Prime Minister Tony Abbott has dismissed allegations that Australian Navy personnel burnt the hands of asylum seekers.
Speaking in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, Abbott said there was no evidence for the allegations. He said: “These are just claims without any apparent facts to back them up. I fully support the statement of the Minister on this subject and I have complete confidence in the decency, the humanity and the professionalism of Australia’s Navy and customs personnel.”
Abbott said the Australian government was entitled to protect its borders. He reiterated the government’s policy of turning back boats. “We absolutely stand by our longstanding policy, and one key element of our long standing policy is the readiness to turn boats around where it is safe to do so. That has been an element in the Coalition’s policy for years. It was the practice in appropriate circumstances of the Howard Government and I certainly don’t rule out that practice in the future.”
- Listen to Abbott’s Davos media conference (12m)
Transcript of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s press conference in Davos, Switzerland.
ABBOTT: Day two of the Davos experience and I have to say that I have just had an excellent meeting with some of Australia’s most senior and important business people, some of the businesses which employ tens of thousands of Australians, to talk about why it is necessary to build a stronger global economy so that we will have a stronger national economy and ultimately we will have more jobs and more prosperity in Australia.
Again, I want to reiterate that Australians come to conferences like this, not because we love travel, but because we want to do the right thing by the people, the workers and the businesses of our country. If we don’t have a strong global economy it is hard to have a strong national economy and if we don’t have a strong national economy there won’t be the level of employment and the level of prosperity that we all want for our fellow Australians.
The interesting thing about my discussions with Richard Goyder of Wesfarmers, with Nev Power of Fortescue, with Gail Kelly of Westpac, and with David Thodey of Telstra is that these are businesses which together employ well over 300,000 Australians and the leaders of those businesses are here at this conference because they want to ensure that right around the world we have got the policies in place which are going to promote private sector-led growth, investment and employment. What that requires is sensible government which gets taxes down, which gets regulations down, which gets productivity up because if we can do all those things we get growth up and that means more jobs and more prosperity for our people.
This afternoon I will be meeting with the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, with the Prime Minister of Japan, with the Governor of the Bank of England. I will be addressing the World Economic Forum Business Council and then I will be meeting with more Australian businesses here later on in the day. Tomorrow, of course, I have got the keynote address as the President of the G20.
So, it really has been an important opportunity to showcase Australia and to do what we can in our country to influence the policies of the wider world. I am very pleased to have been here.
QUESTION: Prime Minister you’ll be meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister. Will you be discussing the issue of China and their conflicting claims to the islands and what would be your message to him about Australia’s position?
ABBOTT: What I will be focusing on in my discussion with Prime Minister Abe is the importance of a swift conclusion to the Australia-Japan free trade deal. We have already concluded negotiations with Korea. I am very happy with the way those negotiations have turned out. We certainly should get much, much better access for our agricultural exports to Korea and we will get more access to their manufactured goods. So, this is a win-win deal for the people of Korea and the people of Australia. Similarly, I am looking for a win-win deal for the people of Australia and the people of Japan and that will be the focus of my discussions with the Japanese Prime Minister.
QUESTION: Do you expect whaling to be raised at all? Will you be raising it?
ABBOTT: Look Lane, I take the issue of whaling very seriously but the Japanese well know our position on this and I want to focus today on issues where we can make progress. I don’t want to just go over old ground.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, do you think the former, or the former-former Prime Minister was right in it was his baby the ICJ case, do you think that was the right thing to do?
ABBOTT: I think if you do have a significant difference with a valued friend and partner, you should approach it in the best possible spirit and the best possible way and yes, I think that was an entirely appropriate way of doing it.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, allegations against our Navy and customs personnel that they burnt the hands of asylum seekers, Scott Morrison was quite outraged by them, saying they are unsubstantiated and should not have been made. What is your view?
ABBOTT: There is absolutely no evidence for them. These are just claims without any apparent facts to back them up. I fully support the statement of the Minister on this subject and I have complete confidence in the decency, the humanity and the professionalism of Australia’s Navy and customs personnel, who I commend for a magnificent job – a job which is increasingly effective and successful. The truth is that while I’m certainly not saying that this problem has been entirely resolved, the fact is we have gone many weeks now without a single boat arrival in Australia and the last time we had this kind of an outcome was back, from memory, in 2008.
QUESTION: Should those making the allegations at least be interviewed?
ABBOTT: Look, I think people making allegations should be able to produce some evidence. There is no evidence whatsoever to back them up.
QUESTION: The ABC claims they have with that video and having spoken to them.
ABBOTT: Well, as I said, who do you believe? Do you believe Australian naval personnel or do you believe people who are attempting to break Australian law? I trust Australia’s naval personnel.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, are you still prepared to have the Australian Navy turn back asylum seeker boats?
ABBOTT: Dennis, we absolutely stand by our longstanding policy, and one key element of our long standing policy is the readiness to turn boats around where it is safe to do so. That has been an element in the Coalition’s policy for years. It was the practice in appropriate circumstances of the Howard Government and I certainly don’t rule out that practice in the future.
QUESTION: Your comments yesterday about “goodies” versus “baddies” has once again attracted some commentary internationally. It’s leading the Huffington Post in the last hour. Do you stand by that simplification of the conflict in Syria?
ABBOTT: The important thing is that we do what we can to be helpful in what is, admittedly, a very difficult situation. I think that whenever people enter into discussion and dialogue with the aim of helping in this kind of a situation, you have got to be hopeful but you can never to too expectant.
QUESTION: Is there scope for taking more refugees from Syria given what is happening there?
ABBOTT: We have a generous and internationally significant refugee and humanitarian programme and we always stand ready to look at its composition, but the important thing when it comes to our refugee and humanitarian intake is to ensure that wherever people are coming from they are ultimately selected by the Australian Government. We must maintain control over our immigration programme and that includes the refugee and humanitarian component of it. Sure, to gain admission under that programme you have got to come from a pretty difficult part of the world but we are the ones who are doing the choosing, regardless of whether people are coming from Syria or Afghanistan or any of the other trouble spots in the wider world right now.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, just on the World Economic Forum and G20 agenda on energy. The German Energy Minister has today said that there is a danger, or the potential, for renewable energy targets to deindustrialise Germany. Are you concerned about the state of energy and renewable energy targets?
ABBOTT: The Coalition has long supported a significant role for renewable energy in Australia’s energy mix but there is no doubt that in our country renewables are driving up the price of power. The principal impact on the price of power over the last couple of years has been the carbon tax and the Coalition has, as you know, utterly pledged to eliminate the carbon tax but renewables have also been driving up the price of power and we certainly will be looking at what we can usefully do, consistent with the commitments that have been given to businesses that have invested in good faith, to try to ensure that we are bearing down on power prices.
QUESTION: What will be the focus of your discussions with the Dutch Prime Minister today?
ABBOTT: Well, it will really be an opportunity for us to get to know each other. I haven’t previously met the Dutch Prime Minister. Mr Rutte has been, I think, a very effective Prime Minister of Holland over the last few years. It will be important to get to know him and to try to ensure that our relationship, our nations’ relationship, is on a good footing. We have always had good relations with Holland, and that good relationship has in recent times been deepened by the work of our military forces in Uruzgan Province. This is a meeting which I am having at the Dutch Prime Minister’s request but I am very happy to be having it and it will be an honour to meet him.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, the Pope has sent a message to Davos saying that economic growth isn’t enough, that we also have to focus on the distribution of wealth. Is that at odds with your main focus on economic growth?
ABBOTT: No, because you have got to create the wealth before you can redistribute it and I am all in favour of a fairer society but the best way to have a fairer society is to have a richer society and that means a stronger economy.
QUESTION: Is that a bit of trickle-down economics?
ABBOTT: Look, it’s the lesson of history. The lesson of history is that the better off a country is, the fairer and the more just it is. The lesson of our own history is that as our country has got richer, it has also got fairer. The countries where you see utterly shattering and dispiriting disparities of wealth are invariably the poorer ones and that’s why it’s very important that the Australian Government have a domestic focus on economic growth and why we do whatever we reasonably can as leader of the G20 this year to promote global economic growth because economic growth is good for everyone.