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Operation Sovereign Borders: Scott Morrison’s Weekly Briefing

The Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, has given the latest weekly briefing on Operation Sovereign Borders.


After a difficult week and a patchy performance in Parliament, Morrison adopted a different tone at today’s briefing, noticably toning down his dismissive attitude towards journalists.

Morrison announced that the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Lt-General Angus Campbell, would now give a report and leave the briefing, in order to preserve the integrity of the Defence Force.

  • Listen to the press conference – transcript below (44m)

Operation Sovereign Borders graphic of the latest figures on boat arrivals and details of their transfer to detention centres:


Official transcript of Operation Sovereign Borders press briefing.

SCOTT MORRISON: Welcome to the ninth weekly briefing on Operation Sovereign Borders. As usual, I will make some opening remarks before requesting Lieutenant-General Campbell to provide his operational report. Now, the purpose of these reports is to update on the progress of Operation Sovereign Borders. The key metric for assessing the performance of Operation Sovereign Borders is how many people are arriving in Australia illegally by boat. Once again, I am pleased to report continued progress on this front. Since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders on September 18, following the swearing in of the new Government, there has been a 79.3 per cent reduction in illegal arrivals by boat to Australia compared to the eight week period immediately prior to the establishment of Operation Sovereign Borders. In the eight weeks prior to Operation Sovereign Borders, there were 3406 illegal arrivals by boat, not including crew. In the eight weeks since, there have been 707 arrivals not including crew.

The pre-Operation Sovereign Borders comparison period falls wholly within the post-July 19 period during which the Government’s RRA – previous Government’s RRA arrangements were in place. This means that the 79.3 per cent reduction has been made in addition to the impacts of the previous Government’s announcements on that measure. During this time, we have moved to strengthen the capacity of our offshore processing centres. This has been necessary to address the serious under-capacity of these facilities when we came to Government, despite offshore processing having been the previous Government policy for almost over – or over a year. We’re also addressing the fact that operational funding for these facilities to my department was due to run out in January. Under the previous Government’s arrangements these additional funding arrangements will be addressed and incorporated within MYEFO and we are working through those issues with Treasury and Finance. Rapid expansion of offshore processing capacity has also been important to support the new 48-hour turnaround objective for illegal arrivals by boat.

For offshore processing to be effective, you have to be able to send people there and do so quickly, not let them settle in on Christmas Island. At the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders there were almost 2,000 people who had been settling in on Christmas Island, and not transferred to Nauru or Manus, who had arrived illegally by boat after July 19. Now, if you don’t do what you say, then people won’t take you seriously. When this Government says you will be sent to Manus Island or Nauru, and that there are no exceptions, we mean exactly what we say.

We are also continuing to expand this capacity, and the vast majority of those expansion works are scheduled for completion by the end of the year, and by that time capacity at these centres would have more than doubled in the first 100 days of the new Government.

We are also working to establish post-processing accommodation to ensure that anyone found to be a refugee will not be coming back to Australia after they have been processed.

The absence of any plans for any such accommodation under the previous arrangements was quickly assessed as a vulnerability. The expansion of facilities brings with it operational challenges, and temporarily inconveniences. These will all be resolved once expansion works are completed.

Another aspect of the operations is to support voluntary returns. In addition to more than 80 involuntary returns, there have been more than 100 voluntary returns since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders. Our voluntary return operations are undertaken in conjunction with the International Organisation for Migration, they do not involve coercion of any kind, and the Government rejects any such suggestion.

I also wish to once again commend the Government of Indonesia for their tremendous cooperation in driving disruption efforts within Indonesia. More than 1200 people have been prevented coming to Australia by our partners in Indonesia. This not only underscores Indonesia’s strong commitment to address people smuggling, but also the strong, uninterrupted and increasing cooperation between our two countries, in particular through the Bali Process. I note that our collective efforts – is not only producing a dividend for Australia, reflected by the more than 75 per cent decline in arrivals during the past eight weeks, but a similar dividend for Indonesia. UNHCR figures for arrivals in Indonesia have fallen from 1608 during the month of September to just 602 in the month of October, representing a 62 per cent decline. Now, this follows a two per cent decline in September, and a 34 per cent decline in August. The greatest fall has occurred after the establishment of Operation Sovereign Borders, building on the declines that occurred in previous months.

And this has included a strong surge in our cooperative activities right throughout the region, but particularly in Indonesia.

Finally, I also wish to note that the updated monthly detention and community statistics prepared by my department were uploaded on the website as promised, and that was done earlier this week. And for the first time, this includes detention population at our offshore facilities. Those who attended earlier briefings will know, when I first announced we would make sure that those monthly statistics were being updated and provided on the website, during a long absence under the previous Government, will know what I’m referring to there.

Before handing to General Campbell to provide his operational report, I wish to advise of some changes as to how this briefing will be conducted, both today and in the weeks ahead.

This morning, I contacted the CDF, General Hurley, to advise that the Government places the highest priority on protecting the integrity and independence of the Australian Defence Forces. I advised that in an order to avoid any suggestion or perception being promoted, for whatever purposes, about the role of the ADF in Operation Sovereign Borders, that at my initiative, and without being requested or without any issue being raised with me, I will be drawing a clear line between the operational and more general components of this briefing.

To this end, I’ll be inviting General Campbell to provide his report, and then he will take a few questions on that report before he departs the briefing. I will then be available to address any or all of the other questions as appropriate, and as the Minister responsible for Operation Sovereign Borders. I take this initiative as a preventive measure to ensure the integrity of this operation and to ensure there are no improper reflections being made about the nature of the ADF involvement in this operation. I hope this will serve to provide greater clarity about our respective roles and attendance at this briefing.

And with that, I hand it over to General Campbell.


ANGUS CAMPBELL: Thank you Minister.

Welcome to my weekly briefing for the period nine o’clock Friday 8 November, to nine o’clock this morning.

I’m going to move pretty quickly through the statistics, because I have a few things I’d like to say and there may well be some questions for both the Minister and I.

During this reporting period, three suspected illegal entry vessels, carrying a total of 163 illegal maritime arrivals and eight crew, arrived into the offshore processing system. Two vessels to Christmas Island on Sunday the 10th and Monday the 11th, and one to Darwin, also on Monday.

Cumulatively, as the first boats, this brings to a total of three the number of vessels that arrived in the month of November.

Also for the reporting period, a total of 97 people were transferred to an offshore processing centre from Christmas Island, that is 67 to Manus and 30 to Nauru.

At nine o’clock this morning there were a total of 157 people on Manus, 629 people on Nauru, and 2,217 people in the Christmas Island facilities.

For this reporting period, 31 illegal maritime arrival transferees were returned to Iran and Iraq, after electing to go home voluntarily. Eight from Nauru, and 23 from Manus. This gives the collective total over the period of Operation Sovereign Borders to 106.

Since last week’s briefing, Indonesian authorities working and supported by the Disruption and Deterrence Task Group have arrested three facilitators, and disrupted two potential ventures. Also the Royal Malaysian Police, again with the assistance of our Task Group, have disrupted two additional potential ventures.

As we are all aware, there have been significant comments in recent days in regard to the amount of detail that I provide at these weekly press conferences. Command carries with it a responsibility to my people and our mission. With that in mind, I’d like to take a few moments to detail more clearly why I have established the current public information protocol, which has been designed to preserve the integrity of our operations.

I noted at the first of these press conferences, I don’t comment on anything that gives advantage to people smugglers. Additionally, I will avoid comment that can be used by people smugglers to manipulate or confuse their potential customers. And, of course, I don’t wish to comment in any way that might undermine regional relationships necessary to deal with this problem.

You will all appreciate, I’m sure, that I also don’t wish to discuss matters that might endanger our people. So, let me share with you some insights from people who are detained, that give me a sense of why these measures are appropriate.

People smugglers use information about vessel arrivals to market ventures to prospective passengers, and to maintain the momentum of their businesses. They use official announcements of vessel interceptions to persuade people that the way to Australia remains open. It does not.

People smugglers use these announcements to claim credit for any intercepted vessel, to bolster their reputation and gain market share. They do so irrespective of whether they were the organisers of those vessels. In short, these announcements arm people smugglers with information to convince people to get on boats.

The information about arrivals also leads to the release of final payments to people smugglers. Information protocols that disrupt cash flow, even briefly, cause difficulties for peoples smugglers, particularly in an increasingly tight market where business is very competitive.

Public release of information about inception location does undermine the tactical advantage that our surveillance and response assets have over people smugglers; especially those who seek to avoid detection.

People smugglers have used knowledge of where our vessels are located to make dangerous assumptions about the posture of our maritime assets. In some cases, this had led them to make ill-informed judgements about voyage planning, including the selection of the crew and route, and vessels to undertake their journey. For example, we know that passengers have been told on occasions, by people smugglers, not to be concerned by the poor state of their vessel, by the inexperience of their crew, by the lack of provisions on board, because their voyage will be short and they will very quickly marry up with an Australian vessel nearby. These false assurances place people’s lives in considerable risk.

We also know that people smugglers would use information about on-water procedures to instruct crew and passengers on how to limit the effectiveness of such procedures, for example, by disrupting lawful boardings, or destroying information that might otherwise be useful in a prosecution. In some cases this has led people to sabotage their own vessel.

Reporting events mid-incident also risks compromising cooperation with other partners. Public acknowledgement of our techniques and procedures has the very real potential to place responders, as well as passengers and crew, in danger.

The official release of information about the nationality, gender, age and circumstances of passengers on-board vessels is also used by people smugglers in various ways. They use this information to determine with greater certainty which ventures have arrived. Denying them official information undermines that certainty and, in turn, restricts the opportunity to claim payment or market their services.

People smugglers also use passenger information to obtain insights into potential markets at a time when it is becoming harder to recruit passengers. Our efforts are undermined if we provide pointers to communities that may be more open to exploitation. Releasing demographic information also risks encouraging the chain migration of those in similar circumstances to use boats, in a futile attempt to get to Australia.

More generally, I value the no exceptions policy, that all persons are transferred to offshore processing centres, lest people smugglers seek to exploit segments of vulnerable communities, such as women and children, which I have no doubt they would do.

These considerations go to the heart of my responsibility to care for my people, and our mission.

I take this responsibility very seriously.

I do not believe in secrecy for secrecy’s sake.

The protocols I have established, and which are supported by the Government, for the release of official information related to Operation Sovereign Borders, seek to balance the public’s right to know, which I respect, the safety of all involved, which I am responsible for, and the mission which I have been given and which I am determined to achieve.

In closing, I would submit to you that no successful operation involving a complex, multilateral, law enforcement, diplomatic, and security effort gives real-time briefings on current operations. These protocols provide for the operational integrity necessary to underpin success.

Thank you.

JOURNALIST: General, in the case of the boat that was intercepted on 7 November, the Indonesian search and rescue organisation said that this was first detected 107 nautical miles off the coast of Indonesia. Is that the case?

CAMPBELL: We have very strong and cooperative relationships with Basarnas, I think that you were speaking of, and, indeed, we value those relationships and the cooperation we receive. I have indicated now why I’m not wishing to speak of the details of activities. I will simply note that while every event is individually different, the circumstances and the response mechanisms and the arrangements were, in that regard, at the operational level, unremarkable.

Thank you.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] speak on this last week, you said the boat was first detected 43 nautical miles off the coast. So who is being truthful here?

CAMPBELL: Could I..,?

JOURNALIST: Is it a case that this boat was pushed back?

CAMPBELL: Could I just pause there. The comment I believe that you will find that was made at that time was that the vessel first sought assistance, indicating it was 43 nautical miles south of Java. And there’s a distinction there in terms of when a vessel is seeking to contact authorities, to seek assistance.

JOURNALIST: General, can you give us details about reported – the reported arrival of the boat in Darwin this week?

CAMPBELL: I think that I have made a fairly reasonable position that I’m not going to talk about the procedures, the events and so forth, of vessels that are – that we intercept.

JOURNALIST: But we’re getting information from the Darwin Port Authority. They’re saying that these people are still in Darwin at the naval base. Is that the case?

CAMPBELL: Those people, and those people who arrive on Christmas Island, immediately enter into the 48-hour rapid transfer process. There may well be some who do not complete that process in 48 hours, but the great majority do, and – so I am in no way suggesting that you or any other journalist does not receive other information elsewhere. I have always known that, of course. But I am making a distinction as to the value and the responsibility of official Government of Australia information and the release of that and the way it may interplay with the business and the opportunities for people smugglers.

JOURNALIST: General, has the government asked you to give this explanation of this regime of secrecy which, as you know, the Australian Senate has taken objection to?

CAMPBELL: I am aware of the debate in the Parliament. What I have just spoken of, while the Minister is certainly aware of the general issues relating to the nature of our operations and the potential for damage to current or future operations, if we speak in detail about what goes on, I have not sought to clear these comments with anyone. These are my comments, and they are based on my judgment as the commander of this operation.

JOURNALIST: Initiated by you without any request [indistinct]…?

CAMPBELL: [Interrupts] That’s exactly right. Exactly right. Yes.

JOURNALIST: Under the previous government did the military or the Defence Force ever raise these same objections about endangering personnel in these types of missions, because they were still involved then, so what’s the difference now?

CAMPBELL: Look, I’m unaware of circumstances that might have arisen before Operation Sovereign Borders on 18 September.

JOURNALIST: So this is because of the change of government, this new regime has come in?

CAMPBELL: Well, I’m simply saying that as a person who can speak to these issues, I can really only speak to my knowledge and my assessment of the information, information that has been gathered over some time, but the analysis of it and the interpretation of how to deal with it inside an Operation Sovereign Borders context, which is all about defeating people smugglers.

JOURNALIST: But surely the same dangers would have been there before. What is different now?

CAMPBELL: That may well be the case but I’m really not the person to speak to it. Before 18 September I was doing very different things.

JOURNALIST: Minister, a high ranking Sri Lankan navy…

MORRISON: Just before we go to myself, are there any other questions for General Campbell?

JOURNALIST: Yes, General. Was it your request or the request of anyone in the ADF or the CDF that your part of the briefing be seen to be separate from the Minister having to answer political questions? Has there been concern within ADF ranks about the appearance of a blurring between your role as a senior officer and your role as someone seems to be in support of a political agenda?

CAMPBELL: The Minister raised it with the CDF. It was…

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct]

CAMPBELL: It was the Minister who raised with the CDF.

JOURNALIST: Have there been concerns within the ranks of the ADF as far as you’re aware?

CAMPBELL: I am unaware of those. It’s self-initiated and the Minister raised it with the CDF. He advised me of this this morning.

JOURNALIST: General, given that on a weekly basis you give these briefings, how many vessels have arrived, et cetera.


JOURNALIST: What is the harm of a vessel by vessel basis throughout the week, giving the same information you are giving today?

CAMPBELL: Yeah, I think I fairly reasonably indicated that in part, the government in Australia is potentially offering proof of life, proof of transit services, to people smugglers, and while I understand that you will gain information elsewhere, I don’t think it’s the right role for a government to undertake that function for people smugglers that we are seeking to defeat.

JOURNALIST: But is today not offering that proof?

CAMPBELL: Well, I think it would be unreasonable and disrespectful of the public’s right to know that we do it in less than, say, a seven-day cycle. If you’d like to advocate for that, then, you know, let’s see how we go.

JOURNALIST: General, have there been any deaths at sea during Operation Sovereign Borders?

CAMPBELL: I’m sorry, say that…?

JOURNALIST: Have there been any deaths at sea during Operation Sovereign Borders?

CAMPBELL: Not in regard to those operations that the Australian Defence force and the Australian customs service have been involved with. We do, as has been indicated previously, and as we have done, indicate events that are of significant circumstance, or potentially loss of life at sea, when they occur. I think there was – there have been two of them thus far, on 27 Sep… one on 27 September, West Java. There was another significant incident which we do not know of any loss of life, just 13 November, just a couple of days ago. Those incidents were dealt with by our partners, Basarnas.

So in regard to Operation Sovereign Borders and our actions, no, there have not.

JOURNALIST: Have there been any deaths as a result of injuries sustained during Operation Sovereign Borders?



MORRISON: Any last questions for the general? Otherwise…

JOURNALIST: You mentioned sabotage, Sir, you mentioned there was briefings being given to passengers on board these boats about sabotage. Can you go into more detail there?

CAMPBELL: I would simply say that the more that people smugglers come to understand what we do, and we evolve what we do, but the more they come to understand it, the more they are in a position to instruct or tutor crew and passengers about how to respond. And in some cases, that response is quite destructive. Now, I am speaking here of a long history of occasional example of the self-initiated damage to engines or ships. Now, this doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does happen, you can appreciate it is extremely dangerous.

MORRISON: Thank you, General.

CAMPBELL: Thank you.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] your time in opposition, we’ve read [indistinct] about how operational matters work and the danger of personnel at sea. Did you in your time in opposition ever contribute to the shipping news service that you are now so worried about?

MORRISON: I’ll pick up also on your earlier question, because I think it addresses both of the points you’ve raised. The previous government was not running an operation like this. The previous government was just simply running a taxi service to Australia. We are running a very different operation and I outlined that operation in opposition, and I said very clearly on a number of occasions that the information protocols and things of that nature would be determined by the joint agency taskforce and that is indeed what has happened. So there is no real surprise.

Now, as I have noted at previous briefings, perhaps the full implications of what a military led border security operation means may have been lost on some, but we are always very aware of what that transition would mean. And what it does, the joint agency taskforce approach and Operation Sovereign Borders, is it draws together 15 different operational agencies to focus the whole of the government’s resolve on addressing this problem through a single command structure, reporting into the commander, and then on to a single minister, so we are able to harness the full resources of the government.

Now, operationally, we are doing things very differently and we have taken judgments and put in place arrangements which are – evoke a different response. Now, the previous government had their arrangements and in the opposition, I responded to the way the government chose to do things. This government has chosen to do things differently.

JOURNALIST: Minister, a high-ranking Sri Lankan navy officer has been arrested and accused of people smuggling. This man liaised and collaborated with Australian authorities a great deal, we understand. Does that compromise any efforts on behalf of Australia?

MORRISON: Well, I’m advised that the individual, if they had attended a briefing that occurred in Australia at that time, then I am advised that there was no information provided at that briefing that might’ve assisted him with his alleged criminal activities. I think what this incident shows is it doesn’t matter who you are. When we work with our partners to track down people involved in these things, there are no exceptions. Doesn’t matter what sphere of life you’re in or what business you’re in or what position you hold, when we’re going after people smugglers, we go after people smugglers.

JOURNALIST: This man claims that others in the navy in Sri Lanka are also involved in this. Would suggest to you that this is systemic in the Sri Lankan navy?

MORRISON: No, I wouldn’t be leaping to any conclusions at this point. I mean, this matter is still before those authorities and we’ll be obviously working through that issue with our Sri Lankan partners. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, as you know, are in Sri Lanka now. We’ve had a very good working relationship with Sri Lanka. Not only this government, frankly, the previous government as well. Sri Lanka has always been prepared to step up on these issues and I think this case demonstrates that yet again. And if there are others to pursue, then I’m sure they will be pursued.

JOURNALIST: Did Australian intelligence contribute to the detection of this particular…?

MORRISON: Of course I wouldn’t comment on intelligence matters. I think that goes well beyond I think what anyone’s expectations might be.

JOURNALIST: There are 106 children on Nauru, according to [indistinct] today. How many of them are unaccompanied minors?

MORRISON: My understanding at the moment is there are three.

JOURNALIST: Minister, can you please outline the precise operational necessity behind kind of restricting access of a new mother to her sick newborn in hospital?

MORRISON: Well, first of all, there’s a couple of presumptions in the question and I suspect you’re referring to the incident that has been reported in the press. Now, that woman who was pregnant, she was transferred from Nauru to Australia on 11 October. Her family was transferred from Nauru to Australia on 18 October. The transferee gave birth on 6 November with a caesarean section. The transferee had been discharged to the Brisbane immigration transit accommodation with her husband and her other two children.

The child is now with their mother having been discharged from the hospital. The mother was being transported to the hospital daily and was able to and had been staying with the child throughout the day. Doctors at the time, at the hospital, had advised us that this was in common practice for mothers not to stay overnight with their children in special care units due to bed restrictions. So my advice was that this mothers was being treated the same apart from obviously her detention arrangements in terms of access to the hospital as any other Australian would. And that is the standard that is provided here.

Now, I have requested my department to look at the arrangements that were put around that particular instance to ensure that a mother would have as much access to their child as they would request and consistent with the standards and opportunities that would be otherwise available to any Australian at that hospital. And I will await their review and see how they can improve those circumstances but I note also that the mother also had two other children for which she was also caring and there was a need to move between both facilities obviously because it is the practice to try to keep everybody together in those situations. In some ways, mothers are transferred earlier to be later joined by the other family members.

JOURNALIST: Why was the husband denied access to see his wife and newborn?

MORRISON: That’s not true.

JOURNALIST: He was allowed access?

MORRISON: Yes, he was.

JOURNALIST: And how many visits was he allowed?

MORRISON: I would have to check the details of that, but he was provided access.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] provided access?

MORRISON: I’ll give you the details later, but I’m saying he was – my advice is he was provided access.

JOURNALIST: The hospital came out today and obviously they said that it’s not the normal situation to be prevented from accessing your own child in those after-hours circumstances.

MORRISON: I think there’s been mixed reports on this and that’s why I asked the Department to review what was undertaken in this particular situation. But the issue here was also bed restrictions, and bed restrictions don’t apply only to people who might be transferees in this situation, they apply to Australians as well. I’m sure no-one is suggesting that anyone who found themselves in this situation as an asylum seeker should be receiving preferable treatment over – to any other Australian in that situation.

JOURNALIST: You’ve called for this report Minister, so are you aware, was this mother denied access to her sick newborn?

MORRISON: That’s not my understanding. But I’ve asked for the matter to be reviewed.

JOURNALIST: Minister, do you abide by a motion passed in the Senate demanding that you table reports about asylum seeker boats incidents within 24 hours of it happening?

MORRISON: I note the resolution of the Senate which relates to Minister Cash, and obviously as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection it impacts on information that is available to me. Our response to that will be made in due course and in accordance with the request that has been made and whatever we provide we will do at that time.

But I note this, Leigh, and you’d probably be familiar with this, during the previous Government there were 75 orders for production of documents that they refused to comply with, 75. Now, that included four orders to produce documents in relation to the home insulation program. It included ten orders in relation to the mining tax. It included three orders relating to the export of live cattle to Indonesia. In the 42nd Parliament, it included an order to the minister representing the Prime Minister and the Senate about asylum seekers and the Oceanic Viking in February of 2010. It related to Defence procurement cuts, it related to budget cuts to chemotherapy treatment in 2009. It also included a range of other orders which I won’t delay this press conference going through, but I find it, to quote another fairly prominent politician who has now left the scene, passing strange that the Opposition would now be insisting on something they never complied with in government.

JOURNALIST: Do you consider yourself answerable to the senate?

MORRISON: I consider myself answerable to the Australian people. It is the Australian people who elected our Government to do a very important job, and that is to stop the boats coming to Australia. And that is why we are keen to continue to report on the progress of this operation, which is delivering on that objective, a more than 75 per cent reduction in illegal boat arrivals to Australia in our first eight weeks of operation. Now, it’s a good start, it’s not the end. There’s a long way to go. We have had three arrivals in November of around 170 people or thereabouts. We’re midway through this month, that is tracking about the same as it was last month. We don’t believe that is an acceptable level of arrivals and we are going to use every fibre of the being of this Government to ensure it’s put to an end.

JOURNALIST: Whose decision was it to end the stand-off with Indonesia regarding the boat over the weekend and take the asylum seekers to Christmas Island? Yours, or that of General Campbell?

MORRISON: I wouldn’t describe it in the terms that you’ve used, Leigh.

JOURNALIST: How would you describe it?

MORRISON: Well, I would describe it as exactly as General Campbell described it. This was not an irregular event and we were following effectively similar procedures that we had on other occasions.

JOURNALIST: Did you ask the Indonesians to take the asylum seekers and they refused?

MORRISON: Well, I think those events have already been well ventilated in the public. Over the last… – no I have issued statements on them and things of that nature. What I would say is that it was clear to me that, particularly as the issue had gone so public, which was a key difference from previous events where these matters were handled discreetly and privately, that there was nothing to be gained in terms of the relationship and, particularly, as I said in my statement for the safety of the people who were on board that vessel, and I’m not just referring to the asylum seekers themselves, I’m also referring to the crew of the vessels that were involved.

JOURNALIST: So you made the decision?

MORRISON: Of course I made the decision. I made it in consultation with General Campbell and that was done, I think I have reflected at other times, at around about eight o’clock on the Saturday morning. Now, that was after it had become clear to me that it would be some time before Indonesia would be providing any formal response on this matter, and given that I saw no benefit in putting those people or others potentially at risk.

Now, I’m very mindful of when former Prime Minister Rudd took us down a very unproductive path with that long-winded arrangement that he had. And I think it’s important to learn the lessons of these things. And every day of Operation Sovereign Borders, of course there’s a lot of interaction between the General and I. There’s a clear delineation of operational and other issues, but you constantly evolve, you constantly refine and you constantly adapt. And that’s the point of Operation Sovereign Borders. It’s not a static operation. When we constructed it from a policy perspective in opposition, we learned that the previous government had been unable to be responsive and to be able to be responsive in a way that harnessed all the operations of government. And that’s what this is designed to do. It brings everybody together, it enables you to make prompt decisions in the best interests of the operation and that’s what we’re endeavouring to do.

JOURNALIST: When you described Indonesia’s refusal to take people back as having no rhyme or reason, did that betray a frustration with Indonesia’s willingness to assist the Australian Government on this?

MORRISON: No. Look I think it was a candid comment, as you know I’m inclined to make from time to time. And it was that we have been working very constructively with Indonesia. Look I think the most helpful comments on these are the ones that are not made, frankly. And because what we’re endeavouring to do with our relationships not just with Indonesia but throughout the region, I’ve also been in Malaysia recently, is to conduct those relationships directly with our counterparts and when we do that, that’s when we get the best outcomes. And so the Prime Minister and I, and he made this point I know in his interview with you the other night, really do not want to say or do anything which makes that process any more difficult. And that’s certainly my intention.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] you know you believe the situation becomes more difficult and b), that it gives [indistinct] to people smugglers?

MORRISON: No, to the contrary. I know there’s been a lot of focus within this room and others on the maritime side of this operation. But the real hero of this operation to date has been what’s been happening on land. And over 1200 people have been disrupted from coming to this country and that has principally been through the tremendous cooperation and involvement and leadership frankly of the Indonesian Government in working with our advisers and others to achieve that result. We have stopped …

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] a lot of information about what happens on water which you say you believe is not helpful?

MORRISON: Well I will leave those issues to my Indonesian counterparts. What I can control is what happens on our side and we’ll certainly going to honour our obligations to conduct ourselves I think discreetly and directly. But the Indonesian government are doing a fantastic job own on-land disruption and this has been uninterrupted by any of these events. And that is what I’m continuing to focus on, to foster that cooperation, because it is getting results. A 75 per cent reduction in illegal boat arrivals has occurred under Operation Sovereign Borders. That’s something I know the Australian people are interested in. I know the opposition want to run a right-to-know campaign for people smugglers. And I’m not going to support other give any succour to that sort of campaign. But we’ll remain focused on job.

JOURNALIST: [Indistinct] did you or anyone in your office review, sign off on or assess General Campbell’s remarks?


JOURNALIST: Have you ever done it before?


JOURNALIST: Minister do you have plans to close the Scherger detention centre in Queensland?

MORRISON: We’ll be making announcements on the posturing of the detention network at a later time. I’ve been very upfront about the fact we’ve been reviewing that to make sure that it will gel with the plans that we have for our changes to the processing system for the 33,000 caseload which the previous government left behind, unprocessed undealt with. That is going to be a significant challenge as I said in the House. This week in the Parliament, we’ve now restored temporary protection visas and that is part of that process for dealing with that legacy caseload and I note that instead of voting against the Greens’ motion to disallow temporary protection visas, the Labor Party baulked. Once again, the Labor Party baulked when the question of temporary protection visas came up. You would’ve thought from their action in August of 2008 when they abolished temporary protection visas and it was followed by 50,000 people turning up illegally on boats, over 800 such boats. When there were blowouts of more than $11 billion to the budget and over 1100 people ended up dead, that they shouldn’t have had any doubt in their mind about the lack of wisdom that would be involved in going along with the Greens disallowance motion.

So look my challenge to the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister is they should reject the shenanigans of the Greens when it comes to trying to once again get rid of temporary protection visas. Under this government they’re back. Under this government we went to the Australian people and got a thumping endorsement and mandate for the return of temporary protection visas. And it’s time for the opposition to start to understand why they lost the last election. It wasn’t about personalities. It was about bad policies and bad policy outcomes. And in border protection, there were no greater failures.

JOURNALIST: Minister you declined in Parliament to provide information on this Darwin boat arrival yet here a few days later you reveal the information. Isn’t there an inherent responsibility to provide that information in the Parliament?

MORRISON: There is an inherent responsibility to employ the mission that I have been tasked to oversee by the Prime Minister. And to fulfil that responsibility, I need to do that in a way which is going to most advantage the success of that mission. So whether it’s in this place or any other place, the protocols that have been put in place by the joint [indistinct] task force I support and I will honour and that means those reports will be provided by the General here or wherever else we might hold this press conference, where I happen to be on this day. That’s the way information is handled. Remembering that the way information was handled by the previous government is they would give not only that a boat arrived, they would give the date, the time, the location, the asset that was involved. This was very specific information. And we’re not following that practice for all the reasons that General Campbell said you can expect me to hold the line on that, to hold the line on the borders, to secure those borders, and to ensure that the pledges we made to the Australian people will be honoured.

JOURNALIST: Does that mean in future it’s likely you would be releasing information on arrivals to the media on Friday’s briefings rather than Parliament first?

MORRISON: That is the protocol and I will be honouring the protocol.

JOURNALIST: Minister, did Australian authorities pass notes to boats carrying asylum seekers telling them to turn around?

MORRISON: Of course I’m aware of what we do. We make sure that people understand what our policies are, whether that’s at sea, whether that’s in Indonesia, whether it’s in Malaysia, whether it’s in Pakistan, in Iran, or any of these places. We make sure that anyone who’s seeking to come illegally to Australia by boat knows that it’s a vain effort, that if you try it you’re getting ripped off by a people smuggler and if you manage to get that far, you won’t end up in Australia, you will end up in Nauru, will you end up in Manus Island and you won’t be coming to Australia. And we put a lot of effort into that communication, whether it’s at sea or whether it’s in course countries or transit countries and we’re getting a result. I think I’ve answered the question.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible question].

MORRISON: Well no I’ve answered the question.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned that there’s adequate antenatal and pre-natal care on Nauru. Are you satisfied that there is the capacity to deal with disabled children?

MORRISON: Where there are any particular medical issues on any particular case, then appropriate care is provided for, for those conditions. Now I’ve been in facilities where there have been disabled people and that was occurring under the previous government and particularly on Manus Island and it continues to occur now. So appropriate care and facilities are put in place to ensure this very important statement can be made. To anyone thinking of coming to Australia illegally by boat, it doesn’t matter how much education you’ve had, it doesn’t matter whether you come from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, anywhere else. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a child, it doesn’t matter whether you’re pregnant, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an unaccompanied minor, it doesn’t matter if you have a health condition. If you’re fit enough to get on a boat, then you can expect you’re fit enough to end up in offshore processing. Last question and then I’ll have to go.

JOURNALIST: Have staff on Manus Island been encouraging or coercing detainees to return home?

MORRISON: They are not coercing, no. Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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