Operation Sovereign Borders update
Friday, 17 January 2014
Press Conference, Canberra
Joint Press Conference with Scott Morrison – Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell – Department of Defence.
Scott Morrison: At our briefing on Wednesday I said that when the government had something to say on Operation Sovereign Borders we would say it and hold briefings as required. That is why we are here today.
I should note that it had been our preference to hold this briefing early last evening, however, given the need to seek to make further contact with the government of Indonesia on the matters we are about to report, this briefing was scheduled for this morning.
At the outset I wish to make clear once again that the Australian Government takes our shared commitment with Indonesia to mutually respect the sovereignty of each of our countries, very seriously.
As a consequence it is the clear policy of this government not to violate the territorial sovereignty of Indonesia in relation to any operations conducted under Operation Sovereign Borders. This remains our firm policy and commitment.
Furthermore we take any operational failure to comply with this policy extremely seriously as a government.
It was brought to my attention at just after 4.00pm Wednesday that Border Protection Command assets had, in the conduct of maritime operations associated with Operation Sovereign Borders, inadvertently entered Indonesian territorial waters on several occasions, in breach of Australian Government policy.
I should stress that this occurred unintentionally and without knowledge or sanction by the Australian Government.
After verification of this information, the government took the initiative to make contact with the Government of Indonesia to advise them of these events at the earliest opportunity.
Late yesterday afternoon Australia's Chief of Navy Admiral Griggs had a phone conversation with his counterpart in Indonesia to advise him of these events and to provide an explanation.
Following this conversation Foreign Minister Bishop sought to speak to her Indonesian counterpart Foreign Minister Natalegawa last night, to advise him of this conversation and to offer an unqualified apology on behalf of the Australian Government for inadvertently entering Indonesia's territorial waters, in breach of Australian Government policy, and to provide an assurance that such breaches of Indonesian territorial waters would not reoccur.
A similar apology and assurance was also provided by Admiral Griggs during his conversation yesterday afternoon with the Indonesian Chief of Navy.
Foreign Minister Natalegawa was travelling last night and as yet the Foreign Ministers have been unable to speak. A message of apology however has been provided personally to Minister Natalegawa from Minister Bishop and a formal apology will be provided on behalf of the Australian Government by our post in Jakarta today.
I also note that the Government of Indonesia were advised of this morning's media conference in advance.
I will ask Lt. General Campbell to comment on these issues, but before I do I wish to make it clear that the government has full confidence in the men and women who serve in difficult circumstances with courage, distinction and professionalism within Border Protection Command and that these events have not changed this view.
The maritime border security operations being conducted by Australia are being undertaken to protect Australia's territorial sovereignty from the incursions of criminal people smuggling ventures originating outside of Australia.
Combined with our other actions, these operations are having a significant impact on the activities of people smugglers, with arrivals of potential illegal immigrants into Australia and Indonesia both in decline.
We deeply regret the events, however, the Australian Government remains committed to continuing to implement our policies to stop the boats.
We will ensure that the issues that led to these inadvertent breaches of Indonesian territorial sovereignty are rectified and do not reoccur.
We will seek to work with our partners in the region and elsewhere, wherever possible to achieve this outcome.
What the people smugglers and anyone they are trying to get on a boat need to understand is that this Australian Government will take the actions necessary to protect Australian sovereignty and stop the boats.
I note that while there will be interest in the precise nature of these or any other reported maritime operations, the normal policy will continue to apply in relation to public disclosure or confirmation of any such matters, for the reasons we have consistently stated and followed throughout this operation.
I also note that on Tuesday this week I wrote to the Opposition Spokesperson for Immigration and Border Protection, Mr Marles, offering him and the Leader of the Opposition a confidential briefing on Operation Sovereign Borders, including our maritime operations.
This follows an earlier briefing received by Mr Marles last year from Lt. General Campbell.
Mr Marles office confirmed to my office this week that he would be available to receive the briefing from General Campbell in the second week of February and that Mr Shorten would not be attending.
A transcript of this media conference will be issued as soon as available, and will stand as the government's response on the matters we have reported today.
I will now ask General Campbell to make his statement. After that we will both remain to take questions on the areas that relate to our respective responsibilities.
Angus Campbell: Good morning.
As I have previously stated, I am committed to ensuring the Australian public is informed of significant events relating to Operation Sovereign Borders, as, and when, they occur.
On Wednesday afternoon it came to my attention that Australian vessels operating under the control of Border Protection Command unintentionally sailed through Indonesian waters on several occasions.
This is clearly a very serious matter.
I was advised of these events after a routine vessel report was examined by a Border Protection Command official. The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection was notified immediately.
I would like to make it very clear that, as I understand it, the personnel on these vessels believed they were at all times operating outside Indonesian waters.
And at no time were Australian vessels authorised to enter Indonesian waters.
Over the course of Wednesday evening and yesterday morning, the Joint Agency Task Force and Border Protection Command officials sought to confirm this report.
Yesterday afternoon, the Chief of Navy, Admiral Griggs, also speaking on behalf of the CEO of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, contacted his Indonesian counterpart, Admiral Marsetio, Chief of Indonesian Naval Staff, to inform him and acknowledge our error.
I have since written to the CEO of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Chief of Defence Force, who have co-responsibility for Border Protection Command, requesting that they jointly review the circumstances leading to the passage of Australian vessels through Indonesian waters.
Again, I would like to reiterate that, as I understand it, our people on these vessels believed they were at all times outside Indonesian waters.
As I said during Wednesday morning's press conference, which was held well before I was aware of these events, we have never intended for our assets to enter the sovereign territory of another nation.
I, and I am sure all those involved in the conduct of Operation Sovereign Borders, regret any affront to Indonesia these events may have caused.
As Commander of the Joint Agency Task Force, I am responsible for the conduct of Operation Sovereign Borders in all its aspects.
I am determined that such errors, innocent as I believe they were, will not occur again.
I note reports in the media this morning that include claims from asylum seekers interviewed in Indonesia.
I remain confident that our personnel have conducted themselves to the highest professional standards.
Scott Morrison: Questions?
Journalist: Mr Campbell, the scope of the review by CDF and the CEO of Customs, what are the terms of reference for that review?
Angus Campbell: It will be undertaken under their authority and they will develop those terms of reference. I, in writing to them, have invited them to look as broadly as they consider it necessary, and that the full resources and support of the Joint Agency Task Force is available to them should they wish to use it.
Journalist: Could you tell us anything about how you think the mistake was made and how is it, if it was a mistake, how can you be so confident that it will never ever happen again?
Angus Campbell: I don't think it's appropriate to speculate on how a mistake of this nature might have occurred and I think that's really a matter for a review to look very carefully at and to consider those issues that relate to it.
In regard to its recurrence, as I've indicated, I believe our people were acting in good faith at all times. I sincerely believe that. And I think the review will be of great value in terms of an enduring setting. In the interim I have put into place some measures that will act as an opportunity to ensure there is no error occurring until we get the results of that review and we can then look to how we move forward.
Journalist: [Inaudible question]
Angus Campbell: I'm going to just simply say that I am very comfortable; there are active controls to ensure that our vessels do not cause such mistakes or have such mistakes in future.
Journalist: Just to be clear on the time frame, you said you became aware of it at 4 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon. Is that when it occurred or when did it actually occur?
Angus Campbell: I became aware at 3.30. The Minister became aware at 4 o'clock when I advised him. It was in regard to a vessel report that one of our officials in Border Protection Command was reviewing and then I asked for a second look at that report and look at other reports of vessel movements so that we can confirm those details, which we did over the evenings of Wednesday and Thursday morning, and that information will form the basis for the review I've just spoken of.
Journalist: When did it occur?
Angus Campbell: So I've indicated on several occasions, and I think that really is a matter for the review to determine in detail and accurately.
Journalist: Was it on more than one day?
Angus Campbell: I believe that it was on more than one day and that's as far as I'm going to go. I think the joint review needs to be able to undertake its look at these issues without prejudice.
Journalist: General, how long has this been happening? Has it been happening for more than a week, for more than two weeks?
Angus Campbell: As I indicated I think that's a matter for the joint review.
Journalist: How far into Indonesian waters…?
Angus Campbell: Again, this is a passage of vessels through Indonesian waters and it's something the joint review needs to look to, confirm and advise both the Chief of the Defence Force and the CEO of the Customs and Border Protection Service.
Journalist: General, where did this happen or can you give us an idea of where this was happening and what were the Australian crew doing when it took place?
Angus Campbell: So it's in Indonesian waters and I'm going to leave it at that. In terms of a positional error which we understand to have occurred on several occasions, I think that that isn't causally linked to any activity of the wide range of activities they conduct in their maritime operations and so I'm going to continue, in keeping with the policies that we've previously established and clearly explained, about their activities.
Journalist: So they weren't turning back boats or towing back boats. Was it surveillance?
Angus Campbell: As you will appreciate, in regard to on water operations, both because of issues of the safety of our people and the sensitivity of those activities, they're areas that it is of - it's not appropriate to discuss in a public space.
Angus Campbell: Hang on. I'll just take…
Journalist: Was it one boat or were there several different vessels?
Angus Campbell: I'm going to ask the Joint Agency review to look to that.
Journalist: General, at your last briefing you confirmed that the Australian Government had purchased a number of lifeboats.
Angus Campbell: That's correct.
Journalist: Can you tell us if Australia still has all of those lifeboats in its possession?
Angus Campbell: As I indicated I'm not going to comment on the potential or actual use of the lifeboats that have been purchased.
Journalist: I'm just asking if you've still got them?
Angus Campbell: Yes, I understand that.
Journalist: You did say you would come back with further details about the cost and…
Angus Campbell: And I believe that has occurred.
Scott Morrison: A response was provided by me on that matter.
Journalist: Has there been any feedback from Jakarta [indistinct] and what was that feedback?
Scott Morrison: Well, as you'd appreciate, Lane, the discretion of the discussions that are held with government, whether at an operational level by the Chief of Navy or other contacts, it's important that those discussions happen with discretion and so I'm not going to violate that discretion because I think that's very important for how we can continue to conduct ourselves with Indonesia and continue to have the very positive opportunity we have to discuss these issues with them.
As I said on Wednesday, we've been in a regular contact at various levels with the Government of Indonesia throughout Operation Sovereign Borders and that will continue and I think both the activities of the Foreign Minister, the Chief of Navy and others, our post, have maintained that very professional level of conduct.
Journalist: Are either of you aware of an investigation at the Indonesian end? Is the Navy or the government or their border protection also investigating this incident?
Scott Morrison: I have not been advised of any such inquiry.
Angus Campbell: No, I haven't been advised.
Journalist: Mr Morrison, you issued a statement the other day in response to media reports saying that no shots have ever been fired [indistinct]…
Scott Morrison: Correct.
Journalist: Does that include in the circumstance where asylum seekers were taken on to the boat and shots might be fired to sink the boat.
Scott Morrison: Well, I said no shots have been fired under the conduct of Operation Sovereign Borders, I think that's fairly clear.
Journalist: [Indistinct] no further damage has been to the Australian-Indonesian diplomatic relationship as a consequence of [indistinct]?
Scott Morrison: Well, as I've just stated, the contact continues. A formal apology will be provided by our post in Jakarta today which I think is entirely appropriate and that is all part of the process I think of a healthy relationship when something is brought to your attention. We have operated with this no surprises approach wherever possible within our power to do that with Indonesia, and Foreign Minister Bishop has been particularly proactive in that respect. So, I mean, having an open and honest relationship and a positive relationship is one where you can raise these sort of matters when they occur and do so frankly and keep people informed and that's exactly what we've been doing.
I mean, there are often difficult times in relationships and these current few months have, I think, been a case like that. But it's how you conduct the relationship in those difficult times that I think is important and I think the fact that this relationship is in a position where we are able to continue dialogue and despite difficulties, I think is a credit to both Indonesia and Australia and the conduct of both governments and how we're dealing with that.
Scott Morrison: Sorry?
Journalist: Is it still a sensitive time [indistinct]?
Scott Morrison: Well, I don’t think that there's been any change to the sensitivities, if that's what you're referring to, because the process which the foreign ministers have been working through is ongoing. The Government of Indonesia have made those sorts of comments and we certainly have reflected that in our own statements. And it's a challenging time but let me say this, it’s an important challenge for the government to continue to work through. It remains an important challenge for the Australian Government to stop the boats.
You don't surrender your borders and your activities to stop the boats in order to necessarily then pursue the other objective. Both of these objectives will be achieved. The relationships with Indonesia, we will continue to work to restore and concurrent with that we will continue our policies to stop the boats because that is in our interests, it's in Indonesia's interests, and as I said, we will work together with Indonesia on these issues and discuss these matters wherever possible and we're always open to that. But smugglers should know that the government will continue its operations to stop the boats.
Journalist: Minister, you're indicating that you're not preparing to back off in any sense on carrying out your policy. Do you acknowledge that this incursion into Indonesian territory is a direct result of the robustness and the toughness that the government is trying to enforce here?
Scott Morrison: No, I don't because as the General has outlined, there has been an inadvertent incursion into Indonesia's territorial sovereignty. That was not the policy of the government. This was actually in direct contradiction to the government's policy. This has occurred, it's regrettable, and we've made the appropriate apologies, but our policies are not to violate the territorial sovereignty of Indonesia. That is our policy and that is the policy we will continue to pursue.
Journalist: Would it have occurred if you weren't pushing right up to the boundary?
Scott Morrison: Well the policy is very clear. It is not the Australian Government's policy to violate the territorial sovereignty of Indonesia. That is why we have offered an apology to Indonesia because what has occurred operationally was in conflict with that policy. Our policy is clear and we expect our policy to be implemented in accordance with those instructions.
Journalist: Minister, one doesn't sail unintentionally into a territory unless you're loitering awfully close to the territorial border. Is there going to be some revision as to how far we're pushing the extremes of this policy?
Scott Morrison: Well, that goes…
Angus Campbell: [Indistinct]
Scott Morrison: Yeah, sure.
Angus Campbell: Look, I think that is a flawed assumption. Positional errors have been made in the movements of our vessels. That's really all we can say at this time and it's for the joint review to look to.
Journalist: General Campbell, you said that at all times Australian commanders thought they were in international waters.
Angus Campbell: Yes.
Journalist: Who was it who detected that they were actually in Indonesian waters? Was there any notification from the Indonesians that they thought that was the case?
Angus Campbell: As I indicated, an official from the Border Protection Command brought it to my attention when he identified it. One of the vessel reports, as I indicated in my statement, one of the routine vessel reports. And in terms…
Angus Campbell: As I requested he do so. And in terms of - your second part of the question?
Journalist: Indonesian - was there any notification from the Indonesians that we were in their waters.
Angus Campbell: No, I didn't receive any notification. I'm not aware of that - of any notification.
Scott Morrison: And let me say that I'm advised that at no stage has any issue of that nature been raised with the Australian Government.
Journalist: Can we safely assume from this incident that boats are, in fact, being towed back and that they are - or turned back as the case may be? Can you give us finally a confirmation, please?
Scott Morrison: It's not for me to confirm or not confirm your assumptions. What I can say is the Australian Government's policies to stop the boats are working and they will continue.
Journalist: When will the review report and will you tell us what it finds out?
Angus Campbell: Clearly I would wish it to be undertaken as quickly as possible and I'm sure the Chief of the Defence Force and the CEO of the Customs and Border Protection Service would think likewise. It's going to be theirs, as the authorities, to determine both the extent of its terms of reference, time frames, and then the degree to which elements of it are made public. And that's for them to [indistinct].
Scott Morrison: Jonathan. We'll take it in turns. Jonathan.
Journalist: [Indistinct] a few times reports say the asylum seekers say that they have been told by Navy personnel that they're being taken to Christmas Island only to be turned around. Can you rule this out? Can you say that you've investigated this and that it's not happening or, you know, what's your understanding of this?
Scott Morrison: I'll let General Campbell respond to that.
Angus Campbell: It's very clear the orders do not invite Australian personnel to lie and I have got the highest regard for the professionalism of the performance that's being undertaken by people in very difficult circumstance and just I do reiterate, there is an extremely high motivation from the other perspective in regard to some of the comments that have been made.
Journalist: General, you made the comment…
Journalist: When do you want to put a deadline on the review into this event? We've apologised to Indonesia, you've expressed your concern about it, are you happy there doesn't seem to be a deadline at all on the review yet?
Scott Morrison: I'm satisfied that the controls that Lieutenant General Campbell has put in place to ensure that there is no recurrence of this will do the job. It's also important that the review be properly crafted by those who are undertaking that review, and particularly the Chief of the Defence Force the CEO of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. For them to have the opportunity to set the time frame, to set the terms of reference, and to ensure that they are satisfied that they will get the answer that they need to take any action that they need to take.
So I'm not going to be prescriptive to them in how they will do that, I will wait for them to do their job and the General and I will continue to do ours which is to protect the sovereignty of Australia's borders.
Journalist: And will you publicly release the report?
Scott Morrison: Sorry?
Journalist: Will you publicly release the report?
Scott Morrison: Well, the report will be the property of the Chief Executive of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and the Chief of the Defence Force. It'll be a matter for them to determine in the normal course of how reports of that nature are released.
Scott Morrison: Well, in the - look, in the first - I don't want to be prescriptive to incredibly professional and experienced people who know how to deal with these sorts of matters. So I will allow them to exercise their authorities and judgements over those things and when they have advised me of what they intend to do then we'll go from there.
Journalist: Mr Morrison, did the Australian Government receive any communications from the Indonesian Government after the General confirmed at your last briefing that you had, in fact, bought the lifeboats?
Scott Morrison: In what respect?
Journalist: Well, did they - I mean Foreign Minister Natalegawa said some things about that in the media. Was there any communication, I think he said it was a slippery slope publicly. Did they say - was there any official communication from Indonesia to the Australian Government about the issue of the lifeboats?
Scott Morrison: I'm not aware of any such interaction.
Journalist: What do you make of Marty Natalegawa's comments though that it is a slippery slope and it could amount to facilitating people smugglers? And just on a second one, do you have any response to reports that Jakarta is now actively monitoring the border to ensure that Australian Navy vessels aren't turning back boats?
Scott Morrison: Well, let me deal with the second one first. And I would welcome the fact that the Indonesian Government would be seeking to patrol those waters and prevent people smugglers plying their trade. I think the assumptions you've made in your question are your assumptions. I think it would be a mistake to impugn those assumptions on the Government of Indonesia but that is not a matter for the Australian Government to be either impugning or commenting on either.
In terms of the comments made by Foreign Minister Natalegawa, I've noted those comments. I'm sure he's noted comments that we've made at these briefings as well and Indonesia is a sovereign nation and the Minister is entitled to express the views that he has as is the Australian Government entitled to say the things that we say.
Journalist: Reports suggests though that Jakarta is monitoring that area, specifically in response to Australia - reports that Australia is turning back boats. Is your assumption perhaps that they are just monitoring the area to ensure people smugglers aren’t getting [indistinct]…
Scott Morrison: [Interrupts] Well, I know that the Indonesian Government is concerned about people smuggling and I know that they don't want to see crimes being committed in their territories and they've, in the past, showed, I think, a great enthusiasm and dedication to trying to tackle people smuggling and if their Indonesian vessels that will now be patrolling those waters to prevent people breaking those laws, then I would certainly welcome that.
Journalist: Can you confirm that the Navy has been given the power to fire across the bows of the asylum seeker boats and turning them around?
Angus Campbell: There have been no shots fired during the course of Operation Sovereign Borders. I'm not going to speak to the rules of engagement of our Naval or Customs vessels but you can be assured there have been no shots fired whatsoever at any time during the conduct of Operation Sovereign Borders.
Journalist: How can we be certain that we're not in breach of the non-refoulement condition of the UNHCR or the UN Convention on Refugees if we are turning back boats without processing their claims for asylum?
Scott Morrison: Well, you've made assumptions about activity which the government hasn't confirmed, so those questions are hypothetical.
Journalist: General, you used the phrase earlier, a passage of vessels in Indonesia waters, vessels plural, can you clarify that this is more than one vessel on more than one day?
Angus Campbell: So I'm speaking of the passage of a vessel or vessels on several occasions.
Journalist: So you can't clarify whether this is more than one vessel on more than one occasion?
Angus Campbell: As I've indicated, the passage of a vessel or vessels on several occasions.
Journalist: So you can't clarify whether this was more than one vessel on more than one occasion [indistinct]?
Angus Campbell: As I've indicated, the passage of a vessel or vessels on several occasions.
Journalist: Can you guarantee that we're not turning back boats so that we are not in breach of the [indistinct]…?
Scott Morrison: Well, you've already heard our response to those matters so, I mean, you know our policy in relation to how we comment on those things, so I don't think we need to labour that at length here today.
Journalist: Minister, before the election yourself and other members of the now-government repeatedly said that if you were to turn back boats, they would be Indonesian-flagged, Indonesian-crewed boats that had set off from Indonesian port, and that was the backbone of your defence of doing it. Do you still stand by that as the backbone of your defence of returning asylum seekers back to [indistinct]?
Scott Morrison: I refer back to comments made in opposition; they weren't the only comments on descriptions of those activities that we provided. So you selected one aspect of that…
Journalist: [Inaudible question]
Scott Morrison: No, what you've just said is that was a universal catch-all for all activity as described in those things before the election by the Coalition, and that's not the case.
Journalist: So if a boat was sent back…?
Scott Morrison: Well, now we're in hypothetical territory and we're not here to deal with hypotheticals. What we're here to do today is to brief you on the breaches of Indonesian territorial sovereignty which were against this policy of this government and the advising of the Indonesian Government of that fact and the steps that we've taken to ensure that it does not occur again, and again, to make this very important point, that the government's commitment to our policies to stop the boats continue.
Journalist: Minister, you said earlier this week that there was some confusion over the semantics in regards to tow backs and turn backs. How many boats have been turned back or towed back to Indonesia?
Scott Morrison: You have already had our response to those questions. Are there any questions on the things we've been raising today?
Journalist: General Campbell, can I ask you a separate question regarding you being a senior military officer? Do you believe the military's doing enough to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, and what steps are being taken in recent times to deal with those issues, particularly our people coming back from Afghanistan?
Angus Campbell: Look, it's an extremely important issue but it's not one that we've come to speak to today, and I think that's a question - it's a really, really important question, but it's one that's much more appropriate directed to the Defence Force and the Chiefs of the Services, whose efforts I've got the greatest regard for on this issue.
Journalist: Minister, you said the other day that Australia stood ready to assist Indonesia on a number of fronts, financially and also with involuntary returns, I think were your words. Can you explain what you meant by assisting Indonesia with involuntary returns and whether Indonesia has taken up any of those offers of additional help to deal with transporting asylum seekers [indistinct]?
Scott Morrison: Well, the Australian Government has some experience in dealing with involuntary returns, and it has been an open offer to the Government of Indonesia to, if they wish to employ those measures and if they seek any assistance from Australia about how that can be done or how we may be able to assist in that process then we are very pleased to do so. I think that is one of the practical areas where we can assist Indonesia with issues that they are dealing with resident within their own country in similar fashion. The Australian Government has made very clear our willingness to assist the Indonesian Government with their own passenger processing and border control measures at their airports and other places and advanced passenger processing arrangements with airlines and things of that nature, and the government has set aside funds to do that very thing as part of this operation.
So we are very keen to work with the Government of Indonesia to make their borders stronger so our borders are stronger.
Journalist: [Inaudible question]
Scott Morrison: Sorry?
Journalist: To what extent have they taken up?
Scott Morrison: Well, these matters are all part of the process, I suppose, that has been set up by leaders through the foreign ministers, why they are dealing with other matters and people who are aware of the status of the level of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia on people smuggling issues presently, but they are all the things that go into that partnership arrangement and we stand ready to assist with all of those things and we'd welcome that cooperation resuming as soon as possible.
Journalist: Minister Morrison, in Wednesday's press conference you said, quote, ‘our activities and assets have never and will never violate the sovereign territory of another country’. To have made such a declaratory statement you must have had an extraordinary degree of confidence we weren't breaching Indonesian waters. Does this come as a surprise to you that we've sailed unintentionally on multiple occasions into Indonesian territory?
Scott Morrison: Well, of course it does, and both General Campbell and I have both made similar statements to that effect because we were confident that was the case and that's sort of precisely the point. This was an inadvertent incursion into Indonesia's territorial sovereignty. It was done without sanction and it was done in complete conflict to Australian Government policy on this issue.
And that's why the government has been so prompt in raising these matters with Indonesia and has offered an unqualified apology on these matters and we stand by that and we stand ready to work with them where we can to stop the boats and to take the actions that we need to take to stop the boats.
Journalist: You mentioned that Foreign Minister Bishop and naval staff have been in contact with their counterparts in Indonesia. Have you been in contact with your counterparts in Indonesia? Will you be making any contact with them? When was the last time you would have contacted your counterparts in Indonesia?
Scott Morrison: Well, you may not be aware from earlier briefings we've had on this, but the ministerial-level dialogue presently between Australia and Indonesia on these and other matters is between foreign ministers. That is what was set out by our leaders and that is the process. There are other levels of engagement at an operational level which occur on a routine basis. If that type of contact was sought by the Indonesian Government, then of course I'd be happy to oblige, but the processes that were established by the leaders and through the foreign ministers I think have been working very well, and even in the difficult nature of these most recent events over the last 48 hours or so, I think they've demonstrated the ability to raise these matters candidly, openly and then to deal with them.
Journalist: Because you're the head of Operation Sovereign Borders and it seemed to me if this blows up into a major incident with Indonesia, would it help if you apologised to your counterpart?
Scott Morrison: The Australian Government has apologised and that obviously includes myself as the Minister responsible for Operation Sovereign Borders. I mean we unreservedly - I unreservedly apologise to the Government of Indonesia for this. This was contrary to Government policy and we will ensure that it doesn't happen again.
Journalist: Minister Morrison, if lifeboats are Australian assets, can you assure that they won't enter Indonesian waters? You said the other day you can guarantee our assets won't enter Indonesian waters, we own these lifeboats…?
Scott Morrison: Well, you're inviting commentary on things that are…
Journalist: I'm asking for your [indistinct] said that before…
Scott Morrison: I will - what I've said is it's the Australian Government policy that we do not violate the territorial sovereignty of Indonesia, and I stand by that.
Journalist: You said on Wednesday [indistinct]…
Scott Morrison: I've responded to the question. What I've said is the Australian Government will honour its commitment not to violate the territorial sovereignty of Indonesia. It's a fairly clear statement.
Journalist: How embarrassing is this?
Scott Morrison: Well, this is very regrettable, as I said. It's extremely regrettable, but it won't disrupt our commitment to getting on with the job. We have offered the apology, we have been very clear about what has occurred with both Indonesia and here today.
But we don't let this setback get in the way of the job we were elected to do which is to stop the boats, so that job continues with full steam ahead and full commitment.
Journalist: Minister, do we have rules regarding Indonesian air space and are you confident that at no stage any Sovereign Borders assets have breached Indonesian air space?
Scott Morrison: That's for the General.
Angus Campbell: Yes, I am.
Journalist: General, over the last 10 days or so, we in the media have been contacted by frantic family members of asylum seekers who were at sea for upwards of a week in Australian custody incommunicado. They were begging us for information because they were concerned, they thought that perhaps their family members had died. Do you believe the secret policy has an unintended consequence in that regard, that family members are wondering whether people have died, and does that give you any reason to reconsider?
Scott Morrison: My best advice to family members of people thinking that they should get on a boat is tell them not to do it. And if any Australian is aware of people getting on boats, and is aware of effectively a smuggler's crime, then they should be telling the Australian Federal Police.
Now, I understand there are protections on journalists' sources and these sorts of things that journalists claim, but if someone is thinking of getting on a boat in Australia - sorry, someone is thinking of getting on a boat and someone in Australia knows about that, then I think they should be telling the Australian Federal Police and I think they should be doing everything they can to ensure they do not allow that friend or family member to put themselves at risk in that way. That would seem to me to be the best thing that people could do in that situation.
Journalist: Minister, how much has the Government spent on these lifeboats?
Scott Morrison: Those things are included in the portfolio estimates for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and I'm sure there will be opportunity to pursue that through the normal processes.
Journalist: [Indistinct] situation now [indistinct] Indonesia and the previous spying allegations where [indistinct]?
Scott Morrison: Well, it's not for me to comment on the other matter. That doesn't fall within my portfolio responsibilities. The things we've discussed today relate to Operation Sovereign Borders, and I've addressed my comments to that and I will confine my comments to that.
See: Index of Speeches
Last update: Friday, 17 January 2014 at 12:17 AEST