SUBJECTS: Operation Sovereign Borders; 500 Syrian refugees to be resettled in Australia; locally engaged Afghans; Australian Navy celebrations.
SCOTT MORRISON: It is our intention to wherever possible hold these weekly, and that these briefing be held on a Friday or a Monday and obviously subject to the circumstances and the availability of key personnel.
I wish to stress again that at these briefings we will not be going into matters that may impact upon or otherwise compromise future operations, and so simply outline that up front again, that if we get into those issues you can anticipate the response and you may wish to direct your questions to matters where we will be able to address what you've raised.
We're not running a taxi service here or a reception centre. We are running a military-led border security operation, and as a result the rules and mode of operations have changed, and this was flagged by the Coalition before the last election. And today I'm once again joined by the acting Commander of the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force, Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, and he will provide again a report on the key indicators for this reporting period and an update of some operational matters.
Before then, though, I wish to make a few introductory remarks. Firstly, I wish to stress that the full arsenal of measures represented in the Coalition's policies to stop the boats remain available to be deployed by the Government. As the Prime Minister himself said, everything remains on the table. Despite the wishful thinking and projection by some that I saw in some media reports, there is no change to the Government's policy on border protection. Our resolve, our policies, our commitments to the task remain as strong and are indeed stronger than ever before.
The misrepresentation of Coalition policy positions in the past, and importantly the correction of those misrepresentations, in particular by the Prime Minister in the past week, has been a very useful development and it has paved the way for more measured discussion of these policies with our partners, in particular Indonesia. We have always respected Indonesia's sovereignty in the policy positions we have taken, and our policies have always been about protecting Australia's sovereignty. Nothing has changed in that respect. This past reporting period has been dominated by the extremely successful leaders' meeting between our Prime Minister and the Indonesian President, where this respect for our sovereignty of both countries was the key theme.
At this meeting the candid, collegial and constructive dialogue that took place has provided an outstanding platform for Australia and Indonesia to work more closely together to stop the boats. In Opposition, and in Government, the Coalition has always expressed confidence about our ability to work together with Indonesia on these issues. The Prime Minister's visit and the generous and proactive response of President Yudhoyono is early proof of the basis for that confidence. The new Government has acted to remove the sugar from the table, and we welcome the proactive cooperation from Indonesia and their initiative for more effective liaison.
This liaison is underway as we speak, and has been since the Government came into power. The leaders have delegated to myself and Air Chief Marshal Djoko Suyanto in his capacity of Coordinating Minister for Legal, Security and Political Affairs to now work through the operational processes that will convert the goodwill and intent of our leaders into further constructive and collegiate action.
My commitment is to work together to establish a broad spectrum of operational understandings based on no surprises, a deep respect for each nation's sovereignty, and recognition of our respective obligations and to assist each other through our partnerships and our joint actions to fulfil these obligations.
Our countries have a long history of cooperation on these issues, particularly under a Coalition Government here in Australia. It was under the Howard Government that the Bali Process was established with Indonesia. It is under the Abbott Government that a new Bali-plus model for bilateral cooperation has now been initiated with President Yudhoyono. There is much work to be done to identify and establish these operational understandings, but our leaders have made an excellent start and I look forward to meeting Air Chief Marshal Suyanto, whom I have met before on a previous visit to Jakarta, in coming weeks.
Following the leaders' meeting and conferring with the Prime Minister, the Acting Commander and I have sent our first team of officials to meet with their counterparts in Indonesia and that first team is in Jakarta today. They will be followed next week by a high level delegation led by Acting Commander Binskin including Commissioner Negus from the AFP and the Prime Minister's special envoy on Operation Sovereign Borders, Major General Retired Jim Molan, who was formally appointed this week by the Prime Minister on his return from Jakarta.
It will not be our practice to brief on matters discussed at these meetings or the participants, necessarily, in those meetings. Our dialogue, like our operations, will be undertaken with Indonesia with total discretion to ensure the success of that dialogue. They will not - that dialogue, I mean, by undertaken through the media. Where there are statements agreed for public release, then those statements will be issued at the appropriate time. What matters here is stopping the boats, not running an operational commentary in the media. So, I'm looking forward to the work ahead with Air Chief Marshal Suyanto, and there is much work to be done for a very important purpose.
In other matters, I can confirm that I will be visiting Nauru for the first time as Minister next week, following five previous visits whilst in opposition over the past three years. It is a place with which I am very familiar. This visit will be similar to my visit to Papua New Guinea last week. It provides an opportunity to further progress some operational arrangements with the Government of Nauru, as well as visiting some of the new facilities and expansion sites and delivering the same blunt message to those who have been transferred there and that message is quite straightforward - they will not be getting what they came for, they will not be coming to Australia.
To this end, I have also had constructive meetings with the International Organisation for Migration this week at a regional level about increasing the participation of the IOM to assist with voluntary returns on both Manus Island and on Nauru, where there is just one IOM representative [NB: revised to two] at each location presently. These discussions have also been held at a more senior officials level at a recent international meeting overseas in New York. We are seeking to increase the presence of the IOM in both locations as soon as possible. Given the IOM's clear willingness to assist with voluntary removals, and the importance of their participation in that process, it is disappointing that the previous Government was unable to facilitate a higher level of participation. Getting people to go home voluntarily is a critical component of offshore processing, which the previous government doesn't appear to have built in strongly into their offshore processing model as a key operational priority.
Another key issue being progressed by the JATF is to review internal security at our facilities as a standard measure to ensure that sufficient resources, processes, infrastructure and assets are in place and to our satisfaction. Finally, Operation Sovereign Borders is not just about maritime operations and detention centres.
It is about the deterrence and disruption activity undertaken onshore and to break up the networks of support here in Australia. This activity is led by the Australian Federal Police under the JATF and I have asked the Acting Commander to provide a quick and brief report today on some of those issues.
I also confirm, based on the report I gave on Monday, the Government has now announced that we will be providing 500 of the 2000 places requested by the UNHCR to support resettlement of urgent cases in relation to the conflict in Syria. These places will be drawn from the 13,750 provided under the Government's refugee and humanitarian program. I note that the previous Government's policy, where they had an expanded program of 20,000, only provided 13,000 places for people other than those who had come to Australia illegally by boat. So of the 20,000, 7000 permanent visas were to be provided this year out of that program for those who had arrived by boat.
I will now hand over to the Acting Commander to provide his report.
MARK BINSKIN: Thank you Minister, and welcome again to the Operation Sovereign Borders weekly briefing for the period nine o'clock Monday, 30 September, until 0900 this morning.
First, I will provide an update on the arrivals transferred to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. During the current reporting period, one suspected illegal entry vessel arrived. On September - on Monday, September 30, 79 PIIs were transferred to the Australian immigration authorities at Christmas Island. This is the boat that fell outside of the last reporting period, but the one that I mentioned at last Monday's brief. This vessel did seek assistance from the Australian authorities on Sunday, and the Royal Australian Navy did go to its aid. And in addition, during the period, three crew members from that vessel were also transferred to immigration authorities.
With regard to detention and transfer, for the reporting period, a total of 171 people were transferred to offshore processing centres, 139 to Manus, and 32 to Nauru. Since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders on 18 September, until 0900 today, a total of 334 arrivals on or after 8 September have been transferred to offshore processing centres. That tally is up to 115 transferred to Nauru and 219 transferred to Manus. A further 47 people who arrived before 8 September have also been transferred to offshore processing centres between 18 September and nine o'clock today.
As at nine o'clock today, there are 953 people at Manus and 801 people at Nauru, with an additional 43 in transit to Nauru. And there were 2,263 people at Christmas Island facilities. Now, all arrivals remain eligible for transfer to offshore processing centres within the 48 hours rapid transfer system that we have in place. Further transfers to Manus and Nauru are expected this week, as recent unauthorised arrivals complete rapid transfer processing and we have sufficient offshore processing capacity to meet transfer requirements.
I will now provide an update on other operational activities during the reporting period. I'm aware that the Indonesian National Police are vigorously pursuing those responsible for the tragedy that occurred in West Java last week, which resulted in the loss of so many lives in that tragedy. The Australian Federal Police are supporting their Indonesian counterparts, and AFP officers stationed in Indonesia have travelled to the area to assist. The AFP and Indonesian National Police, or POLRI, are also cooperating with international partners in Lebanon. The AFP are also making urgent inquiries in Australia to identify any links to this tragedy.
I'm also aware of very successful disruption operations that have occurred in Indonesia, mainly by the Indonesian authorities. This clearly demonstrates - actually, all by Indonesian authorities. This clearly demonstrates the close cooperation and mutual commitment between our two countries to address this issue, and to avoid tragedies such as the one which occurred in West Java last week.
In other activities, the Operation Sovereign Borders joint agency taskforce headquarters facilities are now complete. The headquarters are based in the Customs and Border Protection area in Canberra. The majority of the headquarters staff commenced work there on Tuesday this week. The taskforce has received staff from a wide range of agencies that are contributing to Operational Sovereign Borders [sic], and we also retain the capability to draw on more resources as required if we need to do that for operational reasons. And the development of the strategic plan for border security operations, and the associated regional deterrence framework, is well underway.
So I conclude today's weekly briefing by stating again that what we are involved in here is a very complex situation and the taskforce is committed to stopping people smuggling, and the criminals that organise that, and ultimately to saving people's lives. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Minister, given that the now Prime Minister made a number of comments before the election saying he was going to start turning boats around within the first week of coming to office, in what way has the media misrepresented this?
SCOTT MORRISON: The Coalition has never had a policy of towing boats back to Indonesia. That has never been the policy, and that has been the misrepresentation over a long period of time, despite the myriad corrections that were provided by the Coalition both in Opposition and in Government. So we have had the opportunity, again, with the Prime Minister's visit, to be very clear about what the Coalition's policies are about, but, more importantly, to share the common objective of stopping these boats.
And the full plethora of measures that we have available to us are able and ready to be deployed, but the key issue here is building these operational understandings and that's what I'll be working constructively with Air Chief Marshall Suyanto to achieve.
JOURNALIST: Minister, have there been any suicide or self-harm attempts since the Coalition came to power?
SCOTT MORRISON: Those matters are within the typical reporting arrangements that come up to us through my own department, and we'll be reviewing those statistics and we'll come back to you on those arrangements.
JOURNALIST: So you don't know if the answer is yes or no?
SCOTT MORRISON: No, I said I'll be coming back to you on the release of that information.
JOURNALIST: Minister, have any Syrians been transferred to off shore processing [indistinct] on Manus or Nauru since you assumed office?
SCOTT MORRISON: We don't get into the briefings on the nationalities of those transferred, or those who arrived. I note also, that even under the Government's previous policy they made no reference to the nationality of those when they announced arrivals.
JOURNALIST: Minister, given these briefings only happen once a week, shouldn't you know whether self-harm attempts have occurred?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, the presumption of your question is wrong.
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, you are presuming I don't. Next?
JOURNALIST: Minister, the previous Minister for Immigration, Tony Burke, says that he received advice from the Independent Health Committee just before he left office saying that 48-hour turnaround time, which is your target, for taking them to processing offshore, would result in inadequate medical assessment. Can you update us on whether you have received any advice [indistinct]?
SCOTT MORRISON: I am totally satisfied about the arrangements we have in place.
JOURNALIST: Can you go into detail on the advice that you have been given?
SCOTT MORRISON: No. What I will do is tell you that I'm totally satisfied about the arrangements that we have in place, and all the necessary measures have been put in place to achieve that. I can also confirm that all the same checks that were being done under the previous Government are being done under this Government in relation to those transfers. I can't speak for the former Minister in terms of what advice he may or may not receive. You will know it is the convention for incoming Governments - do not have access to briefings provided to previous Governments. What I know is the information that I have, and the decisions that we have made.
JOURNALIST: The 500 [indistinct] Syrians, the Labor Government committed to a thousand. Are you still open to moving toward that number?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, we are in a different part of the operation now, in terms of the resettlement. The previous Government had indicated that for the past year. That was last financial year. That was my understanding and that was actually supported by the Opposition when we were in Opposition. On this occasion, the UNHCR has sought 2,000 places from the entire global community, and we have provided 500 of those.
JOURNALIST: Minister, you said this morning that Australia will take 800 Afghan interpreters and their families. Is it true the Immigration Department had been planning to take 1,000?
SCOTT MORRISON: We provided sufficient places to deal with the applications and the expected number of visas required, and if more are required, then you can expect the Government to meet that requirement. But that is our understanding of the requirement at present.
JOURNALIST: Minister, one of the details that was included when you announced Operation Sovereign Borders was to set up transit centres in the Indonesian mainland…
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, that's not true. We'd never said we were setting up transit centres in the Indonesian mainland. That was more misreporting.
JOURNALIST: So, just a follow-up on that question, 800 you said were being taken in. There isn't a requirement for more?
SCOTT MORRISON: That is my advice at the moment, yes. We have been going through a fairly meticulous process and this involves not only the interpreters but also their families. And based on the applications and working with the Defence Force, we have been able to get to a current position in terms of the number of applications that have been received. It's our commitment to make sure that all of those are resolved by end of the year, by the time we withdraw, and when we are in that position to provide those visas, then our - we will be bringing them here along with their families. But it is also our commitment and intention not to leave people behind as well. But it is our understanding at the moment that 800 will more than meet the need.
JOURNALIST: Will those 800 form part of the annual refugee intake?
SCOTT MORRISON: Yes.
JOURNALIST: Your last trip to Nauru, conducted while you were shadow minister, you were accompanied by a journalist from the Australian. Are you planning to take a journalist with you this time?
SCOTT MORRISON: No.
JOURNALIST: Any particular reason?
SCOTT MORRISON: No.
JOURNALIST: Don't you think journalists should be able to come and show the Australian public what it's like there?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, there are commercial flights available.
JOURNALIST: Minister, [indistinct] West Papua asylum seekers that were deported to PNG after transiting there for 48 hours, what legal grounds were they deported there on?
SCOTT MORRISON: They were taken to Papua New Guinea under a memorandum of understanding between the two Governments, which is of some long standing and a concession agreed between the PNG Government and Australia.
JOURNALIST: Is that the 2003 one?
SCOTT MORRISON: Yes.
JOURNALIST: Because my understanding is that it's got be seven days before it qualifies.
SCOTT MORRISON: There was a concession agreed between the two Governments.
JOURNALIST: You said there was in this case?
SCOTT MORRISON: Mmm-
JOURNALIST: Minister, you say there are commercial flights available. The journalists can't just walk in and have a look around, as we know from media reports in the past.
SCOTT MORRISON: I thought you were referring to whether you'd be able to interview those of us who are going to - if we were to hold a press conference. But the previous Government had a policy of not permitting media to enter these facilities. I mentioned this morning on commercial radio that I am not of a mind to change that policy. I'm currently, and have, consulted with people involved in the operations of these facilities on Manus Island. I'll be doing something similar on Nauru. But there has been nothing presented to me to date that should suggest that a change of policy would be in the interests of those people who are held in those centres.
JOURNALIST: Minister, does your discussions with the Indonesians include protocols on turning boats around?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I'm not going to go into, as I said, what will and will not include - what I have said is we will be seeking to put together a series of operational understandings about a whole range of matters.
JOURNALIST: Does that include that?
SCOTT MORRISON: It includes operational understandings on a whole range of matters.
JOURNALIST: Does that mean that they are refusing to negotiate on [indistinct]?
SCOTT MORRISON: No, it means that we'll be seeking to come to a set of operational understandings on a whole range of matters.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are you open to reviewing that policy of letting media in, if evidence is presented to you to the contrary?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I think I indicated that to date I have seen nothing that would suggest that that policy being changed would be in the interests of those who are in those centres. And that is a top priority for me in weighing up these issues.
I said this morning that we have no issues with those who have responsibilities and recognised skills in assessing the conditions in these places. One of the first meetings I actually had was with Paris Aristotle who had actually been on Nauru, and I was seeking an early feedback from Paris on what his initial impressions were, and that's something that I would continue to value. Paris Aristotle is an extraordinary individual who I have got to know over many years, and he remains on the advisory group that is around the Nauru Centre, and obviously his views are taken into account in any decisions we make.
JOURNALIST: Does that [indistinct] transfer of family groups to Manus, or is [indistinct]?
SCOTT MORRISON: The Coalition's position has always been that Nauru is the principle place for transfers of families.
JOURNALIST: Minister, when the boat that sank off Java last week, were any of the survivors taken aboard Australian vessels or aircraft in any way?
SCOTT MORRISON: I will let the acting commander respond.
MARK BINSKIN: No.
JOURNALIST: Minister, with the Afghan interpreters that are going to be accepted, are they going to be offered a special visa category?
SCOTT MORRISON: They'll be coming under the Refugee and Humanitarian Program.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask the Commander, you mentioned successful disruption occurred this week. Does that include buying boats?
MARK BINSKIN: No. What I'm talking about is a broad level of disruptions, not just in this week, by the way, it's the ongoing cooperation between us and the Indonesian authorities, and their particular organisations, or their mirror organisations. And I have to say that the cooperation has been very, very good across the board. And it's allowing us to tackle what is a serious criminal activity.
JOURNALIST: Does that include the reports about the Indonesian military actually facilitating some of these smuggling efforts?
MARK BINSKIN: I can't comment on what may be an Indonesian issue there, sorry.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us a bit more about the disruptions, what are they…?
MARK BINSKIN: No, I won't go into the operational aspects except to say that the cooperation and support that we are providing in this case, the Indonesian National Police, I think is quite good - in fact is very good cooperation between the two organisations.
JOURNALIST: Does it include arrests?
MARK BINSKIN: The Indonesian authorities do arrest people from the cooperative activities that we have.
JOURNALIST: Have they done so in the last time period?
MARK BINSKIN: I won't go into the actual operations right now, but they have led to arrests.
SCOTT MORRISON: Those sort of details have also been reported previously, and perhaps at a future briefing, when we may be joined by other members of the JATF, there may be more opportunity to go into some of those issues. Remembering we have three task groups, one led by the AFP, one led by my department and another led by Border Protection Command, so there are a range of matters across all of those.
JOURNALIST: Minister, going back to the transit centres as we discussed earlier, can you just reiterate for me, are you categorically saying there were absolutely no plans to set up transit centres on the Indonesian mainland [indistinct]?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well - what you put to me is that it was our policy to put one in Indonesia and that's what we'd said. Now, we had never said that. What I have said in that policy is that we would seek to have transit centres, the locations of those we were never specific about. And it remains our policy to have such centres. What I said at the start of the briefing is that all of the measures, all of the measures, that form part of our policy remain part of the arsenal of measures that the Government is prepared and willing to deploy. And that goes across the full spectrum, and in terms of the question that was asked here previously, matters involving cooperation with Indonesia on working with local villages and things of that nature, that was always put forward as a joint operation.
Now, by definition, a joint operation requires joint activity and - to the measures that are undertaken. There was never any suggestion that measures along those lines would be conducted unilaterally - none whatsoever. But I think that was the implication of much of the reporting that was put about and how it was misrepresented.
JOURNALIST: Minister, have any boats been turned around since the Coalition was in office?
SCOTT MORRISON: I addressed that at the start of my briefing I address it at every briefing. We are not commenting on matters that go to prejudicing current or future operations.
JOURNALIST: I don't know which one of you I should ask, [indistinct] Java, but where are the survivors now?
SCOTT MORRISON: From West Java? Look, we are happy to come back to you on that. Again, that's a matter handled by Imigrasi and the Indonesian authorities. At present, I mean, their immediate focus was obviously on providing support and assistance to those who survived that terrible and tragic incident. But we would have to confirm again with the Indonesian officials about where some of them may have been accommodated, post that tragic incident. It's a matter that can also equally be raised with the Indonesian authorities because frankly it's a matter for the Indonesian authorities. The Australian Government has no direct role in that.
JOURNALIST: Can you say whether the Indonesian Government or officials, whether any party there was offered financial assistance to take those survivors?
SCOTT MORRISON: I don't understand. You'll have to be more specific.
JOURNALIST: From this end, was there any offer financially towards the Indonesian Government to take the survivors and to handle the operation and take them back?
SCOTT MORRISON: Well, it was in Indonesian waters. It was a complete Indonesian operation at the end of the day, because it was occurring within their own territory. So the question is moot. Okay. Last one.
JOURNALIST: When asylum seekers are rescued and handed back to Indonesia, do you classify that as the same thing as turning back the boats?
SCOTT MORRISON: What I - again, without going into any specific instances, if people end up back in Indonesia, they end up back in Indonesia.
JOURNALIST: Don't Australians deserve to know when a boat is turned around?
SCOTT MORRISON: Australians deserve, and I believe are keen to know, when the Australian Government delivers on its promise to stop the boats. That's the outcome that we committed to the Australian people on. That's the outcome we are reporting to here, at every briefing, and we will continue to do that until they stop. Thanks for your time.
Before I do that, can I wish the Defence Forces, particularly the Navy, all the best for what should be a tremendous weekend of events for the Navy and this celebration. I'm sure Sydneysiders and those that have come from all around the country are looking forward to what will be a great occasion and I wish you and particularly all of those serving in our Navy all the best for those celebrations.
MARK BINSKIN: Thank you, Minister, and remember there will be a lot of Australian Navy personnel and international Navy personnel here in Sydney over the weekend enjoying Sydney. But while we are doing that, there are a lot of men and women who are out there combating this criminal activity of people smuggling that's going on. So, we remember them while we are here celebrating what is 100 years. It's a great anniversary for the Navy. Thank you very much.