In our first 100 days we will have already doubled the offshore processing capacity at Manus and Nauru. This initiative that was agreed yesterday for planning works to commence will further expand that capacity and support the processing of people's claims that is now, I am pleased to report, underway.
Combined with the constant changes in policy that occurred under the previous government and the absence of post-processing accommodation, these have been key limiting factors in the ability to proceed on both Papua New Guinea and Nauru with processing of people's claims.
These faults are being rectified, and are now clearing the way for processing, which I have said has already begun. In particular, in relation to the report of the UNHCR, which sought to make criticisms of Papua New Guinea, and Nauru for that matter, I think those criticisms were misdirected.
I think Papua New Guinea and Nauru have done all they can, and I think they have done an extremely good job in getting the frameworks and other things in place. What they were dealing with was chopping and changing of policy, and so if there is criticism there, it shouldn't be directed at Papua New Guinea or Nauru.
Thirdly, we need to work further, as we already have, after my last visit to Papua New Guinea, to better promote the benefits of the offshore processing centre at Manus Island to the people of Manus. The Australian government has committed $40 million to important aid projects on Manus Island. They are now getting underway, finally, and more than 600 Manusians have gained employment through the centre.
In the weeks ahead, we will be making further announcements about the funding shortfalls left behind by the previous government for offshore processing. While they made bold claims about 10 000 man camps on Manus Island, these were simply fantastic claims for which there was no funding, there were no agreed sites, and there were no realistic implementable plans.
Offshore processing was a policy under protest under the previous government. The underfunding and under-capacity of offshore processing that has been revealed post the change of government, has exposed this point to us.
We have been working steadfastly over the past 11 weeks to address the many implementation weaknesses in the previous government’s offshore processing arrangements. Part of this process has also been supporting the permanent placement of IOM staff on both Nauru and Manus.
I can report that there are now three permanent IOM officers at both Nauru and Manus to support voluntary returns and I am advised this will be increased to five in the New Year, at both locations. We have also had to pick up the blank page that was the previous government’s resettlement arrangements with PNG and are going about the task of getting those arrangements in place, and that was also discussed at our meeting yesterday.
Offshore processing has always been at the centre of the Coalition's border protection strategy. When it comes to border protection policies, ideas and announcements are one thing but it is implementation of policy that counts in providing the deterrent that makes the difference, and that is the government’s focus, and we are getting on with the job.
I'll now pass over the Lieutenant-General Campbell to provide his weekly report.
Angus Campbell: Thanks Minister.
Welcome to the Operation Sovereign Borders briefing for the week concluding at nine o'clock this morning.
During this reporting period nine illegal maritime arrivals and two crew from one suspected illegal envy vessel were transferred to Department of Immigration and Border Protection authorities on Christmas Island, on Wednesday 27 November.
Cumulatively, that brings to five the number of suspected illegal entry vessels, and 207 the number of illegal maritime arrivals, for the month of November thus far.
In this reporting period, 12 people were transferred, all to the Nauru offshore processing centre.
As at nine o'clock this morning, there are a total of 1140 people on Manus, 668 people on Nauru and 2191 people in the Christmas Island facilities.
Also for the reporting period, four illegal maritime arrival transferees were returned to Iran and Sri Lanka after electing to go home voluntarily, all four were from Manus Island.
With regard to disruptions, Malaysian authorities, led by the Royal Malaysian Police, have arrested six people smuggling facilitators during this reporting period.
I would like to make a few comments about the coming monsoon season, and warn prospective illegal immigrants to avoid boat journeys during this dangerous period, especially as no-one who travels by boat without a visa will come to Australia.
The monsoon season in northern Australia occurs between November and April each year. The journey to Australia by boat is dangerous at any time, but the monsoon is a particularly hazardous time to attempt such a voyage.
Cyclones, driving rain and consistently large waves of up to four metres are common during this time.
The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts about 11 cyclones this season, with three to four likely to be rated severe.
Last weekend, tropical cyclone Alessia made landfall south of Darwin. At that time, vessels on patrol hundreds of kilometres away reported waves of four metres, and winds of 60 kilometres an hour.
These vessels are well equipped, professionally crewed, and in good repair. The types of vessels used by people smugglers are often not.
350 kilometres over Open Ocean, from the archipelago to our north to Christmas Island, is a very long way for a small wooden fishing boat in rough sea conditions. The 3200 kilometres from Sri Lanka is even more challenging. No part of our area of operations is immune from the monsoon, or the effects of cyclones.
During this time, heavy seas greatly reduce the speed of all vessels. If a boat gets into trouble, it takes longer for nearby vessels to respond and assistance is more difficult to render. Surveillance aircraft are also greatly affected by severe weather, with the ability to detect small vessels much diminished.
The Australian search and rescue region is approximately 53 million square kilometres in which search and rescue incidents can occur anywhere, any time and sometimes simultaneously across around 10 per cent of the earth's surface.
I would like to directly warn anyone thinking about taking the journey to Australia by boat during this monsoon season: the ocean is large, the boats small, our assets are limited, and the weather dangerous.
You are inviting tragedy both for yourselves and your family, and potentially for the responders who seek to assist you if you get into difficulty. This is a dangerous and risky business.
There are no visas on arrival; it is not worth the risk.
Scott Morrison: Thank you, General Campbell, as is the usual practice, questions to the General and then I can cover other questions you might like to raise.
Journalist: General, there have been reports this week Australia will no longer enter Indonesian waters on search and rescue operations, is that the case?
Angus Campbell: Australia does not enter Indonesian territorial waters unless it is right of innocent passage or to assist persons in distress and Australia will continue to meet its obligations to render assistance to persons in difficulty at sea.
Journalist: [Indistinct] Indonesian territorial zone different to Indonesia's search and seizure zone? Could you clarify, then, whether Australia will be able to enter Indonesia's search and rescue zone.
Angus Campbell: Australia can always - it is a zone of cooperation between nations. So, what I'm saying is Australia will always meet its search and rescue responsibilities.
But my point more broadly is this is a very large ocean, very difficult conditions, the assets are limited, the information often with regard to boats in distress can be sometimes quite scanty. So, it is not a safe thing to do. It is extremely risky and I would encourage, and I would suggest, people should not undertake these voyages.
Journalist: Have we had any distress calls this week?
Angus Campbell: As I indicated, and I have consistently done so, I will always advise of any serious incidents that might arise and so forth, always. But otherwise I will stick to a weekly briefing format and, in this week, as I have indicated, we have had one boat arrive at Christmas Island.
Journalist: Then there was no distress calls?
Angus Campbell: I am not going to speak to the procedures that might occur on water. That's very consistent.
Journalist: General, there were reports this week that the Navy had actually withdrawn from the Indonesian search and rescue zone, is that actually the case? The Navy ships have physically withdrawn from the zone?
Angus Campbell: David, I don't talk about where our vessels are positioned on the water, or the procedures that we undertake on the conduct of these activities, and that report has not come from a government source and so I am not going to comment on it and I am not going to change the approach to not reporting, not commenting, on on-water activities.
Given that you have not been here previously to my memory, it is a policy that is to protect our people, to help assist in the maintenance and, indeed, the bilateral relationships across many nations that we need to build, and it is to, of course, not give false hope or allow people smugglers to manipulate potential travellers into incorrect beliefs that just over the horizon there is a vessel that will pick them up. These things all in combination mean that we don't talk about what goes on in water.
Journalist: But this would be a dramatic development if for the first time in over a dozen years the Australian Navy withdrew from the Indonesian search and rescue zone, a dramatic development and surely something for people smugglers to worry about. Wouldn't you want them to know if this is happening? Wouldn't it be in the interests of the government that they know?
Angus Campbell: As I said David, I'm not going to comment on what goes on in the water. I take your point, the headline in the Australian was a message that may well deter people who would otherwise travel by boat but I am not going to offer that kind of commentary on what we do on the water.
Scott Morrison: Any other questions for General Campbell?
Thank you General. Any other questions?
Journalist: Minister Indonesia says it's preparing to close its detention centres and release asylum seekers who have been arrested trying to get to Australia. Have you been informed of that and what impact do you think that's likely to have?
Scott Morrison: Well first of all, that's a second-hand report as best as I understand it and we are currently engaged in I think a very productive and positive process between leaders about these issues and I don't think it helps me speculating on speculation.
I think it's important that we allow those processes to continue. I think they're proceeding well. I think both parties to this relationship want to be able to get to a position of normality on these relations in the interests of both countries as quickly as possible. And so you would expect that I would do nothing here that might jeopardise that. So commenting on comments or speculating on speculation is not something I am about to do.
Journalist: It isn't speculation though, it's come from a parliamentary commission - an Indonesian Parliamentary Commission chief has said that.
Scott Morrison: Well again, that is not official advice to our government that I'd be able to comment on.
Journalist: So they haven't talked to you about it then? You haven't been told?
Scott Morrison: What I'm saying is that is one comment made by one individual and I'm not about to respond to the many comments that come up in the course of what is going on at the moment.
It's a very sensitive time and I think to engage in that process would not assist so I'm not about to assist those or developments that could undermine or make more difficult what is already I think a very challenging process.
Journalist: Are you still optimistic about the restoration of relations with Indonesia?
Scott Morrison: I am optimistic for the same reason I said earlier this week. Both parties to this relationship have much at stake in this relationship and it is to both parties' benefit to move through this difficult time and to get to the position we all want to get to. There is much at stake.
Not only the obvious benefits of our security cooperation which has been going for many years and saved many, many lives in Indonesia and in Australia, but also the economic relationship that exists, the travel relationship that exists between the two countries, all of this is in our interests to move forward on and I think it's important we remain focussed on the objective and not on the commentary.
Journalist: Have you had any correspondence whatsoever with your counterparts [indistinct]?
Scott Morrison: Well I'm not going to comment on phone tapping issues or anything of that nature. That's a matter between leaders and that's where it is being dealt with.
Journalist: I was asking whether you've had any correspondence with your counterpart in Indonesia.
Scott Morrison: I know what you are asking and what I'm saying is on those matters, that is being handled by the Prime Minister and the President. And anything that relates to that is being dealt with through that channel.
Journalist: Minister you said there would be an expansion of search powers or security powers on Manus Island, who will be conducting the searches and will these searches be conducted on children or minors?
Scott Morrison: Well there are no children or minors on Manus Island for a start. And secondly, they would be done by the security officers that are employed in that facility and done under Papua New Guinean law.
Journalist: Minister does that include strip searches?
Scott Morrison: Well I'm not going to go into the detail of operations of how they might conduct searches. I mean I think that's - that's a fairly extreme example that you're referring to and I'm not familiar with any of those examples having been undertaken to date.
Journalist: [Indistinct] why won't you reveal the same details for the [indistinct].
Scott Morrison: Well at this stage, we're in the preliminary developments of how these powers might be applied and we've had some discussions with the Papua New Guinean Government about that. The operational side of that is still to be worked through.
Journalist: So has there been discussion of whether or not strip searching [indistinct]?
Scott Morrison: Well I think you're highlighting a very extreme end of what is available in these areas and there's been no suggestion or discussion about things at that extreme end. Let me stress this - search powers enable us to identify things that may be in possession of people in centres that, if events escalate, can lead to very dangerous situations.
In Nauru, if we had had search powers earlier on, then we would have been able to identify and been able to locate things that were ultimately used in that riot which led to the destruction of property and amazingly didn't lead to the loss of any lives.
Our objective in managing security in these facilities is to deal with things early, before they get out of hand and it's important to have the tools available to do that so you're not left at the end of the day having to respond, as occurred previously, with beanbag rounds and things of that nature.
It's important to be able to act early and have the information to do just that and that's what these powers are designed to do. To protect people, maintain stability and frankly keep people safe.
Journalist: [Inaudible question]
Scott Morrison: I'm happy to come back to that question later. I'll deal with the OSB issues first. I am happy to deal with that matter, it's under another part of my portfolio responsibility, but we might just keep it to OSB issues.
Journalist: Minister an old but still relevant question I think, could you indicate what Australian law - Australian law, is broken by refugees coming to this country without visas by boat? I emphasise Australian law.
Scott Morrison: Well again David, we've had this debate many times and you're very familiar with it. It is under Australian law you are not permitted to enter Australia without a valid permit for entry. I think it's under Section 4 of the Migration Act. Now you're familiar with that and you're also familiar with the convention of smuggling of people by land, sea and air which refers to the definition of illegal entry and is a similar definition that appears under the UN conventions.
These are the reasons and these are the things that I've relied on to use my term of illegal entry and I don't propose to rehearse four years of arguments at this briefing David. But I've given you my answer on that and I'm happy to take another question.
Journalist: Could you tell me therefore why no-one's been prosecuted for entering without a visa by boat? [Inaudible question]
Scott Morrison: The term that I have used consistently relates to the method of a person's entry, not to a person's claim for asylum, and it's important that people don't confuse those things and my term refers to a person's mode of entry.
We are seeking to stop people illegally entering Australia, and it is illegal to enter Australia without a valid permit for entry. And I don't propose to waste the 30 minutes of this briefing we have available to go over an argument that you and I have been having for the last four years.
Journalist: Minister the Department has separated a father and a 14-year-old son who is the primary carer. [Indistinct] is being held on an ongoing basis for further medical checks, the son also has a serious medical condition. What is the Department 's responsibility in terms of reuniting the father and son?
Scott Morrison: Well, as I mentioned to you at the previous briefing - this is to do with the Iraqi man, is that right?
Journalist: It's an Iraqi man [indistinct].
Scott Morrison: I'm just making sure I get the right case that you're referring to.
All efforts are made to ensure people are reunited as a family group based on the medical advice that exists and the logistical situations that sit around the events. So it is government’s policy, it is the Department 's policy to do that. I am happy to follow that up further and get you a further response.
Journalist: You said that last week and...
Scott Morrison: Yeah, Natalie.
Journalist: You said that last week, though, and I still haven't been [indistinct].
Scott Morrison: Well, I'm happy to give you a further update once I can get further information from the Department .
Journalist: The father had long administered on a daily basis drugs to his child, which was confiscated. What is the Department 's policy on [indistinct]?
Scott Morrison: Well, that would be a matter of advice from our medical staff.
Journalist: Minister, the UNHCR has published two damning reports of the government’s offshore detention regimes and says it's in violation of Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You said that you're going to be discussing the contents of these reports with the Nauruan and PNG Governments. Can you tell us exactly which elements of the report [indistinct]?
Scott Morrison: Well, look, that's - the detail of those discussions will be a matter for our government and the Governments of Nauru and Manus when we might discuss them.
The UNHCR has had a long history of being opposed to offshore processing. I notice in these reports they consider the development that people would never be resettled in Australia as a setback. Well, we disagree with that position.
We actually think that is a positive move forward because it's stopping people getting on boats and it's stopping people putting their lives at risk for the reasons General Campbell was explaining earlier.
There are issues here around the processing that I think they need to be further updated on. Processing has recommenced on Nauru and on Manus Island. The reason it wasn't occurring before is there was not the consistency of policy that was happening previously under the period that they were looking at, which I think left Papua New Guinea and Nauru in a position where they may have - they had started processing and that was interrupted because of the changes in policies and the movements of people, but equally when we came to government there weren't the facilities in place to deal with the conclusion of those assessment arrangements.
Scott Morrison: So - no, I'm answering your question. So what's important is that you have you have accommodations in place to deal with both positive and negative decisions. Otherwise, you undermine the policy that people won't be settled in Australia because you'd be forced, in that sense, to bring people to Australia.
So those issues of processing are issues that we are in constant discussions with about these issues and that is something we will continue to discuss with our Nauruan and Papua New Guinean partners in this exercise. I think it is important to process people quickly, I've always had that view, and I think that's what we have to pursue. And they are the issues that I will focus predominantly on.
We are also improving the facilities for families. As we speak there are more facilities that are being put in place on Nauru as the boats arrive with further equipment. That includes everything from medical facilities through to play equipment for the children and things of that nature. So we are moving to address the issues of families, to address the issues of minors, to address the issues of processing. All of those things were highlighted in this report and they are the things we are addressing.
Journalist: Specifically on the issue of transferring families and children to Nauru, it specifically recommends you should stop doing it because the facilities [indistinct]...
Scott Morrison: Well, we don't agree with the UNHCR's assessment on that point.
Journalist: It draws a particular example of the classrooms [indistinct]...
Scott Morrison: Well, I just mentioned that we were improving the facilities for children and for family on Nauru. The previous government had left this as an under-prepared facility and underfunded facility and over the last 11 weeks we've been identifying and addressing infrastructure needs for families on Nauru and Manus and we've been getting on with the job of fixing it.
Journalist: [Indistinct] assessment mean that you're ignoring the recommendations?
Scott Morrison: We have a difference of view with the UNHCR, but the general issue of ensuring that we're improving facilities for families is an important one. It's something we already knew was required and was something we're already attending to.
Journalist: [Indistinct] you said the [indistinct] three weeks ago would be sent back to Nauru.
Scott Morrison: I said subject to a medical clearance, yes.
Journalist: The family's lawyers say they're now in talks with the government to allow them to stay. What's changed?
Scott Morrison: Well, that matter is currently before the court as we speak and so I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on that case today.
Journalist: They're not in court until 4 o'clock this afternoon.
Scott Morrison: Well, it's before the court, so I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on that today.
Scott Morrison: Sorry? Up the back.
Journalist: Temporary protection visas, what will the government do if Labor and the Greens combine in the Senate?
Scott Morrison: Well, there are other forms of temporary protection visa available but my message to the Labor Party is if they want to completely ignore the last election, as they have on other issues like the carbon tax, and deny that the Coalition has steadfastly held to the position of temporary protection visas being the central plank of our border protection policy, and they want to team up with the Greens to deny that, well, that's a matter for the Labor Party and they'll have to explain it.
I think what the Labor Party's position on temporary protection visa reveal is that they remain double minded and divided on this and deferring to the Greens. That has always been, I think, one of the Labor Party's biggest weaknesses on border protection, is they just can't hold a consistent position.
Now, many people will disagree with the position the Coalition takes, and I understand that and I respect it, always have, but I don't think anyone could accuse the Coalition of not holding a consistent position on this. And with respect to the Greens, I'd have to agree too that they have held a long consistent position on this issue.
The one party in this country that hasn't been able to hold a consistent position on border protection has been the Labor Party. And as a result, they've always been able to be played by the people smugglers because the people smugglers have always known they are a soft touch.
Now, they don't have that view about this government. So whatever set of circumstances we are faced with, whatever challenges we are faced with, we know the commitment we've made with the Australian people to stop the boats and that's exactly what we are doing.
Journalist: Will children be put on temporary protection visas?
Scott Morrison: Yes.
Journalist: Can you tell me are you expecting more people to arrive as a result of the closure [indistinct]?
Scott Morrison: Well, I don't accept the position of the question. I don't accept that presumption, so I don't want to in any way suggest that that is the case or not. You can speculate on that but I'm not about to speculate on it.
Scott Morrison: Look, I'm just simply saying that a supposition has been made in the question and it is not one that I'm endorsing.
Scott Morrison: Well, how about we take one question at a time. I'm still answering Natalie's question.
Journalist: Are you going to find out? Are you going to give them a ring and say is this what's going on?
Scott Morrison: Well, again, I'm not accepting the supposition of the question but whatever circumstances we are faced with, I know one thing and that is the people smugglers will always try it on. And Lieutenant General Campbell today I thought gave a very good summary of the risks that are particularly present at this time of the year and all of us particularly remember 15 December 2010 and we are into that period.
As a result, I think what we have to do is do everything we can to ensure that people don't get on the boats at the moment. That's exactly what we are doing.
Journalist: Minister, could you...
Scott Morrison: David.
Journalist: Could you explain - as I understand it, all of my colleagues received only half an hour's notice of the time and place of this press conference. Can you understand - can you please explain the purpose of giving so little notice of the calling of the press conference, the city, and the time? What is the purpose of such a delay?
Scott Morrison: Well, David, I don't accept the assertion that you're making. There is quite a lot on today, as you probably have noticed, and this was the most convenient time to hold it and I think people are very familiar with the fact of when the press conference is being held and I am very pleased you were able to join us on this occasion, David.
Journalist: Every week prior to this you've given us hours’ notice.
Journalist: Would you consider having it the same time each week?
Scott Morrison: Well, we largely do, and...
Journalist: But what is the point of half an hour's notice?
Scott Morrison: Events of the day change, David, and I'm happy to receive your advice on the scheduling of media conferences.
Journalist: Polite notice is nice.
Scott Morrison: Well, half an hour, David. We're in the largest capital city in the country and I'm sure it wasn't too much of an inconvenience for people to arrive today. I'm pleased so many have been able to join us today and they're all here today.
Journalist: It can take you half an hour to get into the city, if you're lucky, some days.
Scott Morrison: Well, everybody was able to get here and I'm so pleased you were able to join me again. Now, why don't we...
Scott Morrison: I want to go back to the Customs question.
Journalist: Has there been any amendment to the original memorandum of understanding between Papua New Guinea and the Australian Government since you took office?
Scott Morrison: No.
Journalist: Sorry, just to follow up on that, [indistinct] sorry...
Scott Morrison: This is the last question because I want to go to the Customs question.
Journalist: [Indistinct] is that a joint committee with other [indistinct]...?
Scott Morrison: Sorry, I didn't hear you because of the talking.
Journalist: One of the conditions of the PNG Memorandum of Understanding is the joint committee with oversight responsibilities, et cetera. The UNHCR says that hasn't happened yet. When will it happen and who will be on it?
Scott Morrison: Well, there is a joint oversight committee and this matter was raised in my discussions with the Prime Minister yesterday.
Journalist: A Hercules plane supplied by the Australian Government to Indonesia...
Scott Morrison: Yes.
Journalist: ...was impounded today by Customs. The pilots have been detained. Allegations over the possible supply of live animals and birds. What was your reaction to that news and what are the possible implications on relations between the two countries?
Scott Morrison: Well, I think on the latter, none.
What this was, was the everyday execution of the law enforcement activities of the Customs and Border Protection Service. My reaction to it when it was brought to my attention is that the normal rules should apply, and if there is an offence that has been committed, then the necessary investigations and inquiries need to be undertaken, the rules should be followed as always.
In this case, that is exactly what has occurred, and I spoke to the CEO of Customs and Border Protection earlier today to be assured that that was the case.
The normal practice is that the decision-maker hears about what happens next, consults with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, as they did on this case, and the decision was taken at the ground level for a warning to be issued to one of those individuals, and I understand that the plane has departed.
Journalist: So a warning has been issued to one of the pilots.
Scott Morrison: Well, I didn't say to who or - there was a member...
Journalist: [Indistinct] pilots. Was it not one of the pilots?
Scott Morrison: Well, whether - the status of whether it's a pilot, a crew member, or whatever, is, I think, not relevant to the case.
Journalist: So they've got back on the plane and the plane has now...
Scott Morrison: A warning was issued in accordance with the normal process and the due process was applied as it would be applied in any such situation. There was no departure from any normal process.
We take these issues very seriously regardless of who is engaged with them and that is exactly what we did on this occasion. I want to commend the Customs and Border Protection officers who were involved in both the detection working with others and then following through on the investigation.
Journalist: And the plane has now left, you say.
Scott Morrison: That's my understanding. That's my report.
Journalist: Minister, when Kevin Rudd called the PNG solution [indistinct] Australia's obligations under the Refugee Convention 1951. Are you also considering a review of that?
Scott Morrison: I've answered this question many times in Opposition and my answer is the same as then. We will always keep every option on the table to deal with what may be necessary to stop the boats. But at this stage we are making good progress.
We committed to the Australian people we would make a difference from day one when it came to stopping the boats. And we have had more than an 80 per cent now decline in illegal arrivals to Australia by boat since Operation Sovereign Borders commenced we think that is a very good start.
We're very pleased with the full range of measures that we have in place which goes from everything from our regional deterrence framework, our offshore processing arrangements, what we even do onshore.
This mixture of measures, no single measure, no single partner, no single act is responsible for this. It's all of these acts combined with the resolve of the government to do that job and that process I think is working well and we are going to continue with that process.
If we have to consider any other measures in the future, then of course we will do that because our commitment is to stop the boats and that's exactly what we are doing.
Thanks for coming along today.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Friday, 29 November 2013 at 17:29 AEST